Category Archives: cake

Cooking Challenge the Second

Before the lamb there was a different challenge, one that my heart was definitely in, but my head a bit reluctant to take on:

The Traditional Clootie Dumpling

(distantly related to the great haggis, which is hunted each fall in Scotland)

So why clootie dumpling, you ask? Why not flapjack (a delicious treat bound with honey I discovered courtesy of Mull Magic) or a proper baked bread like the Selkirk Bannock? Why choose a fruitcake-dumpling hybrid that needs to be half-boiled, half-steamed, then dried, all with equipment that looks like foreign instruments of torture (this may be a slight exaggeration, but the unfamiliar can be terrifying)?

Well, that’s what you’d be asking if you already knew about my weakness for British sweets. If you didn’t yet know about that, welcome. Have a look around the place.

Actually, I can pinpoint the source of my determination to make Clootie Dumpling: my visit to the Culloden Visitor Centre cafe, one cold August day in 2011. (P.S. I tried those haggis crisps on my most recent visit, verdict: tasty, but not habit-inducing)

Problem Ingredients: Suet & Sultanas

I did a fair amount of research (read: hemming and hawing) before actually committing to making it by buying ingredients. There was the issue of suet, for one. What was it, and was it necessary? After reading through a goodly number of British pudding recipes, I concluded it was. No messing about with Italian olive oil, French butter, or American margarine. You can read about the animal fat and its uses here. Also, what about sultanas? They seemed to be another elusive ingredient States-side, at least going by the local co-ops and natural foods stores.

A question to a Whole Foods employee was answered with the fact that if they were golden raisins, they wouldn’t carry them because the processing of drying grapes for raisins darkens their color, and any chemical means to stop this process for a golden color would not be allowed by their store. Whoo-ee! Well it’s an answer, anyway.

mise en place clootie dumpling

The pound or so of suet was divided into cup-size amounts and frozen. It was very different to handle, kind of like a malleable candle wax that was stuck in cheesecloth. The cheesecloth part of course was some fibrous netting of muscle fibers or something, but I didn’t look up the physiology to be able to tell you what, exactly. Sorry/ you’re welcome?

Now for the recipe. I had plenty of possible ones to choose from, Scottish cookbook hoarder as I am, the question was which one to use?

I ended up going with the common elements in each, and improvising along the way as to cooking times. The dough seemed to come together in a ball well enough, so I floured up the cheesecloth and plonked it into the boiling water.

dumpling before clootie

Problem Process: A Heatproof Plate

Here’s what was supposed to happen in the large pot. Turn a heatproof plate upside down in the water so the dumpling will have something to rest on, and not come into direct contact with the bottom of the pan. Plus, don’t tie the cheesecloth too tightly, as the dough will expand a bit.

There, in two instructions, lay my undoing. I didn’t have a plate I wanted to risk breaking, since I was none too sure about the heat conducted by air in the oven and that conducted by water in a pot. I went for a ramekin as the sturdiest item I did have, but the ball of dough was already too big to sit nicely on that. Curses!

‘Not too tightly’ then turned into ‘not tightly enough’ as the rowdy bubbling of the water made the ramekin pitch and toss and turn the ‘clootie’ this way and that, loosening the tie and letting some of the sugar and spices leak out to color the water, as you can see. (Maybe if I had a sailor to show me how to tie knots?)

Afterwards I went to ask the staff at Kitchen Kaboodle about the heatproof question, and two ladies both thought any plate that worked in the oven should work in boiling water. Hmph! All that , and I should have just asked sooner. Well, now YOU know!

And by the way, ‘clootie’ comes from the Scots word for cloth: ‘cloot’ which was used to tie up the dough. You didn’t think you’d be learning this much from this post, did you?

trouble in the pot clootie dumpling

You can also see my attempt to prevent the chaos from continuing, the long wooden spoon balanced on top and piercing the knot to hold the open part up and away from the water. However, the roiling, boiling water was too much and ended up pulling the spoon down into the pot too, many times over the several hours needed.

It reminded me of the adventure in canning tomatoes, actually. I took a class for it, then made a successful attempt at canning some glorious tomatoes from DC’s harvest last summer. They are still in my cupboard, waiting for the right moment. (Now that I’m moving again, that would have been last week, but oh well. We do what we can, right?)

I finally settled on putting a cloth over the pot lid, both to keep the steam in better (since the spoon let it out), and provide some friction to prevent the spoon from falling, but I had to keep tending to it every 15 minutes for almost three hours. This was the reveal moment:

unveil of clootie dumpling

And it was none too pretty, so I didn’t take a photo!

