Sour Cherry Loaf Cake

I am back at work today, for the first time in six weeks. It’s a slight shock to the system, obviously, and my looming three-year deadline is not helping. I’ve already read some Foucault. You know, just to ease into things again. Now I need to read my thesis draft so I can remember what exactly I have written. I need to edit it, improve the writing, engage with the theory and generally make it better (better? presentable? an-organised-argument-rather-than-a-random-jumble-of-words? Oh the things still to do!). On top of that I am ever-so-slightly jet lagged (I keep thinking I’m fine and then am awake until 2am. Dammit!) and I am house-hunting. To counterbalance all this, I thought I would share this cake with you. Plus, it’s Monday. Who doesn’t need cake on Monday?

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This cake was still cooling on the counter when it was attacked by frenzied hoards of, apparently ravenous, people. (Evidence in the above picture of the cake falling apart as it was cut – precisely what happens when you try to cut hot cake.) I’ve never had that happen before. It obviously speaks volumes about the cake. And the sour cherries within. I made it (well, three of them actually) at cookNscribble a few weeks back to help use up all those sour cherries we had in the freezer. It’s not quite a pound cake, (traditional pound cakes have equal quantities flour/butter/sugar), but it is fairly similar. I found the recipe on NPR (via a Google search for sour cherry cake). The original uses mascarpone but I only had souring heavy cream so I used that. I also reduced the quantity of sugar by a half cup. I don’t think it needs the extra half but feel free to add it back in if you like things slightly sweeter. It’s a straight-forward creaming method cake, no frills, and bakes easily in loaf tins. I suspect it would make a good bundt cake too.

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Happy Monday!

Sour Cherry Loaf Cake
Adapted from NPR

2 cups sour cherries (if using frozen, defrost in the fridge overnight)
1/2 cup caster sugar
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups butter (3/4lb*)
2 1/2 cups caster sugar
6 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup sour heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter and line two loaf tins with parchment.
Place the cherries (and any juice) in a bowl and cover with the 1/2 cup of sugar. Set aside.
Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and set aside.

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Cream the butter with the other 2 and a half cups of sugar until bright white and fluffy.
Add in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla. If the mixture splits (this is almost inevitable), add in a few tablespoons of the flour/salt mixture.

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Add in half the flour mixture, followed by half the sour cream. Beat until smooth, then add in the rest of the flour followed by the cream.

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Drain the excess juice of the cherries into a pot.

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Gently fold the cherries into the cake mixture.

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Divide this between the two loaf tins.

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Bake for approximately one hour, depending on your oven. The cakes are cooked when risen, golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Whilst the cakes are baking, reduce the cherry juice over a medium heat until it starts to thicken. This takes only about five minutes. When the cakes are still warm, paint the juice over the cakes. Allow to cool completely before eating. (If you can keep the masses at bay that long.)

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This cake freezes super well for up to three months. Allow to defrost at room temperature overnight before serving.

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*This is approximately 340g. But I was measuring in American, so I haven’t used the gram measurement yet.

Blueberry Pie

One of the great things about my internship at cookNscribble was meeting all sorts of interesting and fascinating people. People who want to talk about food. About growing food. Raising animals. Cooking food. And mostly, people who want to talk about the cool things that they do. To make blueberry pie, I got to work with two such people: Tim Lippert and Molly O’Neill.

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The reason I got to meet Tim, who is a free-range hog and cattle farmer, was because we were after blueberries. He has several rows of young blueberry bushes on part of his farm. Like the raspberries (and cherries – this has been a fruit picking summer), we were allowed to pick our own.

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The blueberries were turning all shades of blue and purple on the bushes and so, one afternoon, we went over to talk to Tim and forage amongst the blueberry bushes for ripe fruit. Not all the berries were ripe, some bushes were a few days behind the others, but we picked enough for a few pies and snacks.

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The main function of Crosby Farm is actually raising pigs and so, after we were done blueberry picking, I got to meet some of them. We passed a shed full of piglets and a boar-in-training before we reached the main group. Tim rears them in the woodland, where it is cool and shaded and the pigs happily make loads of mud.

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Then, because I’d been saying how my mom has just bought a smallholding and wants to raise some Dexters, I got to meet Tim’s herd of Dexter cattle. Dexters are dwarf cattle, good for smaller spaces and quite friendly. Who knew a blueberry picking adventure could turn into a full farm sight-seeing tour?

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Once we were back in the kitchen, Molly O’Neill shared her secrets of pie-making. For those of you who don’t know, Molly is a doyenne of American food writing. She used to write for the New York Times and has written several books. Now she also teaches food writing, including running the scholars programme I was partly involved in, and organises the LongHouse Food Revival. (You should go if you’re in the area.) Molly has a wealth of food knowledge, just some of which I got to tap into during my internship. One of the things she taught me was about making good pie.

