Thursday, 27 December 2012

HIBERNATION - American Pancakes and Christmas

I always need a few extra days off on top of the obligatory national Christmas holiday. In the weeks leading up to Christmas the steadily worsening weather and rising panic about presents, traveling and quite frankly money, means that once the big day finally arrives and passes in a haze of booze and food, there is a guilty sense of relief. 
Don’t get me wrong I adore Christmas.  The pagans got it right with the Winter Solstice celebrating the shortest day and longest night - it only gets better from here on and we have the extra mince pie padding to deal with the January chills.  I’m not forgetting the baby Jesus. Or Santa Claus.  Everyone has a place in my book, but mainly I worship tinsel. Glorious, glittery, shiny tinsel.  My living room is a shrine. 
One of the main luxuries with time off is the lie-in and the lazy celebration breakfast.  Smoked salmon and the fry-up have their place but my American food obsession makes me choose a stack of pancakes.  Not super-thin crepes with lemon and sugar but thick, fluffy, vanilla monsters dredged in maple syrup.  They make me feel like I’m in a film. 

Whenever I want a classic American recipe I turn to the uber blogger, The Pioneer Woman, a bonafide all-American housewife living on a working cattle ranch in Oklahoma.  I halved her recipe and added an unconventional dollop of Greek yoghurt helped to counter the sweetness. 

Pioneer Woman’s Perfect Pancakes  - serves 2 generously

1 ½ cups plus 1 table spoon of plain flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 table spoon caster sugar
1 ½ table spoon baking powder
1 cup whole milk
1 large egg
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter plus extra for frying
Maple syrup or golden syrup to serve
Greek yoghurt or cream

1)   Mix all the dry ingredients (flour, salt, sugar and baking powder) in a large bowl
2)   Mix all the wet ingredients separately (milk, egg, vanilla extract)
3)   Add the wet to the dry, taking care not to over mix – lumps are good!
4)   Melt the 2 tablespoons butter (I defrost in microwave for 30 seconds) then carefully stir into the batter.
5)   You have 2 choices:
a)    Frying pancakes in batches, leaving cooked ones to keep warm in a very low oven (80 degrees Celsius) on a plate.
b)   Using a humongous non-stick pan or 2 non-stick pans and doing all at once.
6)   Either way: heat non-stick pan with a bit of butter on a low to medium plate and spoon a large serving spoon size dollop.  I got about 6 large pancakes from this recipe. 
7)   Wait till a few bubbles form on the surface (I waited slightly too long, which is why the edges are a little dark) then flip and leave for another couple of minutes.
8)   Stack on a plate with a pat of butter between each one, a drizzle of syrup and bit of yoghurt or cream. 

Saturday, 1 December 2012

GIRL CRUSH - Almond Cake and an Engagement

My first girl crush was Pamela Anderson.  To my seven year old self she epitomized femininity. I wanted to be her.  I adored my Barbie dolls so the uber-sexual, bionic babe represented the ultimate physicality of womanhood with her teeny waist, balloon boobs and mane of blonde extensions.
As I’ve grown older and my perception of femininity has changed, my girl crushes have become more eclectic, and perhaps a little healthier.  Nigella has been a solid contender since I first saw her on TV in soft focus wearing a red silk dressing gown ‘stealing’ leftovers from the fridge in an absurdly provocative way.  She oozes a lusciousness that screams hedonism, and for someone selling food that is no bad thing.  Aside from the laughably porno cooking shows, her food writing is fantastic.   She really wants you to enjoy cooking and eating as much as she does.

The title of her baking book ‘How To Be a Domestic Goddess’ is genius.  Nothing else makes you feel like a domestic goddess more than producing a cake.  There might be piles of washing and an unmade bed, but homemade baked goods make you Wonder Woman.
 I made the almond cake from said book at 10.30 pm last Friday while reveling in the rarity of a flat to myself for the entire weekend.  Cooled overnight and eaten for breakfast in true Nigella-style, it was beautiful.  Dense, moist and intensely almond flavoured from the marzipan and essence, it is perfect for a coffee break.  It is ridiculously simple (even being fairly pissed I couldn’t mess it up) so I urge you to give it a go.  Unless of course you hate marzipan.

PS. The big news.  I’m engaged.  Alex asked me all officially with a proper ring and everything. And I said yes.  I’m still giddy.  Although this was on the cards from pretty much three months after we met, I didn’t expect to feel this excited, happy and secure all at the same time.  It’s serious folks.

Almond Cake - Nigella Lawson’s ‘How To Be A Domestic Goddess’

I didn’t have the 25 cm spring-form tube pan she specified, so used a non-stick standard 20 cm spring-form tin.
  •   250 gram(s butter (softened)
  • 250 gram(s) Marzipan (softened)
  • 150 gram(s) caster sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon(s) almond essence
  • ¼ teaspoon(s) vanilla extract
  • 6 large egg(s)
  • 150 gram(s) self-raising flour
1)   Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Put the sugar, marzipan and butter into a large bowl and mix well with an electric whisk or in a food processor. 

2)   Add the almond essence and vanilla extract then mix again.  

3)   Add the eggs, one at a time and mixing in between each one.

4)   Finally add the flour in two stages, mixing between each one.  

5)   Pour into the tin, and lightly even out with the back of a spoon. Nigella says it takes 50 minutes for a test skewer in the center to come out clean-ish, but mine was done at 40. 

6)   Cool in the tin before turning out and sprinkling with icing sugar.