Thursday, 29 August 2013

Whimsy is Radical!

Dear Readers, 
It has often been said that Whimsy is Radical. 
Well, maybe it hasn't *often* been said, or possibly even said by anyone other than me, but in this post I intend to demonstrate the radicalisation of Whimsy! 
A coupe of weeks ago, I received an email from Luke at THE RADICAL TEA TOWEL COMPANY explaining that he would like to give me a RADICAL TEA TOWEL. Those regular readers amongst you will be aware that I am a big fan of tea towels, and that indeed Sally and Dave from TO DRY FOR have long been Friends of Whimsy. Anyway, I checked out their website and thought some of the RADICAL tea towels were mighty fine. These are my favourites: 
I'm not 100% sure how Emmeline  would feel about having her face on the washing up, but whatever spreads the message and all... (I got my form to write her name in capital letters in their exercise books on International Women's Day and quizzed them on her name every day for a week. I felt a bit bad at the variations in spelling, but at least they know Ms Pankhurst's name and what she did.) 
ANYWAY, I think THE RADICAL TEA TOWEL COMPANY are a great company and they have an excellent range of tea towels. I was THRILLED when I received my tea towel in the post, and I have to say it really got me thinking. Not only does it have a quotation from 'He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven' by Yeats (which has the doubly fantastic versatility of rendering it a classroom teaching aid), but it also made me sit up and question the carbon footprint implications of baking. 
I've been ruminating on this ever since and it's made me think about lots of issues arising from baking. I know that a vegan cake would have a lower carbon footprint, but then what about all the extra ingredients that make up for the dairy and what about the packaging? If you use hyper-local ingredients, a low cooking temperature, minimum dairy and make a cake that will last for a long time does that make it vaguely equivalent to a dairy free cake, or is it just as bad? Clearly, the imaginary vegan cake with all produce bought locally would be the best option, but this isn't a vegan baking blog, so I've tried to come up with something that has a low carbon footprint but still contains some (minimum) dairy products. Also, I suppose you could quite easily make this recipe vegan by replacing the butter with vegan margarine and the milk with almond milk and you could try leaving out the egg and see what happened. BUT if I'd have done that I would have had to buy almond milk and vegan margarine (both in their packaging) and surely the purchase of those products rather than the use of what I already had would have added to the carbon footprint of this particular baking adventure? 
As blueberries are in season at the moment, I thought I would make them my starting point. If you use berries that are in season and buy them from the Farmer's Market, then there is hardly any packaging and the produce has come directly from A to B so there is less carbon involved in the delivery of the product. This is our local London Farmers' Market in Whamps:
Goes without saying you should be walking to the Farmers' Market. Also, whilst there purchase organic eggs directly off the farmer along with some milk. Again, there is less packaging, less transport and therefore less carbon if you buy directly from the farmer. I found this article: 'Where's the impact of a home-baked Cake?' really interesting about the carbon intensivity of eggs when looking into all these issues. For the rest of the ingredients (150g plain flour, 125g fairtrade caster sugar, 2 teaspoons corn flour, 100g butter, half a teaspoon baking powder, one egg, 100g light brown sugar, 50g almonds, 50ml milk, 100g flaked almonds - recipe grace a Dan Lepard in the Guardian) I tried to use what I had in the cupboard to avoid more purchasing and therefore more carbon footprint creating, and I had recently purchased organic almonds from our local healthfood store, Peppercorns
hence the almond content in this recipe. I can't find any online data about the carbon footprint of almonds and whilst I would imagine it's quite high if you buy them from an independent shop at least there will be less delivery, packing and transport implications. Also, I already had them so it made sense to use them rather than waste them... 
Anyway, for the recipe: start off by making a blueberry jam - put the blueberries, 100ml water, two teaspoons cornflour and 50g caster sugar into a pan and gently heat until the mixture thickens, looks like goo and has split oozing blueberries in it.
 This could be used by itself as either a jam or a hot blueberry sauce to go with pancakes or drop scones - YUM. If you just made this then it would be a v low carbon footprint, but not a cake. So..., make the base for the bars. Stir the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and remaining fair trade sugar together in a bowl and then rub in the butter. (Note the low quantity of butter in this recipe to keep the footprint minimal.)
Rub in til it resembles breadcrumbs - as there are almonds in the mix, this is a very rich, crumbly base. Beat the egg and sort of stir it into the mix to create the dough/pastry for the base. It's quite a wet base.
Pat it into your tin (I used a brownie tin - Dan Lepard says to use a 20x20 cake tin but mine worked fine.)
The third layer - the topping - is made by simmering the milk, honey, brown sugar and almonds together in a pan.
 It takes merely seconds to heat it through until it is a sticky, slightly thick topping that looks like this:
Then the fun part comes with assembling the layers! Put the blueberry jam/compote on top of the base and the sticky almonds on top of the jam.
Et voila! Bake in the oven for 35 mins (relatively short baking time) at 160 degrees (relatively low oven temp), take out and leave to cool completely before cutting up. The almonds should be golden and the jam will be bubbling up slightly over the edges if it's ready.
Then for the fun part: STYLING YOUR BAKE THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF MINI-FLAGS! Long time Readers will know of my love for the mini-flag. Imagine the fun I had making these sloganistic ones:
FYI there isn't a spelling mistake in the above flag, it's supposed to be the anarchy sign on the A which, admittedly, is an extremely teenage thing to have done but there we go. (I had to explain this to my brother in law who thought I'd tried to cover up a spelling mistake, so I'm explaining it to you, Dear Reader, in case you too are labouring under this misapprehension. Incidentally, b to the l also informed me as I was doing this RADICAL BAKING photo shoot late last night that the truly lowest carbon footprint cake may well be PETITS FOURS as they were baked in the residual heat of 18th century cooling ovens. Although the carbon footprint implication of time travel is probably quite high.)
 Whimsy DOES love Radical Tea Towels, Dear Reader. Do you?
 My question to you: DOES this constitute as a 'low carbon cake'? Answers on a post card please...
And thus it ends. Many thank to Luke from THE RADICAL TEA TOWEL COMPANY  without whom this particular blog post would have never come about. It really has made me think. And I'm not sure what to do about the whole thing. But I do suggest you check out this blog: Charlie Bit My Tofu for interesting and lively ruminations on vegan food.
Love from Radical Whimsy! x

