Here’s a cake that’s made with potato – and it’s easy and delicious! It’s heritage is German, and it’s called a coffee cake as it’s traditionally served with morning or afternoon coffee.
This recipe is blast from the past – I found it in my original hand written cookery journal. “Tracy” a friend from those days, and a fine cook, had passed on the recipe.
I made it again this week, when asked to provide some potato recipes for the program for the play The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race.
It seemed a good enough reason to revive an unusual and favourite recipe from the past!
2 medium potatoes ¾ cup sugar 1 cup sultanas ¼ cup chopped mixed peel 1 ½ cups full fat milk 1 tablespoon lemon juice 3 cups self raising flour
1/2 cup sugar ½ cup self raising flour, sifted 4 tablespoons butter 2 teaspoons cinnamon
METHOD Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C or 160 degrees C fan. Grease a 22cm springform pan and line the base with baking paper.
Peel the potatoes and put into a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and cook until tender. Drain and mash well without any butter or milk.
Add the sugar and beat well. Add the sultanas, mixed peel, milk and lemon juice and mix well. Fold in the sifted flour and spoon the mixture into the prepared tin.
To make the topping, rub the butter into the combined dry ingredients,
Crumble the topping over the cake, Bake for 45 – 60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. The cake can be quite moist so may need that extra time. Keep checking after 45 minutes.
When cooked, remove from the oven and leave to rest for 15 minutes.
Remove the sides of the springform pan. Carefully remove from the base of the springform pan, peeling off the baking paper.
ANZAC Day is Tuesday 25 April. It’s time to get baking!
I’ve baked a few versions of the famous biscuit over the years, but since I discovered the “real deal”, the authentic recipe researched by The Cook and the Curator, the wonderful blog of Museums of History New South Wales, I haven’t looked back!
So here’s the recipe. Make these ANZAC bikkies and you will not only get the real thing, they will be utterly delicious!
I add golden syrup, as I love the toffee flavour it imparts. Most recipes do include golden syrup.
Somewhere I read in a recipe that browning the butter after melting it gives a greater depth of flavour. It really does! To compensate for the fact that you lose a little bit of the butter by browning it, I have added another 15g of butter to the recipe.
The Cook and the Curator note that coconut is an optional ingredient and it wasn’t added till the 1930s. By all means add some to to your biscuits, but personally I’m not a fan.
It really is a straightforward ANZAC biscuit recipe – very easy to put together and quick to bake.
Here is the link to the original recipe from The Cook and the Curator if you would like to know more.
165g salted butter
180g rolled oats
120g plain flour
125g brown sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 tablespoons boiling water
Preheat oven to 150 degrees C. Line 2 oven trays with baking paper.
Place the butter in a small saucepan and heat until melted. Once the butter is melted, cook for about 3-4 minutes, swirling the pan often. The butter will foam and turn a golden brown. Remove from the heat and put into a bowl to cool slightly.
Mix the rolled oats, flour and sugar in a large bowl.
Combine the melted butter and golden syrup in the same saucepan. Add the bicarbonate of soda and boiling water and whisk to combine. Remove from heat.
Add the butter/golden syrup mixture and stir until well combined.
Take tablespoons of mixture and make into balls. Place the balls onto the baking trays, allowing space for spreading. Don’t flatten the balls!
Bake for 15 minutes or until biscuits are dark golden brown. Remove the biscuits from the oven and cool on the trays. The biscuits will firm up as they cool. Now remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
Store in an airtight tin. They keep well for a few days.
These 2023 hot cross buns are an upgraded version of a previous 2021 recipe. I’m always keen to make the perfect hot cross bun, and I’m pretty happy with this version!
These buns are made with a sourdough starter and dry yeast. You could make this recipe without the sourdough starter – just add more dry yeast as suggested in the ingredients list.
They have a lot of fruit which has been soaked in Pedro Ximinez sherry, although any port or muscat would do. They also have puréed orange and candied orange for a real orange hit!
300g mix of sultanas and raisins
40mls Pedro Ximinez or port or muscat
1 whole orange
625g strong flour
7g dried yeast (use 10g if not including starter)
125g sourdough starter
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
I teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice
1/2 teaspoon each of ground ginger and cloves
50g brown sugar
30g golden syrup
2 medium free-range eggs, well beaten
60g unsalted butter, in small pieces
200g full fat milk at room temperature
150g apple juice
50g candied orange peel
Extra free-range egg, for brushing
50g caster sugar
50g golden syrup
Soak the raisins and sultanas in the Pedro Ximinez or port or muscat for up to 3 hours to plump up the fruit.
