Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Oh Madeira! Stickly Pricklies

This is one of those Fanny Cradock recipes that I had to read and re-read many times, surely it couldn't be right? I know Madeira Cake as a buttery, lemony, dense cake, fairly simple but sometimes simple is best. But hang on a minute, Fannys version, which she calls Real Madeira Sponge - or Gâteau au Madère - is made from only three ingredients - eggs, sugar and flour. Where's the butter and the flavour? Fanny says it's from an old Mrs Graham Blandy family 'receipt' which she has never found an equal for anywhere else. I don't think she looked very hard. Presumably Fanny calls it 'real' to mark it against all those imposter Madeira cakes that are being baked and scoffed in huge numbers all over the world. Pah, what do they know? 

The recipe that Fanny favours seems to make a ginormous cake, as well as a 'surplus' of mixture which Fanny suggests you can make an additional smaller cake from or lots of little buns. It also uses seven eggs. Yes, seven! These two things together lead me to cut the recipe down to a more manageable three egg version. I'm sure Mrs Blandy would understand.

The only problem in cutting things down is the uncertainty of what size cake tin to butter and flour in preparation, but I plump for a smallish oblong one. Be brave I think to myself, listen to all that Fanny has taught you so far. The cake itself is made from whisking up the egg yolks, adding in the sugar, caster of course, whisking again and adding the flour. It becomes quite a thick paste at this stage, I really can't see how it will transform into a sponge at all. The final addition is the whisked up egg whites, which do loosen the mixture but also require a fair bit of beating to incorporate. Have I just whipped all the air from my sponge? Fear not, after some careful baking it appears from the oven looking golden and pillowy, and literally jumps out of the carefully prepared tin to cool.

Now, it doesn't look or sound like the most exciting cake in Fannys collection, but of course she has a perfect idea to tiddle it up and inject some fun into this fat free sponge. That is to transform them into replicas of little wooden hedgehog toys that she saw on a shopping trip to Heals with Johnnie recently, naturally. I mean it would be almost everyone's first thought, right? I don't have the hedgehog toy to work from, just a picture, but Fanny made a template and cut copies from the Madeira cake, so, so do I. Except I have to draw the hedgehog first. Once brushed with warmed apricot jam and buried in a mountain of desiccated coconut they are brought to life with eyes and a snout. Fanny uses squished currants for hers, but I have some chocolate chips to hand. Fanny adds on 'wheels' made from little Macarons. The original toy had wheels. My drawing didn't. And there we have it, Stickly Pricklies as Fanny calls them. I'm not sure who would make them or why, but they do seem to have little 'eat me' personalities that the fatless Madeira alone could only dream of. No butter, no flavouring and albino. Didn't anyone tell Fanny hedgehogs aren't white?

Friday, 23 May 2014

Fat Free Fanny

Fanny describes this as the Easiest Fatless Jam Sponge... in the world, ever. I added that last bit in. She also calls it the Alpenbuttertorte, which seems slightly wrong to me - wouldn't that be an Alpine Butter Cake, and this particular sponge has not a single scrap of fat. Continuing her aim to introduce as many different types and techniques for sponges as she possibly can, Fanny knows that this is one that we all will simply love to have. The best thing about it, Fanny says, is that if you pinch it, it jumps back. The other great thing about it seems to me that it only has a very few ingredients - eggs, flour and icing sugar. And a little jam, as the purse allows.

Fanny is adamant that I should learn how to 'treat' my cake tins for perfect bakes. For Fanny, there is only one way to do this. The cake tin should be fitted with a disc of greaseproof paper cut to the correct size, brushed with melted butter, and then covered with a layer of sifted flour. Fanny says that I should roll my buttered cake tin in my flour bin to achieve perfect results, but I don't have a flour bin so just sprinkle some flour in and run it round until it's all covered. Fanny insists that I will see the benefit after baking. I'm not sure with modern tins it's really essential, but of course do it anyway. 

