Category Archives: Baking

vicky’s banana cake

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What is it about bank holiday weekends that causes people to become quite such assiduous lawn-mowers? I seem to have spent all day listening to the blasted things: our next-door neighbour, for example, is now mowing his grass for the second time, today. Perhaps I do him an injustice, but as the next house along now has a large hole instead of a lawn (foundations for an extension, rather than anything more sinister (tunnelling, explosives testing, localised natural gas build-up – all these things are commonplace in Bath, you know)), I am disinclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Even John has got the mower out, an event which is only slightly more remarkable than if I were to do so, having never so much as started up a lawnmower in my life. I had been quite enjoying the dandelion patch (much more cheery than a boring old square of grass, no?) but John and the lawnmower seem to have ganged up on me while I was out, and instead I am being mollified with a G&T on our newly re-acquired lawn after a day which started with a slice of this banana cake and only got better from there. If only the same could be said for bank holiday radio playlists. Boyzone? Really? There’s no excuse.

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russian black bread

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One of the things that I miss most about living in Switzerland (apart from the chocolate, the company, and swimming in the lakes) is the bread. I took to the bread and the chocolate much more quickly than it took me to get the hang of swimming in the lakes, mind: it turns out that the time that all the snow on the mountains starts to thaw is not the same time that the lake starts to warm up. Who would have thought it? Yes, alright.

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Where were we? Oh yes, the bread. It was quite a revelation, if I’m honest. Don’t get me wrong, I’d been to mainland Europe before, and good bakeries in England – I don’t quite spend all of my time in the bakery aisle of the local Spar, sobbing – so I did know about good bread. I’d just, sort of, temporarily, forgotten. After all, over here we mostly get variations on the theme of plain white, posh white, wholemeal, and seedy (although at least they don’t put bone-ashes in it any more. I presume). I was most definitely not prepared for potato bread with walnuts in (delicious, by the way. As if you needed to ask).

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plum and poppy seed muffins

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Was it really only a week ago that I was talking to you about my tragic lack of breakfast recipes? Well, as it turns out – and this should come as a surprise to none of you, I expect, except your correspondent here – the answer to this problem is: ‘muffins’.

Not the horrible kind you get at the coffee shop, full of ingredients you’d never knowingly let anywhere near your kitchen, let alone your breakfast, (and once, even with a surpise splodge of horrible lemon goo in the middle – that wasn’t a good day) but the kind barely sweetened, full of fruit and packed with wholegrains. I say packed only for a given meaning of the word, you understand, that being “about 25% spelt flour” – but I did use the flour full of the extra wholegrain bits that I sieved out of the zopf, so I reckon that counts, don’t you?

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In this house, though, what really matters in a breakfast food is its ability to entice us out of bed in the morning – especially on a day like those we’ve been having lately, with the sun shining gloriously through the curtains and nothing but the prospect of 7 hours in an air conditioned cube to look forward to (okay, maybe I exaggerate; my life is not quite so bleak as this). If that same enticement can be at least reasonably healthy, or at least pretending very hard to be, then by my reckoning we have hit upon the ultimate morning food.

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chewy granola bars

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Isn’t it a shame that the overlap is so slim between things which taste delicious and things that wouldn’t horrify your mother if she knew you were eating them for breakfast? And as if the list that resulted from those two categories wasn’t short enough, that’s not even it for the breakfast critera: add to the Venn diagram a section called things it’s possible to make and eat in less than twelve minutes, and the pickings are even slimmer still. Pancakes? Delicious, but unless your speed-whisking is better than mine, probably not. Kedgeree? Not even a chance. Toast, again? You see the issue.

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I used to quite enjoy a breakfast of posh muesli with giant chocolate buttons, but I have since learned that this  – unsurprisingly – fails the horrified-mother test. Who would have guessed? With that one out of the window I’m left woefully short of breakfast options: it turns out peanut butter on toast is truly horrible, the very idea of porridge upsets me, and the only cereal we have in the house is a box of cornflakes that have been there since we moved in, longer ago than I’m prepared to admit. Yes, I know I have mostly brought this upon myself by being too a) picky and b) disinclined to buy sensible things – like replacement cereal – at the supermarket, instead of gin, but that’s just how it is round here, I’m afraid.

