Naked Fruit Cake aka Mrs Milne’s Christmas Cake with Pineapple

The naked fruit cake

I never knew that fruit cake could be offensive.  That is, until Kiley, an American friend of mine, explained that in the U.S, there’s this tradition that people tend to ‘re-gift’ fruit cakes because they don’t like fruit cakes.  Hence those receiving the cake are kind of being told, “Here I’ve brought you a cake.  I mean, I don’t like it and someone gave it to me.  I guess you probably won’t like it too but hey, now it’s your problem.  And no, I didn’t like what you got up to at the office party.”  Hence, there’s offence in the giving and receiving of fruit cakes in the States.

The ease with which one can buy pineapples, ready to eat (or bake with!) in Cambodia.  This is at the Russian Market, Phnom Penh

Lining this 8inch cake tin for its looooong bake.

Not so in the UK.  I mean, some Brits really dislike fruit cake and would spit it out.  However, most like to eat fruit cake at any given time, from celebrating marriage with a rich boozy fruited wedding cake covered in marzipan and icing to the everyday cup of tea with a sticky slice of fruited malt loaf.  Shall I even mention Christmas cakes, Easter simnel cakes, Dundee cake..?  My mum used to make a fruited tea loaf which was delicious when toasted and buttered.

Perhaps (if I may venture a guess without causing offence) this clear cultural divide over fruit cake is because the majority of Americans have never experienced a good moist fruit cake?  I can relate!  I never really enjoyed eating fruit cake very much either growing up.  Much like how I didn’t really enjoy mince pies.  Too rich, too sweet, too dry, too much whiskey!  But I tolerated them because they were synonymous with Christmas.  I’d peel off the royal icing, give it to my brother and nibble away at the marzipan (which I loved even as a small child).  Sometimes I picked out the fruit when there was too much of it and the dried fruit was really dry and almost bitter.  Or the alcohol overwhelmed the cake.  But, from time to time, a homemade fruit cake would redeem all the bad ones for me.

Then one day at Mrs Milne’s* house, she gave us a slice of her christmas cake.  Oh it was glorious in it’s moistness, flavour and simplicity.  Not overly sweet.  No royal icing.  No marzipan.  No alcohol in this one either.  Just. a. naked. fruit. cake.  Mrs Milne told us that it was the addition of pineapple that set this cake apart, and I believe her.  Whenever I’ve used pineapples in a cake, they often  impart moisture, rather than pineapple flavour to a cake.

Now, over a decade later, it’s still my go-to fruit cake recipe.  I used it as my marathon training cake this time.  It seemed apt to fuel up on.  I left it a couple of weeks in a sealed container in the fridge while I went on holiday to Penang and 4 weeks on, it was still moist and moreish. I baked it for Christmas for Paul, one of my colleagues, because he’d been hankering after fruit cake for as long as I’d worked with him.  3 months on, he still requests I bake him one, once a fortnight, and then complains that he can’t stop himself devouring it.  He likes royal icing but not marzipan, so that’s how I make it for him.

What I love about this recipe is the lack of planning required.  See, I just can’t be bothered with the whole affair of soaking and feeding the fruit weeks or even days in advance.  I don’t have the fridge space for it and I definitely don’t want to leave it out for the ants, cockroaches and rats now that I live in the tropics.  I can pretty much make this cake from start to finish within 2-3 hours, depending on which cake tin I use.  (more on that below).  And now that I can source almost all of the dried fruit here in Phnom Penh, there’s nothing stopping me making this cake all year round.  I still have difficulty finding mixed citrus peel and currants, but it’s so much better compared to 3 years ago.  You can buy bags of mixed dried fruit in Thai Huot but they look weird with chopped red and green cherries perhaps?  So I came up with my own measurements, based on looking at the proportions of the ingredients of a Sainsburys bag of mixed dried fruit.

Anyway, what’s stopping you.  Go on, I dare you not to like this.

If you do add brandy, or whiskey… Then do tell me what you did.  I’ve never bothered, but I might like to one day.

*Mrs Milne was my singing teacher from when I was 14-18 and one of those wonderful, life-giving, energetic, charismatic, generous Scottish women.  I don’t know where she got this recipe from, so I attribute this recipe to her.

Ingredients for Naked Christmas Cake from Mrs Milne.

  • 7oz/200g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 8oz/225g tin crushed pineapple (drained) or 1 fresh small pineapple, skin and eyes taken off.  One weighs between 250-300g here in Cambodia.
  • 2oz/50g glacé cherries, quartered
  • 5oz/150g butter, cubed and softened
  • 4½oz/125g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 12oz/350g mixed fruit or
    • 170g sultanas or golden raisins, as they’re called in Cambodia
    • 68g black raisins
    • 62g currants
    • 50g mixed peel
  • Brandy if required.

Method

  1. Chop up the pineapple* very finely and put it into a medium sized bowl.  I guess you could also blitz it in a food processor for speed, but I don’t have one so it’s a knife and the chopping board for me.  *If using tinned pineapple, drain the crushed pineapple first before putting it in the bowl.
  2. Measure out the dried fruit and add them to the pineapple.  If you’re going to add brandy, then add it in now.  Give it all a good stir so that they mix well.  Leave it as you get on with the rest of preparation.  As the dried fruit sits with the pineapple, they’ll get a chance to plump up as they soak in the liquid.
  3. Preheat the oven to 160ºC/320ºF/Gas Mark 2½.  Prepare your cake tin.  Because of the long baking time, I wrapped the outside of my baking tin with newspaper, tied it up with some string.  I also lined the bottom and sides of my cake tin as well.
  4. Measure out the flour in a medium sized bowl and add the chopped glacé cherries to the flour and coat them in flour.  This helps the cherries not to all sink to the bottom of the cake.
  5. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  I use a hand mixer on high speed for about 5 minutes.  Next beat in the eggs one by one.  Then lower the speed and mix in the flour with the cherries.  Finally, add the fruit.  You can continue with the hand mixer, or using a spatula, fold in the fruit or give it a good stir.  Whichever way you choose, make sure it’s evenly mixed in.
  6. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and level the top with the back of metal spoon or the spatula.  Then pop it in the middle shelf of the oven and bake… I do recommend checking on the cake to make sure it doesn’t burn on top.  I’ve put suggested timings below according to cake tin sizes.

I have used various sized cake tins to make this and of course the baking time differs.

  • 8 or 7 inch tin = 1hour 45mins.  Check on it at 1 hour 15mins
  • split the mixture into two 6inch tin = 1 h – 1h 15mins.  Check on it at 45 mins
  • split the mixture into two 2lb loaf tins = 45mins-1hour.  Check on it at 40 mins.

My colleague, Paul, wanted it with royal icing but without the marzipan. So, this is what he got.

Raspberry Burst Brownies

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Raspberry Burst Brownies

I don’t understand why I’ve never put raspberries in a dark chocolate brownie before.  The flavour combination is ingenious!  These brownies have quickly become my signature bake since I decided to bake them 7 weeks ago, popping out my oven week in-week out.

