14 June 2015

Stockholm: Venice Of The North


At the beginning of this month I got up at the crack of dawn (about 3.45am, as the sun was literally just starting to rise) in order to catch a plane to Stockholm. I was to spend three nights in a boat-hotel (pictured below, middle boat) on the waterfront, and four days exploring the Swedish capital with my dad.


One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Stockholm's living museum, Skansen. The huge park was bought in the 1800s by a man who wanted to preserve records of life in historical Sweden. The centre of the museum was filled with old wooden buildings with thatched rooves, and it was possible to look inside most of them and talk to actors who pretended to be people from the same era as the houses. If you have never been to a living museum, I highly recommend a trip because they are fascinating.


Skansen not only housed old buildings and actors, but also a range of animals that are commonly found in Nordic regions like Sweden. There were wolves, wolverines, brown bears, lynx, seals, moose and reindeer, amongst others. I was a little concerned that creatures as big as bears should not be locked up like that, but they had huge enclosures and it was obvious that they were well looked after. When I was watching the brown bears playing in their enclosure, I noticed that the trees around the edges had metal on the trunks to stop the bears climbing them. I saw a tree in the middle which did not have this protection, and as my eyes followed the trunk upwards I was surprised to see a bear sat high in its foliage! It just goes to show that the tree protection was for good reason.


Another interesting museum was the Vasamuseet. A huge wooden ship was built in the 17th Century, but it had a slight tilt. Because of this, on its maiden voyage the ship sailed only one kilometre before tipping over, filling with water and sinking. The ship sat at the bottom of the river for centuries before being rescued in the 1970s. A massive restoration project was undertaken, including spraying it with preservative polyethylene glycol for seventeen years to ensure all of the water was removed from the wood. Today, the ship has been carefully put back together and restored, and can be viewed at the Vasamuseet, along with accompanying displays about the ship, its contents and the life of the sailors who would have worked on it. This is definitely a must see if you ever visit the city.


I had heard that the food in Sweden was outlandishly expensive, but I didn't find this to be the case at all. I'm not sure if the pound is particularly strong against Swedish Krona at the moment, but honestly the food was the same price as you would find in the UK. On the first night we ate in a tiny restaurant which served real Swedish food; on the second we ate Italian (we were taken in by friendly waiters and hunger); on the last night we ate at a Spanish Tapas bar. All of the food was excellent quality, particularly the Swedish and Spanish foods. Another thing that I really loved was that all meals, be it in a cafe or a restaurant, came with free bread and butter (usually left near the till where you often find napkins, so you could literally help yourself), and there was a jug of tap water at every food or drink outlet. I know that some fancy fast food places now leave a jug of water out for customers, but this whole bread and butter thing is a really nice idea that I would love to see in the UK.


Though Swedish culture is rather Western in feel - they have coffee shops, chain clothing stores and fast food restaurants that can be found in most city centres in Western Europe - there were definitely some behaviours or traditions that I found a little strange. In Stockholm (having only visited one Swedish city, I feel I can't really vouch for the whole country) it is perfectly normal to have unisex public toilets. I found them in shopping centres, department stores and even in restaurants. Everybody used cubicles, so there wasn't really any awkwardness, but I couldn't really get comfortable with this idea.


Another difference that I noticed at the end of my trip was that Swedes really don't understand proper queueing etiquette. I know that I'm going to sound very British here, but they really had no sense of personal space or understanding of how order is maintained in a queue. In the queue to get on the plane home, and again at passport control, I had people behind me who would get so close that they knocked into my bag every time we moved forward; they even at one point moved forward so much that they were standing next to me in the queue. Of course, despite being immensely irritated by this (keep in mind that I was also pretty tired at this point), I am British so all I did was blink furiously, pull irritated faces and glare at them when they got too close.


On the whole I loved Stockholm. The architecture is truly stunning, and it was a real novelty to get boats everywhere, as being an archipelago this was the fastest way to get from one island to the other. There was so much to do, and there are endless museums to visit. Of course, the food is fantastic and the people are incredibly friendly (even if they don't queue properly). The weather when I visited at the start of June was pretty much what you would expect in the South of England, but given how far North I was, I think this is very impressive. Book a trip to Stockholm!



