Posts Tagged ‘baking’

Things I have learned about myself in the kitchen

1. Sometimes, I can spend all day doing things but somehow, when I get to the end of the day, I feel like I haven’t done anything.

2. Every so often, I spend a whole day burning things.

3. When I feel something might not turn out well, I need to trust that feeling, rather than going “I’m sure it’s going to be fine.” Often, it is not going to be fine and I curse myself for not listening to my instincts.

4. I can be grumpy in the kitchen. Boy, can I be grumpy! I’m sure you were all under the impression that I am quite lovely and bright as a daisy and Mother Earth-y. Weren’t you?… Weren’t you? Well, it appears, I’m not. I’m as shocked as you are, readers. I’m as shocked as you are.

5. I can spend hours washing leaves and drying them. Sorrel is probably my least favourite thing to wash because it doesn’t respond well to being spun. If you separate each leaf out and lay them on some paper towel to air dry, they are happier but it takes f o r e v e r.

6. I didn’t know that eggs are classed as ‘raw meat’ in the kitchen. That’s not really something I’ve learned about myself but it’s still an interesting kitchen-related fact.

7. I do not drink enough when I work in a kitchen. I think it’s because I’m spending less time by the coffee machine. Usually, making drinks for other people will prompt me to think of making myself a cup of tea or getting some water. But in the kitchen, I’ve got out of that habit. Sometimes I’ll get to the end of my working and realise I’ve drunk nothing all day.

8. I don’t like a cake to go out untasted. Because that would just be careless. What kind of cake baker would give the public something they hadn’t tasted? And so I eat a lot of cake. Some people might say it’s just greed because, really, if the same batch of cake mix made 6 carrot cakes, does each individual cake need to be tasted? A lot of people would say no. I would say that you can never be sure so it’s best to taste them anyway.

9. If it is quiet, my Fast Mode doesn’t quite kick in. I can hear a voice in the back of my head telling me to start cleaning and get a head start on it all so I don’t have as much to do at closing time. So I look around and see bits of lemon icing splatted on the surfaces and scone mix all over the Hobart mixer and scraps of stuff on the floor and I’ll be like, “Hmm, what needs doing? Nope, nothing. It looks fine in here.” Then I get to the end of the day and I’m like “Omygoodness there’s sooooo much to do.”

10. The little paper hats you have to wear in the kitchen always make me feel a little sailorish. Or Thunderbirdsish. Let’s go with Thunderbirds. And it is a known fact of life that everything is more exciting if you pretend you are in Thunderbirds.

My kitchen rules

Well, they’re not rules as such. It’s more of a theory on how I cook/bake. It’s not even a theory. That makes it sound like a well reasoned method with some philosophy behind it. It’s actually more of a control freak thing. I hate people sneakily adding things to my food that I didn’t ask them to put there.

Things I do not use in my kitchen.

1. Self raising flour
What an abomination! If I wanted baking powder in my flour, I’d bloody well put it there myself. By using plain flour and bicarb, I can regulate how much is in there and control the end result. With self raising, I know they probably mix it together pretty well, but the proportions of flour to raising agent aren’t going to be exactly the same in each batch so you lose control of the end result. I also find my otherwise smooth cake gets bumps all over the surface when I use self raising. Urgh.

2. Baking powder
Again, someone else has mixed bicarb with something else and packaged it for me. If I wanted my bicarb mixed with other stuff, I’ll do it myself, thank you.

3. Salted butter
Stop adding stuff to my food! If I wanted salt in there, I’d have put it myself. Actually, I make my own butter at home most of the time, by whipping double cream, so I know there’s no salt in it anyway.