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This particular blueberry pie has an almond crumble top and no recipe. But I will tell you what Molly told me verbally. (This presupposes you already have some pie dough in the fridge. If you don’t, follow the instructions for the cherry pie recipe.)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Sort out the blueberries first. Put them in a bowl (several cups for a deep-dish pie, around 6) with a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a cup and a half of flour. Toss everything together with your hands so that you don’t damage the berries too much. Add in a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Let this sit whilst you make the crumble topping.

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To make the crumble, combine some flaked almonds, marzipan and butter together in a bowl. Work the butter and marzipan into the almonds, like you would rub butter into flour. The mixture will get quite sticky but then you can start to add in plain flour and sugar (which you would have organisedly tossed together already). Lastly, add in some slivered almonds. The mixture should be crumbly (who’d have thought?) and fairly sweet.

Line a pie dish with pie crust, carefully overhanging the edges by 1cm. Fold these up to create a wave pattern along the edge.

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Place the blueberries into the pie dish.

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Scatter the crumble topping generously on top. Don’t be afraid to use a lot. It tastes amazing.

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Bake the pie in the oven for around an hour. It needs to be golden brown and bubbling before you even think of removing it. Eat warm. (And then whatever is leftover makes an excellent breakfast.)

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Sour Cherry Pie

Did you know about sour cherries? I didn’t before this trip. My experience of cherries growing up was of maraschino’s from a jar, which I hated. Since living in England I have become addicted to sweet cherries, dark purple bursts in the high summer. But it turns out people are OBSESSED with sour cherries. So obsessed that they get up at ridiculous-o-clock to pick them off the trees themselves. The things you learn whilst interning with food people.

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So it happens that one morning (very very early), a few weeks ago, I joined the tribe of people who get up at ridiculous-o-clock to travel to a cherry orchard just outside of Hudson so I could participate in this whole sour cherry picking debacle.

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It was still cool (and all of half 7) when we arrived at the orchard. We had brought a box for filling with cherries and were told unceremoniously by the assistant that if we filled the box we would not be able to lift it. We had no plans to do such a thing but she marked out what she thought was 20 pounds in case we got carried away (we did), gave us a cart to set the box on, and buckets to wrap around our waists. We looked super stylish.

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We wandered down to the far end of the orchard, selected a tree and started picking. It’s surprisingly therapeutic, picking cherries. There was just the sounds of birds, some cars whizzing by on the road, and the occasional bee. Eventually the orchard filled with other voices.

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We were all done in a half hour. Three people can pick a lot of cherries in that time. We ended up with 34 pounds altogether and a box that was almost to heavy to lift.

Of course, if you pick 34 pounds of sour cherries, you have to do something with them. A neighbouring picker gave us a verbal recipe for a cherry liqueur – you fill a large jar with cherries and sugar, stacked in several layers, and then add in a grain alcohol. You leave it in a dark place for several months and then drink it neat in the dark days of December. Sadly I leave in six days so such a recipe will have to be stored for future use. Instead we made pie. Sour cherry pie.

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This recipe is a combination of two separate recipes. The pie crust is adapted from a recipe given to me by Kate Lebo, a pie-maker I met briefly – you can find the original in her book. She uses a lard and butter combination for the crust but I prefer all-butter crusts so I have changed it slightly. The filling comes from Molly O’Neill’s book, One Big Table. The truth is, pie filling is fairly interpretive. You need to taste and season it according to what you want. So I didn’t use nutmeg or kirsch and probably used less sugar as I like things fairly tart. I also used loads of lemon and, for once, almond extract. (It turns out it does have a place in the kitchen after all…)

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We made three of these to feed thirty people at one of the Food Media Bootcamp dinners a few weeks ago. The chef of the night, Ian Knauer, suggested serving the pie with salted heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks. It turns out he is on to something and I am now totally stealing that for fruit desserts forever and ever. (Thanks Ian!)

Sour Cherry Pie
Adapted from A Commonplace Book of Pie and One Big Table

For the double crust:
2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
16 tbsp butter, cold, cubed (240g)
ice water

For the filling:
5 cups pitted sour cherries
5 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp lemon juice
zest of half a lemon
1 tsp almond extract
3/4 cup caster sugar (you can add up to 1 cup)
1 tsp Kirsch (optional)
1 1/2 tsp butter

Egg wash:
1 egg
2 tbsp water

To make the crust, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the ice water slowly, mixing with your hands until the dough comes together. (You only need as much water as the dough will accept.)

On a lightly floured surface, turn out the dough and knead until smooth. It is very buttery so this will not take long (and be careful not to over-knead!)

Divide the dough in half and flatten into discs and refrigerate for at least an hour. If you’ve got time, make the dough the night before.

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Remove one disc from the fridge and roll the dough into a circle. (You want the crust reasonably thin so it does not get soggy in the oven but not so thin that it breaks on you.) Line a pie dish, making sure there is about 1cm overhanging the edge.