Put the orange into a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for up to an hour until the orange is soft.
Let the orange cool, then cut in half and remove the pips. Purée the orange in a food processor. Measure 70g for the dough, and reserve the rest for another batch of dough. It freezes well.
Starting with the flour, add all the other ingredients (except dried fruit and candied orange peel) to a large bowl. Just make sure the yeast is on one side of the bowl and salt on the other.
Mix everything roughly together using a wooden spoon, just to amalgamate the ingredients. Leave to rest for 20 minutes.
Using the dough hook of an electric mixer, knead on low speed for 10 -15 minutes until the dough is soft, shiny and passes the windowpane test. This dough is initially quite wet, so it will take 10 minutes or more kneading to bring it to that lovely elastic consistency you are looking for.
Add the sultanas, raisins and any residual alcohol that hasn’t soaked into the fruit, and the candied orange peel. Mix for about a minute on low to distribute the fruit evenly through the dough.
Remove the bowl from the machine and cover with a plastic bag or tea towel. Leave to prove in a warm place for 2 hours.
The dough should have doubled in size. Carefully remove the risen dough from the bowl and place on a board or bench top which has been lightly floured. Putting a little more flour on your hands to stop the dough from sticking, flatten the dough to a rough rectangle, and fold in half lengthways. Cut in two and roll each half into a sausage.
You should get 16 large hot cross buns from the mixture. Take one sausage and divide into two, then divide each into 4 pieces.
To shape your buns, take one piece and roll into a ball, and with your cupped hand over the top of the ball, keep rolling on the board or bench top till you feel the dough tightening and developing a nice ball shape.
Repeat with remaining balls. Do the same thing with the other sausage.
Place the 16 balls – now buns – onto a large baking tray lined with baking paper.
Cover with a large plastic bag or a tea towel and leave to prove again. I prove this second time in the fridge overnight. You can also prove at room temperature for an hour or more until the buns have grown a little in size. (They don’t get huge – this happens in the oven.)
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C fan forced or 190 degrees C non fan for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the crosses. Mix the flour and water together to make a dough. Place the dough on a clean surface dusted with flour and roll into a sausage about 1cm thick. Cut the sausage in half, and cut each half into 8 pieces. Roll out each piece again to make 2 thin strips. You should have 32 strips in total. Brush the risen buns with the beaten egg and lay the dough strips on top in the shape of a cross. Brush the crosses with egg too.
Put the tray into the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the buns are a deep golden brown.
While the buns are baking, make the glaze. Put the caster sugar, golden syrup and water into a small saucepan and heat gently on the stovetop stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes until the glaze has thickened slightly.
Once the buns are cooked, remove from the oven. Brush the warm syrup over the warm buns, making sure you brush the sides as well.
These buns are best eaten on the day, preferably while warm, with lots of good quality butter.
The next day, split and toast and serve with, of course, more butter!
Hot cross buns freeze well too, so make a pile that you can store in the freezer and reheat as necessary.
NB Reheat in the oven, the buns don’t do well in the microwave.
Simnel cake is traditionally made for Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent.
I’ve been very interested in the Simnel cake, what it’s made of and its history. It’s a light fruitcake with two layers of marzipan, one layer baked in the centre of the cake, and one layer placed on top of the cake. The cake is adorned with eleven balls of marzipan, representing Jesus’ Apostles, minus Judas Iscariot. This last reference reminds us that this is an Easter cake, and can also be eaten during the Easter period and on Easter Day.
My version is baked in a slightly bigger tin than most recipes specify. I wanted a cake with a bigger diameter to serve more people. I went with blow torching the marzipan on the cake rather then putting it under a grill, as this was so much easier and you can control the heat source.
This year I made my usual recipe. It’s rich with marzipan, a good layer in the centre and plenty to decorate the cake. Instead of the traditional yellow ribbon to decorate, I went with red. And I added some green glacé cherries for the middle of the cake – eleven of course!