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roasted pear and chocolate chunk scones

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I try not to enthuse too much, over here. Instead, I try to tell you about things I’ve eaten, and let you make up your own mind: of course think these things are all delicious, otherwise I wouldn’t bother a) eating them or b) telling you about them, but there is no point spending whole paragraphs meticulously detailing how truly delicious rhubarb schnapps is if you already know you hate rhubarb, now is there? In some instances, though, I must insist. (Also, I keep feeding my rhubarb schnapps to people who claim they don’t like rhubarb, and then they sneakily finish the rest of my glass when I’m not looking. So there).

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If you’ve seen the title of the post, rushed to the kitchen and are – as we speak – rummaging in the back reaches of the baking cupboard for the scone cutter, with your laptop balanced precariously on last night’s washing up, you can skip on ahead to the recipe. (Also, you’re welcome around here any time. That’s how we roll, too). However, if you’re eyeing the photographs suspiciously and thinking either ‘they don’t look very …sconey’, or ‘roasted pears? is that even a thing? Sure, it sounds nice, but how come I’ve never heard of it, then?’, let me set you straight: these are truly delicious.

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butterzopf (swiss plaited bread)

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How’s your Easter week-end going? Chances are it’s been more relaxing than mine, I hope. If you’d like to find out, here’s a test: if you close your eyes, can you see bindweed roots? I can. I would have dreamt about them too, if I wasn’t so exhausted from all the digging (seriously, who knew digging was so hard? and why didn’t they tell me? I was woefully underprepared!) and the raking, too. I had no idea I had muscles in those places, but apparently I do, and they are making their presence felt.

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On the plus side: I have a new haircut which will allow me to wear lots of eyeliner while pretending I’m Mary Quant (I flatter myself not at all), the sun is out (!), and I have a near-perfect butterzopf stashed in the freezer ready to finish off its baking in time for tomorrow’s breakfast. Perhaps life is not so hard after all.

Butterzopf is one of those things that I ate all the time (quite literally – when you see the ingredients, you’ll realise what a marvel it is that I fitted on the plane back home) while I lived in Switzerland, and miss terribly now I’m back in England – along with dried mango, and M-Budget chocolate. While I am fairly sure I don’t stand the faintest chance of either finding a) mangoes ripe enough to dry and b) some sun in which to dry them, or of setting up as a chocolatier in the utility room, making some bread – that should be a doddle, right? Right?

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ultimate chocolate chunk cookies

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Back in my (sigh) student days, I used to occasionally find myself impressing John’s housemates with my really quite average culinary skills. Admittedly this didn’t happen very often, largely because – apparently – not everyone agrees that noodles with soy sauce and kale counts as a Proper Meal, and this is in any case not a combination guaranteed to appeal to a twenty-something boy who eats mostly cornflakes. Getting back late from the pub, however, and having a batch of freshly baked cookies on the counter in less than half an hour without having to consult a recipe: that usually did the trick.

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Just in case you’re worrying that this ability suggests a worrying level of crazy, let me reassure you that I did not mis-spend my youth staying up late studying recipe books and memorising recipes. No no no! Instead, I went to bed at ten, finished all my essays on time, was generally a model citizen, and definitely did not spend most of my time in pubs (when I wasn’t sunning myself in parks or my friend’s greenhouse “conservatory”). It’s just that this particular recipe is so simple that it’s more difficult to forget than to remember: eight ounces of flour, four each of butter and sugar, two of chocolate chips and an egg.

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Sometimes this kind of emergency cookie is exactly what you need to get you through the kind of very difficult situation where there are no biscuits in the house and all the shops are closed (frankly, I find it appalling that these two events are allowed to coincide, this far into the 21st century. Should somebody not do something?) – but other times, what’s needed is the kind of cookie that may require a little more effort, and a few more ingredients, but which is as a result of this effort almost certainly the best cookie you’ve ever had the good fortune to put in your mouth.

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