Thursday, 24 November 2011

My Mum, Irene's Sultana Cake

Yesterday, I made a sultana cake, following the recipe of my Mum's that I've used ever since I left home.  My Mum's sultana cake was famous in our family, she used to make quite a few, sometimes to give to friends and relatives or perhaps for her church sale but mostly she made it for my Dad as it was his favourite cake.  Always made at Christmas, you couldn't have a cup of tea or coffee in Mum's house around Christmas or Hogmanay without getting a piece of her wonderful sultana cake, so buttery and delicious, I had cousins who used to drop by specifically to get a piece of cake and perhaps be sent home with some wrapped in foil!

The last time my Mum made this cake was January 2nd 2009, I had just arrived at  my childhood home in Glasgow as my father had been admitted to hospital with pneumonia over Christmas.  I had driven for 4 hours  to stay with Mum and visit him.  As I walked in the door the wonderful smell of sultana cake greeted me like a blast from my childhood.  Mum was going to take some into hospital for Dad as she had been worrying that he wasn't eating enough.  She had struggled making the cake she said, the fingers on her left hands were stiff and not working properly - she mentioned going to see her doctor as she thought she perhaps had a trapped nerve or maybe her osteoarthitis was playing up.  That was the last sultana cake she ever made, she was admitted to hospital four weeks later with a suspected stroke but sadly diagnosed with an incurable Glioblastoma multiforme brain tumour.  She passed away in December 2009 before the next Christmas.

Like my Mum, I too have always made sultana cake every Christmas, I make a proper full-on Christmas fruit cake every year as well, as that is my husbands favourite, but for me nothing beats a piece of Mum's cake.  I decided to blog this as a small tribute to my Mum whom I miss terribly - she was the most generous, loving and caring women ever and I think she would approve of me sharing her recipe and the love that went with her cake.

Irene's Sultana Cake
Ingredients ready!

1lb Plain Flour
10oz Caster Sugar
1tsp baking powder
12oz Butter (softened)
12oz Sultanas
4 eggs
1 or 2 tbs milk

Grease and line a 8" diameter round cake tin, mine is
3" deep.  Mum used to line hers with brown paper
too - but I don't bother.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

a LOT of butter - not for the faint hearted!

Cream butter and sugar

Add the eggs to the creamed mixture one at a time, beat in well (I add a tablespoon of flour between eggs to prevent curdling).

Add eggs - one at a time

Now add the flour and baking powder

Once the eggs are mixed through, add the flour and baking powder (I always sift mine together first).

Now fold in the sultanas, adding 1 or 2 tablespoons of milk to the mixture depending on how moist the batter is.  It should be nice and firm but not dry.

Sultana's in

Spoon into tin

Spoon into your prepared cake tin, smooth out the top and then use the back of a spoon to make a small well in the middle of the mix (this stops the cake over rising and splitting at the top).

Into trivet

then into Aga Cake Baker - and into the top oven

Bake in a pre-heated oven for 1 - 1.5 hours depending on your oven.  My Mum used to put the cake in an oven at 200oC for the first hour, then lower the temperature to 170oC and continue to cook for another 40/50 minutes.

Just out the Aga

Yum - Mum would be proud

The cake is ready when a skewer comes out clean, remove from tin and leave to cool on a wire rack.  This cake freezes beautifully too, perfect for stocking up before the festive season.

I have a 2-oven traditional Aga, I use the Aga cake baker, which preheats on the floor of the roasting oven while I'm making the cake.  Then the cake is put in the trivet and placed in the cakebaker, lid on top and then baked in that oven for 1 - 1.5 hours.  I always check my cake after about an hour, if my Aga is hot in the morning I find the cake only takes 1 hour and 15 minutes.

For my darling Mum, Irene - love you Mum and miss you so much x

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Apricot and almond biscotti - quick and easy

My phone chirped and the text from my friend read "got some free time this morning, are you home? I'd love to drop round for coffee".  Fantastic, I replied and then realised that I didn't have anything to offer to eat with the coffee, I'd been stuck at home all week due to a balance disorder and couldn't drive.  Raking about the cupboards I discovered some semi dried apricots and almonds - and inspired by a beautiful Australian friend of mine who is an amazing baker and always makes her own biscotti I decided to give them a go.  They turned out a bit burnt on the edges (probably down to my Aga being hot in the morning) but are absolutely delicious, and I got them made in time for me and my friend to have with our coffee.


1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup flaked almonds
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
2 eggs beaten

Mix the dry ingredients together, then slowly blend in the eggs until you get a sticky wet(ish!) dough.  Turn the dough out onto some floured parchment paper on a large (I use the large Aga roasting tin) baking tray.  Shape it roughly into a large sausage shape (if you would rather have daintier biscotti you could split the dough into two log shapes and follow the rest of the recipe as normal) - bake for about 20/25 minutes in the bottom of the top oven of the Aga (around 180oC) in the Aga you may need to put the cold plain shelf above it (depends on how hot your Aga is). 

Once baked, remove from the oven and then allow to cool.  Using a very sharp knife, slice the huge biscuit loaf into thin strips (about 5 mm thick?) - then spread the now sliced biscuits out on a baking tray (I needed to use another tray too!) and bake for 20 minutes, this time in the top of the bottom oven of the Aga (140oC?) turn them half way through cooking and ensure that they are drying out nicely.  Once baked remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Absolutely delicious - especially dunked in a lovely cup of coffee.

*please note that I have a traditional two oven Aga, not one with a special baking oven.  Each oven varies so the temperatures I've given may need to be adjusted.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Quick (unseasonal) salad for a spring day

Just remembered about this salad the other day as we had friends round for our first bbq of the season.  I use up any gluts of perpetual spinach or strawberries from the garden, but on this occasion had bought some from the shops.  It's still too early for strawberries or spinach in Aberdeenshire, although our rhubarb is going full throttle right now.

