The Great British Biscuit

Last week whilst watching TV I stumbled across Nigel Slater’s wonderful homage to the Great British Biscuit.  As a biscuit fancier I found the hour long programme fascinating.  A veritable world cup selection of biscuits was laid out before the viewer – bourbons; iced gems; custard creams; penguins; nice; hobnobs and clubs to name but a few all jockeyed for position.  Not only did we get to see all our old favourites Nigel and his biscuit anorak buddy Stuart Payne aka Nicey got to taste, compare and contrast and ultimately judge the creme de la creme of the biscuit world.

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I particularly enjoyed the potted history of biscuits….did you know that the word biscuit has Latin and French roots? Or that ship’s biscuits could only be broken with a cannon ball because they were so hard and often contained weevils from the flour? Or that there are 10 holes in a bourbon biscuit. Huntley and Palmer , Peak Freans. McVities and Carrs of Carlisle all got a mention. Huntley and Palmer started to mass produce biscuits  around 1830.  Mr Huntley (a fine biscuit producer from Reading) met Mr Palmer (an engineer) and began making biscuits on an industrial scale.  The most wondrous thing about the biscuits of that era were the biscuit tins – quite often works of art in their own right.  At one time the tins were sent in large packing cases to all parts of the globe , a small boy would be put inside the container to position the boxes…but as Nigel wryly points out all is not right in the world of the biscuit tin because they are no longer made of tin…a plastic box just does not cut the mustard.

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To dunk or not to dunk?  De Bretts states that you can only dunk  in an informal setting…probably because most biscuits disintegrate when they hit warm tea or coffee.  Nigel conducts a fab experiment with our 10 most popular dunking biscuits to see which biscuits avoid a dunking disaster best.  It turns out that the Rich Tea biscuit is the ultimate dunker with over 10 minutes on the clock.  A genuine safety biscuit.  Apparently your taste in biscuits reflect what kind of paper you read… pink wafer; amaretti; oat cake; garibaldi…can you name the newspaper that goes with the biscuit?

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My favourite and most bonkers part of the programme was meeting the Tunnocks Caramel Wafer Appreciation Society – there is an entire room at St Andrews University that is covered in caramel wafer wrappers…the group also decided to send a wafer off to the great and the good across the land. Ted Hughes returned his wrapper with an ode to Tunnocks   – it’s a great idea.  Nasa demanded money to exchange hands if the group wanted to place a biscuit in space….I think they missed the point of the experiment.  Only in Britain….

Now for the ultimate question is a Jaffa Cake a biscuit or a cake? Apparently it has been classified a cake for VAT purposes.

I must confess I normally don’t eat a lot of biscuits, but Nigel has inspired me to have a go.  For my own spin on the great British biscuit I’ve used exotic flavours such as tamarind; garam masala and ginger in one of my offerings; honey salted peanuts and peanut butter in another; and the ultimate triple choc cookies that really pack a punch. I like a thick texture and a soft dough for preference…. Anyway they will be rocking up at the next market to whet your appetites…

Here’s a link to the programme…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03lyy33/nigel-slaters-great-british-biscuit

And the newspapers were as follows; The Sun; The Guardian; New Scotsman; The Daily Mail….

Vive la Difference!

I’m enjoying the  BBC comedy series W1A at the moment…it’s the follow on to Twenty Twelve, a send-up of the London Olympic Games.  This one sends up the BBC which in my book is must-see TV. One of the sub plots focuses on “Britain’s Tastiest Village” -  a sort of Great British Bake Off meets TOWIE, and who else could present such a programme but the ubiquitous Claire Balding and Alan Titchmarsh….except neither of them really want to be associated with the programme for various reasons.  Anyway it got me thinking about Britain’s tastiest village/town/city and what makes for quintessentially good food across the land.  Joking apart we do have a lot to celebrate food wise as a nation. Since the 1970s there has been a relentless foody renaissance taking place.  From Michelin starred chefs to the humble High Street Café food just seems to have got better, more considered, mega optioned and multi layered.  It is no longer a case of fish and chips, Indian or Chinese takeaways being the norm…most High Streets have modern fusion food outlets by the bucket load…but are we really spoilt for choice? Have we become blasé when it comes to food?…do we really know our Nam Plas from our Nachos…or is it just an illusion?Old Bakery HQ