Whisk the egg and water together. Turn the overhanging dough up onto the edge of the pie dish and crimp it using your thumb on one hand and thumb and forefinger on the other.

Comine all filling ingredients, except the butter, in a large bowl. Taste! (Change the seasoning as you see fit, adding in extra sugar or some more lemon juice.)

Place the filling into the pie dish and dot with the butter.

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Roll the second disk into a circle. Cut strips, about 1cm thick.

Lattice the top of the pie crust, hooking the top of the strip into the inside of the pie, and weaving the strips like a basket. Egg wash the lattice.

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Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until golden and bubbling.

Hudson, New York

Sometimes you need a break from work. An afternoon exploring a tiny hipsterville town on the edge of a river. Sometimes you need a bookshop with a bar. And really good coffee. And possibly a wine store. And antique stores with ballet skirts and rad 70’s furniture. And a sustainable diner. On such afternoons, when you’re staying in what sometimes feels like the town at the end of the world, Hudson is only a 45 minute drive away. And who doesn’t love a place that has a bookshop with a bar?!

hudson streets a secret garden hudson streets 2 food trucks

ballet skirts

1970s vibe

bookshop bar

beer in a bookshop a random parade cool signs sustainable diners

bacon cheeseburger

shop fronts

sunset

cookNscribble

So, the whole reason that I am in upstate New York with minimal phone signal and hardly any wifi is because I am interning with cookNscribble. cookNscribble is an online food writing community that also runs a food scholars programme in Rensselaerville in the summer, which is where I am currently living. The town looks thus:

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The scholars arrive in August and until then, I am busy helping with prep work to get the kitchen(s) in working order so things are not all chaos and confusion when there are many people to feed. We’ve been working across three different sites, the kitchens of which all have their own quirks. At one site, for example, the ovens heat only from below. At another, there are no working ovens at the moment. At the third, there are hardly any storage shelves so we have to be ridiculously clever with boxes and stacking. And feng shui-ing the fridge. (Oh for a walk-in one!)

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I’ve been baking a lot of cake. And cookies. And pie.

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I’ve made a fair few staff meals.

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And I have made a lot of granola. (More on that experience another time.)

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It’s basically five weeks of anti-thesis work. Almost all practical, with some blog posts thrown in for diversity. Unfortunately I have to leave before the scholars programme ends – that pesky thesis needs rewriting and I have to move house at the end of August – but I will be cooking for them for the first week that they’re here. So far it has been hard work – I’d forgotten how exhausting it is being on your feet, running about a kitchen all day long – but it’s not all work. When things get too much, there is this swimming hole:

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More stories (and recipes) will follow soon!

Newport, Rhode Island

Greetings dearest ones! It turns out that being in upstate New York means being in a signal dead zone. Who knew? But I’ve got some working wifi today so I thought I’d post this photo series from Newport. Newport, as you can see, is rather beautiful. We happened to be there on an idyllic summers day so drove around the ocean road, hung out drinking cocktails on adirondack chairs, wandered the streets sipping lemonade and later, listened to a band whilst sipping wine. Days out from thesis writing don’t get much better than that.

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July 4th, Rhode Island

Greeting dearest ones, from the USA. And happy 4th of July!
At present I’m in a place called Barrington, Rhode Island, visiting friends. From Sunday I’ll be in New York State but more on that later.

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So far, RI has been awesome. Yesterday was beautiful, hot and sunny, a glorious 29C. It felt like proper summer. Today hurricane Arthur has hit, bringing rather a lot of rain. That didn’t stop us from cycling 15kms to Bristol to see the longest continually running 4th of July parade. The USA is 238 years old, the parade is 229. There’s nothing quite like cycling, soaked to the bone, through pretty towns, to watch a parade. We came home dripping water. Also, the view from the bike track ain’t bad. Jesus made an appearance at the parade (he wasn’t officially in it though) as did a load of war vets, some original baseball players and marching bands who set the mood.

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Yesterday my friends had what is called a ‘porch party’. Basically everyone gathered on their porch, ate, drank and made merry. There were fireworks everywhere – we wandered down to the bay (all 2.5 seconds away) and watched the bonfires and fireworks on the other side of the water. Everyone kept apologising that there weren’t that many fireworks this year but I thought it was pretty impressive nonetheless.

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I’ve been eating, obviously. On Wednesday night we visited a place called Julian’s, in Providence. I had the most amazing zucchini flowers stuffed with lobster, corn and mascarpone. There’s something to be said about a place that puts lobster in zucchini flowers. Their cocktails were pretty good too.

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I was thoroughly entertained yesterday too as we visited a wholesale store to buy wine. Oh the things you can buy! In bulk!

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That’s all for now. Hold thumbs the hurricane moves off and the rain stops so I can spend tomorrow morning on the beach! In the meantime, I leave you with these. They’re totally making it into my suitcase.

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