Friday, 16 August 2013

The Elephant House

Dear Readers, 
I am writing this post LIVE through the medium of Web 2.0 and modern technology aboard the East Coast train service on my way back from Edinburgh - that finest of Scottish cities - where I have been enjoying the festival with SIBF and had the pleasure of bumping into my FSAF who can be seen in THIS play til the end of August. 
I adore Edinburgh and was thrilled to discover there are more amazing cafes there than ever before, but seeing as we were only in town for TWENTY-NINE hours - yes - TWENTY-NINE - I thought I would write to you about my ultimate fail safe Edinburgh cafe - The Elephant House
I first set foot in this cafe in the summer of 1998 when I was performing in the festival. It was a sort of hallowed ground for me - a secret, warm, dry spot away from the exhaustion of the twisting cobbled roads and underways. (It was very wet throughout the whole of that August, and I only had one pair of shoes with me that I was wearing for both performance and normal life. My feet suffered, Dear Reader, oh how they suffered!) Turns out 'twas also a special place for JK Rowling who wrote most of Harry Potter there. 
As the name might suggest, The Elephant House is filled with elephants. I don't know why, I've never asked, nor do I particularly wish to know. Normally, I might find that type of interior decor irritating, but here it is perfect.
This is a completely unpretentious cafe. It doesn't use an 'aeropress' for your coffee, it doesn't sell amazing organic cakes, but it also doesn't matter. This is the place to come after a hard day on the fringe. Order a cafetiere for two and a piece of hot chocolate fudge cake with vanilla ice cream.
This is old-skool chocolate fudge cake. Squishy, chewy, thick and gooey. The vanilla ice cream tastes like something you used to have round your best friend's house for a treat on a Saturday afternoon and when it's combined with a rainy, cold Edinburgh evening it is heavenly.
What's more, The Elephant House epitomises that most wonderfully dazzling - almost impossible - dizzying sense of Geography that comes form spending any amount of time in Edinburgh, even TWENTY-NINE hours: look out of one window and you'll see a castle on a hill, look out of another and you'll see Arthur's Seat. The whole city is straight out of a fantasy landscape.
So whilst you may well find a more modern / hipster vibe in some of Edinburgh's other coffee shops (I really wanted to go into the coffee shop inside Avalanche records on the Grassmarket, but what with our TWENTY-NINE hours only we didn't have time) if you're looking for something oddly comforting and nostalgic (at least through my eyes anyway) then The Elephant House it is. 

And if you're looking for something completely different, why not go to the caff down the road and have a deep fried mars bar instead? 
Silver Whimsy x

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

'Yes! We have no bananas.' 'No, actually we have *literally* hundreds of bananas.'

