Banana and Honey Teabread

Since Saturday or Sunday I’ve developed a horrid sore throat, and as I’m going to be rehearsing for a very full-on musical up to three times a week for the next two months, I thought I’d better do something about it asap. Consequently my new hot drink of choice is honey and lemon, which is the nicest way to soothe my poor croaky voice (in the mornings it drops about an octave – I sound like Arnie Schwarzenegger without the accent) and is by far preferable to Lemsip or anything similar – yuch.

I don’t often have honey in the cupboard so I thought I had better make the most of it by baking Mary Berry’s lovely Banana and Honey Teabread. As always, there were drastically overripe bananas in the house waiting to be taken pity on, and other than that this is a very simple recipe using standard (baking) cupboard ingredients. And if I can have cake that will ‘help’ my sore throat, why not?! Coincidentally, I was also reading a sequence of poems about bees today…it must be fate.

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The loaf takes quite a long time to bake because the mixture is so wet, but the process beforehand is so quick that if you have ten minutes to spare then jobs to do, this is the bake for you! I’m coming over all poetic now, too much Yeats. For the topping Mary uses nibbed sugar, but apparently that’s quite hard to get – I’d never heard of it – so she suggests using crushed sugar cubes instead. Nick them from a tearoom, or alternatively leave your bag of sugar in a kitchen cupboard in a student house; it should clump up nicely in the damp. The other thing I really like about this cake is the addition of nutmeg – the flavour really comes through just enough for it to complement the honey but not overpower the banana. Yum!

Ingredients

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 100g butter
  • 225g bananas (I used about 1 and 1/4 bananas)
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons thick pale honey

Step 1. Sift the flour and grate the nutmeg into the mixing bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingers til the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.

Step 2. Peel and mash the bananas separately, then add these, the sugar, eggs and honey to the flour and butter and mix it all together thoroughly. ??????????

Step 3. Turn into a loaf tin (greased and lined if not non-stick) and bake in a pre-heated oven at 160C/Gas Mark 3 for about 1 and 1/4 hours, or until a skewer poked into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Step 4. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out and finish cooling on a wire rack.

Step 5. If you want to add a topping, warm 2 tablespoons of honey in a pan then brush over the teabread when cold. Sprinkle with the nibbed/crushed/damp clusters of sugar and serve. This should keep for a good five days I reckon in an airtight tin.

**Notes**

I would almost be tempted to add a teaspoon or so of baking powder to this recipe as the cake didn’t rise much at all, making it denser than it needs to be – its already quite a heavy cake with the moisture from the banana and honey. I think I’ll be making this again fairly soon though, as I didn’t quite get the actual baking part right, starting off at too high a temperature. In that case I’ll edit the post and let you know of any improvements, or on the flip side, if adding baking powder is really disastrous advice. The other thing I should mention is that Mary’s recipe includes the grated rind of one lemon; I omitted this because I didn’t have a lemon whose rind I could grate, but also wasn’t sure if the citrus here was really necessary. I have a sneaking suspicion that Mary is somewhat biased towards them; lemon drizzle is reportedly her favourite cake, and lemon zest or juice does seem to make an appearance in a considerable number of her recipes in the Baking Bible. We’re onto you, Mary!

That’s all I think, as I said the recipe may be tweaked in the next few weeks so if you’re planning on making it do comment with your suggestions/hang on til I’ve done some trial and error! Back tomorrow with a food fact for the day, thanks for reading ūüôā

Soda Bread

My fridge is full of takeaway leftovers and the veg draw has been untouched this week – a sorry state of affairs indeed for someone who calls herself a cooking enthusiast. I have, in my defence, had a manic weekend (I know I’m always saying this but my life is just a whole lotta busy at the moment!) that consisted of twelve hours of dance rehearsals over two days, plus a night out in the middle of those days. My university’s performing arts society are putting on West Side Story this semester – its going to be amazing, but to ensure that we have to put in a lot of rehearsal time, obviously. So this weekend particularly the show has kind of taken over my life (my iPod has even been choosing WSS tracks to play first in its shuffle queue – spooky), leaving little time for recreation in the way of baking and cooking.