335 icing sugar
260g caster sugar
525g ground almonds
3 large free-range eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons apricot jam (to stick the marzipan onto the cake)
Juice and zest of an orange
Juice and zest of a lemon
500g sultanas, raisins and currants, in any mix you prefer
150g glacé cherries
225g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon each of nutmeg, ginger, allspice – any or all of these are fine, use what you prefer
3 large free-range eggs
175g soft butter
175g brown sugar
Make the marzipan first, as this needs to rest for an hour or so before it goes into the cake.
Sift the icing sugar and caster sugar into a large bowl, and then mix through the ground almonds.
Beat the eggs with the almond extract and lemon juice in a separate bowl. Stir into the dry ingredients with a large spoon or spatula to make a rough dough. Use your hands to continue to turn the mixture into a dough that is able to be rolled out.
Put some icing sugar onto a work surface – bench top or ideally a large wooden board. Knead the marzipan for a couple of minutes until it’s a smooth dough.
Put the marzipan dough into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave for at least an hour, preferably two, to allow the ground almonds to swell and absorb some of the moisture from the eggs.
For the cake, put the orange and the lemon juice in a small saucepan and add the dried fruit and cherries. Bring to a simmer over a medium heat and heat for two minutes, stirring until the liquid disappears. Be careful not to burn the fruit by cooking it dry. Remove from the heat and leave to completely cool. Putting the fruit into a bowl and sticking it in the fridge can speed things up if you’re short on time.
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C non fan forced, or 140 degrees fan forced.
Grease a 22cm spring form pan and line the base with two layers of baking paper.
Put the flour and spices in a large bowl. Whisk the eggs in a smaller bowl.
Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer such as a KitchenAid until light and fluffy and well mixed. Make sure all the mixture, even at the bottom of the bowl, is well incorporated.
Add the whisked eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. To stop the mixture curdling – this can easily happen when adding eggs to butter and sugar – mix in a tablespoon of flour after each egg addition.
Gently fold in the flour to the rest of the mixture by hand. Stir in the dried fruit and the orange and lemon zest. Spoon half of the mixture into the springform tin, trying to get a smooth surface.
Working with marzipan. Divide the marzipan into three equal balls. Weighing them is probably the best way to do this. Wrap two of the balls in plastic wrap to prevent them drying out.
Place a large length of baking paper on your work surface and dust with icing sugar. Put the remaining ball ono the baking paper and cover with another length. Roll the ball into a circle that’s bigger than the springform tin. You can check this by putting the cake tin on top of the rolled marzipan and making sure the marzipan is 1-2 cms bigger than the tin.
Now peel the top layer of baking paper off the marzipan and put the marzipan circle carefully on top of the cake mixture in the tin, then peel off the remaining baking paper.
Put the rest of the cake mixture on top of the marzipan and smooth the surface.
Place the springform tin into the preheated oven and bake for about approximately 1 hour 30 minutes, or until the cake is golden-brown, and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. If the cake is browning quickly but is obviously not cooked, cover the top with some aluminium foil.
Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave it to cool in the tin for 15 minutes. Then remove from the tin, peel off the lining paper, put the cake on a wire rack and leave to completely cool.
Marzipan topping. This cake is best decorated using the bottom of the cake as its flatter. Turn the cake upside down and put onto a plate or board to allow you to decorate.
Place a length of baking paper onto the work surface with more icing sugar. Put one of the marzipan balls onto the paper and cover with another piece of baking paper. As before, roll the ball into a circle that’s bigger than the springform tin. You can check this by putting the cake tin on top of the rolled marzipan and making sure the marzipan is 1-2 cms bigger than the tin.
Heat the apricot jam in a microwave on low, or in a small saucepan on low heat for a couple of minutes.
Brush the surface of the cake with the warm jam and cover with the marzipan circle. The circle should just hang over the edge of the cake. Press the marzipan gently onto the cake, easing out any lumps. You can neaten up any overhang that’s too long with a sharp knife.
Now take the remaining marzipan and roll it into eleven balls to represent the Apostles. Weigh the balls to make them uniform – 20g for small balls or 25g for bigger ones. In either case you will have marzipan left over – always welcome as a sweet treat.
Dip each ball into the warmed apricot jam. Position them round the outside of the cake.
Now for the fun part – get out your cook’s blowtorch and lightly scorch the marzipan topping and balls! Be careful not to overdo it. If you haven’t got a blowtorch, put the cake under the grill for a couple of minutes until scorched but not burnt.
Place the cake onto a serving plate or board. Put a yellow ribbon – traditional – around the cake. I went for a green ribbon, with its associations of the renewal of life, appropriate for the Easter season.
