gingerbread village

Having spotted a charming image of flat gingerbread houses carved in low relief and filled with powdered sugar, we just had to try it for ourselves.

A whole wintry afternoon was spent in great joyful making. We altered our gingerbread recipe with 1/2 light rye and 1/2 whole spelt, maple syrup and birch sugar. Not a problem. Before we baked the cookies, we used any implement we could find – metal straws, toothpicks, ornate silverware, fine knives – to carve and draw into the house-shapes.

We thoroughly enjoyed researching old buildings and borrowing their architectural details. When we lived in Europe we were particularly fond of shops at the street level and apartments above, along Dutch canals, along Parisian streets. My youngest made her own patisserie, complete with striped gabled awnings, and baked goods in the windows!

We set a cup of birch sugar zinging in the blender for a few minutes til it was thoroughly powdered. When rubbed into the grooves in the baked, cooled cookies it had a better result than bought icing sugar (and a little less sweetness for our holiday diet, too).

This way of decorating feels like printmaking, like rubbing ink into an etched plate. Such fun.

‘Tis a lovely thing to do with family and friends on a chilly winter’s day.

cakestand

We put the homemade cakestand to work at a double-birthday, bearing one of a pair angel cakes to a crowd of finger-puppet-making children. I threw the cakestand on the wheel in England last spring. With pleasure.

handmade cakestand

First I threw a large plate onto a wooden bat, which is stuck to the wheel with clay. The plate is wired off but left on the bat to dry to leather-hard. I cut and played with the edges to scallop them, I love it! Then I centered the plate upside-down on the wheel. I scored a circle, and made a coil of new clay to fit, then threw the pedestal up off the plate with that clay. If you use too much water the plate will turn to mush, so it is a tricky business.

hand-thrown cakestand

I ought to have let the piece dry upside down as well; it fell somewhat, but is still charming.

scalloped cakestand

The children and I made spelt angel cakes, using my grandmother’s trusty sifter to get it as light as possible. I couldn’t find any icing sugar that was certain to be pure, so we decided to use whipped cream, sweetened with stevia to ice it. I coloured some of the cream pink with a bit of juice from raspberries. This is my first rather squishy experiment with a cake-decorating tool. Rosettes, how nice!

homemade cake & cakestand

My grandmother’s old cake stand carried one cake, and mine the other. I’m quite pleased with how the stands act like a plinth to a sculpture, adding a bit of ceremony to match such a treat as a birthday cake. Served with homemade raspberry lemonade in my grandmother’s extraordinarily fancy collection of china, it was a proper tea-party!

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p>(Update:Now you can special order a cakestand from appleturnover’s lakeside studio – just write me a note!)

rustic tart

Making shortcrust pastry has to be amongst the easiest and the best skills to have in the kitchen. For providing the perfect backdrop to an endless variation in fillings, from savoury, like the leek and dorset blue tart I made at River Cottage, to a sweet seasonal fruit tart, shortcrust pastry is perfect. The glorious days of blueberries are imminent, so let’s make a rustic tart, the one I baked for the folks at Heart Home, when they came out to visit the old cottage.

shortcrust

I like to make a large recipe, and bake two. Start with 500 grams of flour (I used a mix of white and whole spelt), 250 grams of cold unsalted butter, a couple of egg yolks, a pinch of salt, and 100 ml of cold milk, though we may not use it all. For the filling, cook five or six cups of blueberries until their liquid reduces a bit, then remove from heat and toss with 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of light flour. Squeeze half a lemon in, too.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Cut the butter into the flour til it’s in tiny pieces, and then start rubbing the butter into the flour. (I like to wash my hands in cold water, as you don’t want to melt the butter in!) You’re looking for the moment when the flour turns yellow, and resembles breadcrumbs.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Yellow? Excellent. Mix in the two egg yolks.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Add some milk in splashes, just until the dough comes together and no more. Knead it for a minute. You could break the dough in half and form two balls. I wrap mine in parchment, then toss it in a bag to chill in the fridge for a half hour. Heat your oven to 375F/180C. On a very lightly floured surface, roll the dough out thinly, and lift it onto a flat, parchment lined tray.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Dollop the blueberry filling into the middle, fold the pastry in, and sprinkle with some coarse sugar if you’ve got some around. Bake it for close to an hour! And serve, cooled, with some whipped cream. It looks
incredibly gorgeous when it’s baked
, especially if you’ve got a professional photographer and a pair of magazine editors to document the event.

mrs beeton’s

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861, a guide to all facets of running the Victorian household.

mrs-beeton's-sweets

I love it particularly for its colour plates of an endless variety of beautiful dishes;

mrs-beeton's-household-utensils

For such beautiful little prints, and such fascinating style and language;

mrs-beeton's-electric-cooking

And for its illustrations and discussion of household tools, solutions, recipes, remedies. It’s an extraordinary bit of history to page through. I had a peek at Mrs Beeton’s apple turnover recipe, of course.

