Buttermilk Scones

Last weekend I was so excited as I knew I would have a bit of spare time to focus on baking something delicious. You see, two months ago I started a new job and I’ve had precious little time since then to do much for myself, let alone spend time in the kitchen. It’s weird, but it honestly felt like I was beginning to go through withdrawal as during the prior 6 months, I only worked 3 mornings a week and now this 5 mornings a week is killing me! Yes, I hear you laughing away, given that the majority of the world seems to work full time, but as a working mum, afternoons are taken up with sport, homework, shopping and any other number of things that can be squeezed in. I realise I’m still very lucky, but I so so so miss at least having one day at home, 5 glorious hours to myself between the morning and afternoon school run, where I could get the housework, washing, cleaning, ironing, shopping…and of course, my weekly batch of cookies, a cake or time in my beautiful kitchen trying out something new.

Buttermilk Scones

But alas, as Saturday afternoon drew closer and was eventually upon me, I was actually beside myself with anxiety – so little time yet so many recipes I wanted to try! Baking is one of my passions and lead me to begin Chocolate Goose, allowing me to share my passion with you, but I haven’t even been able to write anything for almost two weeks now so tonight is the night. I dithered for so long last week and had about 6 recipe books open, cross checking various recipes and eventually only had enough time to do these quick and easy scones. They are absolutely delicious, with the buttermilk giving them a very light, fluffy texture and I had the dough thrown together in a matter of minutes. You do need to be gentle, though, when making scones, as you don’t want to overwork the dough, which will cause the end product to resemble a rock bun instead of a delicate tea cake.

I also find that the weather affects how much or how little liquid the flour wants. Last Saturday was a rainy, overcast day, with a lot of moisture in the air, so I ended up using a bit more flour than the recipe calls for; so just add a little at a time as you work the dough. It was very sticky at first, but came together nicely. I hadn’t made these in a very long time and I had forgotten how relaxing and mesmerizing the process of squishing the butter and flour together can be. The reason you use only your fingertips is that the temperature of your hands will warm the butter to the point where it will begin to melt. The gentle rubbing together of your fingertips results in a fine crumb, instead of a melted buttery goo.

Sweet scones served with jam and cream are always good friends, but I was especially proud of my Plum Jam that I made this past Summer from the plums off our plum tree. I’ll have to share that recipe with you too some time soon.

ingredients:
2½ cups self-raising flour
2 Tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
50 g cold butter, cubed
1¼ cups buttermilk
a little milk for brushing

  1. Preheat the oven to 210°C. Spray an oven tray with oil or place a layer of baking paper into the tray.
  2. If you have a food processor, you can put the dry ingredients into the bowl. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, but as I don’t have a food processor and I prefer using my fingers anyway, you might want to try this: put the dry ingredients into a bowl and add the cold cubes of butter. Using your fingertips, gently rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. A good 10 minutes should do the trick.
  3. Make a well in the centre of the flour/butter mixture and pour in about 1 cup of the buttermilk. Use a knife to mix it quickly into a soft dough. Add a little extra buttermilk if necessary to bring all the ingredients together.
  4. Lightly flour the bench top and tip the scone dough out onto it. Gently work it, adding a little more flour if necessary. Pat it out to about 3 cm thick, don’t roll it.
  5. Use a 5 cm cutter dipped in flour to cut the dough into rounds and place them on the prepared tray. You will need to dip the cutter into the flour after each cut out as the dough will be very moist inside.
  6. Brush the tops of the scones with milk and bake for 10 – 15 minutes until they have risen and are golden.
  7. Serve with jam and freshly whipped cream.

Enjoy!

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Apricot Fudge

A friend recently asked for a few ideas for a school cake sale and it got me thinking. So many ideas out there and so many resources, but how many of us have the time these days to actually make something from beginning to end and package it beautifully to attract the attention it deserves, achieving the end result of selling the product to raise funds for whatever cause we’re collecting for?

Apricot Fudge (2)

Baking has made a wonderful comeback in recent years. For a while it seemed only a select few got their hands dirty in the kitchen, but the “trend” seems to be lasting longer than a trend and many are digging out old family recipes and asking Grannies and Great Aunts how things were done in their day. My Grandmother and Great Aunt were excellent at fondant cake decorating, making sugar flowers and gorgeous wedding and Christmas cakes. Sadly I didn’t take advantage of all that knowledge and experience while I had the chance but there are a gazillion opportunities on the interweb, youtube and pinterest to get us started.