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I meant to follow BBC’s Good Food’s Best Ever Chocolate Raspberry Brownies and duly noted that they suggested mixing half of the raspberries into the mixture and reserving half of the raspberries to scatter at for the end.  However, I couldn’t quite understand why I’d want to put milk chocolate into the batter and dilute the intense dark chocolatey-ness that I wanted to couple with the raspberry flavour.

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So, I reverted back to my default brownie recipe.   This time, I have no microwave.  (However, I’ve kept the microwave bit in the instructions, in case you do).  I really wanted to demonstrate how the brownies can be made using one pot.  In all honesty, I never expected that this brownie would have it’s own post.  But when Sarah and I bit into one, the first occasion I baked them, a raspberry just burst in my mouth.  I laughed, said that they were amazing and promptly named them, Raspberry Burst Brownies.

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Ingredients for Raspberry Burst Chocolate Brownies adapted from Usborne First Cookbook.

  • 4oz/100g dark chocolate
  • 4oz/100g butter
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 4oz/100g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 6oz/160g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 or 2 tbsp of milk if the mixture is too firm.
  • 85g-100g frozen or fresh raspberries (I find that 85g is enough)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.  Line a square baking dish with baking paper. I use a 20x20cm baking tin.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter together on a gentle heat, in a heavy bottomed pan.  Alternatively zap them in a heatproof bowl in the microwave.

3. As the chocolate and butter is melting, or being zapped in the microwave, measure out the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder into another bowl.  Sift the flour if you want to, but it’s not necessary.

4. Add the vanilla extract, salt and sugar to the chocolate melted goodness and mix well.

5. Add the beaten eggs and keep mixing to combine it all.  Don’t worry – they won’t scramble.

6. Gradually add in the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder so that the whole mixture is well combined.

7. Mix in half of the raspberries now.  With the remaining half, scatter them over the top to fill in any deficit spaces before you put it into the oven.

8. Bake in the oven for 20-25 mins.  The secret is to take them out when the top is firm to touch but still wobbles when you shake it.

Verdict?  They are amazing!  Sarah actually told me off for not telling her how amazing they were, when she ate one a few weeks later.  (But we’d taste tested them together that first time…) They are that combination of sweet but sour, and a perfect flavour partnership between the dark chocolate and the raspberry.  But what I love best about them is that the whole raspberries burst in your mouth as you eat them.  Bliss!
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Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns

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The best hot cross buns in Phnom Penh!

If my previous post was months in the making, this has been years.

This time 3 years ago, my friend Rachel posted a beautiful photo of her freshly  baked hot cross buns, complete with twinkly fairy lights in the background.  What got me was that she commented on how incredibly delicious they were, much more than any shop bought variety.  She’d used Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns recipe from BBC Good Food, which she said was overly long (two rises).  Regardless, I  promptly tried it out and the resulting buns were life changing to say the least.

I will never buy another hot cross bun again.

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The life changing hot cross buns!

These home made hot cross buns had bags more flavour and were so moist compared to any Best, Finest or Taste the Difference version.  That year (the only year I made two batches of hot cross buns), I must have raved about the experience so much, that I talked another friend, Sarah into baking hot cross buns for the first time.  We tried out Paul’s slightly simplified (one rise) version on BBC Food.  Boom!  What a taste sensation.

Sarah piping crosses onto hot cross buns
Year 1: Initiating Sarah into baking hot cross buns

Then of course I moved out to Cambodia where you can’t buy hot cross buns anyway and baking is a bit of an adventure.  My first year, Sarah and Joe sent me mixed peel because it wasn’t available in Phnom Penh then but the yeast had died so the buns were lumpy fruit rock cakes.  The second year, they tasted good but they looked anaemic: I hadn’t figured out how my oven worked.  This year, post-long bike ride, unaware that it was Good Friday (which is easy to do in Cambodia), I baked my best batch of hot cross buns, since moving out to Cambodia.  It wasn’t until my housemate (another) Sarah was sinking her teeth into a hot freshly baked bun and said, “It’s definitely Good Friday.  It’s definitely Easter”, that I remembered again why we eat hot CROSS buns on Good Friday.  Duh – seriously, where has my brain wandered off to?

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“It’s definitely Good Friday! It’s definitely Easter!” – Sarah

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But seriously, I don’t know why I don’t bake hot cross buns more often.  Oh, yeah, I remember.  It’s an Easter thingy.  And it’s in the weird time of Lent where all my friends have decided to fast from sugar and all that, so by the time I get round to baking them, I only manage to bake the one batch.  Well, this year, I’ve decided that I’m going to try out a tropical version with mangoes, ginger and lime during Khmer New Year.

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One way to keep the ants off your food in a hot country – create an island!

I’ve adapted Paul Hollywood’s recipes a wee bit to add a bit more spice and replace the apricot jam glaze with an orange syrup one.  No reason really, except this last time, I was too lazy to buy apricot jam didn’t want another jam jar cluttering up my fridge.  I reckon it works pretty well.

And I swear that at one time, I watched a Bake Off Masterclass, in which Paul Hollywood baked these and recommended mixing the fruit into the dough inside the mixing bowl.  It’s much more efficient and you don’t have any bits of fruit trying to escape.  It’s not very explicit in his instructions so I’ve changed that too.

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Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns, adapted from his recipes on BBC Food and BBC Good Food

Ingredients for Hot Cross Buns

For the buns

  • 300ml/10fl oz whole milk
  • 500g/1lb 2oz strong white flour
  • 75g/2½oz caster sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 7g fast-action yeast
  • 50g/1¾oz butter
  • 1 free range egg
  • 150g/5oz sultanas
  • 80g/30z mixed peel
  • 1 apple, cored and chopped
  • 2 oranges, zest only
  • 2tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1tsp mixed spice or 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/8 tsp ground cloves, 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg, 1/8 tsp ground coriander, 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • sunflower/vegetable oil for greasing

For the cross

  • 75g/2½oz plain flour
  • about 5 tbsp of water

For the orange syrup glaze

  • 1 tbsp sugar – caster or granulated
  • juice of half an orange.

Method

1. Bring the milk to the boil and then leave to cool until it’s hand hot (i.e 37°C) .  Heating the milk creates a softer dough.

2. In a bowl, measure out the sultanas, mixed peel, cinnamon, mixed spice, orange zest and chopped apple, and then mix them together.

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3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, yeast, sugar and salt.  Then rub in the butter to the flour, like you’re making short-crust pastry.  Then add the egg and slowly add the milk until you form a sticky dough.

4. Knead the dough for about 10-20 minutes (by hand always takes longer) until it becomes smooth and elastic.

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5. Now mix in the fruit.  Add the fruit into the large bowl and then spread the dough on top of the fruit so that the fruit is fully covered by the dough.  Then gently try and wrap the dough all around the fruit so that the fruit is fully enclosed.  Don’t worry if you can’t entirely.  Then gently massage the fruit into the dough so that the two are thoroughly combined.  Empty it out onto the side.