Here’s a trifle recipe for Christmas from the archives. I thought it worth posting now if you’re looking for ideas for interesting looking – and tasting – deserts for Christmas 2022.
The recipe is adapted from a recipe created by Queen Vanilla products and Dr Oetker products. I liked the idea of the cheesecake filling instead of custard and cream. The recipe also created some green chocolate bark, which I thought pretty festive too.
Cake and berries:
4 x 250g punnets berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or any others you fancy). Frozen berries are fine too, I used a mixture of both.
A good slosh of an orange liqueur (Cointreau, Grand Marnier)
A little caster sugar to taste if the berries are too sharp in flavour
2 sponge cake layers (bought is fine here as it’s only going to be dowsed in liqueur and berry juice)
280g cream cheese
90g unsalted butter
2 2/3 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
450 mls cream
Green chocolate bark:
150g original Oreos roughly blitzed in the food processor – you should have some bigger bits and some crumbs
300g white chocolate
A few drops green food colouring
Combine all the berries in bowl, leaving a good handful for decorating the top of the trifle. You should cut the strawberries in halves unless they are tiny. Splosh on some orange liqueur, and add a little caster sugar to taste if the berries need sweetening. Leave for a few hours to allow the berries to release their juices.
Cut up the sponge into squares about 5 cms 0r 2 inches. It really doesn’t matter too much – they just need to be able to fit into your trifle bowl. You will also need to cut some odd shapes to fill in the gaps. Make a layer of sponge on the bottom of the bowl. Add a decent layer of berries, making sure you spoon some of the liquid over the cake so that it turns red.
To make the cheesecake filling, beat cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Add icing sugar gradually, beating till the mixture is well combined. Add the vanilla bean paste. Whip the cream in separate bowl until just thickened, then fold into the cheesecake mixture.
Add layer of cheesecake mixture to the berries layer in the trifle bowl.
Repeat the layering – sponge, berries and juices and cheesecake mixture, ending with a berry layer. The number of layers you get will depend on the size of your bowl and your generosity in layering. As you can see from the photo I got 3 layers of sponge and berries and 2 of cheesecake mixture. You should leave enough of the cheesecake mixture to decorate the top (3 tablespoons or so should do it). Refrigerate until ready to finish the decorations and serve.
To make green chocolate bark, heat the white chocolate in small pieces in a microwave safe bowl on medium power in 30 second intervals, stirring in between each interval, until the chocolate is completely melted. Add the green food colouring and chopped Oreos. Spread the mixture onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. Refrigerate until set.
To finish the trifle, pile the remaining cheesecake mixture on the top of the trifle. Scatter the left over berries on the top of the “snowy” mixture. I used only fresh raspberries for the top, as they looked the most elegant. Break up the green chocolate bark and place as artistically – or in my case rustically – as you please. You don’t need to use all the bark – the recipe makes quite a large quantity. On the other hand if there are small children around they will love the white (now green) chocolate and you could use the whole lot on the pudding!
Here’s something different for Christmas Day lunch. If you’re looking for an alternative to Christmas pudding, what about a cheesecake? Make this cheesecake festive for the day by decorating it with fresh and sugared fruit, and chocolate leaves.
The recipe hails from the Sydney County Council in the 1960s and it continues to be my go to recipe for cheesecake. What makes it really delicious is the sour cream topping!
You could make it using an electric mixer, but I find it really easy to make using a food processor.
Cream Cheese Filling 500g cream cheese 150g sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste 1 tablespoon lemon juice 4 free range eggs
Topping 300 ml sour cream 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1 dessertspoon lemon juice 1 level tablespoon sugar
Crush biscuits very finely and add nutmeg and cinnamon. Melt butter in a saucepan, remove from heat and quickly stir in biscuit crumbs.
Press firmly into greased 8″ springform tin bringing mixture within 1/2 ‘ from the top of the tin.
Put cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice in a bowl and beat well. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
Pour mixture into uncooked crumb crust and bake in a moderate oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven.
Beat together the topping ingredients and pour over hot cheesecake. Return to oven and bake for a further 10 minutes.
Cool, then store in refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Decorate with sugar frosted fresh fruit and chocolate leaves. I used cherries, strawberries and black grapes for this cheesecake. To make the sugar frosted fruit, coat fruit in lightly beaten egg white then dip in caster sugar.