Strawberry and Spinach Salad

Strawberries - as much as you'd like, washed, cored and halfed
Spinach - again as much as you need, washed and spun in a salad spinner

Poppyseed Dressing

1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup oil - I use Ola organic rapeseed oil, but any light oil would do
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds - toasted gives the best flavour
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon Lea & Perrins (worcestershire) sauce
1 clove of garlic minced
salt and pepper

Put all the ingredients in a jam jar and shake until mixed, season with salt and pepper to taste.  Toss together strawberries and spinach with dressing just before serving.

Friday, 1 April 2011

April 2011

We are just waiting for the garden to burst into life.  The clocks changed and we are now back to British Summertime, which really makes a huge difference to the evenings (yay!).

Peas and beans seedlings are doing well, and about to be transplanted out of their seed trays and into bigger pots, ready to go in the polytunnel.  P and I have been planning a re-landscaping of part of the garden, including using railway sleepers, granite cassies and some decking to change the levels and add some more interest to that part of the garden.   These are two beds that we established when we first moved here, and now after about 8 years they are overgrown with weeds and too ramshackle to retrieve.

before - tired and overgrown!

One of my twitter friends @4everequine has asked for my favourite shortbread recipe, which I have copied below - it's not actually my Mum's recipe which I can't find for the moment, but another one I have written in my personal recipe book.  I'd forgotten how good homemade shortbread is, so am going to make some this afternoon - it can be an end of school/start of the holidays treat for the kids when they get home!  I think the addition of the brown sugar and almonds give this a slightly toffee-y taste, it's delicious.

125g slightly salted butter, softened
50g soft brown sugar
half teaspoon natural vanilla extract
150g plain flour
25g ground almonds
caster sugar for sprinkling

Cream butter and sugar - blend in the vanilla and then work in your sieved flour and almonds.  Shape into a circular tin and decorate with a fork into petticoat tails pattern.  Chill in the fridge for at least an hour and then bake for 30 minutes at 160oC - leave to cool in the tin before sprinkling with sugar and cutting into 'tails'.

I like to overcook mine a wee bit, as the lovely darker brown edges are my favourite.  Best eaten when still warm with a cup of tea (of course).

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Pancake Day

My recipe for the best ever pancakes - these are what some people call drop scones, Scotch pancakes or gridle cakes - but they are the ones we like best in this house - they are thick and fluffy a bit more like the pancakes or hotcakes we used to get for breakfast in Canada.

200g self-raising flour
50g caster sugar
2 eggs
1/2 pint of whole milk (or buttermilk)
pinch of salt

(makes around 15 large-ish pancakes)

Put the flour and sugar in a bowl, beat in the eggs and milk until you have a thick custardy batter (add your pinch of salt).  I cook these on the simmering plate of my Aga, but you can use a thick bottomed frying pan, lightly grease with some vegetable oil.  Pour on your pancakes - make them whatever size you like, about 15cm in diameter is everyone's favourite size in our house.  Watch them cook until the bubbles in the batter around the edges have started to pop, then flip them over with a metal spatula (no throwing these ones in the air).  Cook on the other side for a few minutes, then transfer to a warmed dish or a clean teatowel while you make the others. 

I sometimes put fresh blueberries in the batter too.  Serve with fruit, bacon and maple syrup for brunch or with jam and butter for tea-time.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Monday, 31 January 2011

more stuff from me - just not about cooking, gardening, food or horses! (well not as much)

Just started another blog

think this may be the start of my mid-life crisis??

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

First post of 2011

I've started this year with such a feeling of optimism and happiness, perhaps because of the end of 2010 being so cold and dark with snow etc, but I have really noticed a change since the winter solstice.  The days are certainly longer and small signs that spring is on its way are appearing too.  Although I fully expect to have some more snow before this winter is over!

The first order of business this year has been our annual seed order - especially as we have the polytunnel this year.  I want to grow the things I love to cook with most of all - no more huge gluts of stuff that has to be made into chutneys or pickles but I reckon the best use of our time and effort (and to save us money from our food bill) is to grow to the cook's (ME!) order.

My list for this year (so far) includes;
potatoes - first earlies and Pink Fir Apples (my fave)
salad leaves
broad beans
onions - red and white
tomatoes - Tigerella, Gardeners delight and Tumbling Tom
swiss chard, kale and cavalo nero
courgettes (but only a few - really don't want the glut of them again!)
runner beans

Our chickens have started laying again with me getting one or two eggs a day - this is so lovely as they are building up to Valentine's Day which always seems to be when they come back to lay.  I haven't had any eggs from my Cream Legbar for ages, but I think as she is a pure breed, she is less likely to lay than the others - I don't really care, she is so pretty and makes up for the lack of eggs by her delightfully scatty nature and funny 'old lady hat' head.

Zac, Brea and Poppy - our horses are all well, and due to the snow and relatively dry weather have been living out most of the winter.  They are so much happier being able to move around in these types of conditions rather than having to stand overnight in a cold stable - this is the reverse of what normally happens when we have cold, wet rainy weather when they would much rather be in.  P and I fitted a heat source tape with thermostat to my stable water pipe which thankfully has kept the water from freezing even down to -18oC. This has made a huge difference to my routine of carrying water from the house every day when the pipe had previously frozen - also made a difference to my poor elbows too!

The countryside around us is so beautiful at this time of year - the low winter light seems to give everything such wonderful colours.  The woods behind our house are a wonderful blend of purples, browns and greens - Birch are my favourite at this time with their smoky purple haze.  I'm feeling inspired to get out and about with my Christmas present, a new camera, although I don't have a clue about photography - I'm really excited about it - watch this space!