Saturday, 24 November 2007

SHF 37: the beta-carotene harvest

I was really excited at the idea of the theme for Sugar High Friday #37 from Leslie at Definitely Not Martha. With Thanksgiving in mind, she chose ‘the beta-carotene harvest’ which encompasses a whole range of nutritious and interesting items. Despite my initial strong urge to avoid ‘boring’ carrot cake and pumpkin pie, time constraints and a more recent interest in going back to basics led me to Delia Smith’s Ultimate Carrot Cake. If it's good enough for Delia then it's certainly good enough for me.

I usually make carrot cake as a traybake for feeding people at meetings/parties etc, but this is a bit more special, and hopefully the syrup, toasted pecans, and yummy mascarpone/fromage frais topping lifts it into a new category. Much more of a dessert rather than a teatime cake. And dessert it shall be! No pics of a nice slice I’m afraid because we’re off to Eris and Ian’s for dinner tonight and this baby will be desert :)

Delia's Ultimate Carrot Cake

200g wholemeal self raising flour
1tbsp mixed spice
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g dark brown soft sugar
2 large eggs
150ml sunflower oil
grated zest of 1 orange
200g coarsely grated carrots
110g sultanas
50g dessicated coconut
50g pecan nuts, plus another 50g to finish

Syrup glaze:
Juice of 1 small orange
1tbsp lemon juice
75g dark brown soft sugar

250g mascarpone
200g fromage frais
1 rounded tbsp golden caster sugar
1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon

Toast the nuts on a baking sheet at 200C for a few minutes (KEEP AN EYE ON first batch got burnt and went straight in the bin!). Chop half roughly for the cake mixture and the other more finely, for the topping. Turn the oven down to 170C for the cake.

Whisk the sugar, eggs and oil together in a bowl with an electric hand whisk for 2-3 minutes, then check that there is no sugar left undissolved..Sift the flour, mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl, tipping in the bits of bran left in the sieve, then stir all this in gently followed by the remaining cake ingredients.
Divide the batter evenly between two 8in greased and base lined tins and bake the cakes on the centre shelf of the oven for about 30 minutes until nicely risen, firm and springy to the touch when lightly pressed in the centre, and showing signs of shrinking away from the sides of the tin.
For the topping, whisk all the ingredients together until light and fluffy. Then cover with clingfilm and chill for 1-2 hours, until you are ready to ice the cakes. To make the syrup glaze, whisk together the fruit juices and sugar in another bowl and then, when the cakes come out of the oven, stab them all over with a skewer and quickly spoon the syrup evenly over the hot cakes.
Leave them to one side to cool in their tins, during which time the syrup will be absorbed. When the cakes are completely cold, remove them from the tins, spread one-third of the filling over one of the cakes, place the other on top, then cover the top and sides with the remaining icing.. Scatter the remaining toasted pecan nuts over the top.

For knitting nerds

Haven't really shown you much knitting to speak of for a little while, so here's a quick update. I'm slightly reluctantly pausing on the CPH at the moment in order to get the things with deadlines done, but I have digressed from my schedule because I had a nerdy idea. I'd seen a cable pattern for a DNA helix a while ago, originally used on a scarf, and decided I could put it on a jumper or teeshirt. Then I decided I might be able to get it finished in time for our lab christmas outing in a couple of weeks if I knit like mad at the expense of other things. The original tee pattern is the picovoli by Grumpernia, which seems nice, although I'm a bit concerned that the top edge is rolling up. It's Louisa Harding Grace silk/wool btw, and v nice too.

In other knitting news, I bought a lot of 4 vogue knitting magazines on ebay last week. 3 are fine, but one is Winter 85/86 and it's incredible. The pictures are hillarious, so I've taken some photos to share them - I especially liked the technical article on knitting the right shoulder pad for your garment, and also the ad for a singer knitting machine. Look at these, ha ha!!!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Crowd pleasers

I had to give a lab meeting talk last Friday, which is never fun, but my usual strategy to help me get a smooth ride is to bake a lot of cake and hope that my audience is too busy choosing what to eat next to think up tricky questions for me or spot mistakes in my figures. No pics this time I’m afraid but here are the recipes for my top two easily-feed-lots-of-people-at-a-gathering.

