Friday, 28 December 2012

Cake history

Most of us enjoy a delicious cake, tart or flan as a special treat - but do we ever stop to consider the history of our favourite baked goods? It's worth looking back to find out how cakes came into being!
What are cakes made from? An insight into the history of cakes is provided by looking at the ingredients involved. Most cakes are made from a combination of flour, a form of butter or shortening, a sweetener - such as honey or sugar, milk, eggs, a rising agent and a certain flavouring. There are many thousands of cake recipes from across the world which use variations of these ingredients and many are very ancient and associated with traditions and holidays - such as Christmas cake in England and America and stollen in Germany. Even modern recipes such as mince pies (not strictly a cake, but treated as one under the category of 'delicious baked treats'!) were preceded by ancient medieval recipes which combined meat mince and spices in a pastry crust and cobnut ties.

Early cakes The most primitive tribes began to make cakes around ten thousand years ago as flour was discovered as part of the agriculture phase. Medieval England featured a range of innovative cakes and these were referenced to in books and diaries, but these foods weren't conventional cakes as we`d recognise them. They were sweetened and flour based foods - similar in consistency to breads in many cases, but with the sweetening.

In fact, for a long period, cake and bread were used as interchangeable descriptors, with cake primarily being used to describe smaller sized breads. Remains of these foods have been found dating back as far as Neolithic times, where simple 'cakes' were created from crushed, moistened and compacted grains which probably would have been cooked on a hot stone. Today's equivalent would be the oatcake!
The Greeks and Romans The Greeks called cakes 'plakous', which derives from the word denoting something flat. Their creations tended to feature honey and nuts and where naturally heavy and filling.
Romans called their cakes 'placenta', deriving from the ancient Greek and also 'libum'. These ceremonial recipes were generally used as offerings to the gods. Placenta cakes were akin to today's cheesecakes and baked into a pastry case or base.

Into later periods, cake recipes evolved with more fruits and sweeteners, along with spices as these become more widely available. They tended to be used for special occasions, due to the expense of the ingredients. For this reason, cakes were a status symbol for the rich, who liked to be able to show how frequently they could afford to eat them. By the mid eighteenth century, yeast had been replaced with eggs as a raising agent and cake hoops were being used to shape the creations - linked with our modern cake moulds and pans.

In America and Europe, cakes became a sign of wellbeing and many regional varieties were developed. By the nineteenth century, the ingredients were becoming readily available and more affordable, with baking soda coming onto the market. Cakes started to become hugely elaborate and a sign of creative cookery, with rich icings, colours, shapes and ingredients that really embraced the experimental.
Today, after an interim period of industrialised and processed cakes in the eighties and nineties, people are returning in droves to their kitchens to embrace this most traditional, homely and enjoyable pastimes again - baking their own favourite cakes and devising their own new family recipes! If you've yet to enjoy the pleasure of cake-baking, gather up some quality CS Catering Equipment, ask your granny for a traditional recipe, or visit an online forum for discussions and tips. You may well never buy a commercial shop-bought cake again!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Cooking using left overs

If there’s one time of year when we’re likely to end up with a fridge full of leftovers, it has to be Christmas! The excesses of the holiday season mean that even the most-organised shoppers will tend to find themselves laden with extra ‘bits’ that they’re not sure what to do with. However, there’s no need to create waste; simply get creative in the kitchen and transform these bits into tasty new meals!

Turkey tends to be the obvious food that is available in abundance after Christmas day. But there are plenty of ways to use up the delicious and nutritionally valuable meat. Try making a fresh turkey and vegetable soup with plenty of sustaining root vegetables and starchy tubers such as sweet potatoes or regular white potatoes. You can use the turkey carcass to make an incredible stock, by simmering it with fresh herbs, a couple of onions and carrots and plenty of water to cover. Try cooking it very gently overnight and you’ll be rewarded with an incredible and highly nutritious, fresh stock in the morning, which you can then strain and use or freeze.

For turkey pieces, try making a traditional Coronation turkey dish with fresh cream, curry powder and almonds, or serve thick slices in fresh bread sandwiches, covered in melted cheese and caramelised onion for a decadent treat. If you’re feeling healthy, turkey also works very well in a salad with hearty leaves, sweet cherry tomatoes and a basic dressing made from oil, vinegar and lemon.

With leftover vegetables, such as the much-maligned Brussels sprouts, find new ways to fry them up and make them into high-flavour side-dishes. For example, Brussels Sprouts taste wonderful if they’re halved and sautted with bacon, butter and finely sliced onions   they will be crunchy, delicious and packed with vitamins and minerals. For parsnips and carrots, try cutting them into thin batons and roasting them in the oven with a healthy drizzle of olive oil and plenty of seasoning. Serve these roasted ‘chips’ with a home-made mayonnaise. And indeed, if you’re going to the trouble of making your own mayo  finely chop red cabbage, onions and carrots to make a fresh coleslaw. This will make a wonderful accompaniment to any leftover meats you are serving cold in the buffet.

If you have leftover potatoes, there are also plenty of innovative ways to use them up. Try frying them up with onions and corned beef to make corned beef hash, or mash with sweet potatoes, butter and cream for a delicious puree. Left over potato also combines very well with flaked salmon and can be fried into fishcakes with plenty of seasoning and served with sour cream and chives.

If you have left over pannetone, you’ll know that it tends to go stale very quickly. So take advantage and make a deliciously decadent pannetone bread and butter pudding, by combining slices of the sweet bread with raisins, sweet spices, Demerara sugar and milk beaten with eggs. Cream can also be used for real luxury and you’ll simply need to bake it in the oven to create a lavish dessert. If you have left over cranberries, try making them into a home-made sauce, or even whizzing up (de-stoned) in the blender with sweet pineapple and mint leaves for a very healthy smoothie.

There are plenty of ways to use up your leftovers when you start to think about it and be creative. Never be afraid just to combine a range of ingredients into a salad either, or throw together a buffet to use all the little bits up. It’s far better than allowing things to go to waste! And you’ll find plenty of recipes too that make the most of your Rangemaster and leftovers in one swoop  look online and find new cooking ideas on forums and cookery blogs to get you started and inspired!