Rainy Baking Days

So, the crazy American is turning out to be quite the master baker. He is consistently churning out loaves of bread each week, of varying tastes and textures and with varying results. This weekend was a real tour de force for him. He not only made two loaves of wholemeal bread, but also pizza dough for Calzones AND made his own pasta to make little wormy dumplings for chicken soup. The big bouncing addition of an Almond Cream KitchenAid Mixer has made my husband’s transition from “I don’t believe in baking, it’s not organic enough” to “I can feasibly see us never having to buy bread or pizza again!” very smooth indeed. And, without wanting to sound like a 1960s info-mercial, the Kitchenaid is one of the most useful anniversary presents that I have received (in all of three years of being married) thus far.
It is truly one of the great eating experiences to have a slice of home baked granary toast, slathered in strawberry conserve and unsalted butter. Toast before had no meaning but now I can see why my grandmother and mother have such fond memories of toast from their childhood. It was homemade toast. Look, I don’t mean to wax lyrical about it, but my husband can make a loaf in bread from zero to stomach in less than 90 minutes and 5 minutes is spent kneading the dough (courtesy of our Kitchenaid), another 5 is spent eating it and the rest is proving and baking time. As someone who suffers from IBS and whose attacks were usually brought on by eating shop bought bread, homemade bread is very special indeed. You choose your flour (preferably organic), you choose what grains to go in – you have the ability to know exactly where all your ingredients come from and of what quality they are.
If you can find the time to go to the supermarket and buy bread, why not save yourself the effort, stay at home and make bread. The culinary benefits are obvious but it is also a relaxing pastime and really rewarding.

This mad frenzy of baking must be induced by the miserable rainy weather. The last few days it has been wet, wet, wet. No, it has been wet, wet, wet and wet. It makes you want to cook all sorts of stay indoors and get fat kind of food: muffins, cakes, biscuits. So far, in the last fortnight, I have made Pistachio and White Chocolate Cookies (a partial success: they resembled cowpats and spread out so much on the baking tray that in fact they resembled one large cowpat. They didn’t taste so bad though, in fact, my husband said they tasted like cookies his Mom used to cook when he was a boy. My dog also approves. She finished off the few that were left in the tin, which in turn was open on the coffee table, leaving only a few telltale (or tail) crumbs on the settee and on her nose “what me?”), Pistachio Macaroons (some were undercooked, giving them a desirable chewiness, others were slightly overcooked, they pale green colour had turned to golden and they were a bit more brittle: all variants were delicious though! And my Atkins-ing Mum and Grandma have decided they can eat these as they have no flour in them!), Rhubarb and Walnut Muffins (delicious despite some ingredient tweaking) and the most lovely cake (which my husband has dubbed his favourite!), a Swedish delicacy called Mjuk Toscakaka. This is taken from Tamasin Day-Lewis’ Art of the Tart and tastes like a Vanilla Pudding rather than a cake. It is a very tender sponge with a crunchy almond and caramel topping (and, more importantly is dead easy to make!):
150g butter

125g Caster Sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g plain flour (sifted)
1 tsp baking powder5 tbsp water (tap, not hot)

For topping:

30g Flaked Almonds (although I used blanched almonds chopped up my mini chopper)
60g butter
5 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp milk

Method:
Heat oven to 180c. Butter 9" tart tin (I used 7.5" and lined it with greaseproof). Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs gradually, then add vanilla extract. Sift in flour and baking powder, beat thoroughly. Add water and beat until smooth. I did this on my KA and it took about 5 minutes.Scrape into tart tin, smooth top and bake for 30 mins.Remove from oven, turn up oven to 200c.Make the topping: Put all ingredients in saucepan over medium heat until all amalgamated and bubbling. Pour over top of cake (this is where you hope the cake hasn't gone over the top of the tart tin!). Put back in oven for 5 minutes. Leave to cool for at least 5 minutes for the top to set. It has a lovely, crunchy topping and the cake is tender, almost like a pudding, real nursery food!

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