Dear Readers,
As someone who actually *dislikes* bananas and would never dream of eating one raw (is it the phallic implication or just the texture or both?), I seem to find myself in the perplexing position of *always* having some bananas, and, what's more, they always seem to be on the cusp of liquidification. Literally. (The  dictionary-definition-minded reader will now be wondering which definition I mean of 'literally' here - see THIS ARTICLE for more information.) 

I have already brought you one 'what to do with over-ripe bananas' recipe, but in honesty it was a bit of a faff to make, so this is a far simpler option and, indeed, one I made this morning in no time at all! 

Ingredients: 175g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
125g unsalted butter melted
150g sugar (whatever you have in works - granulated is fine for this recipe) 
2 large free range eggs
However many ripe bananas you are trying to get rid of mashed up (normally 3/4 is the right amount)
Vanilla extract
100g / however much dark chocolate you have cut into small chips 
First things first: Line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper and melt the butter in a saucepan. One of the easiest things about this recipe is that it only involves stirring, so you don't have to worry about your butter being straight from the fridge or anything like that because you're melting it anyway. 
Pour the melted butter on top of the sugar and beat together. 
Then beat in the eggs one by one. The mixture will thicken slightly and look something like this: 
 Then add the mashed bananas, dash or two of vanilla extract and stir it all together.
Mix the flour, baking powder and bicarb together very thoroughly - WARNING: if you don't mix in the baking powder and bicarb properly you might end up with a soapy flavour towards the bottom of the cake which is never a good thing - and then stir into the bowl about a third at a time. Stir it in well. 
The mixture will be pale and fairly thick but still thoroughly pourable. It's a very different kind of mix to a sponge cake - this is more like a batter - so don't expect it to be anything other than pourable. 
Stir your chocolate chips into the mix...
Et voila! Pour/scrape/splodge into the loaf tin and the cake is ready to go into the oven at 170 degrees for about an hour (fan assisted - prob an hour and a quarter conventional) - keep checking in the last 5/10 minutes by inserting a skewer. If it comes out clean the cake is ready.
I think you're supposed to leave it to cool before cutting it, but I prefer banana loaf hot from the oven and have convinced myself that it is a great breakfast substitute as it has fruit in it. (Ahem.)
I could never drink a glass of milk, but I had fun styling the cake for this photo with a little glass of milk for a pleasingly retro feel. 
Until the next time,
Silver Whimsy x

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Victoria Sponge Drops

Dear Readers,

Q: What do you do when you feel like eating a Victoria Sponge, but you don't want to make an entire cake / haven't got quite enough ingredients in the house?
A: Make Victoria Sponge Drops!

It is true that until yesterday I thought I had invented this delicacy myself. Yesterday, however, I found myself BROWSING THE LAKELAND WEBSITE. I know. Or rather, I don't know either. Is this something that suddenly happens to you? One day you're blogging about secret-book-launches in trendy nightspots, the next you're browsing the tupperware section of a 1970s kitchenware website. But I digress. On the front page of the website I was astonished/dismayed to see my Victoria Sponge Drops! Well, not mine (mine aren't uniformly shaped) but a cake coming from the same strand of imagination-based synaptic pathway. (Scientists, forgive me if that is an incorrect term.)

Anyway, it turns out I can't claim to have invented them, but I can share the making method with you.

Bake a batch of plain vanilla fairy cakes. Find the recipe here: Silver Whimsy's Fairy Cakes
Whip up some double cream with some vanilla bean paste and a tablespoon of sieved icing sugar to add depth of flavour and beautiful vanilla bean flecks. WHIPPING TIP: Always whip cream in a metal bowl and place both bowl and balloon whisk in the fridge a couple of hours before you start whisking it up to make it easier to whip. 
Make sure you don't over-whip your cream. You are looking for something pillowy that softly drops off the spoon rather than something stiff and structured.  
Take one of your cakes and cut it in half with a sharp knife. 
Place a teaspoon of raspberry jam on to the bottom half of the cake and spread it out. Add a squished raspberry on top of this. (OK, I admit, this ain't exactly the baking equivalent of rocket science, but it does make for a very tasty morsel!) 
 Dollop some of your whipped cream on top and spread/swirl out slightly.
Replace the top and liberally sprinkle with icing sugar to create a perfect mouthful of deliciousness. 
These Victoria Sponge Drops are truly perfection on a plate. Here you can see the SIBF tucking in. Serving suggestion = with or without MacBook depending on how you're feeling.

Silver Whimsy x

Monday, 12 August 2013

'Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore' and Battenberg!

