Monthly Archives: March 2015

Blueberry Almond Brownies

I wrote (or re-wrote I guess) the introductory chapter to my thesis this week. Given that I haven’t written the conclusion yet, this is probably pre-emptory and it is likely to change once the whole thesis is written and re-read but it felt like the right time to write it, in the scheme of things. I only have two chapters left to revise – the methods chapter and the conclusion – and somehow, this week, I had to write the introduction.

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Part of what happens in an introductory chapter of a PhD thesis is an autobiographical account of the researcher – how you came to the research, your history, how you ended up writing this particular thesis. I’ve had to think long and hard about how I ended up here – three and a half years in, writing a thesis on food experiences. As it happened, I re-read Food and the Self (de Solier, 2013) last week because part of the introductory chapter also includes a discussion on foodies. I realised that quite a lot of my identity and self-formation is tied to this blog and the production of food (both on this blog and in real life). Perhaps this is unsurprising to y’ll – as A- said to me recently, ‘you really do like to feed people, don’t you?’

De Solier found, amongst the foodies she interviewed, that production – that is, cooking and blogging – was just as important to their self-formation as consuming – that is, shopping and eating (both at home and in restaurants/cafes). I find that is the case with myself too. This space is important to me, to my sense of who I am and also of who I might be. I hadn’t realised quite how much importance the blog played in my identity until I started to read de Solier and think about my own personal narrative. It is also why writing my PhD has been so hard, because I have had to be critical about many of the things I believed to be good about food (things like food education, cooking, food gardening, eating well) – things I still believe to be valuable but which I now approach with a wider, more skeptical stance. This stance acknowledges differences in class, culture, race and gender much more than my previous (pre-PhD) self and is now incredibly wary of anyone who makes sweeping statements regarding the benefits of something (whether it be food-related or not).

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Quite how much I enjoy producing food (and cake in particular) became evident this week when I rejoined a professional kitchen. A- told me on Thursday that I looked very happy and I realised I was. I had just spent several hours making cake and cheesecake and brownies that people were going to buy and I felt an immense sense of personal satisfaction about the whole experience. It was odd because some small part of me has often tried to deny this about myself (possibly because it means I will never really have any money) – I really like feeding people – and this realisation is also reassuring in a way. After so many years of wondering who I am, I finally know – I am someone who makes cake. (Or, in the case of this post, brownies.)

These brownies have been all over the interwebs in the last few weeks. They’re from Claire Ptak’s new book, The Violet Bakery Cookbook, which is amazing. I read many cookbooks (and I own a possibly ridiculous number of them) but this is definitley one I am going to add to my collection. These brownies are fudgy and dense, fragrant with roasted almonds and every now and then (like a treasure) a sweet hit of blueberry. Claire describes them as being reminiscent of Cadbury’s fruit and nut and they are, but they are better.

Blueberry Almond Brownies
From The Violet Bakery Cookbook (although I originally saw this in The Guardian)

200g whole almonds
225g unsalted butter
375g dark chocolate (70%)
3 eggs
375g golden caster sugar
75g rice flour
1/4 tsp salt
75g dried blueberries

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a rectangular baking tray that is about 2cm deep.

Place the almonds on a baking tray and roast until fragrant – around 15 minutes.

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Melt the butter in a saucepan, remove from the heat, and add in the chocolate. Over a very low heat, and watching like a hawk, allow the chocolate to melt. When it is almost all melted, turn off the heat and leave for 5 minutes – there should be enough heat to melt the remaining chocolate. (Claire recommends melting the butter/chocolate over a double boiler but I don’t have any bowls/saucepans that fit together well and so this is my method. You can also melt it in the microwave in 30 second bursts.)

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Whisk the eggs, sugar, flour and salt together. Pour in the butter/chocolate mixture and fold together.

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Roughly chop the almonds and then add those and the blueberries into the chocolate mixture.

Pour into the baking tray and spread the mixture right to the edges.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes. The original recipe said 25 – until the brownie is set around the edges and wobbles at the centre. My oven is hotter than most and so this only took 22 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for an hour. Then place in the freezer to firm up for another hour. Slice into pieces and serve. These make really good Friday breakfasts.

