Hungry Writer: Florentines

Florentines 2

Looking at the way I write, I find that food plays an important part in all my books. It’s never centre stage, but it often underlines how my characters are feeling, or is symbolic of what is going on in their lives.

In “House of Shadows” my time slip novel Jo Docherty has an issue with food. When anxious or stressed, she cannot eat and at the beginning of the book she is struggling with the aftermath of yet another miscarriage and what feels like a failing marriage. Moving away to her studio in the grounds of Kingsfield House she is haunted by a girl in a blue dress, the girl who she played with as a child, but who lived two centuries before Jo was born.

As the past encroaches and the sense of menace grows, Jo looks for help. Helene and Cecile have an insight into the occult and the danger that lurks in Kingsfield House, giving Jo hope that somehow she will be able to deal with what she must face. It is at this point that Jo bakes her Florentines.

“In the brightness of an early summer morning, Jo weighed out sultanas, raisins and oat flakes. She chopped glace cherries and licked the sweet redness from her fingers. She mixed in plump hazelnuts and nibbed almonds and measured out two tablespoons of butter, which she heated in a pan. Warming a spoon in hot water, she dipped it into the tin of golden syrup and watched as it slid slowly and sensuously to join the melting butter. Yellow became gold, gold became brown. She tipped the warm liquid into the dry ingredients and stirred. Wrinkled fruit glistened, oats took on a glossy sheen, the rich smell of syrup rose to her mouth. The cherries glowed like rubies in amber. Humming tunelessly under her breath, she smoothed the mixture into the baking trays and reached for the phone. She’d try Helene and Cecile again. She’d found their numbers before she’d finally gone to bed in the early hours and if they didn’t answer she’d text. If they replied then she’d ask them round for coffee and cake and ask their advice as to what she should do.”

Of course things do not work out as she planned and it someone else who will be sharing those delicious little biscuits, studded with nuts, dried fruit, embedded in oats and resting on a layer of deep dark chocolate.

My books1It’s a while since I wrote “House of Shadows” and some time since I’ve baked Florentines but here is the recipe.

The perfect Florentines

(Makes 18)

45g butter

60g demerara sugar

60g candied peel, chopped

45g dried cranberries or sour cherries, roughly chopped

45g soft dried figs, roughly chopped

20g pistachio kernels, roughly chopped

60g blanched almonds, cut into slivers

15g plain flour

Pinch of salt

1 tbsp double cream

200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark four and line two baking trays with lightly greased parchment paper.

Melt the butter and sugar together in a pan over a medium heat until combined. Put the fruit and nuts in a bowl, sift over the flour and toss together until the flour is evenly distributed.

Take the pan off the heat and stir in the salt and cream, then stir into the fruit and nuts. Dollop rounded teaspoons of the mixture on to the baking trays and flatten out as much as possible without leaving holes, making sure they are well spaced out on the trays.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes until golden brown all over, then leave to cool on the tray.

When cool, melt half the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, making sure it doesn’t touch the water. Stir occasionally until liquid.

Carefully dip the underside of each florentine in the chocolate and leave to cool and set, then repeat. If you want to be really authentic, you can use a fork to make a wavy pattern in the setting chocolate at this point. Leave to harden completely before serving or storing in an air-tight box.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Hungry Writer Bakes Scones

Scones and Sickie Day

Yesterday was National Sickie Day. The first Monday in February is the day when people are most likely to phone in sick, which must have been why I felt so totally disinclined to do anything much.

A grey sort of misery had descended. A misery without any cause, which is sometime the hardest to dispel. I knew that if I did something: started on my editing tasks, went for a brisk walk, hoovered the living room carpet, I would feel better. But hey it was National Sickie Day and I didn’t do any of those things. I didn’t even go back to bed and hide my head under the duvet.

Instead I just mooched along, a little editing here, a bit of social media there and an evening in front of the TV.