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6.  Grease the large mixing bowl using a tablespoon of sunflower/vegetable oil, add the dough back in the bowl and cover it with cling film.  Rest the dough for about 1-2 hours until it has doubled in size.

7. Line a baking tray with baking paper.  Once the dough has risen, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and strengthen it.  Bring one side into the middle and press firmly with the palm of your hand, do the same with the other side, then both sides together and press firmly.  Roll out a bit to so that it’s easier to divide.  Divide into 3 equal parts and into 5 again, so that you have 15 pieces altogether.  Lightly flour the surface in order to roll each piece a smooth ball.  Arrange the buns on a baking tray lined with baking paper, leaving just enough space so that buns touch when they expand.  Lightly cover with oiled clingfilm or a damp tea towel.  Leave to rise for an hour.

Top tip: to roll the balls, turn the sides into the middle, then turn over so that the seam side is on the bottom.  Make your hand into a claw shape and roll the ball inside your claw and move your hands quickly in circles – et voilà, smooth balls!

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8.  Pre-heat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.

9. Meanwhile, prepare the mixture of the crosses.  Measure out the flour.  Add in the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it forms a smooth, thick paste.  It needs to be pipe-able, not too thin so that it disappears when it bakes and not too thick that it’s impossible to pipe.  Put the paste into a piping bag.

10.  Once the buns have risen, pipe crosses onto the buns, by piping a line along each row of buns and then repeat in the other direction.  The crosses want to hug the sides of the buns.

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11. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

12.  Measure out the sugar and orange juice into a small saucepan and melt the sugar over a gentle heat.  Brush the orange syrup over the warm buns and leave them to cool.

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13.  Gently break the buns apart and enjoy.

Verdict?  They were the best hot cross buns in Phnom Penh!

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The perfect easter breakfast – coffee and hot cross buns!

Oh so yummy, festive, orange, cranberry and chocolate bread

oh so yummy, festive orange, cranberry and chocolate bread

Merry (belated) Christmas everyone!

It’s funny the foods that you crave.  I keep surprising myself with what my tastebuds hanker after.  My latest three cravings are mature cheddar cheese and milk chocolate digestives.  Those two cravings kicked in a year after I moved and as I didn’t buy or eat a lot of cheese in the UK, can you see why I surprised myself?!

My friend Hannah came to spend Christmas in Cambodia this year.  I asked whether she’d like to bring out a selection of cheeses out with her so that we could have a cheese and wine evening.  And she did!  She had an unexpected 24 hour delay in Doha, and amazingly the cheese survived!  I don’t think that I’ve ever relished the flavours of each of those cheeses, as much as I did that evening!  Thank you, Hannah.

A selection of beautiful english cheeses, trying to disguise themselves as pac men. Thank you Hannah!
A selection of beautiful english cheeses, trying to disguise themselves as pac men.  The camembert is baking in the oven. Thank you Hannah!
Hannah and Esther waiting patiently for me to take this photo and finding it very funny!
Hannah and Esther waiting patiently for me to take this photo and finding it very funny!

I said three, right.  Well, there’s this bread…

I’m pretty sure that Sainsburys does an AMAZING chocolate, cranberry and orange bread at Christmas time.  I’ve eaten it pretty much every year since discovering it.  Except last year.  Last year, was my first Christmas in Cambodia and I couldn’t find any cranberries, frozen, fresh or dried in the whole of Phnom Penh.  Not that I could search very far and wide because of my poorly left knee.

orange, cranberry, chocolate bread

I’ve been thinking about this eating this bread for a couple of months now.  So in November, I bought a bag of dried cranberries whilst I was in Australia to bake it as my festive loaf.

dark chocolate chunks dried cranberries

I couldn’t find a recipe for this bread online.  So, I modified Richard Bertinet’s cranberry and pecan bread recipe from Dough to recreate one of Sainsbury’s festive bread creations.  I loved it.  Hannah loved it.  (She’d never heard of or eaten it before – WHAT?!?!? and she lives in the UK!)  It smells intoxicating and the flavours balance and complement each other perfectly.  We were happy to eat it, just as it was.  No spread, it doesn’t need one.  If you want to, you could try eating it with cheese, like we did.   Surprisingly it works.

Three things:

  1. Make sure that you use chocolate chunks and not chocolate chips.  Chocolate chunks are bigger and taste more satisfying than chocolate chips.
  2. Make it a white loaf.  It’s meant to be a festive treat.  Don’t spoil it by adding more fiber to it.
  3. The chocolate makes it a messy bread to cut and eat.   That could be because it’s just a wee bit warmer in Cambodia than the UK at this time of year… But I dare you to resist eating it when it’s fresh out of the oven!

Finally, finally (and this isn’t late!).  Hope that you have a wonderful New Year’s Day celebration and wishing you all the best for 2015.

orange zest

orange, cranberry and chocolate dough

Ingredients for my oh so yummy, festive Orange, Cranberry and Chocolate Bread.

  • 500g strong white flour
  • 7g fast action yeast
  • 10g salt
  • 350g water – you can do 350ml but weighing it is always more accurate I think.
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 100g dark chocolate cut roughly into chunks
  • 100g dried cranberries

Method

1. Put the dark chocolate, cranberries and orange zest in a small bowl and give it a good mix.  I discovered that the orange zest actually starts plumping up the cranberries while you’re making the dough – cool!

2. In another medium sized bowl, weigh out the flour, add in the yeast and give it a quick stir to mix it into the flour.  By mixing the yeast with flour first, I don’t worry about the salt touching the yeast and thus deactivating the yeast.

3. Now add in the salt, give it a stir.  Then add in the water.   Use a dough scraper, or your hands to combine the water and flour together as much as possible before turning the mixture out onto your work surface.  It is quite a wet dough to begin with, so don’t worry.

4.  Knead until the dough is springy and smooth.  This probably takes about 10 minutes but it depends on what method you use and how wet the dough was to begin with.  I use Richard Bertinet’s slap and fold method.

5.  Now transfer the orange zest, cranberries and chocolate into the medium sized bowl you used for the dough mixture.  Then, lay the dough on top and spread it out so that it envelops the entire surface.  What you’re going to attempt to do next is wrap the dough around the chocolate and the cranberries and mix it so that you can combine them with the dough.  Doing it this way in the bowl makes it a much neater, efficient process, than if you were to do it on a work surface.

6. Once the chocolate and cranberries are combined with the dough, turn it out from the bowl briefly.  Add a little bit (about a tablespoon) of vegetable oil to the bowl to prevent the dough from stick to it as the dough rises.  Cover with cling film or a wet tea towel and leave it rise.  I leave mine to rise in the fridge for a couple of hours so that the flavours have longer to mature.  You could leave it at this stage, in the fridge, for a couple of hours to 2 days.

7.  Prepare a baking tray by lining it with baking paper, or covering it with a layer of semolina so that it doesn’t stick to the tray.  Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto your work surface.  Push your fingers firmly into the dough to leave dents.  This is a much gentler way of knocking the air out.  While you’re doing that try to shape it roughly into a rectangle.