4. Pre-mixed spice mixes
A generic ‘piri-piri’ spice makes me cringe. A curry powder sets me on edge. When did we start having to conserve our arm energy to the extent where taking five or six spices down from the cupboard became too exhausting and we opted for the catch-all curry powders? If you have some curry powder or garam masala or dried herb mix in your cupboard, I’d like you to go and get it out. Read the ingredients on the label. Next time you go shopping, just buy those herbs/spices individually. You may find there’s something in there you like loads, oregano, for example. Next time you make something that requires dried herb mix, you can put in more of the oregano and less of the other stuff. Take back control of your dinner! These generic spice mixes mean giving control of the taste of your dinner to someone who has no idea what you like eating. I do have a few mixes I’ve made myself in a salt and pepper mill. A Moroccan one, for example, which had cracked nutmeg, blades of mace, chilli flakes, whole allspice, whole peppercorns, etc, so when I’m making Moroccan food, it gets all crunched in there, fresh, and hasn’t been ground months ago, half way across the world.

5. Table salt
Another energy-conserving thing, I think. It’s far too much effort to have lovely chunks of rock salt and crush them over a plate of food or use a grinder. One must have it pre-ground into tiny dots and just sprinkle it. I despair. Let’s get back to grinding.

6. Margerine/vegetable/olive oil spread
The spread things that are a mix between butter and vegetable oil are pretty atrocious. If I wanted vegetable fat in my butter, I’d bloody well put it there myself. The olive oil spreads that are being advertised as super healthy, eurgh. If the olive oil in there was good high quality, they’d be selling it as proper olive oil and getting a lot more money for it. The olive oil that makes it’s way into the spreads is like the offcuts of cake that you nibble to test it. It’s the waste product. If I wanted to eat olive oil so much, I’d just get the good stuff out of the bottle in my kitchen.

7. Bolognese sauce
Omg, the easiest thing ever to make at home. Half tomatoes into a pan and heat gently til they break down. And any herbs or spices that you like and season well. Done.

8. Vanilla extract
Easiest. Thing. Ever. And so much cheaper to make the proper way. Enough of this £10 fancy Dr. Oetker stuff. The amount of extra ingredients in that stuff is ridiculous. Vanilla extract is just vanilla pods preserved in vodka. On my shelf is a bottle of good quality vodka jammed with scored vanilla pods which has been slowly brewing for over a year now. It’s that simple. When it gets low, I add more vodka. When it starts to look pale, I add more vanilla pods.

9. Grated cheese
Pre grated cheese… Vomit! What an awful awful invention. It’s dry, the texture is hard and plasticky. I mean, it’s just an atrocity. Take a block of cheese and grate it. It takes about 30 seconds. Are our lives really so busy that we need this time saving device? The cheese that you get pre grated is barely even worth it. It’s a waste. I’d much rather have no cheese at all. There’s no flavour. There’s no freshness. Pre grated cheese is like one big sorry mess. Can we ban this via an act of parliament please?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of my little rant against the food industry. I’d like to think it’s because I’m terribly Mother Earth-y and love to make things from scratch but I think it’s more personal than that. I think it’s more about being annoyed when people think they know what I want. How dare people put salt in my butter?! Did they ask me?! No! How rude!

Cake day

I bet you’re all hanging on the edge of your seat, wondering what happened after my gluten free failure the other day? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that I arrived in the kitchen the next day, eggs in hand, and rectified the mistake. The result was a nice light fluffy sponge with moisture from the plums and texture from the ground almonds and it all went fabulously.

Yesterday, I went into work a bit early and I thought I’d give those gluten free members of the public a bit of choice so I made a chocolate torte. My phone had a freak out so I couldn’t take any photos of that cake but you’ll have to trust me that the experiment was successful. I’ll give you the recipe at the end. I added raspberries and it went down quite well with the public. The first one sold out in an hour! Then I got a bit crazy and adapted the recipe to make a chocolate, orange and almond torte.

Now I tend to think of gluten free cake as Compromise Cake, cause it’s usually a rubbish version of real cake. I resolved to change this in my kitchen and to make cake that is actually nice, not just gluten free nice, which we all know, means ‘rubbish.’

I also attacked the Overripe Fruit bowl and made a banana and plum cake, an apple upside down cake and a savoury apple bread thing that we served with cheese.

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I made a total of 18 cakes yesterday. It was a pretty good day.

