Sunday, 31 August 2014

Fictional Food Adventure- Pippi Longstocking's Big Cream Cake.

Well, here it is. An unashamedly big cream cake, inspired by Pippi Longstocking. Just right for a Sunday afternoon tea with special friends.

I haven't much experience of making proper cakes, I tend to prefer baking scones or flapjack, but it was exciting to have a go at creating something special
and a bit OTT. The recipe was in American measurements but fortunately my dear brother had bestowed some charming cup measures on me a few birthdays ago so it wasn't a problem. It was rather refreshing not to weigh anything for a change. The only other obstacle I came up against was not having the right cake tin. We only had a standard medium-ish one but the recipe was for a 9and a half incher. The plan was to bake one cake then cut in half to add the cream and fruit filling. Instead I put two thirds of the mixture in one cake tin, to make a good height of cake to divide horizontally, and one
thirds in another cake tin of the same diameter, to provide a third layer. More layers equals more filling so not a hardship, and the prospect of an absurdly tall cake was rather alluring.

I was prepared for the double cream to take a while to whip up, from previous experience with my Mum's and Mum-in-law's double-whizzers but was amazed at how quickly our single electric whisk fluffed it all up. It took less than a minute, which is nice to know for when I make Bad Harry's Birthday Trifle later on in the Fictional Food adventure. 

The recipe gives complete freedom over choice of fruit so I chose the ever superior raspberry, and after testing several to check quality, I decided to mash them a bit in the style of Andy's lovely Mummy, who makes a darned good BFG (Black Forest Gateau) by chopping up the cherries and mixing it with the cream for the filling. I love raspberries but I personally prefer eating them a little mashed, releasing the juices and getting an instant raspberry tang on your tongue.  

The recipe only talks about a layer of cream and fruit between the sponges, and a topping of cream. When I started to spread the cream over the top I decided to hide the dark cake edges (slight over-bake - Tut-tut!) and completely plastered the cream round the sides as as well. Somehow, having a cake completely covered in cream is just a very happy looking cake. Not perfect and not impeccably neat, but suitably tempting and Pippi-ish. It was tricky to get the cream all the way down the sides so a bit of dark cake was showing at the base. I recently spent a lot of time using polyfiller to neaten up the walls in our house so I employed my newly-gained skills and loaded my finger tip with a pile of cream and dragged it all round the base, welding the cake to the plate and giving a pleasingly neat finish. I wish I'd also plastered over the second gap between the layers but I thought it would be nice to see some the fruit inside. Next time!

Pippi's cream cake was initially tempting to her because on the very top it had a single red sweetie. In her unfettered charm she cannot resist going over and eating that sweet straight off the cake. When she raises her head with the sweet, and some cream, in her mouth, she is amused to find that she cannot see due to the amount of cream all over her face. Deciding that she has sufficiently ruined the cake, her solution is to eat the whole thing. 
The recipe is just as pleasantly relaxed about choice of said red temptation, allowing you to choose between some sort of sweet or berry. I decided that these large raspberries would be ideal so I kept some of the biggest back for this purpose. As there were 7 of us for tea, Andy and myself and our dear friends Claire and Matthew and their three very wonderful children, I thought this cake needed 7 raspberries on top. Everyone was game
to accept my challenge of plucking a raspberry off in their teeth, a la Pippi. Once the table was set and we had all got comfy, I was urged to go first and managed to extract my raspberry without a molecule of cream touching me or my hair.

Andy went next and was equally exact and then the two boys followed, collecting only a pinprick of cream upon their little chins.

I believe Ruth and Claire escaped with just a mere whisker of cream on their cheek and then it was Matthew's turn to capture
the last raspberry. I'll be fair and say that his raspberry was the squattest of the lot and lead him very close to the surface of the cake, hence the creamy goatee. I did feel slightly naughty in leading these impeccably brought up young children astray and breaking all the rules of common table manners but, only slightly.