8. Next, strengthen the dough.  Mentally divide the dough into three sections.  Take a third of the dough to the centre and push it down firmly in the middle with the heel of your hand.  Then take the other third of the dough to the centre and push it down firmly with the heel of your hand.  Finally fold the mixture in half and again push it down firmly with the heel of your hand.

9.  This next bit is up to you.  I cut my dough into two halves and shaped one into a circle and the other into a square-ish loaf.  You can shape it into one or as many loaves as you wish.    Cover with damp tea towel or oiled cling film.  Let them rest until they have doubled in size again.  In the meantime, preheat the oven to 250°C/480°F/Gas Mark 9.

10.  When the dough is ready, cut deep, clean incisions in it to help create shape and release gas.  I made a hash (#) sign on one loaf and cut three slices on the other.  I then sprayed the tops of them with water to create a bit of steam as they bake.  (My new electric oven doesn’t like it when you spray the inside of the oven with water.)

11. Whack them in the oven.  After 10 minutes turn the oven down to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7 and bake for 40-50 minutes.  Check that the bread is ready – it should sound hollow when you tap it’s bottom.  If not, set the timer for another 5 minutes and check again.  Let them rest for at least 5 minutes before you enjoy and devour it.

orange, cranberry, chocolate bread

 

Lemon Polenta Cake and the Last Time that I will…

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Continuing the tradition of cake for breakfast

Each time, someone comes to visit me from the UK, I ask them to bring me over some lemons.  At 75 cents each here, they’re a much dearer ingredient than their equally delicious greener counterpart, the lime.  This time, I think that my sister brought me over a kilo of them; a much better suited present than the kilo of homegrown beetroot she once left in my fridge.  So now, I have a treasure trove of lots of lemony lemons living in the bottom of my fridge.

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And so, I’ve begun to work through my favourite lemon recipes.  Last weekend, I came across this one, from 2013.  Don’t be put off by the name.  It’s actually a really simple cake to make and makes an elegant dessert.  When I mentioned it to Caroline, my housemate, she decided that lemon polenta cake was her preferred dessert over Kampot Pepper Brownies.  Actually, that Saturday evening, she declared that it to be her favourite of all my cakes that she’s ever eaten.

I wasn’t so sure.  I wanted rather a lot more tartness, than the original recipe was giving me.  So, I changed the syrup to a drizzle, reducing the amount of sugar and replacing the icing sugar with caster sugar.  The second time round, the lemony tartness complemented the sweetness of the cake beautifully.lemon polenta cake 1

So, let me set the scene, if you are reading this blog for the first time.  It’s June 2013. I’m preparing to leave one life behind and begin a new one in Cambodia.  I’ve just finished working my last week as a Skills Programme Coordinator at the University of Warwick and in the midst of packing up my Redfern flat.  I’m too busy to notice the misery and grief that will soon engulf me.  Thus, I have a much more pragmatic and much less miserable outlook to goodbyes than in this later post.

The last time that I will:

  • Have a tutor meeting
  • Wash my mug at work
  • Walk out the doors in University House as a Student Careers and Skills employee
  • Teach a Warwick Skills Workshop
  • Bake in my redfern kitchen

These last two weeks have been full of ‘last times’. I’ve been trying to acknowledge each one as they come round. It’s not a fully indulgent, let’s sit down and have a cry over them. I don’t really go for that kind of sentimentality. More of a passing nod to say – I saw you and I noticed.ingredients for lemon polenta cake

I realised that you know the last thing I’ve baked in each of my kitchens every time that I’ve moved. I think that I’ve chronicled each move with a recipe.  The countless hours of mundane wrapping and packing into boxes, only made bearable by thoughts of food.  Haha…  Reminisce with me. There was the lemon and ginger cheesecake when I left Cryfield. Then I was up til the wee hours making pots of bramble jelly when I moved out of Heronbank. I made a valiant attempt at using up my bananas and created whiskey, chocolate and banana cake when I moved out of the Subwarden flat in Cryfield 3, which I affectionately refer to as my rabbit warren years. Finally, I have to to move out of Redfern and I baked lemon polenta cake.

lemon zest for lemon polenta cakeprepare the dry ingredients

I’ve done better with each move. David worries less and less about whether I’ll get everything packed up in time for the removal men.

This time I packed away my baking equipment and books the Sunday I finished work; a week before the moving deadline and the day before my CELTA course is due to start.

Which leaves me sitting forlornly at my kitchen table, reminiscing about the huge amounts of baking I’ve done in this kitchen. I don’t know when I’ll be baking again in the next 4 weeks during my CELTA course and I feel bereft.

unbaked lemon polenta cake
baked lemon polenta cake
 

Lemon Polenta cake, adapted from Nigella

Ingredients

  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 100g polenta (try to find the finest)
  • 1½tsp baking powder – if you want it to be gluten free then use the gluten free variety.
  • 3 eggs
  • a pinch of salt
  • zest of 2 lemons

Lemon Drizzle:

  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 75g golden caster sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350 °F, Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 23cm springform round cake tin.

2. In one bowl, measure out the ground almonds, polenta and baking powder and give them a stir.

3. In another bowl, add the butter, sugar, salt and lemon zest.  Cream them together, preferably with an electric mixer or a stand mixer, for a couple of minutes until the mixture changes colour and becomes light.

4. Add in an egg and mix.  Then add a third of the dry ingredients from step no.2  All the time, keep on mixing.  Alternate between adding an egg and dry ingredients.  Nigella notes that you can make this cake entirely gluten-free if you don’t have gluten-free baking powder by beating all the ingredients really hard at that this point.

5. Splodge the mixture into the prepared cake tin and smooth it out with a spatula or a knife.

6. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes.

7. Meanwhile, make the lemon drizzle.  Measure out the sugar in a bowl and then add the juice of two lemons.  Stir together until the sugar dissolves in the lemon juice.

8. The cake is baked when it’s coming away from the edges, firm on top but still rather pale colour on top.  Prick holes to allow the drizzle to seep through.  As you can see, a toothpick can look rather unsightly.  But who cares, when it’s this delicious.  Pour the prepared lemon drizzle over the top of the cake.  Leave to cool as long as you can bear in the cake tin before eating it.

squeeze lemons for lemon drizzle

And I have to say – it’s even more delicious the morning after, when the lemons and almonds have had a bit more time to get to know each other and the flavours have melded together.

lemon polenta cake 2

Wholemeal Sea Salt Chocolate Thins

wholemeal sea salt chocolate thins

My colleagues keep asking me when I’m next bringing in some home-baking.  I told one of my colleagues today that I’d made some INCREDIBLE biscuits.  Nope, I hadn’t brought them into work.  Cue – sulky face.  Admittedly, these chocolate thins are so good that I’m not sure that they’re going to make it out the front door.

preparing to cream together the butter, sugar and salt

I took in my coconut, lime and malibu drizzle cake into work one Friday to lift morale.  This is the kind of thing that people do, wherever I’ve worked.  However, apparently not here.  Ever since that Friday, (and I am exaggerating slightly) my colleagues seem to have turned into cake hungry toddlers: I’ve seen some sulky pouting faces when a Friday goes by without cake and I’ve not heard the end of:

“Friday is cake day *hint* *hint*” – to which I answer, “Oh, what are you bringing in?”