I am numb when it comes to chain restaurants – even though they offer good value for money, lots of choice and reasonable quality what I’m looking for is the one-off, the individual, the different, the special and unique.  I believe what we now need  is a change…not more choice, but less choice and more home-grown “unchained” foodie outlets across the land.  One home grown example from Ealing is Angela Malik’s new Indian fusion food emporium on St Marys Rd  - Angela uses great raw and cooked ingredients to create UMAMI  – a rather unique “je ne sais quoi” that cannot be found elsewhere along the High Street. Similarly I have been supporting two new cafes – Organika in Pitshanger Village, and Paperback on South Ealing Road….luckily for me both now stock Celestial Cake offerings because I think they got that UMAMI moment when they tasted my cake….yes we like what you do, how you do it and why you do it.  Whilst I don’t think Ealing is going to win Britain’s Tastiest Town anytime soon, there are encouraging signs beginning to emerge, and I’m happy to be part of the trend bucking brigade – big is not always beautiful - unless it’s a home made cider infused hot cross bun….

You can find Celestial Cakey offerings at the following outlets across Ealing

Organika Café, 78 Pitshanger Lane,Ealing W51QX

Paperback Café, 153 South Ealing Road, W54QP

W7Emporium, 60B Boston Road, Hanwell, W73TR

Edible Ealing Box Scheme (www.edibleealing.wordpress.com) small selection available fortnightly on Fridaysvery moist carrot cake

Ealing Farmers Market, Leeland Rd, West Ealing second and fourth Saturday of the month 9.00am till 1.00pm

Easter stall at West Hampsteadtea cakes 2

Sarah's apple cake

Celestial Greets…Marvellous March is finally here….

Hello from The Old Bakery HQ

After what has seemed like an eternity of wind and rain spring has finally sprung…thank goodness!  The markets have been hairy, scary, windy and down right dangerous over the last 2 months!  I’m relieved that barring a few missing nuts and bolts and a small dent in one of the marquee legs Celestial Cakes remains unscathed…it could have been so much worse!  Thank you to all my customers who braved the weeks of wind and rain to pay me a visit at West Hampstead and Ealing Markets.  I salute you….

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I have been keeping a low profile for the last few months  - I took January off due to a family bereavement - so I am just getting back into the swing of things. For the first time in quite a while I felt inspired last week…perhaps it was because Saturday was the first day of spring and St David’s Day I had a definite Welsh theme going with Bara Brith and Welsh Cakes on the menu.  Not only that I suddenly thought about a different way to make sponge cake…I like the traditional Victoria sponge recipe, but sometimes a change is as good as rest.  May I  introduce you to the spelt, hazelnut, caramel and chai cream cake…it’s nutty but light sponge is infused with fresh cream flavoured with chai masala spice blend and a layer of caramel in the middle…scrummy!  Expect to see this at the market in the coming weeks….

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I  love getting feedback from my customers…Celestial Cakes really do travel the globe…we know this because they have been seen in France, Rome and now Mexico….where next?  One of my regulars went to see her daughter in Mexico this Christmas…smuggled into her luggage was a gluten free chocolate, prune and armagnac cake…thankfully it arrived in one piece and was eaten somewhere in Mexico over the holidays…superb!

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It’s ‘comin on Christmas…and they’re cutting down trees…

Christmas is nearly upon us, so with that in mind I have been planning my Christmas offerings. I’m trying ‘made to order’ this year so if you come to either West Ealing or West Hampstead Markets you can order your cake in advance – pick up will be the last market before Christmas – 21st December, or earlier if preferred.  I have a range of great cakes this year - as always a bit leftfield so if you are looking for a traditional cake this is not the place to find it!