This morning, feeling better, I was seized by an overwhelming desire to bake scones. This is my default position when in need of comfort food. There is something so soothing about the weighing of ingredients, the rubbing in of the butter, the swirling in of the egg and milk mix, the gentle kneading, then mixing in the sultans. And then there is the cutting out of the round shapes and watching as the scones rise golden and brown in the oven.

What is especially joyful is that I’ve only recently mastered the art. My first attempt resulted in something akin to rock cakes and I didn’t try again for years. Then I came across Mary Berry’s recipe.

https://www.saga.co.uk/magazine/food/recipes/baking/scones/mary-berry-fruit-scones

She said it was fool proof and it is.

Fortified by warm scones, butter and raspberry jam, I returned to my desk full of energy and ideas.

The Hungry Writer Eats Coffee and Walnut Cake

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Last week I went to the Quarter in Hanley for coffee and cake. This was a thank you from friend and fellow writer #Elisia Green for my first edit of her short story collection “13”.

The Quarter

The Quarter was the perfect choice. It’s different, a bit quirky and holds all sorts of arts events, from live music to writing workshops.

 

 

It has a mention in Mel Sherratt’s latest bestseller “Hush Hush”, so it’s just the right place for a pair of writers..

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And a reader too as Elisia’s nine-year old daughter came too. Xanthe is reading and enjoying “City of Secrets” and wanted to meet the author!City of

It was great to catch up and the cake was delicious. My choice was coffee and walnut –a particular treat. We never have it at home as Mike doesn’t like walnuts. Like all favourite foods there is more to this cake than just the taste. There are memories too. Coffee and walnut cake was the one my mother used to bake for our birthdays. At first, she would follow the traditional Polish recipe which produced a dense very moist and heavy cake. After a while however she modified this so that there was a bottom layer of walnut cake, followed by a layer of coffee butter cream then a layer of sponge cake which was topped by more butter cream and decorated with walnut halves.

I haven’t eaten that cake for years, but even the thought of it bring back memories of birthday parties, a pink seersucker party dress, which my grandmother had made, blowing out the candles and playing party games like pass the parcel, blind man’s bluff and postman’s knock.

My memories of childhood are particularly vivid at the moment as I am working on Mum’s memoirs and as I read what I’ve transcribed from the tapes my sister-in-law made, more and more incidents come to mind. Mostly they are stories Mum told us about her journey from Poland to the UK in WW2, but some are incidents from my childhood, things I remember about being brought up in Bristol.

As for the cake, if I was going to bake it then this would be the recipe I’d use, from Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from Heart and Home. Need I say more, this cake was also one from her childhood! https://www.nigella.com/recipes/coffee-and-walnut-layer-cake

The Hungry Writer Makes Marzipan Muffins

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Marzipan, I recently discovered, is like Marmite−either you love it, or you hate it. There is nothing in between. I’m one of those people who love it. As far as I’m concerned you can leave the Christmas cake un-iced so long as there is a layer of marzipan on the top, I’m happy.

Luckily Mike feels the same. It’s traditional in our house that he has a box of marzipan fruits in his stocking and he will eat them before getting up. I’m allowed one piece, which is more than enough for me at that time of day.

Yesterday was his birthday so I baked a dozen marzipan muffins, only two of which are in the photo because the others got eaten, before I got round to taking pictures. Muffins never last long in our house. Some we eat and some we share and for me this is one of the best things about baking.

sconesCake is for sharing. It’s about going round to the neighbours with a plate of scones straight out of the oven, or having friends round for coffee and cake. It’s making a large cake to take to a party, or dozens of cupcakes for a book launch.

 

 

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For me cake and writing have a lot in common. Writing a book, whether for children or adults, is about sharing a story you want to tell.

PS If marzipan muffins make your mouth water the recipe is simple: basic muffin mix plus tsp of almond extract and 175g marzipan, divided into 12 pieces. Put half the mix in the muffin cases then a layer of marzipan to be followed by the rest of mix.