For the basic sponge, I whip two eggs with an extra yolk with some icing sugar until it's very thick and creamy. Fanny makes no apology for insisting it's icing sugar I use - she knows it's more pricey than granulated sugar, but insists I use it not because she is a snob, but because she wants me to have a perfect sponge. That seems fair enough. Fanny says I could make a sponge from the crude, coarse granulated stuff but I will not be able to make a perfect, featherweight sponge like hers. The eggs and icing sugar whisk up really well together, doubling in volume and becoming a lovely pale yellow colour. I sift in some flour and very gently fold it in.

The light, fluffy and fatless mixture goes into my perfectly prepared tin for baking for 30 minutes. My sponge comes out slightly darker than Fannys own, but it's certainly springy. Fanny says to leave it in the tin for one minute ONLY before turning it out. This ensures that it contracts very slightly from the sides of the tin. 

I was worried about turning the finished sponge out of the tin and onto the cooling rack, there just didn't seem to be much 'substance' to it with so little flour I thought it might just collapse. I should've had more faith in Fanny, it didn't. Fanny includes a picture to show Johnnie peeling the paper off the bottom of her sponge, presumably incase anyone is not sure how to do it. I am doing the same. Once cool, the sponge needs to be sliced in half and spread with jam. It cuts well, and is a splendid yellow colour inside. So, this sponge was indeed easy. Additionally if I pinch it it does jump back. Not sure why I would, but it does. It tastes light and would make a quick, last minute cake for a calorie conscious scoffer. Fanny is ashamed of the photograph of this Fatless Wonder that is included in the partwork, mainly because the layer of jam is almost as thick as the sponge itself. She refuses to name and shame the 'lavish' assistant responsible though - the message merely is 'don't disappoint me by making the same mistake'. I hope I haven't.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Sachertorte it to me!

They say you shouldn't really bake a cake when you are angry. Fanny has made me so angry today though when introducing me to her new part of the cookery course dedicated to Sponges, which seems appropriate to start on World Baking Day. Fanny is keen to introduce me in particular to her very favourite cake that she is so mad about - the Great Viennese Chocolate Sponge or Sachertorte. I am trying to remember that this was written in very different times, but it's still hard to reconcile Fannys advice for successful sponges particularly given her audience - the ordinary housewife. Fanny is at great pains to stress of course that these tips are mainly formed after endless letters from inexperienced housewives who have failed. Fanny says the main problem is that they have not beaten their mixtures nearly enough. I think it would've been fine just to leave it there, we get it, but Fanny insists on repeating an old saying and adding to it - namely that like women, dogs and walnut trees, the more you beat your sponges the better they will be. Was this really ever acceptable to think, say or print? Perhaps the point was to enrage the readers into successful beating of their butter, sugar, eggs and flour...

Fanny of course repeats her disdain for Plain Flour, she won't have it in the house, only Self Raising will ever do, for everything. Again with advice which seems outdated now, but thankfully not violent, she likens poorly stored flour to bed blankets which can hold up to 40lbs of moisture if not treated to an electric blanket every now and again. Fanny recommends if your flour is dampened, pop it on a baking tray and place it in a barely warm oven for a while before sifting and sifting it again. No need to do that with mine, it's not claggy at all. For this fine Viennese Patisserie Fanny of course suggests using chocolate chips, what else, melted with a little water (or rum) while the butter is beaten like a walnut tree. Grrrr. My trustee KitchenAid which has thankfully returned from hospital is on hand to do all the hard work.

Once beaten, Fanny gets me to add in some icing sugar and six egg yolks one at a time. The mixture takes on a glorious colour before the addition of the melted chocolate chips. All six egg whites are whisked up stiffly with a little more icing sugar before being folded in gently with small additions of flour each time. I'd say, but Fanny doesn't, that the mixture should be treated with respect. I'm still raging.