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An antidote to all this, however, comes in the form of my recipe for soda bread, made a few days back before the dance-rehearsal-Pop Tarts-social-muscle-murdering-marathon that this weekend brought. A resolutely wholesome and thoroughly rustic loaf, my homemade soda bread is a sort of mish-mash of various versions of the  traditional Irish bread that I settled on after a couple of attempts (the first was so salty you could have shriveled a slug with it).

It is SO simple, easy and quick to bake – no proving necessary!! – and¬†can be knocked up in under an hour. Great with soups and stews; my favourite way to eat it so far is toasted and spread with butter. Unless you are toasting it, the bread is absolutely best eaten the day, even the hour that its made. Soda bread doesn’t keep too well, but this loaf is pretty small – with a bowl of soup one person could easily have a quarter of it for a meal.

Ingredients

  • 150g wholemeal bread flour
  • 100g white bread flour
  • 10g bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 35g butter
  • 180-200ml buttermilk

Step 1. Sift both types of flour and the bicarb and salt into your mixing bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingers until there are no big lumps of butter left.

Step 2. Be prepared to do this QUICK. The reaction between the bicarb and the buttermilk is what creates the rise in the loaf, so if you muck around with this stage for too long you’ll have a denser, smaller loaf. Pour in the buttermilk and use a round bladed knife to mix the ingredients well, then use your hands to roughly bring the dough together. It should be quite wet and sticky to touch – a dryer dough will make a denser loaf, as will a dough that has been handled too much; keep it short and sweet with the mixing and shaping.

Before baking. Not the most attractive loaf in the world, but what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in flavour.

Before baking. Not the most attractive loaf in the world, but what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in flavour.

Step 3. Cut a cross into the top of the ball of dough and pop it on a baking tray, either non-stick or lined with baking paper.¬†Bake at 200C/Gas Mark 6 for 30-35 minutes. The loaf should sound hollow when you tap it on the base and the top nicely browned. Leave to cool under a clean tea towel so the crust doesn’t harden up too much, then store in an airtight bag when cool, or devour when still warm, depending on your resolve!

**Notes**

As I mentioned earlier, the first loaf I made was far too salty for my taste. I know soda bread is a salty bread, but I cut down the amount considerably because I couldn’t eat more than a morsel or two without dehydrating! If you can’t get buttermilk (I found it in a wholefoods shop near me – its Beanies if you’re a fellow Sheffielder) then milk with a tablespoon of lemon juice will do fine, or if you need to use up sour milk that also works. Other recipes added oats, honey or treacle to the bread; its such a simple bake that experimenting with ingredients should be easy ūüôā

Wheaty grainy goodness, still warm and crumbly from the oven. Yumma yumma yumma.

Wheaty grainy goodness, still warm and crumbly from the oven. Yumma yumma yumma.

Embrace the wholesomeness, that’s the best bit! And you can assuage any takeaway-related guilt by making and eating this bread, just like me in this post. I might not be back here til Tuesday as I’ll be away from home tomorrow, so you’ve got plenty of time to make soda bread and report back before then!

       

Super Berries

I’ve been extensively browsing the web pages of SportsDirect recently; not one of my usual pastimes but I’m getting an early birthday present this year in the form of gym trainers and leggings. I know this sounds terribly dull and practical for a 21st, but I’m actually genuinely excited to get some proper kit to bop around in at my weekly step class. As I was pre-occupied with healthy living et cetera ¬†this evening whilst casting around for my next Foodie Fact, I decided to find out which berries are best for you and why. (I try to fully embrace the fitness drive as and when it takes me, because I do otherwise live in a world that revolves mostly around bread, cake, cookies and ice cream…)

Here is an ABC of a few top berries, picked out from this article, that¬†you should apparently add to your everyday ‘To Eat’ list:

  1. Acai berries* ~ full of antioxidants, amino acids and fatty acids to protect cells against disease and boost immunity
  2. Blueberries ~ contain masses of fibre, vitamin K (builds bones) and manganese, an energy boosting mineral, not a language
  3. Cranberries ~ the group of flavanoids called proanthocyanidins in these not-just-for-Christmas treats help lower the risk of urinary tract infections

*(pronounced ah-sigh-ee; I did not know that before today!)