The first is a traybake. Something miraculous happens when you use a roasting tin instead of the traditional round tins, you are suddenly able to feed an awful lot of people using the same amount of cake mixture one would normally make an 8in sandwich with. It’s the only choice when numbers of mouths are high and time is short, and there are endless variations to the basic sponge recipe. It’s also amazing how changing the shape of the slices you cut from it can give an entirely different feel to the end product. I like to do lemon cakes and marble cakes by slicing the traybake in half lengthways and then into 1/2in thick fingers – of which you can squeeze 24 out of a single traybake. For coffee and walnut or carrot cakes I tend to cut them into squares instead. I don’t know why, that’s just what seems right!

Aside from a plain sponge, lemon cake is just about the quickest traybake of all: I made this one on Thursday morning whilst having my breakfast, and it was out of the oven in time for me to head off to work.

Crunchy top lemon traybake

225g self raising flour
225g margarine
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
2tsp baking powder
4tbsp milk
grated rind of 2 lemons

for the topping:
juice of 1 lemon
100g granulated sugar

Beat all the cake ingredients together and pour into a greased and base lined 30cm (I think!) tray. Bake at 180C for 35-40min.
Whilst the cake is cooking, mix the topping ingredients together. When the cake comes out of the oven, pierce all over with a skewer and pour over the topping. Allow to cool in the tray.

My second recipe is another good one for feeding lots of people, but also good if you need the baked goods on a day when you’re too busy to bake because these cookies keep really well. I might even go as far as saying that they are actually better a day or two after being made, because I like them when they’re a bit soft and chewy. Makes 27-30 large cookies…

Double choc monster cookies

200g plain flour
55g cocoa
1tsp baking powder
1tsp salt
200g milk chocolate, 140g dark chocolate
340g light brown sugar
150g unsalted butter
3 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
Milk and/or white choc chips

Melt the chocolate over simmering water and set aside to cool slightly. With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well. Beat in the vanilla and melted chocolate, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Sift in the flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder (and some choc chips if you like). Beat until well combined.
Dollop 2 heaped tbsp lumps of the mixture onto baking sheets leaving space for them to spread out, and cook at 180C for around 18mins. Allow to cool for 5-6 mins before transferring to a rack to cool (they’ll be soft when they come out the oven and will harden up as they cool).

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Felted Flowers

A quick post just to update you and let you know that knitting is still going on despite all the post-SKB celebrations! The Central Park Hoodie (CPH henceforth) is still rattling along at good speed, although I've only got a couple of inches left on the body before I get to the scary armhole shaping so things will be slowing up for sure. I'm going to attempt short row shaping, and 3 needle bind offs which will hopefully make the arm and shoulder seams much neater and less bulky. I don't fully understand how it's all going to work but I'm hoping it's one of those things that becomes obvious when you get to it. We'll see.

I've also been working on a few very girly projects to be felted. Here are some flowers and leaves that will become part of the fuscias bag by Nicky Epstein. I'm working on the boring main body of the bag at the moment, and then I'll need to do the handles and 2 more flowers before the fun part of throwing it all in the washing machine with fingers double crossed. Before/after shots to follow so that you can get a sense for how much it shrinks, it's really amazing.

Some of us from the Newburgh knitting group have begun work on a felted poinsettia wreath which will hopefully be done in time to take to the next meeting in December. We're each doing one or two flowers so there will be seven in total, then the stems get wired together after felting. Here's the first one ready to go in the wash...

Monday, 12 November 2007

Simple Knitted Bodice is done!!

I finally finished it, hurrah! The last few ends were woven in just in time to take to Newburgh for knitting group on Saturday, good timing. There are a couple of things I might do differently next time but I'm very pleased with it for a first completed jumper.

Pattern: Stitch Diva Simple Knitted Bodice

Yarn: Debbie Bliss Alpaca Silk DK

Needles: 5mm/2.25mm

Mods: fewer increases on the sleeves and lower body, and did the ridges with 4mm needles to tighten them slightly.

I'm now storming ahead with KnitScene's Central Park Hoodie in Rowan Scottish Tweed (wild plum), which is well served by an online knit along, and loads of people are making it on Ravelry. I urge all knitters to go and get on the waiting list for an invite to the beta version of ravelry - mine came through today after a few weeks in the queue and it is BRILLIANT! I've spent some time today adding all my projects and pictures to my notebook, archiving my stash and queueing up other stuff that I've seen and liked. You can take a tour to get an idea of what it's like before signing up, but it's way better than I ever imagined. Do it now, it's a revelation for the web-savvy knitter!!