As Andy is not a passionate cake-eater, I was delighted to see him polish his piece off in record time. It's a great recipe and I think it's partly down to the buttermilk adding its tang, plus the lemon, cutting through some of the rich butter. 

The cake had been a little awkward to transport. Andy drove, while I sat in the passenger seat, holding the cake plate with both hands. It was exceedingly heavy and felt like it weighed a couple of kilos, especially towards the end of the journey. It wouldn't have been so bad if I could have rested it on my lap but I had to keep it aloft to counteract the swaying and bumping of the journey, so by the time Matthew opened the door to us, I was more than happy to pass it into his hands. 

On our way home, we decided that the big lump of cake on my lap, despite leaving a few portions with our friends, was still far too big for the two of us and should be eaten up while the cream was still fresh and not too squashed. So we looped back into the village to pop in on my Mum and Dad and persuade them to lighten our load. Mum is not a fan of cream but Dad is a very helpful and
sacrificial man and likes to help out where he can. He knows his duty. Just as we were cutting a lump for him, my dear old Phil-cat made his presence known so I ran a cheeky finger along the outside of the cake and scuttled out to greet my old moggy. He's not one to waste a good bit of cream and licked up several fingerfuls of cream (different finger each time for the sake of hygiene) with a zeal I haven't seen in years.

So we eventually left with a much smaller lump of cream cake and happy smiles from a lovely day.  

I think a little of Pippi's fun and nonsense got into all of us today and I can only hope that the next recipe will live up to the joys of this one. 

Friday, 29 August 2014

Fictional Food Adventure - Reading Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstocking
by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi Longstocking is one of those people that everyone has heard of, but, though I was familiar with her sticking-out-like-carrots orange pigtails and mismatched stockings, I had never ready any of the stories about her.

I do, however, have my own rather beautiful, hardback copy on one of my bookshelves and had dipped into the stories a little, while I browsed through the stylish, fun, pictures by Lauren Child. This, I confess, was the reason for buying the book in the first place, when this lavish, full-colour version was published several years ago. I love illustration, and I love beautifully printed and bound books as objects in their own right, so some of my purchasing choices are not based only on the story. Do I detect a few shocked gasps as you read that? Well, let me reassure you that I am an avid reader and I love good stories, so I am very delighted to be introduced to books I don't know,
and to give books a chance even if they passed me by the first time around.

It was lovely to get to know Pippi better, or Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim's Daughter Longstockingas is her full name.
Her antics never cease to amaze me and her flights of fancy and imagination are refreshingly bizarre. Her no-parent lifestyle is incredibly carefree and yet rather sad. I am left wondering what would become of a child like Pippi. What will make her happy in the future? How will she fit into the world around her and will she have to? But that is probably my grown-up head being too practical, and it's best to let go of that and embrace the
bizarreness, the flippancy and hilarity if you're to get the most out of a Pippi yarn. I love her fearlessness, in standing up to and making friends with burglars, and confronting and dealing with bullies. I love her lack of fuss and her ability to live in the moment and enjoy herself; to follow her whims and greet everyone in the same matter-of-fact Pippi way.

The most she ever thing about the future is her intention to become a pirate when she grows up. Although she is certainly brace enough, I think she is far too nice to make a successful pirate.

There are three recipes from Pippi Longstocking featured in 'Turkish Delight and Treasure Hunts,' so I'll work my way through them and let you know how they turn out.

We are visting friends for tea over the weekend so it's a perfect excuse to make the big cream cake that Pippi devours. I've been to get the buttermilk and all the other ingredients so I'm all set.

Bring on the whipped cream!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Fictional Food Adventure - Introduction

I turned thirty yesterday. And one of the books I was given, by a very dear friend, has triggered this quest, or challenge, or goal of mine. 