Chocolate almond torte
(adapted from BBC Goodfood recipe)
250g dark chocolate
210g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
75g ground almonds
5 eggs, whisked

Preheat the oven to 170c. Grease a round cake tin then line the bottom with baking paper and grease again. Melt the chocolate, butter and sugar down. Take it off the heat and let it cool while you whisk the eggs. Mix them in to the chocolate mixture then fold in the almonds. Bake on 170c for about 45 minutes or until it looks done. Let it cool in the tin. It will sink a bit and the end result is something denser than a sponge and lovely and rich. It is pretty when decorated with icing sugar and small edible flowers.

Adaption 1 – Chocolate raspberry torte

Everything is the same as above except you add the raspberries at the end and when it is finished, decorate the top with raspberries. There’s no hard and fast rule about how many raspberries to add. If you LOVE raspberries, then add loads. If you just want a little hint of something else, only add a few.

Adaption 2 – Chocolate orange almond cake
This one is spongier than the torte as I have added bicarb to rise it and rice flour to give it a lighter texture.

200g dark chocolate
210g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
60g any gluten free flour (I used rice flour)
5 eggs
75g ground almonds
1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 large orange or 2 small clementine/mandarin type things

Do the same as above by melting the chocolate, butter and sugar together. Then add the whisked eggs once mixture has cooled a bit. Add the flour and the bicarb then zest and juice your orange(s) in. Now here is where you have to use some initiative. Stick a teaspoon into the mixture (or your finger) and taste it. Does it taste orangey enough? If it’s orangey enough for you, then put it into the tin and bake. If not, grab another orange and get zesting and juicing til it tastes how you want it to. 

And so, my dears, go forth and bake! Be plentiful, be chocolatey and be gluten free!

Diary of my first week in my new job

On Monday, I started a new job as a chef (!) and was very excited. I got given a chef’s jacket and a black apron and I tucked a towel into the apron straps (like a proper chef) and got started.

Day 1 – Go, go, go! There’s croissants to bake, thereafter vegetables to grill, there’s a side of beef to roast. There was so much to remember, so much to do. I got my head down and did what I was told. I knew I was slow. New people always are. But I knew how to work hard and I knew how to be keen. So I did both of those. My back struggled with the crouching and bending and lifting etc and I felt a little like an old woman. But it was good. I was learning.

Day 2 – More croissants, more vegetables, more salad leaves, more confusion. I chopped tomatoes until I thought there must be no more tomatoes left in the entire world.

Day 3 – The obvious tension between one staff member and the manager became difficult to stay out of. I was asked for an opinion on matters in which they opposed each other. I smiled innocently, put my head down and sliced onions.

Day 4 – This was happening. So I wasn’t in a great place. The staff member who spends her time being shouted at by the manager came in and told us there had been a bereavement in her family the day before. The manager let her go home. He made a comment that nothing had been done to get ready for the day. I got a bit crazy and was like, “What do you mean?! I’m working really hard here!” There was chat. The air was cleared. I explained that I wasn’t feeling that great.

Day 5 – Better. Much better. I understood him better. He was sympathetic to what had happened. I was still slow but I was learning and I was able to just get my head down and get on. Then I left work at 3pm. And at 4pm, I got a call offering me an amazing job and can I start on Monday please? I said yes and hung up then called my other new job and quit.

And that was my week in the kitchen. I’ll say more about the new job later, suffice to say, it involves baking in a really old house.

A day in the life of a scullery maid

I’ve been volunteering at Ham House for a few weeks now so I thought I’d give you all a little insight to a typical day in the kitchen there.

I spend an hour or so in the morning, testing the recipe I’m doing that day so I’m prepared for any potential disasters. Depending on if I have spotted any, I will pack my bag of stuff to take and include things which may prevent anything going wrong, eg, a palate knife to save me fighting with a biscuit stuck on a tray in front of the visitors.

I walk to the river and take the pleasantest half hour commute I’ve ever known, alongside the Thames.

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When I get there, I’ve already worked out what I’ll need from the cafe kitchen so I head there, pick up my eggs and butter, leave my stuff in a locker in the main house then put on my apron and get a head start on my baking before the house opens to the public.

