Coffee Cake and Cattle

Tuesday 28th April

Today saw the arrival of Summer after April teased us with showery days followed by sunny ones and temperatures rising and falling, today it reached 28 degrees. Gone are the gentler cooler days with fluffy white clouds, socks and vest were discarded in favour of sandals and short sleeved tops. I had a very relaxed afternoon, my morning’s work completed I headed into Polis and Tina’s Art cafe for a frappé and a piece of her delicious strawberry yoghurt cake. Tina is German and a wizard with cakes, I go there when in need and she never disappoints. It is a very pleasant shady corner to pass the time and chill, newspapers and magazines at hand to catch up on the local news. Lots of plants and trees and a picturesque ruin next door as a backdrop to some metal art work. Tina and I it turned out are vaguely related we discovered a while ago; now you have to pay attention here as it gets complicated; her husband is a cousin to my cousin’s wife. This is how it goes in Cyprus with large families.

Feeling nicely chilled I then headed out to a little village called Giolou close by, to wander around and take some photos and after I headed on up another hill in the golden light of the afternoon to Lasa. The air is thick with the scent or orange blossom and Jasmine now as the heat intensifies all the aromas, flowers are blooming everywhere creating a vibrant contrast of purples,scarlets, pinks and reds. I passed through Drymou and stopped as the scene was like paradise unfolding. The rich landscape of trees and fields stretching out before me on the hillside; harvesting has begun leaving a patchwork of golden yellow and green, the early Spring grasses gradually turning pale although the poppies and yellow daisies are still everywhere.

As I parked the car below the church to take some photos I saw what looked like a wild man disappearing around the corner with very long hair and unruly beard, stopping briefly to see who the stranger was that had parked probably outside his house. As I gazed at the scene and drank it in I noticed some cows grazing just below, a rare sight in Cyprus and to me they looked like Jersey cows with that lovely soft caramel colour hide, most cows are kept under cover as there is not enough fresh pasture for them to feed on.  As I was taking the photo I heard someone approach and guessed it was the ‘wild man’. He greeted me in Greek and we chatted, it turned out the cows were his but they weren’t Jersey cows but an old village breed, probably oxen, as he said they were used in the fields to work. After he had ascertained I was alone had no family, meaning husband and children in Greek speak, he invited me for coffee but I declined. In Cyprus it is common hospitality to invite strangers for coffee,but call me suspicious, that line of conversation always makes me nervous. A single woman travelling alone I sadly sometimes miss the opportunity to talk to strangers, well men anyway, as coming from London originally I have an in built caution. Under all the hair he was a relatively young man, relative to me that is, and pleasant enough but my Greek is limited and conversation can get difficult. It was time to make my exit.     

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A Recipe for Contentment

easter-egg1

Fittingly, as it’s Palm Sunday today, my thoughts turned to cake, of course, not just any old cake but Easter cake. In the UK Simnel cake is associated with Easter this is basically a Christmas cake with a seam of marzipan running through the middle. Decorated with another layer of marzipan on top, it has 11 marzipan balls around the edge representing the disciples of Jesus minus Judas who did the dastardly deed. Mainly a rich fruit cake it is quite heavy and although I like a good fruit cake I wanted to celebrate Easter with something a little lighter so my thoughts turned to Greek Easter and the cake that is cooked there to celebrate.  I knew of tsoureki which is the Easter plaited sweet loaf baked with a red egg poking out the top, but I didn’t know the name of the Easter cake.

