Wednesday 31 December 2014

The End of our first Sugar Moon Year - and a Giveaway for 2015!

 Christmas in the world of commercial baking needs time. Time to plan...time to bake...time to mature! These Christmas cakes were made in September...the fruit macerated in brandy, rum & port for 10 days....
 ...and after baking, were fed with more rum for the months leading up to the celebrations. The decorations were completed in late November, when many of them were sold at the last Farmer's Market of the year. Others were packaged up as gifts to be bought nearer to the time...they are all, hopefully, merely crumbs and happy memories by now! Festive brownie packaging takes a bit of thought and planning too...
 At Sugar Moon we like things to look beautiful and inviting...
 ...with a few quirky touches! I think we succeeded. Love these stickers from Moo, a company I highly recommend for their quality and service.
 Mince pies were baked and consumed in quantity also...we receive orders from family and friends for these, usually all delivered on Christmas it's a hectic time. But we wouldn't want it any other way...
In early December, I went up to Nottingham with my great friend Charlie Massey (one half of the fabulous Grumpy Bakers, who bake a brilliant range of 'real' breads from their base at Twyford Community Stores near Buckingham) to the School of Artisan Food ....
 ...where we took a two-day intensive course in baking laminated breads and pastries with french master baker extraordinaire Mickael Jahan.
 Here I am, glazing some of our beauteous baguettes...
 ..and pointing out (helpfully) a special decoration!
 The sense of achievement was amazing...this is a field in which I was fairly inexperienced, although I used to bake croissants and viennoiserie many years ago...
 Michael's teaching was brilliant - and the course was great fun too....we shaped and baked all manner of breakfast goods - croissants, of course...
 danish pastries ( these were pains aux raisins mainly, but some with chocolate creme patissiere too...)
 and pains aux chocolate too. The dough needed much resting and folding and an initial overnight prove..
 But the results were stunning and definitely worth the wait!
 We also made much brioche in different & lemon plaits...

 traditional brioche loaves...
 and some containing hazelnuts and chocolate chips, or rum-soaked fruits....
 ...these had a macaronade topping, made from ground almonds, egg white and sugar...which gives a beautiful cracked appearance and extra texture.
 We got to pack up and take home all our produce at the end, too...over 300 items managed to squeeze into Charlie's little white Skoda...
 ...the fragrance on our long drive home was fabulous!
 There are many courses available at the school...for professionals or novices...and we'd highly recommend them!

So...a new year is almost upon us. I thought you might like a beautiful cake recipe to brighten these dark winter days (or add a deeper glow to your summer ones, if you're in the southern hemisphere!)

Probably my favourite new cookbook of 2014 has been Honey & Co by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer. I've written about it in greater depth in a previous post, but this cake is a fabulously easy and delicious one...
 In the book (and this recipe) Sarit uses only lemons...but in mine (and the pictures) I often use oranges too...or a mixture!

Saffron & Lemon Syrup Cake 

For the cake:

200g butter
270g sugar (I use golden caster)
4 eggs
200g ground almonds
a pinch of turmeric
140g semolina (I use polenta to make the cake gluten-free...either is fine!)
2 tbsp plain flour (or GF flour)
1 lemon, juice & zest
1/2 tsp baking powder (GF if applicable)

For the syrup & topping:

2 lemons, really thinly sliced
enough water to cover x 2, plus 400ml
250g caster sugar
a pinch each of turmeric & saffron (or just use turmeric if saffron is unavailable or too pricey for you)

Grease & line a 23cm cake tin with baking parchment (I use a loose-bottomed one)

Place the lemon slices for the syrup & topping in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil over a high heat.

 Drain the slices, re-cover with water and bring to the boil again. Drain for a second time (this process removes any bitterness), then cover with the 400ml water. Add the saffron, turmeric and sugar & bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 6-8 minutes until the peel is soft & the syrup has thickened.

Remove from the heat.
Use a fork to lift the lemon slices out of the syrup and layer them, just slightly overlapping, all over the base and a little up the sides of the lined baking tin....
Pour over 2 tbsp of the syrup and reserve the rest for later.

Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan/Gas Mark 4

Cream the butter and sugar together (I use a stand mixer)....

 ...until they are well combined but not fluffy, as you don't want to aerate this mixture. Stir in the eggs, ground almonds and turmeric, then fold in the semolina, flour, lemon juice & zest, salt & baking powder. Mix well and scrape into the cake tin.
 Bake in the centre of the oven for 15-20 minutes, then turn the cake tin round to ensure even baking and bake for a further 10-15 minutes (I find that my oven needs a little more time...up to 30 sometimes!) The cake should be golden and firm. Remove from the oven and pour over the remaining syrup to soak in. Allow to rest for 20 minutes before turning out. Place a plate over the top of the tin and invert, then gently remove the tin and paper....
 As Sarit says..."Now,turn off the lights and watch it glow...."
 Stunning! And so, to celebrate the beginning of a sparkly New Year...we're giving away a copy of this fabulous book to one lucky reader!
We'll send a copy anywhere in the world. To enter, just leave a comment on this post. That's it!
Good luck....the winning name will be drawn on January 15th.

