Adventures in baking
May 10, 2013 § 1 Comment
There have been changes afoot in our tiny kitchen. I am not talking about the ‘renovation’ efforts that are finally underway. Rather my baking has been shaken up now I am no longer on good terms with a key ingredient.
I have always loved butter, preferring its creamy richness to the processed flavour of margarine. I never really bought the health arguments in favour of vegetable spread. Butter may be higher in saturated fats but I worked out many years ago that a little honest fat will do me no harm, as cholesterol tests over the years have testified. However, just like milk and cream, butter and I have fallen out of late. Now it will not kill me and I certainly do not make an issue about it when invited to dinner, but it just leaves me feeling a little ‘icky’ and triggers eczema on my temples and eyelids.
Life without butter is hardly the end of the world, it has just meant rethinking my baking habits and tastes. And like many disappointments, it has actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, prompting baking adventures with different types of grain and forays into childhood memories for inspiration.
Home-made blini have been a godsend. They are quick and easy to make and have become both a savoury and sweet staple. The buckwheat and whipped egg whites give the little pancakes a slightly nutty flavour and very fluffy texture, and a teaspoon of quality cherry or apricot jam turns the humble Baltic blini into a very satisfying dessert. Gram flour has also earned its place in my pantry as it makes hearty Scotch pancakes or waffles that work well with dried apricots stewed in vanilla or plum and cinnamon compote.
Trawling through mum’s old baking books, I was heartened to see how many of the desserts and cakes of my youth were fat-free. I was even more delighted to discover that as a child Mr M loved the unpretentious recipes I was planning to revisit and that he remembers his mother making them from the same cookery book. I shouldn’t really have been surprised as our youth pre-dated the explosion of celebrity chefs!
Mr M was particularly keen on a bara brith, waxing lyrical about the delights of a slice of the Welsh tea bread, particularly on cold grey days. I have to admit, I was daunted. Not only did the coarse mix of dried fruit, spices, flour, sugar and a single egg look unpromising to somebody used to sponge mixtures and batters, I was also wary of tarnishing Mr M’s fond childhood memories. I need not have worried. The smell from the oven was enough to transport him back to carefree days and the fruit had retained enough tea from the overnight soaking to produce a moist, hearty cake that kept well.
Swiss roll has been another rediscovery. For many years, I classified it as a slightly naff 1970s dessert. But replace flavourless vanilla essence with the seeds of half a vanilla pod and substitute sickly sweet Robertson jam with home-made greengage jam or sour cherry conserve and you get a dainty alternative to a Victoria sponge cake!
Biscuit wise, macaroons have replaced my staple jam drops. My macaroons are alas not the gaily coloured sandwich cushions that adorn many a French confectioner’s shop. As nuts would kill me, almonds are out but fortunately coconut flesh is not so I can still indulge in the chewy sweetness of a crunchy coconut macaroon. And just like jam drops, they are easy to make and store well in a sealed box.
When I first realised that my comfort treats of choice would be off the menu, my heart sunk. But just as with breakfast cereal, cheese and coffee, adapting to life without butter has been remarkably easy. And shaking up my baking habits has actually been good. It has taken my routines and my taste buds off auto-pilot. Moreover, as many of my alternative bakes are incredibly tasty, I have found myself reducing portion sizes without any problems… which can only be a good thing!