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Here’s what I have in mind…..

Celestial Chocolate Christmas Cake – a moist fruit cake boosted with 3 different types of chocolate – this cake has a deliciously rich flavour

Sarah’s Stollen – very popular - lots of dried fruit and marzipan make this a real Christmas treat

Hazelnut, Fig, Chestnut and Orange Fruit Cake – sublime combination…let’s just say Marrons Glace and leave it there

Saffron infused Gluten Free Clementine Cake – an old favourite and always popular at Christmas

Gluten Free Chocolate Prune and Armagnac Cake – shamefully  rich and indulgent

Boozy Christmas Puddings includes sherry, brandy, rum and what’s this…angostura bitters….whatever next?

To place an order visit my market stalls or call Sarah on 07946060896  – a small freebie is available for those of you who can name which famous recording artist wrote and sang my posts’ title…It’s ‘comin on Christmas….

Season’s Greets Everyone!

Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness…

Summer went out like a light this year – one week into September and there is a chill in the air, the rain has returned and I am looking at putting on more layers to combat the cold.  The payoff comes in the form of autumnal foodie treats such as blackberries; late raspberries; apples pears and plums - just the kind of fruity delectations that make an ordinary cake a great cake.  Expect to see on the market stall this month blackberry apple and almond slice; triple whammy raspberry cake (made with buttercream cassis); and upside down plum cake.

I promised you an update on Cassandra and Raquel  - our free range porkers are growing tubby (in this case a good thing) and may soon be heading to that fluffy pigsty in the sky.  The girls like their sleeping quarters and play area but have become keen to explore more of the Rectory garden and have tried to escape on a number of occasions.  They are demanding more attention and companionship than Del Boy and Rodney – I guess they always had their three wheeler to escape in!  Anyway as you can see from the picture they like nothing better than snuffling for food scraps and apples.

Cassandra and Raquel

 

I was lucky enough to go to France over the summer holidays.  I had forgotten how amazing French markets are – everything is beautifully presented and packaged – the cakes were disappointing though – mostly nougat and truffles and very sweet – not at all like the fabulous patisserie you get in French bakeries. I was very impressed by this cheese display…so mouth watering…

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french cheese at Cotignac Market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally I would like to say thank you to all those people who came for a “chat and cake” at Brentford Festival it was a brilliant community day, well supported by local people.  Here is the Green Man in front of my stall…

green man at Brentford Festival

Several Good News Stories

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I learnt at the weekend that the Big Love Beetroot Brownie is not called Big Love without reason.  This lovely couple got together whilst eating my delicious  brownies over a year ago – they happily told me on Saturday that if it wasn’t for my Celestial intervention (in cake form) they may never have started going out together…never under estimate the power of the Big Love Beetroot Brownie. I’m wondering where next for my BLBB? Speed dating events perhaps???

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It’s all go at the Celestial allotment space…courgettes planted; beetroots planted; strawberries starting to flower and my gooseberry bushes that I got last year from the market are thriving – very happy with my rhubarb too…I’m hoping this year for a reprieve from rain sodden, slug infested soil…please shine sun…that’s me under the netting by the way…

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Some of you may have met Del Boy and Rodney Trotter at last years Ealing Transition Reskilling Event,   They were raised at St Mary’s Vicarage Ealing. May I now introduce you to their successors - Trigger and Dave…actually they are lady pigs so we thought Raquel and Cassandra might be better names for them.  Myself and a few friends have a share in  Cassandra and hope to be sampling some piggy delights later in the year…you will be pleased to know that all my cake vegetable scraps are ending up at St Marys and are being put to good use….the pigs are already becoming quite famous and have  found their way into the Ealing Gazette…it’s not often you see farmyard animals in someone’s back garden in Ealing – let alone a Rectory!