Until then....thanks so much for reading, and for supporting Sugar Moon this year. Hoping that 2015 is filled with good things for all of us! x

Saturday 11 October 2014

Catching up with Apples, Plums...& Ernest!

 Such a busy few weeks, so apologies for the lack of posts...but it's lovely to have so much to do! October now, and Autumn is really here. This afternoon, I baked this Apple Cinnamon Shortcake. It's perfect for now. Warm from the looks deceptively plain....
 ...but when you cut into it, a cinnamon-y apple compote is revealed! Because it's fully enclosed by the shortcake, it doesn't ooze out...and the shortbread is light with a slight crunch on the top and sides.
 It's based on a recipe from one of my very favourite bakers, Dorie Greenspan , whose new book 'Baking Chez Moi' is out very soon and already on pre-order! Her huge and beautiful tome 'Baking, From my Home to Yours' is a constant source of inspiration and comfort...she thinks like me (and we have the same haircut, which is entirely coincidental but somewhat reinforces my secret belief that we are kindred spirits!)
 I used my all-time favourite apple, the Egremont Russet for the recipe...because it's so British and so in season right now! Make the compote by coring and thinly slicing around 3 medium need to peel (yay!) and simmering gently with a tbsp or two of water, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon and a tbsp of brown sugar until they are a thick puree, although with a few lumps of apple still visible..not too smooth!

Set aside to cool a little. Then...get baking!

Cinnamon Apple Shortcake - with love to Dorie Greenspan !

200g/ 13 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g + 2tsp / 1 cup + 2 tsp light soft brown sugar
1 large egg + 1 extra egg yolk
100g/ 1/2 cup polenta/cornmeal
300g/ 2 cups plain/all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180c/350f
Grease & line a 23cm/10" round loose-bottomed or spring form tin with baking parchment

In a stand mixer, using the beater attachment, cream the butter and larger amount of sugar until pale. Add the whole egg and yolk & beat well. Scrape down the bowl, then add in all the remaining dry ingredients (still reserving the 2 extra tsp sugar, though!) Mix until just combined. The dough will be very soft. Roughly divide into two halves and press the first half lightly into the base of the prepared tin - it's easiest with clean fingers. Try and get it as even as you can, and push the dough a little way up the sides of the tin too, if you can (this just helps to really enclose the apple filling.)
Now spread the compote over the base - I used the back of a spoon for this - trying to leave about 2cm/ 1/2" space all around the edge. On a lightly floured board, use your fingers again to start pushing the remaining dough into a rough circle. Try and get it so that it looks about right for the tin size (it will be easy to adjust later) and then carefully lift it and place over the layer of compote. Pat into shape, making sure that the apple is completely can even 'tuck it in' a little if you have room! Brush the top with a little water and scatter over the saved 2 tsp brown sugar. Bake for a total of around 40 minutes - I rotate the pan halfway through to ensure even browning. It will be golden brown and firm on top when cooked through. Cool slightly on a wire rack in the tin, before releasing the sides. Lovely cold, of course...but really delightful still slightly warm. Perhaps with a big spoonful of creme fraiche or clotted cream on the side?! Why not...

Another thing I am in love with is this handmade jug-bowl. It came from a wonderful website created by a fabulous woman...Silvana de Soissons. The Foodie Bugle Shop is full of beautiful, practical food-related also has a brilliant vintage section, perfect for one-of-a-kind presents. Every parcel comes wrapped beautifully and tied with real, old-fashioned string...the way all good parcels should be but never are!
 This gorgeous thing was made by Paul Jessop of Barrington Pottery in Somerset.
 I just love looking at it and holding's very heavy & tactile. But I know that it will get a lot of use (eventually) too!

September's Farmer's Market was warm and sunny....which was brilliant after the rain & chill of August! People flocked to the stalls and I wasn't the only one to sell out. My good friend Charlie, one half of The Grumpy Bakers sold 79 loaves by 1pm....a brilliant day! Among my bestsellers were these...
 ...Fresh Plum & Almond Tarts....
 ...delicious! We will have more of these for sale in October.

