5 January 2014

Christmas Cake

I can't claim that in my absence I spent a lot of time in the kitchen.

Christmas Cake | Pavlova's Dog

I spent time flat-hunting, paying deposits, then getting cold feet and re-flat-hunting and re-depositing my savings. Then time moving, tidying, furnishing. Learning how to live somewhere new and forming new routines. Setting 6:15 alarms.

Fixing the heating took longer than expected. Some days I still wear gloves indoors.

I spent time working, learning, holidaying, and starting. I still spend every day talking about food.

I spent, and spend, a lot of my time commuting. I made a new rule that if I get home later than 8pm in the evening, I am permitted to microwave my meals. I microwave a lot.

I stopped using my camera and natural sunlight doesn't illuminate as much of my day as I'd like.

Still, somewhere amongst all the doing and then not-doing, the oscillating arc between stressed panic and acute boredom (with some very good times in between), I remembered to make a Christmas cake on time.

On time means sometime in late September. There's probably an exact day but I just chose a rainy Sunday.

I roughly followed this recipe with some fruity revisions. Take a look:
Christmas Cake | Pavlova's Dog

In here there's 1kg of dried fruit and nuts. A glistening bowl of cherry brandy-soaked sultanas to the far left, with some snipped up dates just below. Ground almonds gave the cake batter a subtle nuttiness, which was, of course, reiterated in the chopped hazelnuts. Sunny apricots and glace cherries gave the cake some brightness, with the tartness of dried cranberries and heat of (a lot of!) crystallised ginger to follow.

You know the only thing I dislike more than dark crockery? Square crockery.

This cake begins with butter and two types of sugar. I learned the hard way not to take photographs inside green mixing bowls.

Christmas Cake | Pavlova's Dog

Gross gross gross.

The best part was my decision not to use brandy. There's the aforementioned cherry brandy to plump up the sultanas, but aside from that I relied on whisky to keep things ripe. Glenmorangie, kindly donated, provided some caramel flavours and alcoholic aromas.

Christmas Cake | Pavlova's Dog

Christmas Cake | Pavlova's Dog
Whenever I remembered, I fed it some whisky every week. Just a few tablespoons - a one-for-me, one-for-you approach. This behemoth of a cake and I developed a taste for whisky together.

I became really concerned at one point by how sodden it was, but that's okay. It's good, actually. Keep drinking, cake! (Keep drinking, Rebecca)

In my laziness I bought ready-made marzipan, which meant I just had to roll it out and let it curve its away around the contours of the cake, sticking to the sides slathered with apricot jam. A superthin marzipan layer covered the cake; a controversial choice made for tradition's sake but without insulting modernity's palette.
Christmas Cake | Pavlova's Dog

And the next evening, a snowstorm of icing.

Christmas Cake | Pavlova's Dog

This is the only photo I have. My Christmas Cake wasn't intended for this space and was never given the glory of a cake stand, as evidenced by its late, unseasonal delivery to you and its iPhone presentation.

I just made it to share it and eat it.

I cut the cake into sections, delivering a third to the Gilberts and smuggling a third back home for the holidays. The final third was intended for any London-based Christmas cake enthusiasts but, funnily enough, the majority of this last chunk is stored in a sad little tupperware in my filing cabinet at work. Covert bites are going to make January tolerable.

This cake is very good and I recommend it highly. If you're not a fan of fruit cake, I'm not a fan of you.

P.S. - A reminder: recipe here! Thanks, Nigel.

23 June 2013

Sunday Bites

Good morning!
I'm at home this weekend and this post comes to you from my bed, which I am still lazing around in at 10:24am on a Sunday morning. Nice.

This weekend has been lovely. Last night we went out for dinner here and we tried cocktails from this crazy-exhaustive menu. Today a girls' afternoon tea is on the cards and, as per my request, a giant tray of lasagne to end the weekend.