As I'm turning the mixture into the prepared cake tin I realise I've never made a chocolate cake before, which seems odd. It's not normally something I'd go for. This one looks good though, and of course the usual cooks perk of having a sneaky spoon lick let's me know it will taste great too. Once it's in the oven and baking for 40 minutes the smell alone makes me make a mental note to make more chocolate cakes. Fanny has a top tip to test if it is ready - to make your hand into a fist and push it into the top. If the sponge springs back, it's done. If it's still a bit squishy then it needs a bit more time. No more violent analogies please. Once cool, the cake needs to be brushed with apricot glaze.

Fanny suggests icing the cake in what her family call 'Mrs Gretel Beer's Chocolate Icing' but there is no explanation of why. I can only assume it was her recipe, from her book 'Austrain Cooking' which Fanny recommends. Fanny says they all greatly admire it, so why not? It's made of a syrup of water and sugar, boiled and slightly coloured mixed in to more softened chocolate chips and a drop or two of very pure olive oil. It is very glossy. Fanny says to spread it all over the cake with a hot wet knife, which I find quite hard as it begins to set almost immediately. Or seize more accurately. Mrs Beer, and Fanny too of course, recommend serving the Sachertorte with whipped cream, and Fanny pipes hers onto the top. I am still raging with Fanny and in an act of pure defiance I settle instead on an homage to the traditional Sachertorte decoration. Thankfully any anger and thoughts of violence have not affected the bake. Fanny knew about her cooking I'll give her that, but in some of her views (and actions) she really was a Fanny. 

Monday, 12 May 2014

Impromptu Popeye Pudding

Fanny Cradock was a great believer in making the most of food, and not wasting anything. The endless books and booklets she produced were designed to allow the 'ordinary housewife' to budget effectively and prepare sensational dishes that would leave everyone else feeling a little put out by just how fantastic they were. In 1970, at the same time as the Cradock Cookery Programme weekly part works were in publication, Fanny treated us all to her wisdom when entertaining, with a thirteen part TV show called 'Fanny Cradock Invites...'. Of course, there was an accompanying booklet chock full of plans, tips and suggested menus for almost every social occasion. A Cheese and Wine Party to dazzle your husbands bosses, a Cold Sunday Brunch Buffet for 'compulsive party givers who work through the week' (I wonder who she was thinking of?) - even a Teenagers Party complete with the essentials - Sangria, Mulled Wine and cigarettes... I held my own party this weekend for a few friends to come together and watch Eurovision. Fanny had a chapter for a Television Party and suggested a heated trolley which could be wheeled as close to the semi circle of seats as possible, to ensure your lovingly prepared hot items didn't spoil. Why didn't I have one of those! One thing she never suggests though, is what to do with the leftovers. Perhaps this would imply that Fanny never had any, who would dare to leave anything if you found yourself at her party with the luxury trolley approaching? But I had some...

I didn't follow Fanny's plans for a Television Party menu, but did try and incorporate a European theme. Fanny herself released a few books on Euro Food - or Common Market Cookery as she referred to it then. I had some Spinach Purée that I had used to make Spanakopita Pies and also some Scandinavian Beetroot Bread that I had baked leftover. My guests thankfully ate most of the mountains of food I had prepared, but there's always something lurking about afterwards isn't there? So, I was delighted to see the next recipe in the Cookery Programme collection of steamed delights was a Savoury Steamed Spinach Pudding which happened to be made with all my leftovers. 

For this recipe, the bread needed to be whizzed up to make breadcrumbs and added to the Spinach Purée, with some soured cream, Parmesan or similar cheese, some egg yolks and seasoning. Fanny suggests the classic partner of nutmeg as well as salt and pepper. I'd already added some to my purée so didn't add more at this stage. Fanny, I'm ahead of you! 

Fanny says to blend all the ingredients together well. I assume she means in a mix and not whizzed in a blender, but I can't be sure. Gut instincts intact, that's what I do, before adding the final ingredients of melted butter and stiffly whisked egg whites folded gently in.

