Weekend food with Darina Allen

VICKIE and Tristan lived in a chic little mews house in Central London, but when they inherited a beautiful thatched cottage with an Aga beside a fishing cove they decided to move, lock, stock and buggy to Cornwall with toddler Tonsley and baby Briar.

Before starting a family, Vickie was a full-time counsellor, her husband Tristan is a marine biologist and oyster farmer.

So how did they adjust to a quiet rural life in the country?

Two-and-half-year-old Tonsley loves cooking, Vickie loves baking and desperately wanted to get to grips with the Aga — baking in the Aga is quite a different skill!

There was lots of trial and error, fun and tears, tempting treats but no matter how delicious, there are only so many cakes you can eat!

Their house is just above the little fishing cove of Penberth close to the coastal path which attracts lots and lots of walkers, even on week days.

Traditionally the family, like many in Cornwall, had a roadside stall with an ‘honesty box’ where they sold bunches of choice daffodils and lilies in season.

Vickie decided to cover the stall with a pretty cloth; a posy of flowers and laid out a plate of brownies priced around £1 each — they were snapped up.

Next she tried a whole cake and left out a knife so walkers could cut themselves a slice. To her surprise, people normally cut smaller slices than she would have offered and there was often more money in the ‘honesty box’ than she expected, plus an occasional little note of delight and appreciation.

When something doesn’t quite turn out according to plan Vickie writes a note and shares the story of the ‘wonky cake’ or brownie and her growing fan club of locals and walkers love it and forgive the imperfections.

The stall is over two miles from the nearest local shop and much further from a café so it is, as one delighted walker wrote ‘like a mirage in the desert’.

Vickie has added homemade lemonade to her offering, what a lovely idea, and one that can easily be replicated in many rural and coastal areas in Ireland to delight visitors and provide a bit of ‘pin’ money for stay-at-home mums.

Here are some of the suggestions.

Coffee Cake with Toasted Hazelnuts

Makes two cakes, each serving eight

This is a splendid recipe for an old-fashioned coffee cake. Everyone loves it.

I’m a real purist about using extract rather than essence in the case of vanilla, but in this cake, I prefer coffee essence (which is actually mostly chicory) to real coffee.

225g (8oz) soft butter

225g (8oz) caster sugar

4 organic eggs

225g (8oz) plain white flour, preferably unbleached

1 tsp baking powder

Scant 2 tbsp Irel or Camp coffee essence

Coffee Butter Cream

150g (6oz) butter

330g (12oz) icing sugar, sieved

3–6 tsp Irel or Camp coffee essence

To Decorate

Toasted hazelnuts or walnut halves

2 x 20cm (8in) round sandwich tins

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/ gas mark 4.

Line the base of the tins with circles of greaseproof or silicone paper.

Brush the bottom and sides with melted butter and dust lightly with flour.

Beat the soft butter with a wooden spoon, add the caster sugar and whisk until pale in colour and light in texture.

Whisk the eggs. Add to the mixture, bit by bit, whisking well between each addition.

Sieve the flour with the baking powder and stir gently into the cake mixture.

Finally, add in the coffee essence and mix thoroughly.

Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared sandwich tins and bake for 30 minutes.

When the cakes are cooked, the centre will be firm and springy and the edges will have shrunk from the sides of the tins.

Leave to rest in the tins for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

Remove the greaseproof paper from the base, and then flip over so the top of the cakes don’t get marked by the wire rack.

Leave the cakes to cool on the wire rack.

To make the coffee butter cream, whisk the butter with the sieved icing sugar and add the coffee essence.

Continue to whisk until light and fluffy.

When cold, divide the coffee butter cream evenly and ice the top and sides of the cake, pipe with a few rosettes of coffee butter cream around and on top of each cake.

Decorate with the toasted hazelnuts or walnut halves.

Hazelnut Chocolate Brownies

Makes 9 generous brownies

275g (10oz) chocolate

275g (10oz) butter

5 organic eggs

350g (12oz) granulated sugar

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

110g (4oz) chopped hazelnuts

Cocoa powder, for dusting

Deep tin 30 x 20 x 5cm (12 x 8 x 2in)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Line the tin with silicone paper.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a Pyrex bowl over hot, but not simmering, water.