To make the chocolate leaves, dip sturdy leaves in melted dark chocolate, leave to set in the fridge, then gently peel away the leaves leaving the chocolate imprint intact.
I’ve posted my family’s Christmas cake recipe several times over the years. It’s a wonderful cake, a recipe passed down from my grandmother over a hundred years ago. It continues to be made with great tradition and enthusiasm 4 generations on by sisters, mothers and daughters!
It’s certainly one of the baking experiences I look forward to every year at Christmas time.
The original cake recipe was for a “12 Pound Christmas Cake”. The recipe probably originated from the 1800s and was the recipe for the bottom tier of a wedding cake.
This version of the cake is very big – and will feed a lot of people! My sister still makes this cake, and I do on occasion. My favourite version of the cake however, is the “half size” cake, which I generally make each year.
It’s the quantities and method for this version I’ve listed below.
I’ve included a number of photos of the cake – same recipe, but made at different Christmas times.
250g butter 250g brown sugar 315g plain flour 375g raisins 375g sultanas 125g glacé cherries 65g glacé peaches 65g glacé pears 125g glacé apricots 65g glacé pineapple 65g crystallised ginger 65g mixed peel (optional) 6 large free range eggs 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ginger 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 teaspoon almond essence 1/2 teaspoon glycerine Juice of half an orange Finely grated peel of half an orange 1/4 cup of good brandy/whisky – extra 1/4 cup of brandy/whisky to pour over the hot cake when it comes out of the oven.
Method Grease a cake tin and line with baking paper or aluminum foil. I use an 18cm or 7″ square tin or a 18cm or 7″ diameter round tin. You may end up with left over mixture with this size, so you could go up a size. I like a high cake and this cake doesn’t rise so you can fill the smaller tins fairly full. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C then turn back to 135 degrees C. The principle of cooking a rich fruitcake is to put the cake into a preheated oven and cook very slowly. This size cake does take a long time! The original recipe says to mix by hand in a large basin. This was lots of fun when we were growing up making the family Christmas cake but now I suggest using an electric mixer. Cream butter and sugar and beat in the eggs one at a time.
Mix in the sifted flour lightly. Stir in spices, essences, glycerine, fruit juice and brandy/whisky, and finally stir in the fruit the larger varieties of which have previously been cut roughly. There is no need to wash the fruit. If the fruit is wet it tends to sink to the bottom of the cake.
Bake about 1½ to 2 hours or until the top is pale brown and a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the cake.
It’s a little hard to be more precise than this as the weather, the quality of the flour and individual ovens have a lot to do with cooking time. You can put a piece of foil over the top of the cake during the last hour of cooking if the cake browns too quickly. When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and pierce all over with a skewer. Pour ½ cup of brandy/whisky over the hot cake and wrap in a towel till cool. Turn out of the tin onto a board or large flat plate.
Almond Icing (Marzipan Icing) 250g ground almonds 375g icing sugar 1 egg white Juice of ½ lemon
Mix all the ingredients to make a stiff dough. Divide the dough into sections – one large ball for the top of the cake, the rest for the sides of the cake. Brush the cake with apricot jam which will help the almond paste to stick. Let the cake rest for a day.
Royal Icing 2 egg whites 500g icing sugar Juice of 1 lemon
Beat eggs lightly, add icing sugar and lemon juice. Apply to cake with a palette knife. Be generous with this icing, to create a “snowy” effect. Leave to set for at least a couple of hours.
The cake keeps well – up to a year – although it is at its best when eaten within 3 months. But it never lasts beyond New Year in my house!
October 2022 and I’m back in Shetland, this time to pursue food and history. In 2019 it was all about stunning coastal walks and brilliant wildlife. And Shetland made an impression. My musings on this visit are recorded here.
So with my long suffering but enthusiastic travelling companion in tow, I certainly got to grips in a determined way with the culture and the stories of Shetland food.
A highlight was A Taste of Shetland Food and Drink Festival – blogged recently here. What an amazing experience. A really good way to encounter local produce and producers. I tasted samples of tablet, sponge cake, sourdough, bannocks, oatcake and some gin to wash it all down. Have I left anything out?
Some wonderful restaurants too, in Lerwick where we were based, doing innovative food with local, seasonal food. I think I had seafood wherever I went – Shetland seafood is gorgeous.