“When are going to bring in some more cake?” — “When you buy me some butter/eggs/flour.”

“I haven’t seen biscuits for a while.” — “There is a supermarket down the road…”

What is this?  A simple act of voluntary cake sharing kindness erupting a longing for home-baked sugar filled delights.  They even complained that I didn’t bring in a mushy, underbaked banana cake because they’d have appreciated it in any form.

soft dough for wholemeal chocolate thins

Anyway, I do find my colleagues’ reaction hilarious and affirmative.  And … well, as they opened the door to trying out my baking experiments, successes and disasters, I brought in some spiced chocolate banana cake that had gone wrong.  It looked like a brownie but it tasted medicinal, like cloves and nutmeg.  Not all of them were impressed with that offering.  Not that that was a deliberate move at all.  But they had requested the disasters… So, *teehee* I wonder how long their enthusiasm for my baking will last?

take a spoonful of chocolate wholemeal dough

As there are rather a lot of us english teachers at the school, not everyone gets a piece of whatever’s been baked.  One day, one of my colleagues realised that she’d missed out on all of my cakes.  Fortunately for her, she feeds me cakes and biscuits from her ‘ot loi’ (khmer for no money) shop.  So, when she asked me to bake something for the end of term and I’d run out of eggs to bake a cake, I came up with idea of baking these gorgeous chocolate wholemeal thins, that I’d seen on the back of Allinsons Plain Wholemeal Flour.

roll it lightly into a ball

Once I’d baked one batch, I realised that I very quickly needed to make another.  They’re so wholesomely, deliciously more-ish and have that glorious nutty flavour imparted from the wholemeal flour.  So, I did.   Then later that day, I had this flash of brilliance that by adding sea salt would lift them to the realms of epic and add even more nutritional value.  That’s how my brain works late at night.  So, into the mixture went a conservative quarter teaspoon of fine sea salt.  That’s all the recipe needed for the sea salt to bring out the chocolate flavour and add a touch of sophistication.press down lightly with a fork

A cautionary note if you want to try this recipe but don’t have any sea salt.  Table salt has a much stronger flavour than sea salt.  I haven’t tried it with table salt, but from previous experience, I’d add half the amount when using table salt.

Jonathan and Emily in Cambodia
Jonathan and Emily, who travelled many, many miles to adventure in SE Asia, were taste-testers for this bake.

You can bake these without the sea salt.  Just omit the salt.  They’re really good.  But just so that you know.  I trialled both recipes on my resident taste-testers last weekend, Emily and Jonathan who were visiting!   There were barely enough biscuits left to test out on a family of 6 later on, who I watch the GBBO together with.  They unanimously preferred the sea salt chocolate thins.

Wholemeal Sea Salt Chocolate Thins

Wholemeal Sea Salt Chocolate Thins, adapted from the back of the Allinsons Plain Wholemeal Flour Packet.  Thankfully can also be found on Baking Mad.

Makes between 24-26 chocolate thins

Ingredients

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt and a bit more to sprinkle on top later
  • 125g plain wholemeal flour
  • 25g cocoa powder

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170ºC/ 340ºF/Gas Mark 5

2. Cream together the butter, sugar and the sea salt until light and fluffy.  This normally takes between 3-5 minutes.

3. Add the cocoa powder and wholemeal flour and mix until it comes together in a soft dough.

4. Cover and let it rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

5. Prepare a baking tray with baking paper.  Take a teaspoon of the mixture (roughly between 12-16g) and lightly roll it into a ball between the palms of your hands.  I say lightly to avoid overworked dough, resulting in tough wee biscuits.  And hey, they don’t have to be perfect balls.  You’re going to be pressing them down with a fork anyway.

6. Use a fork to press each ball down.  If the mixture starts to stick to the back of the fork, lightly flour the back of the fork and that will prevent it.  Sprinkle a wee bit of salt over each biscuit.

7. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.  Check at 10 minutes, in case you’re oven bakes things super fast.

8. Leave to cool on the baking tray until the biscuits are cool.  Then gently transfer onto a wire rack to cool completely.  They’ll keep in an airtight container for at least 3 days.  They’ve never lasted past the 3 day mark with me and in my experience, they get a bit crumblier as each day passes.

Did my colleague who pushed for an eggless bake get one?  Oh yes.  She got a biscuit when I handed them out on the last day of term.  Then she cheekily reached out and took another.

The alternative bake: wholemeal chocolate thins without sea salt
The alternative bake: wholemeal chocolate thins without sea salt

Multi-seeded Wholemeal Bread

Multi-seed wholemeal bread

Multi-seeded wholemeal bread is by far the best thing that I bake here in Cambodia.  It’s better than any cake, biscuit or pie that I’ve made and any macaron that I’ll attempt to make in this humid heat.  I’ll give you three reasons why.

  1. It tastes nuttily wholesome and super-yummy.
  2. I love wholemeal bread and I’ve yet to be able to buy wholemeal bread that tastes like proper British wholemeal bread, anywhere in Phnom Penh.
  3. You can’t go wrong with it.  When your oven has no temperature gauge (like mine), you know that you’ll be safe whacking the oven on the highest heat and leaving the dough to bake in the oven without fear of sinking, like you’d get in a cake.

Ingredients for Multi-seed wholemeal bread

It took me a few months to find wholemeal flour, mind.  I came across farine du blé noir and wholewheat flour on the shelves in Lucky Supermarket and stood scratching my head as to whether either of them was wholemeal flour.  I was pretty sure that wholewheat flour was the american name for wholemeal, but farine du blé noir?  As I discovered later with the help of google search – that’s french for buckwheat flour.  Not exactly what I was looking for.

Then it took another few weeks before I could bake the bread.   My left knee twisted one November evening as I was lying in bed and I was in excruciating pain.  I couldn’t walk, straighten my knee or put any pressure on it.  Visits to multiple doctors, an X-ray and  MRI scan later revealed severe inflammation and fluid caused by a fall off a motorbike several months beforehand.  Walking on Phnom Penh’s uneven surfaces, hopping on and off tuk tuks and motos had served to aggravate the injury.  My mum advised me not to do any baking that required standing up, and have you tried to hand knead dough sitting down?  Not worth the effort if you’re as short as me.  So, I was pretty much laid up on a sofa with an ice-pack on my knee for the best part of a month and a half.

ingredients for wholemeal breadrough looking dough

2 weeks in, I was pretty bored.  So I hobbled out on my moto to buy some wholewheat flour from Lucky and made my first wholemeal loaf.  It was overproved and underbaked.  But when I tore off that first piece of bread and bit into it, I was the happiest little baker in the whole of Cambodia.  I’m pretty sure no-one rivalled my happiness.