As the kitchen is at the end of the recommended walk around the house, I have 45 minutes or so to get my first batch done.
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During this 45 minutes, the other room guides and demonstrators will have followed their noses to the kitchen to try the biscuits/cakes and have a little chitchat.

Once the first visitors come downstairs to look around, I’m in it then. The questions are constant.

“What are in these biscuits?”
“Where did you find the recipe, they’re really good.”
“When would these have been eaten?”
“What would they have been eaten with?”
“How many servants would have been working in the kitchen?”
“Would they have eaten at this table too?”

And I love it. I totally get in the zone. I tell them the answers when I do know them and speculate on the possibilities when I don’t. Long discussions arise, about how much wine they drunk, whether they had a small digestive biscuit after dinner, whether they brewed tea in the dining room or whether it was brewed in the kitchen then taken up because surely it would have been cold by then and etc, etc.

And people say fabulous things before they leave the kitchen, the best being a variation on, “This really brings the history alive.” I love that I’ve taken part in a kind of ‘living history’ thing, where people become more interested or understand better the history of where they are because of something I have done or said.

The baking and the tasting and the chatting continues on for a few hours, when it starts to die down. As the remaining visitors walk around, I start packing up my stuff. Once the house is officially closed, I take everything back to the tea room except the butter and eggs, which I take to the cafe kitchen.

When I return from the cafe kitchen, everyone else has gone. There are only a few volunteers left upstairs, tidying things up for the evening. As I walk through the downstairs section and all the lights are off, I feel like an actual scullery maid from 1650 staying awake to keep the fire stoked overnight. I imagine what my life would have been like 400 years ago and what it was really like to work in a house like this.
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Some time after this, I stop daydreaming, change my smart clothes for comfy ones and walk home along the river. It is around this point that I realise what I brilliant day I have had and need to share it so Facebook something like, “What a brilliant day.” I’m so imaginative.

And that, my friends, is my typical day as a scullery maid in the Ham House kitchen. I would’ve done fabulously in Downton Abbey times. I wouldn’t be surprised if they called and asked me to be in the next series actually.

P is for…

POPULAR!

Ok, anyone who loves feeding people knows that, illogically, you feel that when people praise your food they are, by default, also praising you. I think that might be why I like feeding people so much.

Last Sunday, when I had my first day at Ham House, another volunteer who’s been there for 15 years was talking about his oven being broken. He said he would normally bring a cake in every Sunday to put in the tea room for when the volunteers have their breaks.

A ha! thought I. I see an opening for a new cake-baker and, potentially, a new most-popular volunteer.

With my sights set on one day inheriting Ham House (who wouldn’t want this as their holiday home?)…

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…and becoming the 3rd Countess of Ham (I’m sure that’s a thing), I thought I’d become temporary cake-provider.

Now, the night before, having made my fabulous plan, I went to my kitchen to bake a cake…. And found I was out of sugar. What a loser. Who lets themself run out of sugar?! So I made a loaf of bread with loads of different spices and seeds and took along one of the chutneys I made at the farm.

When I got to Ham House, I dropped the goodies in the tea room with a note before going to bake for the visitors.

I headed to the kitchen with the volunteer baker for that day, who I would be shadowing. We baked two different types of biscuits, using 17th century recipes that we didn’t change at all (apart from baking them in an electric oven, of course).

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One was a carraway and coriander biscuit. And could I stop calling it carrot and coriander when speaking to visitors? No, of course not! And they’d go, “O, carrot and coriander biscuits? Interesting!” And then I’d be like, “O no, sorry. Carraway and coriander.” And feel silly.

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The other was called a knot biscuit, because of how the dough was rolled into strips and twisted or knotted together. They had carraway, ground mace and fennel seeds in them.

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Here’s a close up of my prettiest knotting attempt.

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The baking smells brought visitors and other volunteers down to the room, following their noses. Although it was a much quieter day than the previous Sunday I had worked, we still had a decent amount of people come and linger, chatting about the history of the kitchen.