Whisk the eggs and sugar until the mixture becomes a light mousse.

Gradually add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg mousse.

Fold the flour into this mixture and add the chopped hazelnuts.

Spoon into the prepared tin, smooth the surface and cook in the preheated oven for 35–40 minutes.

When set, turn out by flipping the tin carefully.

Peel off the silicone paper.

Place another tray on top of the brownies to turn them right-way-up.

Cut into squares, dust with cocoa and serve.

Vickie Hugh-Jones’s Passion Cake

Serves 8 — 10

Cooking time: 65 minutes approx.

200g/8oz grated carrot

50g/2oz chopped walnuts

2 ripe bananas, mashed

200g/8oz light muscovado sugar

3 eggs

250g/10oz plain flour, sifted

1 level tsp salt

1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 level tsp baking powder

180ml/6 fl.oz vegetable oil

Topping

250g/10oz mascarpone

200g/8oz cream cheese

200g/8oz sifted icing sugar

pulp of one passion fruit, strained to separate seeds (zest of one orange can be used alternatively)

23cm/9inch round cake tin

Preheat oven to 180C/Gas 4/350F. Place walnuts and mashed banana in a bowl.

Add sugar and eggs. Sieve flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder into the bowl.

Add oil and mix all the ingredients together.

Finally add the carrots and combine into the mixture.

Place the mixture into a greased and lined 23cm/9” cake tin and place in the centre of the pre-heated oven and cook for 65 minutes or until golden brown and cooked in the middle.

Turn onto a cooling rack.

Topping

Put the icing sugar, mascarpone and cream cheese into a bowl and mix until soft and creamy.

Gradually beat in enough passion fruit (or orange zest) so that the mixture continues to hold its texture.

When the cake is cool, spread the mixture over the top. A rough finish will look appropriate.

Homemade Lemonade and Variations

If you keep some chilled ‘stock syrup’ made up in your fridge, homemade lemonade is simple to make. These contain no preservatives so they should be served within a few hours of being made.

Stock Syrup

Makes 825ml (28fl ozs)

450g (1 lb) sugar

600ml (1 pint) water

To make the stock syrup: Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Boil for two minutes then allow it to cool. Store in the fridge until needed.

Homemade Lemonade

Best drunk on the day it is made.

Serves 10-12

6 lemons

350ml (12fl oz) approx syrup

1.4L (2 1/2 pint) approx still or sparkling water

Lots of ice

Garnish

Sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm

Juice the lemons and mix with the stock syrup, add water to taste. Add ice, garnish with sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm and serve.

Orange and Lemonade

4 lemons

2 orange

350ml (12fl oz) approx syrup

1.4l (2 1/2 pints) approx water

Garnish

Sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm

Juice the fruit and mix with the stock syrup, add water to taste. Add ice, garnish with sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm and serve.

Limeade

5 limes

750ml (1 1/4 pint) water

300ml (10fl oz) stock syrup

Ice cubes

Garnish

Sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm

Make and serve as above. Add more water if necessary.

Hot tips

Fresh blackcurrants are difficult to get.

There are only six commercial growers in Ireland (all in Wexford) who export, so I was delighted to hear Des Jeffares from Ballykelly Farms, Wexford, will now sell direct so you can stock up your freezer for the winter. Des is a member of Good Food Ireland: www.goodfoodireland.ie/ballykelly — or contact him directly 087-2867455.

Irish blueberries will be in the shops until early September.

John Seager at Derryvilla Farms, Portarlington, sells blueberries: info@derryvillablueberries.com, 057-8642882.

Claire Phelan from Rose Cottage Fruit Farm, Co Laois sells blueberries at Mahon Point on Thursdays, Midleton and Limerick Milk Market on Saturdays, and directly from their farm. Contact Claire on 087-2700121.

Stop the Food Waste Campaign at the EPA has done research that proves that 50% of the lettuce we buy ends up in the bin.

So, “make sure to take the lettuce out of the bag when you buy it and wash it as soon as possible.

Spin in a salad spinner and store in the fridge still in the spinner.

Leave a small amount of water in the bottom of the spinner and top up if needed.”

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