Some highlights were beautiful scallops and mussels at No 88 Kitchen and Bar, exquisitely presented dishes at Da Steak Hoose and the best crème brûlée ever at C’est La Vie!
But I need to do a big shout out to the Cake Fridges of Shetland – what a fantastic, quirky idea!
These are fridges literally set up on the roadside where the owner bakes cakes and treats which you buy by putting money in an honesty box. And that’s it! Shetland is such a community minded place that people are honest.
I visited The Cake Fridge in Aith – the original cake fridge, and bought hot coffee and tiffin – a kind of chocolate slice. Very Shetland and quite delicious.
On the island of Unst, seemingly in the middle of nowhere we were delighted to find a cake fridge, this time more accurately a cake dolls’ house! And on a cold and windy day we bought shortbread, more tiffin and tablet to keep us fuelled for exploring this most northerly island.
History and archeology were also on the agenda. And we struck gold when we met the eloquent and knowledgeable Chris Dyer from Garths Croft on the island of Bressay. Chris is an archeologist, historian and farmer, who is a passionate enthusiast for native and heritage breeds and sustainable farming.
An afternoon spent at Garths Croft was an immersive experience in the workings of a small croft. Readers of this blog may be aware of my love of sheep – and I was fascinated by the sheep that Chris breeds for colour. And I was particularly taken by Dinky, a sheep that had been hand reared from birth by Chris. I admit to being a bit sentimental where sheep are concerned…
Chris also is highly informed on local food and the importance of food miles in agriculture and food production in Shetland. We ate some outstanding local dishes on Chris’ recommendations.
One of those recommendations was the wonderful Speldiburn Cafe which we visited when we were on Bressay. Now here was great Shetland food – soups, bannocks. cakes and tiffin, all home made and all served with a welcoming smile!
We were able to tap into Chris’ other great passion, archeology, when we drove up to Unst, the most northerly point of the UK, driving across two islands via two ferries to reach this historic place. This bleak and windswept island is evocative, thought to be the first point of contact in the North Atlantic of the Vikings, and a treasure trove of archeological sites pertaining to Viking history.
At Haroldswick, a replica Viking Long House, where we had lunch, and a Viking ship the Skidbladner, give visitors some idea of Viking life. The replica ship actually made the voyage from Sweden to Shetland. Apparently bound for the United States in 2000, the ship stopped off in Unst where it remains today. Getting inside the ship gave me a real appreciation of how hard those Viking sea journeys must have been.
I had visited Unst in 2019, staying at Saxa Vord, at the service quarters of an old RAF base. Some of the base facilities are now being developed as part of the planned SaxaVord Spaceport, creating a successful, internationally recognised “new space business”. Today however Saxa Vord is abandoned, and we wandered around the deserted site. Another reminder of the historical strategic importance of the northerly isle – to the Viking invaders and latterly to those seeking to defend the UK on its northerly tip.
I think of all the sites we visited the ruins of Framgord Chapel and graveyard left the greatest impression on me.
Chris brought us to this special place above the beach at Sandwick. The chapel probably dates to the 12th Century. The graveyard was what fascinated me. With sweeping views of the beach, the graveyard is a testament to history and spirituality. Remarkably it’s still in use today, and contemporary headstones lie side by side with early Viking Christian graves.
On a more poignant note there is the burial place and memorial to crew members of a Norwegian ship torpedoed in 1940 during World War 2. The lifeboat was wrecked at Muness in Unst. The wild seas are still the graveyard of latter day northern seafarers.
We saw much more on Unst, and this would only have been the tip of the iceberg. The archeological treasures of Unst are numerous and bear more research.
I would add here that any trip to Shetland to discover its history is enhanced by visiting Shetland Museum in Lerwick – a really interesting and informative collection.
Of course I did and saw a lot more! I just wanted to give a snapshot, the highlights, of a memorable visit to wonderful Shetland. Highly recommended.
Barmbrack is a traditional Irish fruit cake. It’s usually associated with Halloween, although I think it can be eaten any time of the year!
It’s a really simple bake, a cross between cake and bread. It has no butter or oil in it. The moist flavour comes from soaking dried fruit in tea. Irish whiskey is also included in the soak for an added kick!
My version is “tropical” because I substituted rum for whiskey, and I added pineapple to the dried fruit. And some cream cheese frosting made it a bit more luxurious.