  • An interview with AA Gill in the Evening Standard reveals he'd like to live in Kew. I'm bloody glad he doesn't.
  • Notorious for deep-frying lasagne & trying to hide the Type 2 Diabetes she gave herself by cooking things like the aforementioned lasagne and drinking butter, Paula Deen is also a racist. She sounds like a charmer...
  • Amazing story about a baby being caught after falling out of a 5 storey window but, as James wisely and cynically suggests, is this some Chinese propaganda after the baby-flushing incident?
  • Also, liligers! I love an animal-themed Sunday Bites.
  • I am rereading my favourite book of all time, and it's just as beautiful second time around. Highly recommended.
  • Let's eat!
    • I already have a vision for these lemon chicken skewers. This vision includes sunshine, barbecues, families, and maybe some wine.
    • I have my fingers crossed for a long summer because on a separate occasion, I need to find an excuse to make this watermelon pico de gallo. Just looking at it makes me feel refreshed.
    • FOOD SHAPED LIKE ANIMALS. Is that not totally the spirit of this blog? Specifically, American-style sausage rolls.
    • Brownies with oatmeal. Because brownies didn't have enough staying power already.
  • In the interest of full disclosure, I thought you should know I'm not the sole author of this post and I did receive some help typing it up...
Sunday Bites | Pavlova's Dog

16 June 2013

Sunday Bites

Hi! Just a quick post today before I head out to work. Can't wait for next weekend, when I'll be blogging from Scotland!

  • David Sedaris gets it right every time. This article is about ageing, guest rooms, and sleepwalking.

  • James and I booked a mini summer holiday this week! We're going to Brussels & Bruges via Eurostar in July :). And I insisted we book the weirdest hotel I could find. Why so many murals?! Why such weird seats?! And what on earth is a crazy casserole?!

  • An interview with Kanye West includes some amazing quotes. He's the Michael Jordan of music, didn't you know? & he hasn't checked the stats yet but he's pretty certain he has won the most Grammys of anyone his age.

Photos from dinner on Sunday evening at La Trompette.

Sunday Bites | Pavlova's Dog

On the right is a banana soufflé with honeycomb ice cream. And it was insaaaaane!

So this happened: on Wednesday my boss had two extra tickets to the Man of Steel premiere in Leicester Square and they landed on my desk at around 4pm. Just the coolest thing ever.

Sunday Bites | Pavlova's Dog

And let's not even talk about how physically close I was to Henry Cavill because... wow.

14 June 2013

Black Bread

Conversation topics ran pretty dry when I was studying for my exams last year.

Black Bread | Pavlova's Dog

Everyone worked 12-hour days in the library, reaching the 14- or 15-hour mark in the run-up to finals. It was horrible. Too many stressed people in one small room with too many sheets of paper, too many books to read, too little time to do it all, and too little concern for personal hygiene as deadlines approached.

Black Bread | Pavlova's Dog

Despite their lacklustre selection of freezer-burned chicken kievs, going to Hall for meals was a welcome break. We had to eat to fuel our studies and we had earned this half-hour respite! We could extract ourselves from our subjects, even if just for a little while!

Black Bread | Pavlova's Dog

But it never really worked like that. When you give yourself over that entirely to work, you find that you haven't been consuming any other media worthy of conversation. No sordid discussion of college gossip, because we're all too busy cramming. No plot-analysis of any shows, because when you finally turn in for the evening the only TV that bares watching are shows which are so escapist they're not really clever enough to have plots. Come Dine With Me, indeed.

We were all really, really boring.

Black Bread | Pavlova's Dog

This meant, though, that occasionally a subject otherwise unworthy of discussion would find itself elevated to a prime debate topic. Russian Black Bread turned out to be such a candidate.

Sitting across from Alyona in the library, I can remember vehemently insisting that yes, there were seventeen ingredients in this recipe and I am not joking and they included chocolate and coffee and fennel seeds and other unlikely pairings which would prove symbiotic in the baking process.

And she retorted that duhhhh that's stupid, how could a bread developed in poor Communist Russia, where rationing was high and stocks were low, include luxury ingredients like that?

Black Bread | Pavlova's Dog

She maybe has a point.

