I spent a lot of time wondering over the years why schools ask parents to provide cakes and so on for fetes, considering that they often sell them for less than the cost of the ingredients. My reasoning went like this. If the onus falls on women to bake things, even though many of them are in full time work, is it not more sensible just to ask for donations from busy people and cut out the extra workload? I then realised that an alternative model of accountancy was at work here, a kind of social accountancy rather than financial. By getting parents involved in making things and thinking about the school, and coming along to the fete to join in with the communal side of things, it builds a better sense of co-operation and community amongst the families and teachers involved. Here are some standard recipes and ideas for packaging so that you can join in as well.
- 8 oz butter or vegetable spread
- 8 oz caster sugar
- 4 beaten eggs
- 8 oz self-raising flour
- 2 spoons jam (preferably home made)
Experienced sponge makers will realise this is twice the usual quantity of ingredients. This is because a lot of us find it hard to get sponger cakes to rise, and if you use double the quantity it gives the impression of success! The technique goes like this. Line two 7” (18cm) non-stick sponge tins with baking parchments to give a perfect result. (You can also use a deeper tin and cut the cake horizontally later on). Cream together the butter/spread and sugar, beating it with a wooden spoon until it is light and fluffy. Now you need to be extremely patient for the next stage. Add the beaten egg little by little, mixing it in carefully between pourings, so the egg is incorporated into the mixture. If you rush this process, it will curdle, but do not fear, because adding a tablespoon full of flour will put that right. You will lose some of the lightness in the process though, which is the trade-off. When you’ve managed to incorporate all the egg, fold in the flour very carefully using a metal spoon, until you’ve got a proper cake mixture. Now pour into your baking tin(s) and cook for 25-30 minutes at about 160C until the sponge is risen and golden brown. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR TO CHECK THEM HALF WAY THROUGH OR IT WILL SINK IN THE MIDDLE! When it’s ready, the top of the cake should spring back when you press it. (If it has risen up like the peak of the Matterhorn with a crack in it, your oven was too hot, by the way). It should also have shrunk away from the edges of the tin ever so slightly. Take it out and allow it to cool for a few minutes before turning it out on a baking rack. When it’s cool, you can do any of the following exciting things to it.
- Sandwich the two halves together with some jam, preferably home made.
- To make it even more indulgent, make buttercream icing from beating together equal parts of butter and caster sugar, and spread that in the middle as well to complement the jam. Or you could use whipped cream instead of buttercream.
- Sprinkle with icing sugar. Do this through a paper doily for an artistic effect.
- Tie a colourful ribbon around it.
- You can turn it into a birthday cake by rolling out a slab of ready made white icing, cutting out a circle slightly smaller than the circumference of the top, securing it with jam, and writing on it with special writing icing tubes. You’ll need candles as well, of course.
This mix will also make a couple of dozen fairy cakes in paper cases. Vary the mixture by:
- Replacing 1-2 oz of the flour with cocoa or a few spoons of melted chocolate for a chocolate sponge cake
- Adding 4 oz glace cherries tossed in flour (so they don’t sink to the bottom) for a cherry cake
- Adding 4 oz sultanas tossed in flour for a sultana cake
- Pouring the sponge mixture over sliced apples for apple cake. You can also add some cinnamon to the mixture to complement the fruit.
Pack little cakes, biscuits and scones in clear cellophane bags with seasonal ribbon around the top for a good effect – red or tartan for Christmas, yellow for Easter and green or raffia for summer. Children also like buying mixed bags of little fairy cakes, biscuits and sweets for 50p, as I found out recently at a cub scout fete.
Image: Keattikorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
- 2 lbs cubed lamb or mutton
- 1 pint lamb or beef stock (or use a stock cube)
½ diced swede
- 1 lb old potatoes, mashed with a little butter and milk
- 1 lb minced lamb
- 3 large onions
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb carrots
- 2 lbs potatoes
- Tin of chopped tomatoes
- 3 tsp curry powder
- 2 fl oz (50ml) yoghurt
- 1 oz plain flour
- Bay leaf
- Handful chopped herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, or oregano.
Technique and organisation:
STEP 1 – Scouse
Finely chop a large onion and fry in a little sunflower oil until transparent. Add 1 lb of cubed lamb or mutton and brown the meat. Pour on 1 pint lamb or beef stock and add a handful of chopped herbs and a bay leaf. Add 1 lb sliced carrots, ½ diced swede, and 3 peeled and cubed potatoes. Simmer for about an hour, until it starts to thicken. Then transfer to a baking dish and top with the remaining potatoes, sliced and arranged attractively. Bake in a hot oven until the top is browned.
STEP 2 – Lamb curry
Brown 1lb lamb cubes in a large frying pan. Add a chopped onion and some crushed garlic, and cook until the onion is soft and translucent. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes and some curry powder, and cook gently over a low heat until the lamb is soft and tender (30-60 minutes). Finally take off the heat, allow to cool for a moment and then stir in the yoghurt. Serve with rice or naan bread.
STEP 3 – Shepherd’s Pie
Fry a chopped onion in a frying pan, and brown 1 lb lamb mince. Stir in 1 oz plain flour and cook until thickened. Add a dash of Worcestershire sauce if you like, and/or a few gravy granules. Transfer the mince to a baking dish. Peel the potatoes and boil until soft. Drain and mash with a little butter and milk. Spread the mash over the top of the mince and put into a hot oven for a few minutes until browned. Lovely with a steamed green vegetable.