Acai-Berries    blueberrycranberries(5) 

Enjoy berrylicious bakes with these ideas from the Guardian:¬†The 10 Best Berry Recipes, or check back a couple of days on An Inexact Science and find my very own¬†Lemon and Blueberry Yoghurt Cake¬†recipe to tickle your tastebuds! How’s that for culinary alliteration, eh?¬†Sleep tight little bakers and bakesses x ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†

Well oil be damned…

Food fact of the day: oil is not only useful for cooking with. Corfu-olive-oil

Coat a spoon with a neutral-tasting oil, like rapeseed for example, to measure out sticky substances like golden syrup – the oil will make the syrup slide off the spoon easily for less mess and fuss-free measuring.

Also, before using a tupperware to store coloured foods (cooked beetroot, tomato-based sauces, etc.) wipe around the inside of it with oil to form a protective barrier that will help to prevent staining your tupperware. Now you too can become a domestic goddess like me!…¬†¬†Til tomorrow folks x

Lemon and Blueberry Yoghurt Cake

This cake has been in the pipeline for a while now – when it was raining constantly I wanted to bake it to bring a bit of sun shiny-ness into the house, and now it feels like a welcome acknowledgement that the weather seems to have finally turned and is bestowing on us some sunshine at last.

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The initial idea came from the fun and very readable¬†London Bakes; the blogger, Kathryn, posted a recipe for a lemon yoghurt cake and I love Greek yoghurt – in fact its really the only type of yoghurt I actually like and have done since I was little – so immediately wanted to try it out. Then, miraculously it seemed to me, I found a recipe for a very similar lemon yoghurt cake in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, current cookbook and blog inspiration tome of choice. What luck! Kathryn’s is gluten-free and includes a slightly different set of ingredients than Mary’s but both are similar in essence. I decided to add blueberries to mine for the extra bursts of tartness in flavour, and because I think they look so inviting baked in a sponge cake.

It does take a long time to cook, but on the upside that leaves you with a decent interlude for washing up/reading/watching the Winter Olympics. One of my tutors has been raving about the Winter Olympics lately and I have to say I’m glad she has been; I’ve been watching the figure skating and am in awe of everything about it. Me and my housemate also had a good chuckle at the curling – what an unintentionally hilarious sport! Apologies to anyone who is involved in curling who might be reading this – no offence meant – but the way the guys go crazy with their little scrubbing brushes just gets me every time. Also it reminds me of Pingu…remember that episode where the titular penguin and his confusingly twice-named (Robbie, or Seymour? I can’t decide) seal friend play curling with bedpans? Hilarious. All the more so now I’ve seen it with real people. Anyway…

The cake should last a week in the fridge according to Mary – its very moist, mine (with blueberries) even more so I imagine because of the added liquid in the fruit. I like to think that because it lives in the fridge it slots nicely into the ‘healthy snack’ or even ‘acceptable eaten for breakfast’ category. Mary’s recipe includes icing which would definitely take it off the second list, but I left that part out, maybe just so I could have it for breakfast with no qualms whatsoever ūüôā Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 300g caster sugar
  • 50g butter
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 225g Greek yoghurt
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • about 180g blueberries

Step 1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4 and grease and/or line a deep cake tin. Mary says 20cm round, I used a loaf tin, purely because that’s how I imagined the shape…as long as its deep I don’t think it matters especially.

Step 2. Beat together the butter, sugar and egg yolks in a mixing bowl til pale and creamy. Add the yoghurt and grate in the lemon rind. Stir well til smooth.