375g mixed dried fruit
100g tinned pineapple, cut into small pieces
50ml dark rum
250ml cold tea
225g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
125g brown sugar
1/2teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 free range egg
Cream cheese frosting
60g light cream cheese *
30g softened butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pineapple juice
150g icing sugar
Glacé or tinned pineapple for decoration
Place the mixed dried fruit in a bowl and pour over the rum and cold tea. Leave to soak overnight.
The next day, preheat the oven to 170 degrees C or 160 degrees C fan forced.
Grease a 20 or 22cm square cake tin and line base with baking paper. Or you could use the more traditional loaf tin – grease and line a 900g loaf tin.
I used a square cake tin for my version as I was able to cut the barmbrack into more pieces.
Mix the flour, baking powder, brown sugar and spices in a large bowl. Break in the egg and mix with a wooden spoon.
Add the tea and rum liquid a tablespoon at a time. You may not need all of it – add enough to make a fairly wet dough. But don’t add so much that you end up with soup!
Stir in the mixed fruit and pineapple until everything is combined. Spoon the batter into the lined tin, and put in the preheated oven.
Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.
Wrap in cling film and aluminium foil and leave for 1-2 days. The flavour matures over a couple of days.
Unwrap the cake. You could serve as is, with lashings of butter which is traditional, or you could make a cream cheese frosting.
Put the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and pineapple juice in an electric mixer, or even in a food processor. Mix or process until well combined.
Add the icing sugar gradually, beating until all is combined.
Spread the icing liberally over the barmbrack and decorate with pieces of glacé or tinned pineapple.
The barmbrack will keep well for a few days.
*you could use normal cream cheese not the light version – if so, you would need less icing sugar. Just add enough icing sugar to make a smooth icing.
It’s not a surprise to readers of this blog that I love Shetland. I fell in love when I first visited in 2019.
These northerly islands with stunning scenery, rugged coastlines, windswept beaches and marvellous unique wildlife capture the imagination.
I love the islands’ Viking heritage, too, evident in archaeology, language and place names.
But it’s the food and food culture that really draw me to the islands. An abundance of local produce, a cultural shared food heritage from the many influences of sea locked islands and a generosity of spirit to share and connect with food make for some wonderful food experiences.
So it was with great delight that I learned that the Taste of Shetland Food Festival was back again as a live event in 2022.
The pandemic has put on hold so many festivals and celebrations, and when a food festival returns from a place I hold dear, there was only one thing to do – book my ticket and fly from Australia!
So a week in Shetland – some walks, tours and good restaurants – culminating in a fabulous foodie weekend. I crammed a lot into one Saturday in the Clickimin Leisure Complex in Lerwick as I already had my Sunday organised going to Unst, with Chris Dyer of Garths Croft, which was another unique cultural experience in Shetland not to be missed.
So here’s a snapshot of my day and some photos which I hope capture the spirit of the Festival. First up, after the official opening, Nick Nairn, Celebrity Chef Cooking Demonstration:
A highly entertaining and informative session where Nick cooked lamb tikka skewers, sassermaet meatballs and miso salmon. All highlighting local Shetland ingredients. Nick knows his stuff and I’ve never laughed so much in a cooking show!
Next, a wander round the stalls. So many fabulous food and drink providers showing off their products! I could have eaten half of Shetland in a walk around. And I possibly did eat quite a lot of the lovely samples…
Too many providers to mention them all here, the photos will give you the idea. And lunch was a delicious beef pie from Scalloway Meat Co and a chance to sit down!
The afternoon was spent in two fabulous masterclasses, learning more about sourdough and bannocks.
Sourdough by Gus Dow taught this sourdough baker a whole lot more about the science of sourdough. Gus started with a Halloween pumpkin loaf fresh from the oven and then baked a couple of batard loaves, as well as showing how to make a sourdough starter. Great stuff!
Shetland Bannocks by Kevin Smith was the definitive workshop on bannocks for me, giving me insiders’ tips to shaping and cooking these notoriously tricky flour items. And I learnt some new Shetland vocab too. Can’t wait to try these new skills!
I also got to meet Marian Armitage, Festival Chair, “Proud Shetlander, home cook and award winning food writer”. Wow! My Festival experience was complete.
For more info on the Festival and A Taste of Shetland, click here for the website.
A great day all round, meeting, talking and eating – so congratulations to the organisers and to all involved for a successful 2022 Festival.