7 June 2015

Strawberry & Rhubarb Crumble



I really think that summer could be here. I was away in Stockholm for the first four days of the month (Travel post coming soon), but since I came back the weather has been positively balmy. So far, my prediction that bad May means good summer is proving to be correct (though I realise there is a lot of time left in which I could be proven wrong).

I often miss the Rhubarb season, but this year I have been snapping so much of it up from the discount shelf at the supermarket that I have had way too much than I know what to do with. I have mostly been waiting too long to use it, then stewing the fruit so that I can eat it later on. Yesterday, though, I decided to change it up a bit.


I've never actually put strawberries and rhubarb together, but I am so glad that I did. The flavours really do marry well together. I always love a good crumble, but here there is also a nice contrast in flavour as the strawberries are very soft, whilst the rhubarb is still quite firm (though if you want, you could cook the crumble for longer or stew the fruit first). My only issue is that the fruit released so much liquid whilst cooking, that the crumble is basically swimming in a fruit syrup. I will try to harvest the syrup after the crumble is finished; Supergolden Bakes has some great (and, even better, boozy) uses for rhubarb and strawberry syrup.


This Strawberry & Rhubarb Crumble can be served hot or cold, alone or with custard or ice cream.

Note: I didn't make enough crumble topping for a thick layer over the fruit; if you prefer this, double the flour and butter, and use another 75g caster sugar.

Ingredients

  • 225g Caster Sugar
  • 150g Plain Flour
  • 75g Butter
  • 400g Strawberries
  • 400g Rhubarb
Recipe
  • Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan and find an oven proof dish that is approx 10inx10in
  • Make the crumble topping by dumping 75g of the caster sugar, all of the flour and the butter into a mixing bowl and rubbing together with your finger tips until the mixture loosely resembles breadcrumbs. 
  • Hull and halve the strawberries, and chop the rhubarb into 1cm/0.5in chunks.
  • Layer the strawberries, rhubarb and remaining caster sugar in your oven proof dish. You could toss the fruit in a couple of tablespoons of cornflour here to avoid my situation, where the crumble is almost drowned in syrup.
  • Top with the crumble topping, and sprinkle with a little extra sugar if desired.
  • Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

31 May 2015

Haribo Cake


What started as a way to save money on gifts, whilst still showing that I care, has become a bit of a tradition. I am no longer the thrifty student I once was, but this doesn't stop me making birthday cakes for good friends of mine. I find that the ability to show that you know them well enough to make something they like, and that you would put in all the effort just for them, goes a long way.

I love baking for other people for several reasons. It not lets me design something to their tastes as opposed to my own (I'm rarely going to bake a cake on a whim if I won't like the end result). It gives me an excuse to make more spectacular cakes (time permitting). Most importantly, it means I will only be able to justify eating once slice because the cake was meant for someone else. Previous birthday cakes include Eight Layer Kahlua Cake (With A Rainbow Inside), Chocolate Brown Ale Cake and Vodka Lemonade Cake


This Haribo Cake was made for a friend at work, on his 22nd birthday. It was very well recieved by my friend and all the others that we shared it with. I'll definitely keep this recipe in mind when I need to make a show-stopping cake but don't want to spend hours on decoration. 

I wanted to add colour to the icing, so on a whim I swirled some gel colouring into the top layer of icing. It helps to have a cake turntable for this; all I did was put a bit of blue gel colouring on the end of a spatula, laid it at an angle in the centre of the cake and spun the cake around. I repeated this with some pink colouring, but it turned purple when it mixed with the blue. Very simple, but also very effective.


Ingredients

Sponge:
  • 200g Butter
  • 200g Caster Sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1/2 Regular Pack Haribo (use other half for decoration)
  • 200g Plain Flour
  • 1 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 50mL Milk

French Buttercream:
  • 250g Unsalted Butter
  • 5 Egg Yolks
  • 90g Caster Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract

Recipe

Sponge:
  • Preheat oven to 200C/180C fan and line two 9in cake tins with baking parchment.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well combined.
  • Stir in the milk.
  • Sift the flour and baking powder into the batter and fold in until well combined.
  • Divide the batter between the cake tins, then dot the Haribo around the batter, spread evenly across both tins.
  • Bake in the oven for 22 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
  • Allow the cakes to cool completely before turning out of their tins for decoration.
French Buttercream:
  • Heat a pan filled 2/3 with water until the water starts to simmer.
  • Place the sugar and egg yolks in a heat proof bowl over the pan, ensuring that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl.
  • Stir the mixture constantly with a fork until the sugar has fully dissolved in the yolks (use clean fingers to test; it won't be as hot as you think).
  • Immediately transfer the yolk mixture into a mixing bowl and whisk until it has doubled in size and is very pale.
  • Ensure that the butter is room temperature, then take a knob at a time and whisk it into the yolk mixture, ensuring it is fully incorporated before adding more. When all of the butter has been added, the buttercream should be smooth, pale and glossy.
  • Decorate the cake as desired (see above for how to do the swirly colour pattern).