I’ll keep you posted on their progress…

Beetroot Brownies are travelling the world!

Beetroot brownies travelling the world

 

A couple of weeks ago at West Hampstead one of my loyal customers Paolo told me that he was travelling to Rome and was going to take his sister one of my beetroot brownies…imagine my suprise when I received this lovely picture of Paolo’s sister with the Colliseum in the background…this is my favourite city and one of my favourite monuments…grazie Paolo such a wonderful suprise!

Celestial Greets

It has been a good few months since my last post so here goes…

Hello everyone…this catch-up is long overdue…what’s been happening in the intervening months? We’ve had a feast of festivals; foodie holidays and celebrations to cope with not to mention our regular commitments with London Farmers Markets and Edible Ealing Box Scheme + W7Emporium…it has been B-U-S-Y…I’m just trying to catch my breath before Easter descends upon us.

I love my work, especially as it means I get to meet wonderful folk all  across London. My regular customers are an inspiration, and I thank you  for your support and enthusiasm for all things Celestial! Spring is nearly here! Although it still feels chilly I’ve seen the daffodils emerging and the evenings are getting lighter – always a good sign.

horse play at Ealing Farmers Market

On another matter… Much has been made in the media about the horse meat scandal.  I think what has incensed people is not the fact that horse meat is used in the production of ready meals, but that the supermarkets knew nothing about what was in the product they were selling.  Farmers Markets need your support and continued patronage because we cannot compete on price with the large chains, but we do have several USPs they will never have – we are small; independent ;and committed to bringing the very best of British to you each week.  As I have said before my watch words are ORGANIC-FREE RANGE-LOCAL  So from me to you here is what to expect this year… More lush combos,  more big bash cakes as people really seem to like these; quirky flavours that seem to work together even though on paper they shouldn’t; organic vegtastic options; and above all the same great tastes with absolutely no compromise on quality.

stall groaning with delicious cakey treatsgluten free chocolate fudge heartsa rather large Victoria Sandwich Cake

Nutty but nice…

At this partcular time of year we are blessed with an abundance of fruit, nuts and vegetables to tingle our tastebuds – I’m always on the lookout for more unusual seasonal offerings and recently came across cobnuts or filberts as they are also known.  Cobnuts are a cousin of the delightful hazelnut and are just as versatile.

Cobnuts have been grown in Britain since at least the 16th century. Children played an early version of “conkers” with hazelnuts; the game was called cobnut, and the winning nut the cob.A Kentish cobnut is a type of hazelnut. Most of the hazelnuts grown in Britain are of the named variety Kentish Cob, which was introduced in the early 19th century, but growers are now beginning to plant other varieties too. However, they all taste relatively similar – more similar than different varieties of apple for example.

More cobnuts are grown in Kent than anywhere else, but there are commercial producers in several other countries too.

Cobnuts are marketed fresh, not dried like most other nuts such as walnuts and almonds. Consequently they can usually only be bought when in season, typically from about the middle of August through to October, although stored nuts may be kept until Christmas. At the beginning of the season the husks are green and the kernels particularly juicy. Nuts harvested later on have brown shells and husks, and the full flavour of the kernel has developed.

I wanted to create a recipe that was nutty but also had a sticky toffee element to it.  Enter the cobnut and caramel muffin!

  September is also the time when fresh figs become available – my favourite way to have figs? A fig and frangipane tart….yummy!

We’re on the move!

Exciting news!  I’m delighted to say that as of next week I will be baking in another Old Bakery, this time at W7Emporium – a newly opened deli/cafe/gallery/event space in Boston Rd, Olde Hanwell, Ealing.  I have watched the space develop from a once derelict run down old bakery, to the bang on trend cafe it is today.  The space is very inspiring and I hope to be making more wonderful cakes and sweet treats to  sell at my markets and other outlets.  Do come and pay me a visit - I will be baking on  Thursday and Fridays until midday.

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