And finally....I made a vat of Salted Caramel Sauce at the beginning of the week. The Sugar Moon kitchen gets through a lot of this. Litres, in fact!
 It's the main ingredient in our famous Salted Caramel Brownie, of course, which is rapidly becoming the bestselling flavour on the website ...threatening to overtake Double Chocolate any day now! Among their many fans are these two...
Christine Kavanagh and Nigel Havers who are currently starring - with a fab ensemble cast including Sian Philips, Cherie Lunghi & Martin Jarvis - in The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde's legendary play. This new production cleverly incorporates an extra 'play within a play'...adding even more interest and much laughter! We enjoyed a great night's entertainment earlier this week, as the company are currently touring. And, I'm thrilled to say that the company greatly enjoyed their Sugar Moon Brownies too! This photo, tweeted from the dressing room, will keep me smiling for many days to come....Encore!

Have a wonderful weekend!

NB: After 'sleeping on' the recipe overnight, I woke up thinking that using ground hazelnuts would be even more delicious! I think they could successfully substitute the polenta/cornmeal and would add a new depth to the cake. So I will be trying that next time! I have just eaten a slice, the 'day after'...and if anything it's even nicer than yesterday! The compote would work with many fruits...raspberries, plums, blueberries, persimmons....pears would be good, too! Experiment and let me know if you do!

Sunday 21 September 2014

Courgettes & September!

 This is a time of year for abundance...our tomatoes are ripening so fast, that I pick them twice a day...
I have given many away, but they keep coming! 4 types this year...marmandes, plums, golden cherry & little grape ones, like mini red sweet, we eat them straight from the vine. A neighbour has the same 'problem' with courgettes...too many ripening at once to be able to use them quickly enough! So we did a swap...and after using some in conventional recipes, I thought I would bake a courgette cake. After all, we use carrots & beetroot quite routinely in baking nowadays, so why not? I turned for the recipe to an old friend... you can see, my copy of Nigella's brilliant book has been extremely well-used! Her version of the cake is baked in round layers and has a lime curd filling and cream cheese frosting...but I wanted a plainer cake, a loaf cake to slice for everyday a little adaptation went on (as always!) I also added lemon zest and a lemon syrup glaze to finish (I almost forgot to say that made this way it is also dairy free if that's important to you!) here is the recipe for a

Sugar Moon via Nigella Courgette Cake"

2 medium courgettes (about 250g) grated - but not peeled
2 large free-range eggs
125ml sunflower oil
150g caster sugar + 1 tbsp extra for the lemon syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract - I use pure vanilla powder from Ndali
225g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp each baking powder & bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
zest & juice of 1 unwaxed lemon

Line a 2lb/1kg loaf tin with baking parchment
Preheat oven to 180c/350f

First place the grated courgette in a colander to drain off any excess water...(for best results, grate them by hand on the coarse side of a regular box grater)

 In a large bowl, place the oil, 150g sugar, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest and mix well together - I do this in my stand mixer using the beater attachment...
 Next measure the remaining dry ingredients...
 ...and add to the liquid...
 ..mixing until well combined... will be quite thick and glossy. Now mix in the grated courgette - I use my silicone spatula because it gets right down to the bottom of the bowl...
 ...and scrape into the prepared loaf pan.
 Bake for about 45mins - 1 hour...this depends on your oven, but it should be well-risen, golden brown and spring back in the middle when pressed gently with a finger...
 Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack. Make a syrup by gently heating the lemon juice and remaining tablespoon of sugar and brush over the surface of the warm cake to glaze...

 Leave to cool completely before slicing... is gorgeous inside, with emerald flecks...very light and moist. It won't keep for too long because of the fresh courgette, but definitely for a couple of days if well wrapped and airtight. Or you can freeze it for up to a month...
We have also started baking Christmas cakes! These are really popular on the farmer's market stall, where some are sold undecorated to be passed off as home-made (and why not?!) and others will be glittered and glazed and gilded...
 I started off by baking the really rich, alcoholic cakes as these have the best keeping qualities..
 French brandy, Jamaican rum and Portuguese port goes into these babies...the fruit is soaked in all three for a whole week first....then they are 'fed' with yet more rum & brandy after baking...before being double wrapped and stored in a cool, dry place for the next 3 months. I will unwrap and feed them with alcohol a few more times. So they are really quite special!
There will be other versions too...some with no alcohol at all...but these smell absolutely divine and started me thinking about more Christmas baking. But then I looked out at the warm, golden September afternoon...and resolved to forget about it for just a few more weeks!

I hope you will try the courgette cake...and if you bake anything from the Sugar Moon Blog, we'd love to hear how it turns out! It was great to get your views and comments on the blueberry brownies and other flavours...Have a great week...and if you would like to try some of our remarkable brownies, then do visit our website here!