Looking for a recipe online surprisingly I discovered a delightful blog written by Anne Zouroudi an English author married to a Greek fisherman, writing detective stories based in Greece. I have never heard of her before but from what I have seen I can’t wait to get reading  as the books look right up my street.  She has put a familiar sounding recipe for orange and almond cake on her blog and it sounds delicious so I’ll be giving that a try. here is the link to the recipe http://www.annezouroudi.com/greek-winter-food/

I like a good detective novel and have read quite a few in my time. Rebus is the well crafted Scottish detective of Ian Rankin full of grit and grim dark Scottishness, then there is the Aurelio Zen series by Michael Dibdin with the magical Venice as background which I devoured one by one. I did the same with the No1 Ladies Detective agency series by Alexander McCall Smith which I found absolutely delightful, I could almost smell Botswana from some of the descriptions. After seeing the Inspector Montalbano series on TV. set in Sicily based closely on the novels written by Andrea Camilleri, I ventured to the library again to order these books  in sequence,  I had to stop after 13 as the most recent haven’t been translated yet. The fact these are all  set in a foreign country; you could count Scotland as a foreign country to some; makes them all the more appealing to me as I glean so much more information about customs, food, language and so on. So I was thrilled to find a new series of foreign sleuth stories to keep me occupied and I am eagerly awaiting the two I have ordered on Amazon as I was too impatient to try the library this time.

It seems I’m not the only one to be attracted by books set in foreign parts as I have been approached by a new on line book club that specialises in such books, more of this in another blog.

Caked on!

I have written before about my love of cake and last Sunday I was in cake heaven. A couple of times a year  we throw open our gates to the general public and have open days  down at our community garden. This helps us raise funds for garden tools, compost, whatever is needed for our projects. The members make cakes and sometimes pickles and jams are brought to sell. Our driving force Rosemary, a food activist and writer, brings bread from a local artisan baker and some local veg to sell. We make lashings of tea to wash down the delicious cake and ask for donations. This works very well and we have the added attraction of a tombola and of course a leisurely stroll around our little bit of heaven.

We were very lucky last week as we had the added advantage of the sunshine to bless our afternoon. The tea stall was very busy and we had a huge variety of cakes. One of our members Rita, is a grand cook and made five cakes. Two huge Bakewell tarts, a couple of fruit cakes and a carrot cake.There were muffins and flapjack and biscuits and Victoria sponge, the tables positively groaned.

I made a sticky ginger parkin, my mum’s recipe, with a twist. I took inspiration from a recipe I had seen and added stem ginger in syrup to the usual mixture.When it was cooked,I added another innovation taken from the Cypriot method of using syrup on cakes and poured over some liqour from a marrow and ginger jam I made. It was a winning combination and one I will repeat. I also tried out another recipe I hadn’t used before and made some sticky Chelsea buns. These are made with a sweet dough and have a cinnamon and currant mixture sandwiched in and a soft icing. These had the added advantage of using cheap ingredients and also proved a hit.

We have recently had some new members join us and one of them is Czech, she brought along some little fruit pancakes which were a tasty novelty. Another member is Spanish and doesn’t bake but she brought along several jars of anchovies preserved in oil which she had prepared herself. These proved delicious when I sampled them later.

It was a lovely afternoon and a good way to see the Autumn in and the winding down of the garden. I still have a few hundred onions to plant and garlic but I’ve been laid low this week with aches and pains and a cold. I will recover my stamina and then tackle the task ahead. I will possibly comfort myself with a slice cake!!!

Shamali

Don’t forget you can order your copy of ‘Androula’s Kitchen- Cyprus on a Plate’ on this site at a very special price just click on the Home Page and follow the links. Why not buy it for a friend for Christmas? Read the reviews by clicking on the menu bar.

Well Happy New Year to all, we have passed to the other side of Christmas and arrived in 2012 safely  and in one piece.

It has been quite a busy time over the last week as I’ve had my head down over the computer screen and keyboard in ernest…but obviously not to blog! I came up for air today and decided I’d try my hand at a recipe for a cake called Shamali that my cousin Elenitza gave me to put in my book ‘Androula’s Kitchen’. This cake, found in all good Greek pastry shops and restaurants is  also called a “Kalon Prama”  which means a good thing. Like many Greek pastries it is soaked in a sticky syrup. This, as a lot of the recipes I collected, has many different versions, but they all look like this:

It’s  a simple recipe and has quite a coarse texture due to the fact that it’s made with semolina. It also has yoghurt in it unusually. I have made this cake a couple of times since Elenitza gave me  the recipe but this is the first time it’s come out exactly as it should and it even tastes the same.