I love that she calls pastry, simply, paste. So it is! Patisserie.

mrs-beeton's-fruit

This is a 1906 edition of the book, first published in full in 1861. I’ve borrowed it from a friend and found it full of yellowed clippings and ads dating back from the 1920’s. Entrancing stuff.

mrs-beeton's-book

The book is available to read online, and for a bit of social history along with a look at Isabella Beeton’s life, there’s Sophie Dahl’s The Marvellous Mrs Beeton.

breadsticks

When I’ve made flatbreads or English muffins or pizza, I love to make breadsticks out of the last of the dough.

stick-dough

I use a simple recipe for everything inspired by recipes from the River Cottage Bread handbook by Daniel Stevens. Mine is 500g each of whole and white spelt, 10g of yeast, 650ml of warm water, though I usually make up part of that with sourdough culture to deepen the flavour, 20g of sea salt, and a good glug of olive oil. I knead that well and leave it to rise, covered, overnight before using it for various recipes. Preheat the oven to about 200 C/375 F.

Roll out a good handful of the dough to a half centimeter on a floured surface.

cut-dough

Slice lengths of about a finger’s width;

spirals

Arrange them on an oiled tray in shapes as you please. The spirals are delightful, my children adore them. I like to drizzle the bread with garlic-infused olive oil and sprinkle them with coarse sea salt.

garlic-baked

Bake them through, about 18-20 minutes. I once made the mistake of putting them in a piping hot oven I’d been baking pizza in, and it swiftly turned them to charcoal.

breadsticks

Breadsticks! So great for simple meals out in the garden.

pasta

Now, you might think that after the surprises I had at how effortless it is to make my own oatcakes and flatbreads and pizzas and English muffins, I wouldn’t be phased by anything. Yet I am astonished by the simplicity of handmade pasta. My lovely friend Sabine inspired me to try it. Flour, eggs, a rolling pin and a good knife are all that is needed.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

I am liberated from the late supermarket run: if there are flour and eggs in the house, and a bit of time, we can eat pasta. I measured out 300 grams of white spelt flour;

pasta-2

I made a well in the hill of flour, and cracked in three eggs. These are from our local organic farm, Old Plawhatch, aren’t they blindingly yellow! From healthy, happy chickens.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Mix them together with your fingers til you’ve got a breadcrumb-like consistency, and then start kneading. Unlike breadmaking, this dough is incredibly stiff, and put me in mind of wedging clay. Wrap the dough up, airtight, and leave it if you can take the time, at least twenty minutes, to relax the gluten. I went off to a homeschooling group and a violin lesson, and came back to find the dough considerably softer.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Cut the dough in two, shape a flat round, flour your surface and your pin, and roll it out just as thin as you can. Even thinner. Next time I’ll push it a bit further. Amazingly, though it’s very stiff, the dough doesn’t crack easily.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Now flour the dough a little if necessary, and roll it up.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Delightful!

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Where’s that sharp knife? Yes, decide how wide to slice the pasta. I’ll slice them more narrowly next time, say, half a centimeter.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

When I buy a bag of dry pasta I’m not joyful like this, nor am I compelled to gaze at the shapes in delight. The pleasures of homemade continue to astound me.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Unroll the spirals of dough and leave them to dry til brittle. Long enough to make a wonderful sauce, or go for a long walk, depending on the humidity in your kitchen. I laid some over a drying rack, and left some on the marble, but I’d like to hang the noodles over a dowel next time. The pasta nests people make are also very sweet, but wouldn’t dry very quickly in a chilly old cottage like this one!

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Cook them in sea salted water as you would cook any fresh pasta, al dente, once you have a sauce ready. Oh! The flavour is quite wonderful. You can freeze the dried pasta for later use. The children are determined to try using cutters on the pasta dough, with grand plans for ravioli and tortellini! For an everyday meal I am completely content with my wide, wobbly linguine. I love it.