Last year I made two types of fudge for our cake stall at school, packaged them in portions and tied with brightly coloured raffia – and it worked! It was all gone within about 40 minutes and we spent the rest of the morning explaining we were sold out. Both recipes, White Chocolate Fudge and Chunky Fudge (also known as Hedgehog slice in New Zealand) are listed on Chocolate Goose, but this one is another of my favourites. It uses dried apricots and condensed milk, so no sugar thermometers necessary.

ingredients:
175 g brown sugar
1 tin condensed milk
225 g butter
2 cups dried apricots, chopped
2 packets wine biscuits (or Marie biscuits), crushed
dessicated coconut for sprinkling over the top or ½ cup if adding to the fudge

  1. Line a rectangular baking tray with baking paper or tin foil.
  2. Combine the sugar, butter and condensed milk in a pot and melt over a low heat, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove from the heat and add the chopped apricots, crushed biscuits (and coconut if adding to fudge), stirring to combine. It will begin to set rapidly as it cools so you must work quickly to get it into the tin and spread it evenly.
  4. If you didn’t add coconut to the mixture, you can sprinkle a little over the top of the fudge to make it look pretty.
  5. Set in the fridge and turn out onto a chopping board (preferably not one used for garlic, onions or meat as the smells can be transferred to the fudge – yuk!) and cut into squares.
  6. Pile it up high on a serving platter or package into individual portions.

Enjoy!

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Mother’s Day Apple Crumble

The last time I wished my Mother a Happy Mother’s Day was 34 years ago. I was just 6 years old, and, two months later, she died. Not a day has gone by without me missing her terribly, wishing I could talk with her, ask her advice or hear her voice. I would have loved to have shared my wedding plans with her, and the news of my baby boy. Now, watching him at 7 years old, I see how innocent and helpless I was all those years ago. I wish I could take that little girl that was me and protect her from the many years of hurt and disappointment that would follow. I could prepare her for the journey of life without her Mum.

Becoming a mother myself was one of the most important goals I ever set for myself. I’ve never had career aspirations and for many years didn’t have a clue what direction I wanted to go in, but I knew I wanted to be someone’s mum…to love them, look after them, protect them, enjoy watching them grow. It may have made me somewhat over protective, but it has made me very aware of many things I possibly wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise. Wisdom is gained through experience. Experience is gained through hard work and sometimes hardship. Apple CrumbleI was lucky enough to have two step moms. One was your stereotypical step mother from hell, which taught me many of life’s more cruel lessons, but thankfully she wasn’t around for very long; the other a young mum herself at the time, who courageously took on two more children. I think that must be one of the toughest things for any person to do; committing to loving and caring for someone else’s children while trying to treat them as equals to your own. It didn’t always work, but female teenage hormones also added spice to the pot, but looking back at the last 30 years, and certainly since having my own family, I salute anyone who makes that decision. She is one in a million and has taught me much.

Being a Mother is hard work, it’s a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week calling…a gift and a privilege, and to include a well used cliché, also the most rewarding thing I have ever done . Finding out you’re pregnant, feeling that little baby grow inside you; experiencing the strength and vitality of your body when it’s time to push that new person out into the world…and only then does the excitement truly begin. To all mothers through the ages, the world is a better place when we’re the best Mums we can be. Love openly, honestly, generously and consistently with all the fun, laughter and happiness every child deserves. I truly understand that when you become a mother, you walk through the rest of your life with your heart outside your body.

In honour of our celebrations this Mother’s Day, I made Apple Crumble tonight using a recipe I was given by another very special lady I met a long time ago – the mother of my first serious boyfriend. She always gave the best cuddles and I always felt like “coming home” when she closed her arms around me. I have adapted the recipe slightly to make it my own.

In the absence of knowing what my birth Mother’s favourite colour was, or what her signature dish might have been; whether she preferred sunrise or sunset, or if she would have been proud of me making the decisions I have made in my life so far – she was my Mum, and I want to wish her, and every other Mother a very happy and special Mother’s Day.

Cherish your mums. You’ll miss them one day when they’re no longer around.

ingredients
2 x 400 g tins sliced pie apples in syrup
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or the seeds from 2 vanilla pods
fresh pouring cream and/or vanilla ice cream, to serve

Crumble topping:
½ cup plain flour
50 g cold unsalted butter, finely chopped
2 – 3 tbsp soft brown sugar
¼ cup rolled oats
4 tbsp shredded or desiccated coconut, or a combination of both

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease 4 small ovenproof dishes, approximately 1 – 1½ cup capacity.
  2. Place the apple slices and syrup into a large bowl.
  3. Sprinkle over the caster sugar, ground cinnamon and vanilla bean paste or seeds. Combine well.
  4. Divide between the 4 bowls.
  5. To make the crumble topping, place the flour and butter into a bowl. Rub the butter into the flour gently, using the tips of your fingers, until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. It might look a bit sticky but that’s OK, just the heat from your hands probably melting the butter a little.
  6. Add the sugar, oats and coconut and stir well.
  7. Layer the topping over the apple mixture and cook in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until the topping turns a beautiful golden colour.
  8. Allow to stand for a few minutes before pouring over the fresh cream or adding generous dollops of ice cream, or both!