Step 3. Gently fold in the flour, then whisk the egg whites to soft peaks in a separate bowl. Warm up your upper arm muscles first if you haven’t got an electric whisk and are as lacking in the bicep department as I am. Fold in the whisked egg whites, again very gently and carefully – you need to add both these ingredients using a metal spoon, not a wooden one, and cutting down and folding over the mixture rather than stirring it round.

Step 4. Fold in the blueberries, washed and whole, then pour the cake batter into your prepped tin. Bake for 1 hour to an hour and a quarter. The cake should be well-risen and slightly springy to the touch when it is cooked. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then loosen around the edges and turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling before storing in a tupperware in the fridge.

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**Notes**

Easy peasy lemon squeezy! Except don’t squeeze the lemons; you only want the rind, not the juice. It might never bake to a solid if you add more liquid to this mixture. The baking is the only bit that takes time though, otherwise this is pretty simple and yummy. The icing Mary’s recipe adds, by the way, is 1 and a 1/2 tbsp lemon juice to 100g icing sugar if you wanted to add that. For a special occasion, and perhaps if you were omitting the blueberries, you could decorate the iced cake with niblets of candied lemon peel. I don’t really have any notes for the recipe which is why I’m rambling; basically, its lovely. Back again soon with another foray into bread making! ttfn x

The Perfect Steak

steak

Know how to cook your steak exactly how you like it? Well, the answer is in your hands. No, literally. Gordon Ramsay shows you how to tell if your steak is rare, medium or well-done by comparing the feel of the cooking meat to your hand, in the handy cooking tips section of his TV program, ‘Ultimate Cookery Course’.

For rare meat, when you press the steak with your fingertip it should feel like the inside of your thumb on your palm – quite squishy and tender. For medium, you want the same give as you can feel on the outside of your thumb. For well-done, press your finger into your wrist (where you would take a pulse) and the steak should feel like this; firm with just a little bit of give.¬†If it’s easier to see it rather than read it (and I have been reading for hours and hours today so please excuse me if this post is slightly garbled) here is the link to the show on Channel 4 (you might not be able to get to this if you’re outside the UK, I’m afraid, but I’m sure its on YouTube): Ultimate Cookery Course – Series 1, Episode 10¬†(skip to 21:20).

Perfect for a celebratory dinner, or a special evening in – impress your guests with restaurant-standard steaks whether they are die-hard carnivores or terribly squeamish. Cheers Gordon!

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Okay, so this was meant to be baked and posted yesterday, but my boyfriend and I got embroiled in making a late dinner and chatting to housemates, and before we knew it it was 1am and I was too sleepy to be trusted with anything meticulous like weighing out ingredients. I actually made this pudding earlier this evening with my old (that’s former, not ancient) housemates – a lovely reunion that included many rounds of my new game, Bananagrams (thank you to my lovely Valentine who knows me so well!), and a delicious dinner of Chinese porridge followed by the very English Sticky Toffee pudding ūüôā

Nothing like a saucy pud on a cold night.

Nothing like a saucy pud on a cold night.

Anyway, Happy Valentine’s Day to all and let’s pretend I have kept up with blog posts and today is still Friday.¬†healthy-valentines-heart

More properly named St Valentine’s Day, the celebration began in honour of the early Christian¬†saint Valentine of Rome¬†or¬†Valentine of Terni, depending on the denomination of Christianity followed, at around AD500. The tradition of giving gifts of flowers or confectionery and sending greeting cards evolved in 18th century England, which lead to the mass-production of Valentine’s Cards from the 19th century onwards, eventually earning the day the accolade of a ‘Hallmark holiday’ for some as a result of its increasing commercialisation. Today, Valentine’s is still celebrated in many countries around the world, and as part of the calendar of various Christian denominations, such as Anglicans and Lutherans. It is also called the Feast of Saint Valentine…an excellent excuse to bake some delicious treats, no?

However you celebrated, or indeed if you didn’t, making this Sticky Toffee Pudding would be a wonderful way to:

a. show someone ¬†you care through putting thought and effort into a special bake¬†(and ‘someone’ here includes yourself by the way ¬†– caring for the self is no less important than caring for others¬†in my book!)¬†and

b. stave off the misery that freezing rain/sleet/snow/hail and ferocious, biting winds can afflict you with in these cold months.