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References:
De Solier, I., 2013. Food and the Self, London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Ricotta Raspberry Cake

Greetings dear readers. You may have been wondering where I have been. I like to think you have, even if this is not at all the case. The truth is I have been utterly and completely swamped with my thesis re-write and some project work. The last post was 6 weeks ago! 6 weeks! Where did they go? I’m three chapters out from a new draft (yay!) and have a first working draft of my project report (double yay!) and despite my lack of activity on here, I have actually been cooking and baking. (I also had a birthday (!), which was super fun, and not at all terrifying in that oh wow, I’m a whole year older and now a big, grown-up 32, what the hell am I doing with my life kind of way.) I am starting to work part-time in a pastry kitchen again. I start next week. It is a hard thing to explain, given all those terrible articles about the horrors of working in professional kitchens but I am looking forward to being back in a professional kitchen again – the physical aspects of the work, the fact that I can bake and call it work, the team work, the time-off from thinking (although I suspect it may help the thinking, which will continue anyway). So things have been busy and will continue to be so but, as I emerge from thesisdom, hopefully, more writing, more regularly, here!

I had planned to tell you about sticky toffee pudding and banana bread during the course of February but when I made the recipes I was dissatisfied. Both still needed work. I couldn’t put my finger exactly on what was wrong with either recipe, but something was. And so I trashed those posts and then I sort of lost momentum. (I still need to figure out what to do with the frozen sticky toffee pudding that is in the freezer – the recipe made loads more than I anticipated.)

One of the things I like to show here is the step-by-step process of making a recipe – mainly because I often wonder what batters/ingredients/foods/doughs are supposed to look like at certain points in the process. Does it matter if the batter has split at a particular point? Will it come back? What does bright, white creamed butter and sugar look like? Is this bright enough? Should the batter be so liquid I have to pour it out? I find the photographs help the process of creativity. Yes, the batter may split. Yes, the batter may be gloopy or stiff or practically liquid. No, that is not quite bright enough. Etcetera and so on and so forth. But taking those photographs takes time, which I haven’t had much of of late. But today I decided to blog despite not having a whole heap of photographs. Instead I just have two…

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You can blame (or thank I guess) Molly over at Orangette, and Jen, who told me about the post and insisted I go over and read it. I duly did and realised that I also quite like everyday cake and that there was time this week to make cake. So last night I finally got round to baking again. I like this cake (which is obviously why I am telling you about it). It has a texture reminiscent of a mousse, but slightly more sturdy. Molly described it as moist and it is moist, or damp, depending on your word preference. It is also soft and smooth, with the occasional burst of tart raspberry. (I doubled the original amount of raspberries called for because there just didn’t look like enough for the batter. And let’s face it, you want a lot of raspberries in your cake really.) I browned the butter too, because you know, if you’re going to melt the butter you might as well brown it. The result is a nutty undertone to the flavour. You’re supposed to break up the raspberries a little but I quite like them whole. This cake is a doddle to put together and then you just have to wait for it to bake (it takes around an hour). I quite like it still warm from the oven (wait the allotted 20 minutes for it to cool before you attempt to undo it as it is fragile) but it works well as elevenses too. (Or breakfast, if you’re into that kind of breakfast-non-breakfast-food-thing.)

Ricotta Raspberry Cake

Adapted (ever so slightly) from Orangette

3 eggs

325g ricotta

1 tsp vanilla

200g granulated sugar

210g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

two pinches of salt

125g unsalted butter

200g raspberries

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 23cm cake tin (I use a springform one as I find cakes are easier to undo from them).

In a small saucepan, over a medium heat, melt the butter. Continue cooking the butter over the heat until it turns brown and starts to smell nutty. You want it a deep golden colour but watch it carefully as the speed at which it can turn black and then burn, is alarming. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Whisk the eggs, ricotta and vanilla together until smooth. (I used an electric beater but I’m sure a regular hand-held whisk works fine too. I just didn’t have one, and you know, needs must.)

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) together. Fold the dry ingredients into the ricotta in two parts and until just combined – refrain from over-mixing. Add in the butter and mix until combined. Finally, stir through 3/4 of the raspberries. (Feel free to break them up a little.) Scoop the batter into the cake tin and smooth it out. Scatter the remaining berries over the top.

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Bake for around an hour, until a skewer inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back at a touch. Leave to cool for 20 minutes before removing from the tin and placing on a plate.