Dear Readers, 
The five day baking bonanza is over, and yet I find myself ineluctably drawn to tell you about the greatest combination of cake and books I have encountered to date... 
...but before this combination can be revealed I have to tell you a story - a story that travels in parallel lines between the World of the Bookshop and the World of Web 2.0.

On a recent visit to Bath to see the two bestest, coolest and most knowledgeable residents of the town made famous by spas and Austen, the SIBF and I were taken to Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights (please - click on the link and discover one of the best bookshop websites EVER). Our hosts described the shop as 'if you haven't got reason enough to fall in love with / move to Bath yet, then this bookshop will make you do so'. The SIBF and I had already been wooed by the architecture, endless cafes and super-cool indie boutiques (not least the proximity of our hosts) but were double-wooed on entry to Mr B's Emporium. I'm not going to try and describe this bookshop, just get on a train and go and visit Bath. Books line the walls floor to ceiling, but in a completely clean and pristine way. The ceilings are quite low and the invitation to sit in armchairs and browse to your heart's desire awaits you at every corner. There are nooks and crannies and endless places to hide. But also (and this is where the story begins) there is (naturellement) a staff recommends shelf. 'Twas on this shelf that I first set eyes upon 'Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore'. 

Whilst the adage goes 'don't judge a book by...' I'm afraid I frequently do, and I was drawn to 'Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore' by the geometric design, retro colour-scheme and the similarity the title held to the book shop in which I browsed. No sooner had I picked it up than one of the booksellers approached me - he had placed it on the staff recommends shelf! Before I could say 'Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights,' I had purchased aforementioned book. And that, Dear Readers, is where the story begins... 
I began reading the book on the train on the way home. After the first paragraph I was hooked. I couldn't put the magical book down! 'Twas the book I needed - a book about the bookshop of my dreams! Now, I don't want to give anything away about the plot because that would be wrong on so many levels, but the short review in the picture above tells you what I liked about it without giving too much away. About halfway through, I had to start googling (when you read the book you'll understand) and google took me on a journey to the very heart of Mr Penumbra - to the epicentre of The Society of the Unbroken Spine. What ensued can only be described as an Alice-esque adventure into the bookstore! Are you searching for some self-referential post-modernity? Then look no further and step this way! 

My communication with Mr Penumbra (oh yes - Mr Penumbra himself replied to my emails) culminated in myself and the SIBF attending a sort-of-secret book launch in the hip young thang's London destination of choice - 'Drink Shop Do'. Upon arrival (after delivering the secret door code, natch) we entered the world of Mr Penumbra and his clerks - his chief London clerk Sara was hosting the event and made us feel incredibly welcome! Reviews of the book were written on XL post-its and stuck on the wall (check out the amazing sharpie picture from a mystery artist in a bow tie with a briefcase who was also an attendee), bookmarks were there for the taking along with badges...
...and as the night progressed there were geek singers in ornamental sweaters, a singer who wrote songs devoted to all things superhero/horror, a ukulele player in a blue wig and a performance poet who delivered an extensive and hilarious ode to grammar with a heavy emphasis on parentheses! 

However, the event culminated in - and here the Reader currently thinking 'but how does this fit in with cake?' will find their answer - the arrival of a geometrically fitting bright blue and yellow Battenberg! 
The ceremonial cutting of the cake began and all attending were given a piece of the luridly-coloured, geometrical, squidgy cake. I do believe rather a lot of food colouring had been added to create such a bright blue (!) but the texture of the sponge was surprisingly pleasant given the extremity of the addition. 
Some pink popping candy had been scattered over the top of the marzipan icing to create a pleasingly child-like crackle on the tongue and the cake was served on vintage china. On receiving the cake, the SIBF jubilantly cried 'Now you've got an angle for your blog' and indeed he was right! Patisserie + Penumbra = PERFECTION.
Just when I was convinced the night could not get any better, Robin Sloan himself - San Franciscan author of 'Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore' - made a post-post-modern appearance at his own book's secret party through the medium of SKYPE! I promised I wouldn't give any of the plot away but, without doing that, I will say that once you have read the book you will truly understand just how extraordinarily brilliantly self-reflexive the act of bringing Robin Sloan to his own party via laptop truly was...
All that remains to be said is: STOP READING THIS AND START READING 'Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore'! And then let me know as soon as you're done so that we can talk about it!
Festina Lente,
Silver Whimsy x

PS don't buy it from the website-that-shall-not-be-named - go to your local indie bookshop instead. Some of my London favourites (North London mostly - sorry) are listed below with links:
West End Lane Books
London Review of Books Bookshop
Clerkenwell Tales