Every so often, I brushed a stray bit of flour off the beautiful elm wood table which, they think, has been there since the early 1600s and I’d think of the people who had worked at this table before me and think how interesting it would be if the table could talk.

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Once we’d finished baking, we stayed to the end to talk to people about the recipes and what 17th century food was like. It was good fun because food is a thing most people can connect with because most people cook so I ended up having some quite in-depth discussions, speculating on the occasions when the biscuits might have been eaten and what with and were they dipped into a hot drink or eaten after dinner as a digestive, etc etc.

When I popped to the tea room at the end of the day to check on the bread and chutney situation, the loaf was now a few crumbs on some napkins and the chutney was half empty. One of the gardeners was in there and she asked if I was the one who baked the bread and said the gardeners had loved it! They snaffled half of it in about ten minutes and loved the chutney! Even the lady I was shadowing on the baking said she had tasted it and enjoyed it!

So I think that means they love me too, surely? Isn’t that what that means? What to bake for next time though? Suggestions please.

Signing off, Laura Maisey, (future) 3rd Countess of Ham and Lady of the Manor at Ham House.

M is for…

MY FIRST DAY AT HAM HOUSE!

Yesterday was a big day. If you read ‘B is for…‘ you’ll know that I had signed up to volunteer at Ham House and was yet to have my first day. Well, that day was yesterday. And it went fabulously.

I was scheduled to be shadowing another volunteer baker in the kitchen for the day but when I got there, unfortunately the lady I was due to be shadowing had been unable to make it so another plan was put in place for me.

As I was keen to get involved in any way, I agreed to the other plan and just kind of threw myself into it. I spent the morning with a room guide in the kitchen, learning about the history of the kitchen and chatting to visitors, getting used to the type of things they ask, etc.

The kitchen has a distinctly different feel to the rest of the house. Instead of looking at beautiful lacquered cabinets from afar or admiring wall hangings, the kitchen is about touching and feeling and getting involved. There are dishes all around the room holding herbs and spices. There are even a few rudimentary pestle and mortars where visitors can grind up some spices and smell the aromas which are released. The signs around the room say ‘please touch me’ and visitors are encouraged to pick up the food and smell. There was a ball of dough and a rolling pin for children to roll out and pretend to make bread.

Down the huge elmwood table which has been there since the 1600s, there are bowls of fresh vegetables and herbs which have been brought over from the garden. There was rhubarb and kale and Jerusalem artichokes and something called, I think, school’s honora. That’s what it sounded like anyway. I haven’t the foggiest idea where the name comes from.

My first half was spent in the kitchen talking about all this stuff to visitors. Then, on a quick tea break, I swotted up on 17th century herbology (that’s a word, right) and the second half of my day was spent making nosegays.

Now, before you burst into hysterical laughter, it is just a little posy. They had various names, at one point even being called ‘tussie-mussies’. The term nosegay comes from the idea that it makes a gay smell for one’s nose.

The gardens have recently had a trim so there was a glut of lavender and santolina…

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… so I brought handfuls of it down from the Still House, which smells AMAZING, by the way…

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… and worked away in the kitchen making my nosegays and giving them to the visitors.

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As washing wasn’t so popular in those days, a lot of people were quite stinky. There also wasn’t the sewerage systems we have now. So lots of things smelled bad. The nosegay would be tied to one’s lapel and when encountering a stinky situation, one could turn their head and bury their nose in their nosegay.

Different herbs and plants had different meanings so when someone gave you a little nosegay as a gift, the specific herbs they used meant something about their relationship with you. For example, lavender was for love, rosemary for rememberance, fennel for flattery, roses were to ‘rule me’, whatever that meant.

One of the others I remember was that marigolds were for marriage because I was talking to a lady who said she is getting married at Ham House next weekend and I joked that I would give her a nosegay with marigolds in for the occasion.

It was brilliant fun as people were constantly interested in what I was doing, asking me questions and taking the nosegays and smelling them. I felt like a fountain of knowledge, when in fact my knowledge had been gained over a fifteen minute tea break.

Anyway, my next day is Tuesday, when I will be shadowing a baker so will have more stories then too. Keep an eye out!

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