Then my tastebuds started hankering after a multi-seeded loaf, like Warburtons Seeded Batch.  I was reading Richard Bertinet’s Dough and realised that I could just experiment by putting some seeds into my bread recipe.  And that’s how I came up with my multi-seeded wholemeal bread recipe, which as you know, is the BEST thing that I bake in Cambodia.

combine the ingredientsadd the dough to the seeds

I think that part of the reason for why the bread tastes so good is that I’ve always allowed this bread to have a slow rise in the fridge to give the flavours a longer time to mature.  However, I don’t think that it’ll ruin the flavour of the bread too much if you a) don’t have enough room in your fridge or b) want to biting into it within 3 hours from start to finish.  

dough ready to pop into the fridge

I find that I can’t eat a whole loaf in time before the humidity causes the mould to break out on my bread 🙁 !  Thus, I’ve taken to making two smaller loaves and freezing one loaf once I’ve baked it.

So, here’s the scrumptious, nuttily, wholesome Multi-seeded Wholemeal Bread recipe, with it’s foundations in Richard Bertinet’s Dough.

Ingredients

  • 250g wholemeal flour – use strong bread flour if you can.
  • 250g strong white bread flour
  • 7g fast action yeast
  • 10g salt
  • 350g tepid water
  • 30g extra-virgin olive oil – but normal olive oil will also work too
  • 100g various seeds – I used equal measures of pumpkin, sunflower, chia and sesame seeds

Method

1. Measure out both flours and yeast in a medium-large bowl and mix.  Then mix in the salt.  I’m in the habit of adding the salt at this point so that it won’t touch the yeast.

2. Add the water and oil and stir to combine.  I use a scraper at this point to combine the ingredients, but you can use just your hands. It’ll make a wet dough but don’t be scared by it. The wetness of the dough should ensure that it’s a soft texture. Turn it out onto your work surface and knead. If you’re like me and a bit slow at kneading, it’ll take about 15-20 minutes. Of course, you could use a machine fitted with a dough hook. In which case, put all ingredients for the dough into a large bowl, ensuring that the yeast and salt are added to opposite sides of the bowl. Mix on a slow speed until it all combines and then move it onto a medium-high speed for about 10-15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.

3. Measure out the seeds into the same mixing bowl that you used for the bread dough.  Add the kneaded bread dough to the same bowl and work the seeds into the dough in the bowl.  Sometimes, for the last few minutes, I’ll finish combining the seeds into the dough out of the bowl .

Top Tip: Work the seeds into the dough in the mixing bowl to prevent the seeds from escaping everywhere.

4. Pour a little bit of vegetable oil into the bowl and lightly cover the dough with oil. This helps the dough not to stick as it rises. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave it for an overnight prove in the refrigerator.  Alternatively you could leave in a warm place for at least 1 hour and doubled in size.

5. Prepare your baking tray or loaf tine.  Once the dough has doubled in size, gently place it on the work surface and gently press down on the dough with your fingers to release the gas.  Do this into a rectangular shape.  I find this works just as well as punching the dough – a tip I learned from Richard Bertinet.  Strengthen the dough by folding the dough a third of the way down into the middle, press down with the heel of your hand.  Repeat with the other side, then fold over the middle and press firmly with the heel of your hand.  The dough should feel firmer and stronger.

6. Lightly flour the surface to shape the dough.  For a round loaf, like in the photos, I tuck the ends into the middle of the bread, turn it over so that the tucks are on the bottom, keep one hand as still as I can partly under the cob and then use my other hand to turn and shape the dough into a tight, round shape.  Here’s a link to The Fresh Loaf on shaping dough, as a visual aid.

7.  Transfer onto a baking tray/loaf tine (depending on the shape of your loaf), cover loosely with cling film or a tea towel, until doubled in size.  This might take 40 mins – 1.5 hour.

8. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 250°C/480°F/Gas Mark 9.

9.  When the dough is ready.  Cut deep, clean incisions to help create shape and to help release gas.  On this loaf, I made a big hash sign (#) but made the mistake of not flouring my knife beforehand, so the dough stuck to the blade.  Lightly flour the top of the bread.

10.  Spray the inside of the oven with water to create steam and put the dough into the oven.  Bake for 10-15 minutes at 250°C/480°F/Gas Mark 9 then reduce it to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7 for another 40 minutes.  Check whether the bread is ready – it should make a hollow sound when you tap it’s bottom.  If not, set the timer for another 10 minutes and check again.

multi-seed wholemeal bread

p.s. Oh and what happened to my left knee?

I’m delighted to report that it’s on the mend.  Have I told you that Claire (of the white chocolate, oat and raspberry cookie fame) is also a physiotherapist?  She gave me some physio advice and taped up my knee while I was in New Zealand. I’ve faithfully been doing my exercises twice a day and resting it up lots.  However, I reacted to the tape so progress has been slower than I’d have liked.  I’ve not been able to dance or jump or walk for 10 minutes without regretting it the next day.  Last week, I went to a conference in Singapore called Kingdom Invasion, where they prayed for healing for my knee.  Whilst I was in Singapore, my knee got a lot better.  Good enough that I can jump, dance and swim breast-stroke without pain.  I’m still doing my physio and not overdoing physical activity – but the knee is definitely on course for a complete healing.  I can’t wait for the day when I start running again.  Praise God!

Pip and me leaping off the ledge for my photo of the day
Pip and me leaping off the ledge for my photo of the day at Adventure Cove, Sentosa

Chinese Peanut Cookies

Chinese Peanut Cookies

I’ve discovered that peanuts lose weight.  No kidding.  I’ve been roasting and peeling kilos of peanuts for this recipe and this is my unintended learning outcome.  Seriously, somehow in the process of them getting hot in the oven and unzipping their jackets, followed by a gentle coax to peel it off them a bit later, they are lighter than when I first had them.

I know.  When I describe it thus, it’s SO obvious.  Of course, those papery skins weigh something.  But who would have thought that peanut skins weigh so much!  300g of raw shelled peanuts = 254g skinned and roasted peanuts.

grinding up the peanuts

Given the plentitude of peanuts in Cambodia, and that I fell in love with these small morsels of rich, peanutty, salty, sweetness the moment I bit into my first one, I’ve been testing one chinese peanut cookie recipe after another, ever since I arrived here.  That was 5 months ago.  In fact, I’ve begun to wonder whether my friends are sick of me testing it out on them, but too polite to tell me.  ‘Try this cookie and this one.  Can you tell me if you can taste the difference between them?’  But, truth be told, every recipe I tried was either a tad too sweet or just didn’t recreate that cookie-crumbling-then-melting-in-your-mouth sensation.