But down below is when I got it into a low-heat oven to ‘dry.’ This was traditionally done in a basket or pot by the fire. (Not in Portland, OR though)

roasting clootie dumpling

Verdict: Delicious

Finally! The pale, mushy outside could have been due to either the water getting in or not drying it long enough in the oven, or both. It did NOT look like the pictures of clootie dumpling that I’d seen, with their smooth, dark surfaces, so I do have that to aspire to next time.

However, the inside was very good, with the fruity flavor of raisins and currants mixed with sweet dark notes of sugar cane.

finished clootie dumpling

It even worked well as leftovers, heated in a microwave with water-speckled paper towels as is my wont, and drizzled with cream, since I couldn’t be bother to knock up a custard (see first definition here, for all you Americans with dirty minds).

I look forward to being in my own kitchen and trying this one again, as it was one of those food memories that demands satisfaction.

 

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Osmotic Pressure and Metaphorical Me

Osmosis is the movement of solvent molecules through a selectively permeable membrane into a region of higher solute concentration, aiming to equalize the solute concentrations on the two sides.”

Often I speak in metaphors which may seem out of place in the current conversation. My brain likes to dig up particularly esoteric or far-fetched descriptions for me to use when I am trying to better convey a certain feeling or state of affairs. This happens frequently at work, and while I register the lack of comprehension, I’m somewhat at a loss to replace my outlandish metaphors with more down-to-earth descriptions. Heave forbid I come off prosaic.

So here is my metaphor from today. I could feel the osmotic pressure of my Within and my Without this morning- the tug and swirl of the happiness experienced through self-discovery and creative effort over the weekend (Inside), contending with the lack of challenge and inability to focus on a long-term goal of the mundane Monday (Outside).

I just sort of floated along with it, letting myself be happy with the former rather than obsess over the latter, and you know what? About 2/3 of the way through the day, my brain started engaging and firing on different pistons, enabling some more cogent contributions to be made to work conversations. Good. Keeping the mind nimble and adaptable. Although- I am thinking maybe the forever-going-around-from-hobby-to-hobby to keep my interest in and mood up is disguising something deeper… but let that go for the moment.

What has been captivating me for the past week or two? All the old hobbies, come back in glorious technicolor: runs on Sundays and yoga on Tuesdays and writing for the novel and baking for friends and cooking for myself. Plus, a new dance course! A style called sean nos, which seems less glamorous but more accessible maybe than step dancing. We’ll see. Two classes and I’m already enjoying the improv parts!

Now as far as the more usual theme for this blog (FOOD), I’ll leave you readers with some encouragement. “If you make it, they will come” turned out to be true for me this week:

red wine chocolate cake — afternoon tea on Saturday with Jess
grilled corn salsa (salad) — Sunday luncheon with Kim and Juan
and tomato-shallot Tarte Tatin
lemon rosemary zucchini bread — brown bag lunch with coworkers (I hope- that’ll be tomorrow!)

So now I’m off to grate my zucchini with my only pertinent instrument- a microplane!- to make it easier to bake tomorrow morning! :-)

And let me know: do you want more Scotland or more food? I’ve got both at the ready…

Mini-Bundt Beauty

I love that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the Greek mother is trying to get her mouth around “Bundt cake.” And I suppose I share a feeling of Bundt cakes being foreign, since I don’t own a Bundt pan, and I have no idea where that Teutonic appellation originated. Oh, wait, I have the internet at my fingertips. Still, for a long time, my banana breads have been confined to loaf pans, those humble and useful servants.
But last summer I found a beautiful purveyor or ceramics. His name is Terence Tessem, of Tessem Stoneware. I can’t link to a page because he doesn’t have one! I imagine him holed up in a cold drafty barn of a studio in rural Pennsylvania, emerging only to follow the Renaissance Faires during the summer months. At any rate, I bought a mini-Bundt pan and a utensil-dryer. Fanciful, you say? Not practical, I hear? Not so!

I’ve used the utensil-dryer since last fall, and it’s a tidy way of drying silverware that leaves more counter space for other dishes drying. Excellent. And pretty too.
But the the bundt has been a little harder to sell. Sitting on the bookshelf, it looked pretty, but it also got dusty. FINALLY, today, I saw my chance. I had bananas to use up, searched my Google Reader for banana cake, and presto!- Banana Espresso Coffeecake with Chocolate Chips. I figured I could halve the recipe and use my dish and end in some deliciousness. Actually, half her batter yielded two of my-size cakes! Woo-hoo! And they are delicious, just like the normal banana bread recipe I use, but in a fun shape.
Alterations for my version:

  • didn’t have milk, used a dollop of greek yogurt and water
  • didn’t use the glaze
  • halving the recipe led to a time of 36 minutes for the first crop and 34 minutes for the second (slightly less batter)

Enjoy!