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Easy Paella

I love Paella, although not the kind that goes overboard on the seafood ingredients. I’ve never been a fan of tentacles in my food, whether octopus or squid. I can’t get past the sight of them and remind myself of my son when he was younger, not even going so far as to taste them before I KNOW that I won’t be able to get them into my mouth, let alone down my throat.

I do, however, enjoy the combination of flavours and textures created by using shrimps/prawns, scallops, fish, chicken, chorizo, mussels and veggies. If you’re happy to move away from the traditional list of ingredients, then this is a great dish to play around with and adapt to your and your family’s preferred selection of meats and seafood. One thing I learned about using Saffron though, which is usually infused in a liquid, is that adding it in the early stages of cooking will impart more colour to the dish, while adding it at a later stage, it contributes more aromatics.

Paella

If I may be so bold as to quote from my favourite herb and spice book, titled Herb & Spice (funnily enough) by the renowned author Jill Norman, “The smell of saffron is unmistakable: rich, pungent, musky, floral, honeyed, and tenacious. The taste is delicate yet penetrating, warm, earthy, musky, bitter and lingering. The aromatic properties vary slightly depending on the saffron’s place of origin.” Native to the  Mediterranean and western Asia, it was traditionally used by ancient civilizations of the region as a dye and to flavour food and wine. Spain is the main producer and it takes about 80,000 saffron crocus flowers, or roses as they are called, to yield 2.5 kg (5 lb) of stigmas, which produce around 500 g (1 lb) of saffron after toasting. No wonder it is the most expensive spice in the world.

Jill also warns against buying this lovely spice from tourist markets as turmeric, marigold petals and safflower are often passed off as saffron. If stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark, place it can often last 2 – 3 years. This dish is not something that can be made in a hurry, but it is a very sociable meal and friends sitting around the kitchen table with a glass of wine and having a good chat while you cook will pass the time pleasantly.

ingredients:
500 ml chicken stock
150 ml white wine
1 pinch/half tsp saffron threads
1 – 2 chorizo sausages (depending on length), chopped
1 – 2 chicken thigh fillets (depending on size), dice into 2 cm cubes
8 large prawns or 16 – 20 shrimps (depending on size), remove heads, shells and legs (you can leave a couple fully dressed for decoration if you wish)
6 – 8 scallops
1 large fillet fish, skin and bones removed, dice into 2 cm cubes
1 brown onion, finely chopped
1 green and 1 red pepper (capsicum), finely chopped, remove all seeds
1 cup medium-grain uncooked rice
1 ripe tomato
2 tsp smoked paprika
100 g (about 3/4 cup) frozen peas

  1. Combine the stock, white wine and saffron in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and allow to gently simmer.
  2. In a large pan, fry the chorizo at a medium heat (only takes a few minutes) and remove to a separate bowl. Cover with foil to keep warm.
  3. Fry the diced chicken and fry for about 5 minutes until cooked through. Remove from the pan and add to the chorizo.
  4. Fry the prawns/shrimps for about 2 minutes or until they change colour. Remove from the pan and set aside separately to the chorizo and chicken ingredients.
  5. Fry the scallops, taking great care that you don’t overcook them, they cook quickly and will be rubbery and dry if overcooked. Transfer to the prawn/shrimp bowl.
  6. Increase the heat slightly and fry the onion and peppers for about 5 minutes until the onion softens. Add the dry uncooked rice and paprika. Stir and cook for about a minute before reducing the heat to medium-low.
  7. Add about one third of the stock/wine/saffron liquid stirring to coat all ingredients.
  8. Add the chicken, chorizo and fish cubes and allow to cook gently for about 5 minutes or until the liquid is almost absorbed (same principle as risotto).
  9. Add half the remaining stock and cook for a further five minutes, watching carefully to see when the liquid is absorbed.
  10. Then add the remaining liquid and peas and cook for a further 5 – 10 minutes until all liquid is absorbed.
  11. Lastly, add the chopped fresh tomato, prawns and scallops and stir gently to combine.
  12. Serve with lemon wedges and a few of the still dressed but cooked prawns on the top if you like.

You’ll notice in this recipe I didn’t use mussells as I didn’t have any on hand, but as with most of my meal-type recipes, play around with your own preferred ingredients until it works for you.

Enjoy!

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