So, I experimented with sugars and flours and ended up with this recipe.  I replaced the icing sugar with caster sugar to remove the rather cloying sweetness of the cookie and introduced cornflour to the mix.  (I use cornflour in my shortbread recipe to create a crumbly texture.)  Then I discovered that if you don’t eat the cookies for at least 2 days, the cookies soften and thus melt in your mouth regardless of whether you added cornflour to it.  Unfortunately, they don’t tend to hang around long enough for that to happen.

more peanut cookies

They’re coming with me to my friend Amy’s last-of-the-15-days-of-Chinese-New-Year party on Friday.  At first, I thought that this was a solely Chinese celebration, until I asked my mum. Nope, apparently in Korea they also have a special meal to mark the 15th day, the day of the full moon.

In Amy’s invite she asked:

‘The festive food Chinese people eat during this time all have symbolic meaning… so please bring a dish (fish / chicken / peanuts / cake / oranges / noodles / pineapple).”

Well, I googled ‘peanut chinese meaning’ and found this interesting site Food Symbolism during Chinese New Year. Peanuts symbolise health, long life, multiplication in wealth and good fortune etc etc.  So, it’s clear.  This Friday will be an auspicious occasion to debut my version of Chinese Peanut Cookies.

Peanut cookies lining up for the oven

I’ve adapted this Peanut Cookie recipe from Kitchen Tigress

Ingredients for 40 cookies

  • 200g peanuts, roasted and peeled & a handful (50g or so) to decorate the cookies
  • 150g plain flour
  • 50g cornflour
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 130ml groundnut oil (also known as peanut oil in some countries).  If you don’t have this then vegetable or sunflower oil also works
  • 1 egg, beaten

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.   Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.

2. Roast and skin the peanuts.  If you already have roasted peanuts, rinse off any salt on them and dry them.

3. Grind the peanuts into a fine-ish powder in a food processor*.  They’ll clump together towards the end as the oil is released.  Don’t worry about it.  When you’re done just break up the clumps with your fingers and when you add in the sugar.  *Initially, I didn’t have a food processor (now I use my Bamix) so I pounded them into a powder with a pestle and mortar.

4. In a separate measure out the cornflour, flour and salt.  Sieve it before adding it to the peanut and sugar mix to ensure a lighter texture.

5. Pour in the oil and mix together with your hands until it comes together away from the edges of the bowl.

6. Take a tablespoonful of the mixture, roll it into a ball and flatten it lightly on the baking tray.  If it helps, each ball weighed between 15-20g when I weighed mine out.  Carefully position a peanut half on the top of the peanut balls and brush the tops generously with beaten egg.  The beaten egg gives them a beautiful shine and colour.

7. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until golden brown.

8. Allow them to cool for 2 minutes on the baking tray and then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

It is seriously tempting to eat these while they are still hot, so watch that you don’t burn your mouth when you do.  Enjoy and Happy Chinese/Korean New Year!

Claire’s cookie: Raspberry, White Chocolate and Oat Cookies

Raspberry, White Chocolate, Oat Cookies

Over Christmas and New Year, I visited my friend Claire in New Zealand.  It was my first trip to a first-world country, since I’d moved to Cambodia.  And boy, could you tell!  If you know the story of country mouse (moi) visiting town mouse (Claire).  Well, that says it all really…  The first night that I got there and I was snuggling into my bed under my duvet after a hot shower, I was beaming.

I also enjoyed:

1. Larking about with Jen and Claire.

Fish and Chips at the famous Mangonui Fish Shop with Claire and Jen
Fish and Chips at the famous Mangonui Fish Shop with Claire and Jen

2. Drinking in the greenery, mountains and sheep!!!

Reminds me of Scotland. Mount Maunganui - 10 minute cycle from Claire's house.
Reminding me of Scotland. Mount Maunganui – 10 minute cycle from Claire’s house.

3. Claire’s hospitality.

Claire baking the cookies in NZ
Claire baking the cookies

One evening we were having quite a frank discussion together with her housemates about what can hold us back from doing things or giving it a go.  I’m not referring to procrastinating doing the ironing or filing away the bank statements.  You know what I mean: shying away from ‘that’ conversation, not putting your hand up to ask the conference speaker a question, refusing to speak a foreign language.  So, what is it for you?  Is it the fear of losing, the dislike of being in the limelight, the discomfort of your brain cells having to work so hard, the embarrassment of looking like a fool?   We all owned up to at least one of those things.

Ingredients for raspberry, white chocolate and oat cookies

Then Claire very matter-of-factly put out there, that one of the things that helps her to just give things a go, is that she gets a kick from doing something but not doing it well.  She gave her own example that she’ll never be a pro-surfer but nevertheless, she keeps surfing and enjoys it a lot.   Is she slightly kooky for owning such an attitude?  Or is that one of the secrets of relishing life and taking hold of opportunities when they present themselves?  I leave that to you to mull over.

Frozen raspberries

Undoubtedly, her philosophy contributes partly to her willingly trying new ingredients, techniques and recipes.  But let me just say – there is nothing not good about her food.  In fact, her chocolate cookie recipe got me published in a magazine.  She inspired me with how she’s embraced the Kiwi food culture whilst she’s been there.  The Paleo diet, the almond milk…

And Jo Seagar.  I’d never heard about Jo before but she’s a big star in the Kiwi culinary world.  Claire and her housemates love her recipes, and I’ve taken note of her name now.  Claire adapted this cookie recipe from one of Jo’s recipes and now it’s known as ‘Claire’s cookies’ by her friends.  Perhaps because she makes them a lot, and they are incredibly deliciously and more-ish.

white chocolate shards

I know because she made them when we got back from our camping trip in Russell. Her housemates and I pretty much gobbled up the whole batch in one sitting. (I hasten to add that she did halve the recipe.)  Even so, she was amazed that they went so quickly.  Seriously?  They go down so well with a cup of tea.

Claire’s genius was replacing the glacé cherries in the original recipe with raspberries.  White chocolate can be sickly-sweet sometimes.  The sharp, sweetness of the raspberry cuts through this and complements the white chocolate beautifully.  The oats provide texture and bite.

Stir in the dry ingredients

When I made these cookies back home, I made the mistake of stirring in the raspberries too vigorously, breaking up the raspberries so that the mixture turned pink.  Pretty, but not tasty.  The flavour of the raspberries dissipated and they weren’t nearly as nice as I’d remembered them to be.  The two photos below illustrate the difference.  The photo on the left was my first batch of cookies and I broke up the raspberries too much.  The second batch (photo on the right) was much better.  Take note, gently mixing in the raspberries is the secret to the having bursts of raspberry in your mouth.

Raspberry, White Chocolate and Oat cookies attempt 1Raspberry, White Chocolate, Oat Cookies attempt no. 2

I also found out that in Phnom Penh a) frozen raspberries are difficult to source and b) cost $22 per kilo from Thai Huot!  So, when you make these in a temperate climate where raspberries grow naturally, remember $22 and just how lucky you are.

