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Issue 17 - A spot of home baking

Scotland Magazine Issue 17
November 2004

 

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A spot of home baking

Sue Lawrence relishes in the seductive smells of scones and cakes and delights in the sense of comfort such baking creates

It is 9.55am and the church fair is due to open at 10am. Behind the piles of neatly labelled and priced fruit loaves, pies, Victoria sponges and home-made bread, we – the stall holders – are trying not to panic. For Mrs Mackie has not yet turned up. And despite the cornucopia of cakes and jam piled up on our stall, if Mrs M does not arrive, there will be a great deal of tut-tutting. It has never happened before but it is easy to anticipate the outcry.

For Mrs M makes shortbread and the entire fair wants some. It is not just any shortbread, it is the very best in Christendom. Indeed the queues that form whenever the hoards stampede to our stall, are nothing to do with Mrs Smith’s chocolate cakes or Miss Marshall’s three-fruit marmalade; it is all down to the shortbread.

One minute to go, the doors are flung open and in rushes Mrs Mackie (couldn’t find the back door keys). The relief from the cake and candy stall is almost tangible; it is at times like this we thank the Lord there is no alcohol permitted within the hallowed walls of the kirk, otherwise we might have hit the bottle. But no, all is well with the world. Let the people in.

And this predilection for shortbread – and indeed all aspects of home baking – is not confined to church fairs or school sales. Neither is it confined to Scotland, although ever since I was a child, home baking has played a vital role in my life. And by this I don’t mean grand iced cakes for birthdays or three tiered cake stands piled high with dainty scones and fancy cakes on special occasions. For me baking was part of every day: coming home from school to the rich, warm aroma and tantalising sight of a treacle scone warm from the oven, a Scotch pancake fresh from the girdle or a sultana cake cooling on the rack. It was comforting and delicious. It was also – and still is – the most generous form of cookery. Think about it: when did you last bake a cake all for yourself?

Home-baking involves quality ingredients (unsalted butter, unrefined sugar, unbleached flour, pure vanilla extract, organic eggs) and perhaps a little effort and I do understand that the effort – and time – worries some people, but consider just how long it takes to produce a scone: five minutes to rustle up and 10 minutes to bake.

By baking yourself, you not only avoid commercial additives and preservatives, you can also make it healthier by adding nuts, seeds or dried fruits. It is also hugely therapeutic: knead a batch of dough and the stresses of life disappear. Gently roll out pastry for an apple pie and forget why on earth you started that ridiculous argument with your partner. Baking is indeed the most generous form of cookery.

SCONES
225g/8 oz self-raising flour
1 level tsp baking powder
2 tsp golden caster sugar
70g 21/2 oz butter, diced
150 ml/5 fl oz milk

1. Sift the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt into a bowl then stir in the sugar.
2. Rub in the butter until it resembles bread crumbs then make well in the centre. Slowly add the milk, drawing the flour into the liquid. Mix together gently with a table knife. The dough should be soft but not sticky.
3. Bring the dough together gently with floured hands then tip onto a floured board. Pat out gently to a thickness of about 2.5 cm/1" then cut into scones using a fluted or plain cutter.
4. Place on a lightly buttered baking sheet and bake near the top of a preheated oven (230C/ 450F/Gas 8) for 12 to 15 minutes until risen and golden brown.
5. Remove to a wire rack and eat barely warm.

TEA LOAF
150g/51/2 oz light muscovado sugar
150g/51/2 oz sultanas
150g/51/2 oz currants
125g/41/2 oz butter
2 tsp mixed spice
225g/8 oz self-raising flour

1. Place the first five ingredients in a heavy saucepan with 250 ml/9 fl oz cold water. Heat gently until the butter is melted then remove from the heat and cool.
2. Once cold, sift in the flour and a pinch of salt and combine well.
3. Tip into a butter, base-lined 1 kg/2 lb 4 oz loaf tin, levelling the surface, and bake in a preheated oven (180C/350F/Gas 4) for about an hour or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
4. Remove to a wire rack to cool before turning out. Serve in slices with or without butter.

CHOCOLATE MERINGUE CAKE
115g/4 oz unsalted butter, slightly softened
115g/4 oz golden caster sugar
3 large free-range egg yolks
55g/2 oz cocoa
100g/31/2oz self-raising flour
50 ml/2 fl oz milk

Meringue

3 large free-range egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
140g/5 oz golden caster sugar
Lemon curd cream
2 heaped tbsp lemon curd
200g/7 oz créme fraiche

1. Beat together the butter and sugar either by hand for four to five minutes or for two to three minutes using electric beaters : it should be light and fluffy.
2. Add the yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
3. Then gradually sift in the cocoa and flour and a pinch of salt. Pour in the milk and stir lightly until smooth.
4. Spoon half the mixture into buttered 20cm/8 in sandwich tins, smoothing down.
5 For the meringue, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt and the cream of tartar until soft peaks form then gradually add the sugar and continue to whisk until thick and shiny.
6. Spoon the mixture over both cakes and bake in a preheated oven (170C325F/Gas 3) for 20 minutes until the meringue is golden.
7. Cool on a wire rack in the tins then carefully place one cake, meringue-side up, on a serving plate.
8. Beat together the lemon curd and créme fraiche and spread this over the top of the meringue.
9. Top with the second cake, meringue-side up. Refrigerate or eat within a couple of hours.