- 5 lb/2.5kg chicken (largest one you can find)
- 3 large onions
- 2 lemons
- 4 carrots
- 3 sticks celery
- 1 clove crushed garlic
- Bundle fresh or dried herbs
- Bay leaf
- 1 oz porcini mushrooms
- 2 oz grated parmesan
- 7 oz risotto rice
- 1 oz vermicelli or stellini pasta.
Technique and organisation:
STEP 1 – Roasted lemon chicken
Take a normal roasting chicken, put a peeled onion in thecavity along with a lemon cut into quarters, squeeze the juice of a lemon over the top, rub softened butter on the breast, and sprinkle with dried herbs (preferably lemon thyme) and freshly ground black pepper. Roast according to weight (20 minutes a pound plus 20 minutes in a hot oven), until the bones easily come away from the body and the juices run clear or straw-coloured. Serve for Sunday lunch.
STEP 2 – Chicken stock
After lunch, take all the remaining chicken off the bone, including the little patches underneath, and reserve the meat. Put the carcass into a large saucepan with 3 pints water, a chopped carrot, some chopped celery, some fresh or dried herbs and a bay leaf tied in a little bundle, and a peeled onion cut into quarters. Seasin with salt and pepper. Boil this up for about an hour to make a stock, skimming any foam as necessary. When it starts to taste good, strain, cool and put into the fridge (it also freezes well, incidentally). You need at least two pints (1 litre) stock for the following two recipes.
STEP 3 – Chicken risotto
To make the risotto, an hour before you would like to eat it, soak a 1 oz packet of porcini mushrooms in water according to the instructions on the packet. When the mushrooms are soft, strain and reserve the liquor. Then fry 7 oz of risotto rice in a large, deep frying pan in a little sunflower oil, until the rice is glistening and coated. Pour in a mixture of 2/3 chicken stock and 1/3 mushroom liquor little by little, allowing each bit to be absorbed before adding more. In total you should have added 1-1.5 pints liquid. Once the rice is cooked, and all the liquid has been absorbed, toss in about 4oz of chicken pieces, the chopped porcini mushrooms, and about 2oz grated parmesan. You can also add a handful or two of frozen peas if you like, and a slug of white wine. Heat through thoroughly and then serve immediately.
STEP 4 – Chicken soup
For the chicken soup, just before you would like to eat it once again, finely chop an onion and fry in a little olive oil until transparent. Add 3 sliced carrots, 2-3 sliced celery sticks, and some small cubes of swede, and some crushed garlic to taste, and sweat the vegetables for a few minutes until they start to soften. Then add 2 pints of chicken stock and any remaining cooked chicken pieces you have to hand (if there’s none left, just use vegetables). Cook for about 20 minutes before adding the pasta, wait until the pasta is soft to the bite, and then serve immediately. You can puree the soup with a hand blender for a more sophisticated presentation.
An alternative to cooking every day is to ensconce yourself in the kitchen for a few hours at the weekend while the rest of the family is busy, or while the roast is cooking, for example, and prepare several dishes at once that can take the pressure off the rest of the week. It can also be a more economical way of making the most of your ingredients. To that end, I am introducing a number of different weekend batch cooking projects that you can work on with the radio on in the background, a cup of decent coffee by your side, and hopefully any offspring taken outside for a bit of a walk and a play by someone else, to come back rosy cheeked and fresh faced to gobble up all your food with gusto.
Bolognaise sauce, lasagne, chili con carne
- 3 lbs mince
- 3 large onions
- 3 cloves garlic
- 3 tins chopped tomatoes
- Dash Worcestershire sauce
- Packet no-soak lasagne sheets
- 2 oz butter
- 2 oz flour
- Pint of milk
- 2 oz strong-tasting cheese (Gruyere or Parmesan)
- Tin red kidney beans
- Pinch chilli pepper
Technique and organisation
STEP 1 – Bolognaise
Chop 3 onions and fry up in a little sunflower oil in a large deep pan, until they are transparent. Add 3 lbs best mince, and cook until the meat is browned. Then add 3 tins of chopped tomatoes and three crushed cloves of garlic, as well as a dash of Worcestershire Sauce and any herbs you have to hand, such as thyme, basil or oregano. You can also add a slug of red wine if you have a bottle open. Allow to simmer for about 20-30 minutes until the meat has taken on the flavour of the seasoning, and it is reasonably thick. Set aside about a third of this mixure for bolognaise sauce, allow to cool and put into the fridge. On the day, serve with pasta or rice.
STEP 2 – Lasagne
You will need to set aside another third of the sauce for this. Get a baking dish, or deep baking tray, and lay out a layer of no-soak lasagne sheets in the bottom, pour a layer of the sauce over it, top with another layer of no-soak lasagne sheets, and so on, carrying on until you have more or less reached 4/5 of the way up the dish. Now you need to make a white sauce for the top. To do this melt 1 tbsp of butter in a milk pan and when it is liquid add about the same amount of plain flour. Taking the pan off the heat, beat them both together frantically to make a paste. Return the pan to the heat. Add a pint of milk little by little, beating with a wooden spoon as you go along, until you get a smooth sauce. If it goes lumpy, beat it aggressively with a whisk, or if the situation is very desperate, put it in a blender for a few moments. Once the white sauce is ready, use it to pour on top of the lasagne, and grate a bit of parmesan or gruyere cheese over the top. Allow to cool and putinto the fridge covered with cling film. On the day, heat for 20 minutes in a hot oven, until the centre is hot and the top browned. Serve with a side salad and/or garlic bread.
STEP 3 – Chili con carne
Add a tin of red kidney beans to the remaining 1/3 of the sauce, and a pinch or two of chilli powder (as much as you will all be comfortable with). Allow to cool and put into the fridge. On the day, heat thoroughly and serve with rice or tortillas.
Image: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net