10 May 2015

Baking With Spirit: Chocolate Stout Traybake



This Chocolate Stout Traybake was served at my flatmate's 26th birthday meal. There were only six of us (we had expected ten) and it was a Thursday night, but more anecdotes came from this night than this setting would have you believe.

We brought everyone back to our flat after a great Indian meal nearby. First we pooled our knowledge in order to finish a Guardian crossword, which three people in their twenties had struggled to finish earlier in the day.  We then spent far longer than we should have quoting Confucius to one another; my flatmate decided that these quotes could be particularly useful for rounding off a meeting ("our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."). One of the guests noticed my record player, so after pulling out a couple of vinyls we of course settled on listening to the soundtrack to The Sound Of Music (don't ask me why I own that) completing the night with a rousing chorus of Edelwiess. But of course...


This cake was kind of a cross between cake and brownie in texture, as the stout made it more moist and dense than usual. Both the chocolate and stout flavours came through well, and the cake was a hit at my flatmate's birthday meal.

I find traybakes to be particularly useful at celebrations and parties, but they are really appropriate at just about any time. I would recommend that you try this Chocolate Stout Traybake next time such an occasion arises!

Ingredients
  • 250mL Stout
  • 200g Dark Chocolate
  • 3 Eggs
  • 300g Butter
  • 300g Plain Flour
  • 300g Caster Sugar
  • 2 Tsp Baking Powder
Recipe
  • Preheat oven to 200C/180C fan, and line a deep baking tray (I actually used a roasting tin) with baking parchment.
  • Melt 150g of the chocolate and the butter in a heatproof bowl in the microwave.
  • Allow to cool slightly before stirring in the eggs and stout.
  • In a mixing bowl, stir the flour, sugar and baking powder together, then make a well in the middle.
  • Pour the chocolate mixture into the well, then fold the ingredients together until well combined.
  • Transfer to the baking tin, then bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
  • While the traybake cools, melt the remaining chocolate and drizzle over the cake.
  • Decorate as desired.

6 May 2015

Baking With Spirit Spotlight: Piña Colada Milkshake


This month's Baking With Spirit: Spotlight post is focused on a post that I bookmarked a good few years ago, and I am ashamed to say that I have only just got around to trying it. This is why I'm so happy that I created this feature!

This month's spotlight falls on the Piña Colada Milkshake post from Nina at Ambrosia. Nina made this incredibly simple milkshake in the autumn of 2012 because she wanted to hold onto summer; I was inspired to make it on a blustery weekend in 2015 because I'm so ready for summer! The milkshake definitely screams summer, with a winning combination of pineapple, coconut, rum and vanilla ice cream.



I bought a pineapple a few weeks ago because it was in "2 for £2.50" offer with satsumas (but of course) in the supermarket. I wasn't really sure what I was going to do with it, but it ended up being a rather tropical addition to my lunches. I was nearing the end of the pineapple when I rediscovered this recipe, and I'm so glad I did.

I wanted to use what I had in the house for this recipe, so instead of using the coconut cream suggested in Nina's post I used about 50mL knock-off Malibu instead. Ever the Westcountry girl at heart, I couldn't help using Cornish Cream ice cream instead of vanilla, but I am sure that vanilla works just as well. Otherwise, I followed the recipe to the letter, so I won't list my own version of the recipe below.

The only trouble I had was that my food processor would only blend up the pineapple to a certain extent; next time I might just use pineapple juice to make the milkshake more drinkable. Otherwise, I loved this milkshake and it definitely tasted of summer. I'll be making this again.


Check out Ambrosia for the eclectic mix of sweet recipes and drool-inducing photography.

For more Baking With Spirit posts, check out the dedicated page.