Raspberry, White Chocolate and Oat Cookies adapted from It’s easier than you Think by Jo Seagar

Makes 30 large cookies or 40 slightly smaller-medium sized cookies

Ingredients

  • 250g butter
  • 175g sugar – Claire uses ordinary white granulated sugar and they turn out amazing. I used a combination of white and light brown sugar and they were also good. Moral of the story – use whatever sugar combination that tickles your tastebuds.
  • 3 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 140g oats (jumbo oats are even better, but I only had normal rolled oats)
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 250g white chocolate chopped
  • 150g raspberries, fresh or frozen

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170°c/325°F/Gas Mark 3. Line baking trays.

2. Beat the butter, sugar and condensed milk together until the mixture is pale and smooth.

3. Stir in the vanilla, rolled oats, flour and baking powder until the dry mixture has just combined with the wet mixture above.

4. Gently mix in the white chocolate and the raspberries.  Be careful not to break up the raspberries too much.

5. Place a tablespoonful of mixture on the baking trays and press flat with a wet fork.  They will spread out slightly so leave a couple of fingers width between each tablespoonful of mixture.

6. Bake in the oven for 20-25 mins until golden brown. Allow to cool for 2-3 mins on the trays and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Apparently they will keep in an airtight container for 10 days to 2 weeks.  They lasted less than 5 days in mine.

 Mmmm... bringing back memories of kiwiland

Making mincemeat of khmer (and two suet free mincemeat recipes)

Ha! If only.  It’s more like I’m butchering the language, particularly since I’ve been away from Cambodia for almost 3 weeks.  But, indulge me in my choice of slightly obscure title.  When I came up with it before Christmas, it seemed like the perfect lead into giving you an update on my language learning and include a Christmas mincemeat recipe, or two, at the same time.  Then my NZ holiday scuppered the timings, ever so slightly…

Mincemeat v.1

Well, 3 months into learning khmer and my efforts have been paying off to varying degrees of success.  It’s nice to get comments from people who kindly tell me that I speak khmer well, or that I know a lot. I realise that we are generally our worst critics when we are learning language, but honestly, their feedback couldn’t feel further from the truth.  I make a lot of Khmers laugh at how I trip over words, mix up words that sound similar (think bye and bike), struggle with the pronunciation of peculiar sounds that are foreign to the english and korean tongue.  To illustrate the kinds of mistakes that I’ve made, look below:

mürl (10 000) and mürn (to watch)
toe’it (small) and doe’it (similar/like)
ban cha’oo (Vietnamese pancake) and ban ???? I still don’t know what it is that I say.  But when I say it, it’s a swear word apparently. Can you imagine how nervous I am about asking for one from a seller?

It’s not just the laughs that make language learning so enjoyable. I think that I’ve said before how I’m really enjoying learning this very literal language. The other day, I learnt that the khmer for the colour burgundy is poah chreuk chee’um. The literal translation is ‘the colour of pig’s blood’; not quite as majestic sounding as burgundy, the word we use to describe a regal red colour!

IMG_3713

More recently, my improved language skills has meant that more and more Khmers feel able to have a ‘proper’ conversation with me.  Unfortunately, I only understand 50% of what they are saying!  So, I have to make up the rest of what they have said because I don’t want to break the flow of the conversation.  As you can imagine, this could lead to all sorts of misunderstandings.   I think that the real problem is with me not wanting to lose face.  I’ve been doing this in korean for such a long time that it’s become some sort of default setting in me.  In korean, we call this pretending, 아는척 – ah-neun-chug.  

Some people are much braver than me and stop to clarify meaning.  I’m going to have to adopt some of their bravery to force myself out of this habit.  You’ll have to imagine my big sigh, just now, in this realisation and resolution.

tart, tart, granny apples in the absence of cooking apples

Nevertheless, even with all my bad behaviour and language, the Friday before Christmas, I sat an exam, passed and graduated from the Survival Khmer language course. Hurrah! So, I celebrated by getting on a plane and going on holiday to New Zealand for a few weeks! Yeah 🙂 because that’ll really consolidate my language learning!

The all important lime zest and lime juice!

But my time here isn’t all about language learning is it?  I bake a lot too.  Simon had asked me to make some Christmas refreshments and baking for the church’s Christmas service.  So, I made two versions of mincemeat based on the availability of ingredients I found, or lack thereof!  Andrew gave me this recipe and normally I make this recipe with sultanas, currants, citrus peel and most importantly fresh cranberries. But my efforts to locate any cranberries, fresh, dried or frozen, in Phnom Penh have yet to bear fruit. Pun unintended. 😛  Even with the deviation from the original recipe, these mincemeat recipes were a hit and I was asked for the recipe – particularly for version 2.

Throw all the ingredients into the bowl

And that was my astonishing discovery whilst recipe testing.  The vast majority of Khmers like mincemeat, even amongst children.  Of my Khmer taste testers,  I found that only 1 in 20 didn’t like how it tasted.  Is that the same in the UK too?  Have I been long under the wrong impression that 50% of UK population don’t like mincemeat?

Or is it, just that this is just one of the tastiest mincemeat recipes out there?  Lol.  I’ll let you decide in due course.

Mix it all together

I don’t use suet in these recipes.  Instead, I use grated apple to give moisture and bulk.  The advantages of this approach are that you don’t have to cook it and you can use it immediately.  Taste-wise, I think that it’s superb.  It’s fresh from the apples (it’s even better with the cranberries) and zingy from the limes.  The only spice I added was nutmeg.  The nutmeg I used was ground already and thus, I used more than I expected.  Using freshly, grated nutmeg will have a much stronger flavour so add to taste.  You could always add cinnamon, cloves or a hint of ginger.  In future versions, I would like to add some alcohol of a sort, like rum or brandy.  This time, however, I had a budget to stick to.

Jar of mincemeat

Ingredients for Mincemeat v.1
Makes about 650-700g

2 green apples, grated (preferably cooking apples, but any tart green apple will do)
150g seedless raisins
250g mixed dried fruit – the pack I found had glacé cherries, raisins and citrus peel
75g roughly chopped blanched almonds
60g dark brown sugar or muscovado sugar also works.  I used light brown sugar because that’s what I had then added 2 tbsp of dark brown sugar later for flavour.  If I made this again, I’d only use dark brown sugar.
Zest and juice of 1 or 2 limes, depending on their size
2 tbsp orange marmalade or 50g of chopped candied citrus peel
Ground nutmeg to taste – I added 1tbsp in the end but do add it 1 tsp at a time

Ingredients for Mincemeat v.2
Makes about 650-700g

2 green apples, grated (preferably cooking apples, but any tart green apple will do)
150g seedless raisins
150g mixed dried cambodian fruit – pineapple, papaya and mango
75g roughly chopped blanched almonds
50g sunflower seeds
60g dark brown sugar or muscovado sugar also works
Zest and juice of 1 or 2 limes, depending on size
2 tbsp orange marmalade
Ground nutmeg to taste – I added 1tbsp in the end but do add it 1 tsp at a time

Method
Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.  You can use it straightaway or store in sterilised jars in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Happy helpers learning how to make mince pies
Happy helpers learning how to make mince pies