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The recipe is from a newly-found blog, Poires au Chocolat,¬†that I really enjoy reading, which is included in my ‘Delicious and Inspirational Food Blogs’ page as well as linked to above. I’ve taken a small detour away from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible recipes because, shock horror, there is no Sticky Toffee Pudding in the book, and once I’d seen Emma’s version on Poires au Chocolat¬†I couldn’t wait to try it – I hope she doesn’t mind my reproducing the recipe here and will include the link to her original recipe at the end of the post. Emma¬†posted Sticky Toffee Pudding as part of her blog’s¬†Pudding Month¬†– what a brilliant idea! Who doesn’t love a steamy, stodgy, saucy traditional pudding in the winter time? The sauce in this version is slightly salted which I am also a big fan of; avoiding a sweetness overload and adding an extra dimension which makes the whole eating experience a but more interesting and memorable. If you are steadfastly sweet-toothed, feel free to omit the salt though ūüôā

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I had never made sticky toffee pudding at all before, so had my fingers crossed that it would go down well with my housemates, and my other, probably slightly more discerning, critic: my stomach. I am pleased to report that it was a success! Its fun and surprisingly easy to make ¬†– I feel like I could wap it out again tomorrow if necessary, though my poor sugar-coated teeth might object to that…

Ingredients:

  • 100g dates
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 40g unsalted butter
  • 125ml boiling water
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or paste if you have it)
  • 1 egg
  • 90g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 150ml double cream
  • 50g butter
  • 100g soft light brown sugar
  • salt, to taste

Step 1. Chop the dates, some small chunks, some big, or depending on how textured you want the pudding to be. Measure out the caster sugar into a wide, heavy-bottomed pan and then weigh out but don’t add the other ingredients – you want them all ready so you can concentrate on your caramel mixture, not burning it while rushing around madly looking for the vanilla extract.

Step 2. Melt the sugar over a medium high heat on the hob. DO NOT STIR. It’s tempting, but resist. Shake the sugar gently into the middle of the pan to melt it if needed, but otherwise wait patiently til it turns a deep bronze colour. Remove from the heat as you add the butter. NOW stir as it bubbles, then carefully pour in the boiling water, vanilla and chopped dates.

Step 3. Mix the caramel together until everything is melted and smooth (except the dates, obviously they won’t melt). Stand it aside to cool for ten minutes or so.

Step 4. Now you have a nice little window in which you should: preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4, line a small baking dish with baking paper and whisk an egg in a separate bowl or jug. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the date caramel, beating thoroughly, then combine with the beaten egg.

Step 5. Pour the mixture into the baking dish and transfer to the oven for 25 minutes. The cake is ready when a skewer poked into the centre or deepest part of the sponge comes out clean. Whilst it bakes, make the sauce. Put the butter, cream and brown sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently. Stir often until the sauce is a smooth and glossy light brown. Add salt bit by bit and keep tasting it – this is essential, don’t just chuck in a teaspoon and leave it at that. The salted caramel, besides being one of the best dessert sauces ever invented, holds the pudding back from otherwise being unpleasantly sickly sweet.

Step 6. When the cake is cooked, the sauce should be ready – pour a portion of the toffee sauce over the pudding, covering the top. Pop it back in the oven for 3 minutes while you grab the bowls, spoons and ice cream. Serve hot with the extra sauce, and preferably ice cream. So good!

Source: Thank you very much to Emma at Poires an Chocolat, this recipe is a keeper! Here is the original recipe on her blog: http://www.poiresauchocolat.net/2014/01/sticky-toffee-pudding.html x

**Notes**

None really…I didn’t change anything for once! Be aware that when I said small baking dish, it really is quite a weeny pudding compared to what you might think. Mine served six comfortably though – its too rich to go back for seconds!

Definitely one of my new favourite puddings :)

Definitely one of my new favourite puddings ūüôā