The final mixture is quite wet and gloopy, and falls into the well-buttered pudding basin easily. It's a wonderful mix of colours with the green spinach and pink Beetroot bread flecks - I'm sure Fanny would be pleased. My breadcrumbs were quite large and noticeable in the mix, rustic looking I'd say. The final instruction was to steam for two hours. The pudding emerged looking glorious and puffed up, just like I remember Popeye's muscles looking as he squeezed open a can of spinach as a child. It cut well, and had a deep earthy taste, the spinach and beetroot combined well. Fanny proclaims this as a perfect vegetarian main course, and I wouldn't disagree, but it also happens to be a perfect way to use up my party leftovers, transforming them into a whole new dish. Fanny has infiltrated my mind though and I am thinking a heated trolley would actually be perfect for the next party...

Monday, 5 May 2014

Fanny Cradock goes nuts for an Austrian Nusspudding!

If you haven't guessed it yet, Fanny Cradock loves steamers. For those that haven't quite picked up the hint yet, she quotes herself in the partwork saying "A steamer is to a good cook what a pressure cooker is to an ignorant one". Fanny doesn't like pressure cookers. Her evidence is based on rigorous testing of course, putting them through their paces with a delicate spring chicken. No jokes required. The poor bird emerged from it's pressurised time tasting like a bath sponge. Presumably Fanny tested those too. No moisture was the main complaint - the concentrated flavour of the bird had been 'purged out by pressure'. Fanny says 'stick to your steamer and you will never go wrong" - you might, like me, expect her to follow on with a chicken recipe but the poor spring chicken isn't mentioned again. We just have to take Fannys word for it I suppose. Instead Fanny takes us on an adventure to Austria.

Fanny describes this steamed Nusspudding - or Nut Pudding of course - as a very delicate and really rather super pudding which can be made with any kind of nuts. Fanny recommends hazelnuts or perhaps walnuts but simply can't resist adding in an option 'if you happen to be a millionaire' - pistachios. You just know that Fanny and Johnnie would use pistachios, and feeling like maybe I could aspire to be well-to-do myself that's what I opt for. 

This Austrain delight is made using fine, soft, white breadcrumbs and quite a lot of them. I don't have any fresh, or even nearly fresh, bread to hand, but I do have a ginormous bag of Panko breadcrumbs that I picked up at my local Chinese Supermarket. They were a bargain, hopefully Fanny would approve, especially given the carefree way I went straight to the millionaires choice of pistachios. I reckon they will work here as step one is to cover them in cold water and wring them out in a clean, dry cloth. 

The breadcrumbs really form the base of the pudding, there's no added flour after that. Fanny gets me to 'set to' beating up the butter until it's fluffy, creaming in some caster sugar and then adding in separated egg yolks and spoonfuls of soaked crumbs in small quantities. After they've all been beaten in well, add the freshly 'milled' pistachios. I whizzed mine up in the food processor. The last addition is the egg whites whisked to very stiff peaks and gently folded in. It's actually looking and feeling like a soufflé at this stage.

Fanny must've been thinking the same, as she suggests steaming this one in a soufflé dish. Usual steaming rules apply - oiled papers first then cover with foil. I am taking Fannys advice here too and making a 'strap' out of foil to allow me to easily remove it once steamed. I'm improvising a little here and just using a large saucepan with a wee terracotta dish in the bottom as my steamer. The covered soufflé dish sits on the dish surrounded by gently steaming water, perfect. Fanny gives two top tips - do not peek at it once it's in or it will result in a hollow pud, and don't for some reason bang the steamer down on the kitchen table once done, or it will all go wrong. I'm guessing either one of the assistants did this, or some poor soul who wrote in to tell Fanny her recipe failed. So, advice noted and some three hours later - Fanny never pretended steaming is quick - I lift the pudding out, unwrap it and carefully turn it out. It looks glorious, cuts well and tastes great! If your purse will still stretch to it, Fanny says to serve it with a rich hot chocolate sauce. Mmm, those Austrians know a thing or two about puddings.