Practice makes perfect.

Here is the recipe if you want to try it at home:

4 eggs separated and the whites beaten until stiff

180g  caster sugar

580g semolina (fine)

200g plain yoghurt

195g butter or 213ml of sunflower oil

3 or 4 granules masticha crushed

4 or 5  drops of vanilla essence (or almond essence)

2 teaspoons of baking powder

A handful of blanched almonds for the top

SYRUP

480g caster sugar

568ml water

Squeeze of lemon juice (1 tablespoon) or orange juice or orange water.

1 cinnamon stick

Pre- heat the oven gas mark 4/180C

To make the cake: cream the butter and the sugar together until very creamy. Add the eggs yolks individually beating well each time. Then add the yoghurt and gradually add the semolina mixing thoroughly. Mix together with the baking powder, masticha and vanilla essence and beat well until all the ingredients are incorporated. Then gently fold in the egg whites. The mixture should have a stiff batter-like consistency. Pour into a shallow greased baking tin 22cm square and put in the oven. After 10 minutes remove the cake and place the almonds on top then replace in the oven for a further 35–40 minutes. When the cake has turned golden, test the centre with a fork to check that it is cooked thoroughly.

While the cake is cooking make the syrup. In a pan, melt the sugar in the water and then add the cinnamon stick and lemon juice. Bring to the boil and then lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the syrup thickens. Remove the cinnamon stick. When the cake is cooked leave it for 10 minutes to rest then pierce evenly all over with toothpick and pour over the syrup.

Enjoy.

Don’t forget you can order your copy of ‘Androula’s Kitchen- Cyprus on a Plate’ on this site at a very special price just click on the Home Page and follow the links. Why not buy it for a friend for Christmas? Read the reviews by clicking on the menu bar.

I’m addicted………to cake Cyprus on a Plate

Mini Victoria Sponge Cakes

Image by The Style PA via Flickr

Some people have this relationship with chocolate, they can’t live without it, they get sort of addicted and suffer withdrawal symptoms if they go without. Me, I love cake. Don’t get me wrong I like a bit of chocolate but I can live without it for loooong spells but cake is my downfall, my nemesis.

This love is born from an early age, my mum was too good a cook you see. She liked cakes as well.

When writing Androula’s Kitchen of course I had to research cakes. It was a tough job but someone had to do it. So I knuckled down. The trouble is a lot of the cakes they cook in Cyprus are pretty sweet and have a sugar syrup poured over them. I like cake but not usually the very sweet kind. my preferences are the dense variety like fruit cake or a light lemon drizzle, it’s that lemony, zesty, zing that is just delicious, or cakes made with ground nuts and egg whites stiffly beaten. A good Victoria Sponge is hard to beat as long as it has fresh cream and homemade jam in the middle, butter cream is too sickly I find and of course I love a bit carrot cake with a yoghurty topping, I’m sure this should count as one our five a day portions of fruit and veg no?

There are a few cakes they make in Cyprus that are nearer my kind of cake. One is called Revani which is found all over the mediterranean. The twist though is it uses semolina as well as flour and this is also a characteristic of some cakes made in Greece. This gives the cake a denser feel and has a coarser texture. Also as there was no dairy-farming on Cyprus until recently, butter was replaced by sunflower oil traditionally and this is still used in cake making today sometimes.

Another cake which also uses semolina is called Shamili in Cyprus, this is even more unusual as it is made with Yoghurt. In Greece they also have a version of this and not surprisingly it is called Yoghurt cake. Both Revani and Shamili have a syrup poured over them after cooking but the amount of sugar in the cake is adjusted to allow for this so making it no more sweet than a normal cake. I have a theory that the syrup method was used originally as a way of keeping the cake moist in such a hot climate. But we probably will never know who first thought of the idea.