But this recipe does include seventeen ingredients and I think they are all perfect.

Black Bread | Pavlova's Dog

This bread has a satisfyingly crunchy exterior and soft dough centre, which, if sliced while warm, releases a deep aromatic invitation to eat it simply with unsalted butter. The coffee and chocolate are imperceptible in taste; instead working with the treacle to intensify the other ingredients. The fennel and caraway seeds are more prominent and announce themselves proudly, with the shallot making a bit of an impression too. This makes for a dangerously good sandwich.

End of discussion, back to work.

10 June 2013

Chocolate Krantz Cake

We made this to bring to a friend's house for dinner.

Chocolate Krantz Cake | Pavlova's Dog

Because I'm ridiculously grown-up and dinner parties are totally how I spend my weekend. We spoke about the company she's starting from scratch, because she's incredible and that's my real life now. I hang out with small business owners.*

*(My Mum has been a small business owner for over ten years, but she'll forgive me for not including her in my list of ways I'm so incredibly mature these days).

Another weekend James and I played host because we'd run of the house for the week. We made pulled pork enchiladas for our guests.

Chocolate Krantz Cake | Pavlova's Dog

I'd be more adult if I was slightly less impressed at my own plans, but whatever. Last weekend I was at a flat-warming of people I know who are responsible enough to pay rent to a landlord.

This week I sent a card to another set of friends who have just moved in together. They own a shared toaster and kettle and made the mature, autonomous decision to paint the walls white. Like grown-ups.

I have plans to meet a friend for post-work drinks this week. He'll arrive in a suit, because his work dictates he dresses smartly. (Um, mine doesn't. I wore running trainers to work a few days ago).

Chocolate Krantz Cake | Pavlova's Dog

Chocolate Krantz Cake | Pavlova's Dog

I am so into my early twenties. And I also like this chocolate cake which, disclaimer, can be enjoyed at any age.

Above: we start with basic ingredients necessary for a sweet yeast dough. There's sugar, flour, yeast, and eggs, like for a brioche or this amazing bread. Some lemon zest gives a sweet citrus overlay to the chocolate - next time I want to try using orange. You should use orange and report back to me!

The dough is kneaded and left to rise. It won't rise much but you can see (can you see? Well, you can feel) it's much springier-looking. It handles better too. And tastes 'deeper.'

The dough is rolled into a perfect rectangle. This will leave you feeling ridiculously confident about your baking abilities because not just anyone can handle four-sided shapes.

Chocolate Krantz Cake | Pavlova's Dog

Chocolate Krantz Cake | Pavlova's Dog

Good news: this recipe makes two loaves of cake. One to bring to a dinner party & one to eat the next morning, at home, wearing pyjamas, watching Parks and Rec, drinking a glass of milk.

The version you see here was the grown-up version because it contains CONTROVERSIAL walnuts. The second child James-friendly cake was walnut-free with added chocolate. (Aside: Last night I made the most insanely mature cake I've ever baked. Lady Baltimore cakes contain dried raisins, figs and apricots, sherry, and walnuts.)

Chocolate Krantz Cake | Pavlova's Dog

After a lot of spreading and sprinkling, the sugar-doused rectangle of dough is rolled into a roulade-style cigar. The next part is tricky and you might swear a lot or consider giving up. But don't! I've made quite a few roll-style cakes and they always turn out okay in the end. Promise.

Chocolate Krantz Cake | Pavlova's Dog

Fortunately once this part is out of the way, we can nestle the cakeloaf-hybrid into its tin and let it rise for a bit while the oven heats. It's always comforting to get something in the oven - the abdication of responsibility to an appliance means that your work, for now, is done. The kitchen can be tidied in preparation for its re-emergence as a fully-baked and wonderful thing, and we can get on with the so-titled simple procedure of making a simple syrup to drench the cake.

Chocolate Krantz Cake | Pavlova's Dog
Chocolate Krantz Cake | Pavlova's Dog
& the cake is done. A grown-up would wait for it to cool completely before devouring, but...