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 Makes Marzipan Muffins

Two Muffins.JPG

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.

 

Dragons in my Life

Four small dragons4

My life with Dragons

Ever since I can remember there have been dragons in my life. I don’t know how, I was introduced to these creatures, but there was a time when I was pretty sure that there was a dragon living under my bed. Roostance was the hero of the stories I used to tell my sister, Anuk, at night. He was a small, but not fierce, fiery dragon who belonged to a princess and together they had all sorts of adventures. After a while Anuk was allowed to have her own dragon too, a minor character and much more docile creature called Silverbell.

Other dragons came into other stories and when I was a student there was a brief moment when I contemplated doing an MA on dragons in literature, but life took a different turn and it wasn’t until I wrote the “Dragonfire” books that I returned to the subject.

In the meantime there are dragons in my house and in my garden.Dragons in back bedroom 1

They congregate on the shelves in the back bedroom, sit on my desk, on the shelves in the dining room and one sleeps, nose tucked into tail beside the pond. In my office there is a picture of a red dragon, coloured in and cut out by my granddaughter. There’s one drawn by my son when he was little on the wall. I have a collection of dragon jewellery and friends share posts with me on Facebook and Twitter.

When I was teaching, one of my most successful lessons was when the class wrote their own Dragonology− a description and history of their own beast, a piece of factual writing which covered one of the criteria of the National Curriculum.

There is also a dragon who dances to the Maple Leaf Rag in my play “The Ice Queen.”

All in all it is not surprising that although they don’t play a main part, there are dragons lurking on the roofs of the “City of Secrets”.Dragons and COS2

 

‘Gabriel stroked the little dragon’s metal scales. “Gargoyles are lazy. It’s well known.”

“Not like dragons.” The creature sat up and looked at Gabriel with its lizard eyes.

“Dragons are different,” he agreed.

“Yesss,” the dragon almost purred with satisfaction. “We’re fierce and we’re brave and we like fire and blood.”’

Which kind of says it all.

On the other hand, there are different sorts of dragons….