I just finished the book today: 'Turkish Delight and Treasure Hunts' by Jane Brocket. The subtitle on the cover says "Delightful Treats and Games from Classic Children's Books", which, although accurate, doesn't quite convey the host of such magical, hilarious, wonderful and dear things inside. This enchanting book explores some of our most well-loved children's stories from the last century or so, celebrating the delicious snacks, drinks and meals, and wonderful, timeless activities that the characters enjoy within the pages. Jane Brocket has crafted recipes and suggestions to help the devoted reader to recreate some of these tasty treats and diversions.

The moment I unwrapped this book, I was captivated by the idea of the recipes. I have always loved reading, and still enjoy children's fiction, new and old. I don't know how many times I've read Heidi by Joanna Spyri, but every time I read it, I yearn for a chunk of golden toasted cheese, cooked over the fire, with thick bread and a mug of fresh goats' milk. When you are reading, whatever is being eaten or drunk inside that printed-paper world, whatever is being crunched or glugged, chewed or sipped, you want it too, however wacky or ordinary it may be. Anne Shirley's Raspberry Cordial always had me salivating long beyond the page on which it was first mentioned and Milly Molly Mandy's Lid Potatoes were something we actually ate as a family, many times, because they sound so comforting and delicious and because the method of creating them was described simply but clearly by the author, Joyce Lancaster Brisley. Everyone will have their own memory of something tantalisingly yummy from a favourite story. 

During the morning of my birthday, before we headed out for a beach picnic with my parents, I started reading 'Turkish Delight and Treasure Hunts' and found myself smiling and chortling away. I was heartened to hear about characters I know and love; to be reminded of their antics and food-doings, and was intrigued to be introduced to books and characters I have not yet met. Books I should have read, and for some silly, stubborn, lazy or ignorant reason have not. Or books I love dearly who are beckoning me to pick them up and turn their pages once more. 

It made me think that I would not only like to try some of these recipes but also read some of these classics that I've never tried. And, in keeping with the inevitable thoughtfulness that often accompanies a "milestone" birthday I decided to embark on a little bit of a mission. 

To make all the recipes in 'Turkish Delight and Treasure Hunts', and to read each book the recipes are inspired by. In one year. And to blog about it here. 

Now, I know 30 is not old. But nevertheless I think, for a while, I expected to stay forever in my twenties. And saying goodbye to that decade made me a little pensive, and at times a little regretful, wondering if I've made the best use of my time, given enough of myself to those I love, read enough books, engaged in fun enough, etc. And the honest answer is probably No. But, I want to dwell on the possibilities that each new day brings, looking forward and relishing the chances to do good things. As Anne of Green Gables says, "Tomorrow is a new day, with no mistakes in it. Yet." It's good to be reminded that each new day is an opportunity to be more kind, more generous, more open to others, have more fun, be more relaxed and more ready to wonder at the beauty around us. That's what I want for my thirty-first year and behond. To be fully present, more kind, more fun. 

So, thank you, to my dear birthday-gift-giving friend, for knowing and understanding me well enough to choose this book for me, and for sharing in many of the same delights this funny old world holds, and to Jane Brocket for bringing together such a rich treasury of excellence and reawakening my passion for these books. 

PS, I guess this echoes the challenge that a certain Julie Powell set herself in the lead-up to her 30th birthday - to cook every one of the 524 recipes contained in Julia Child's legendary recipe book - "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," and to blog each one as she goes. Based on the book, "My Year of Living Dangerously," this was a mammoth of a task, which I totally respect. I love the film in inspired, Julie and Julia, starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, but confess it was far from my thoughts when I thought about this Fictional Food Adventure.  One day into my thirties, I can tell you that I feel no different than the last day of being 29, except perhaps, relieved, hopeful, and determined. I am still me, and Andy is still here, lovely as always. And the cats are still mewing to be fed and knocking books off the shelves like they always do.  And the world is full of wonderful books, with new ones emerging all the time. 

I hope you'll follow the fun along the way and try some of the books and recipes yourself.