March 27, 2009
The incredible true story of a two decade old cake and a quiet act of charity.
‘I have no idea where this mixture originated,’ says South African born Patricia Van Graan-Brun as she hands me a piece of her apple laden Friendship Cake. ‘I was given a piece of the dough by a lady called Josie Warburg, she has since died, but I’ve continued baking it nearly every week. So I’ve been making this same cake for twenty years now!’
Friendship cakes get going when someone makes a start culture. This means mixing flour, milk and sugar and leaving it for around ten days until it ferments. Then further flour, milk and sugar are added, the mixture is divided in two, one half is baked and the remaining dough becomes the new culture and left to ferment for another week when the process is repeated. As a jar of the culture can be divided and passed on to other people, who in turn pass it on, it becomes the baking equivalent of those chain letters that promise the recipient a fortune as long as each person in turn harangues ten of their closest friends. At least with Friendship Cakes there’s a higher chance of a reward, you are at least guaranteed to get something to have with a cup of tea.
Patricia’s cake has done more than just that though. She is seated at her familiar table after Quaker meeting in Forest Hill, South London and is dishing out pieces to a small crowd and taking payments of 50p in return. She is doing a brisk trade as clearly a morning spent in quiet reflection is hungry work.
Patricia tells me that every few months when she has made £100, she sends the takings off to the Quaker run Cape Town Peace Centre in South Africa. This centre has a decade long track record of results in improving life in that still troubled country. It runs courses and projects on subjects ranging from Young Women in Leadership, Alternatives to Violence and Youth at Risk.
The centre’s mission statement is: ‘to build a non-violent society where: diversity is celebrated; the energies of conflict are turned into a positive transforming power and where the democratic rights of every individual are respected, protected and pursued’.
This is clearly admirable work that deserves support and over the years sales of Patricia’s Friendship Cake have raised around £3,600, which goes a long way in South African rand.
However perhaps the reason why the cake sale has been successful is it is actually incredibly tasty. I’ve noticed before that the belly quickly rebels against largesse if it is force-fed piety. And I’m sure that even Quakers, who are a notably philanthropic bunch, wouldn’t keep on buying this cake if it was simply a charitable donation. Patricia adds Bramley apples, cinnamon and sultanas to her dough making a cake that is light, crumbly and slightly sweet.
‘I don’t know how it is possible that this mixture doesn’t die or go off. I don’t even understand how it works, it just keeps on going,’ she says with a smile as another 50p drops into the jar.
I am sure that it wouldn’t be too hard to find a charitable act that raises much more money and kicks up far more hoopla than this cake sale. But few fund-raisers are such a metaphor for the longevity and dignity of hope than this quietly nurtured twenty-year-old cake which creates a network between those who eat it, those who bake it and those who benefit from the money it raises.
To find out more about the work that the Cape Town Peace Centre carries out visit:
And just for the record, I am not a Quaker, although many members of my family are, however I occasionally attend meeting because I appreciate the calm, the sense of self-reliance and the pure optimism that the occasional Sunday morning meeting gives me.
March 20, 2009
A pleasant evening at the Green and Blue in Dulwich gave me some great food and wine matching ideas but also a taste for the macabre.
The evening couldn’t have been more pleasant, or the company more convivial, but as soon as I got home after an evening pairing wine and chocolate at the delightful Green & Blue Wine Bar in Dulwich, I sped to my bookshelf for a copy of Dram Stroker’s Dracula and looked for the most blood chilling passage that I could find. Why? How could an evening’s wine tasting possibly inspire this desire for the Victorian Gothic? Lets start at the beginning.
Kate Thal, gifted sommelier and owner of Green & Blue, is a big fan of matching chocolate with red wine. ‘The match isn’t mainstream yet, so it’s a great way to surprise people and introduce them to something new,’ she explains. To evangelise her message she’d generously invited a group of food bloggers round to taste her theory. (See links at bottom of this posting.)
We kicked off with what Kate referred to as a ‘no brainer’ match: Montemuzma’s milk chocolate with a great Pinot Noir from Central Otago, New Zealand, Amisfield 2006 (price £22). Packed with red fruits and a lightly oaky background, this wine could easily be described as a ‘modern classic.’ The chocolate was smooth and inevitable creamy, even to the point of being cloying, but then I’m not a big fan of milk chocolate, however paired with the wine the chocolate became fresh, clean and far more attractive.
The chocolate got more serious with the next pair. Montezuma’s ‘Dark Side’ chocolate was matched with Ridford Dale Merlot, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2005 (price £13.50). The wine had plenty of dark fruit, peppery characteristics and well-structured tannins which made this a pretty sophisticated rendition of this frequently pedestrian grape variety. Together the wine and chocolate made a good savoury and intense match. Fellow food blogger, Stephen, of http://dinnerdiary.org/ commented that these pairings seemed to work best when the tannins in the wine are on an equal footing with the percentage of cocoa solids. I agreed. For me the discord with this Merlot/dark chocolate match didn’t come from the wine or the cocoa solids, but the sugar in the chocolate, which jarred raspingly on my palate and was just one flavour sensation too many. The match also confirmed my view that when using chocolate in savoury cooking, (chilli con carne etc) it’s far better to go for cocoa powder than solid chocolate because the confectioner’s sugar will always be an unknown quantity in the mix.
The next wine was a Bandol, Domaine la Suffrene, which is made from 100% Mourvedre. It had a tremendous and typically Southern France garrigue (lavender, rosemary and thyme) aroma and a really dry and tarry palate. The chocolate was Montezuma’s dark chocolate which has 73% cocoa solids. There wasn’t a hint of anything sweet and sugary in this match instead it was as dark and brooding as a stormy November night. This was gourmet hardcore and definitely not for those with a delicate disposition. In a word it was Gothic and I loved it.
The final match lightened the mood: Bera Moscato d’Asti, Canelli 2007 (price £15.00). This is probably the best Moscato d’Asti I’ve ever tasted. It was grapey, floral and very clean and lightly effervescent. Matched with white chocolate this made a match that was as pretty and pure as a Dracula victim. Something for all tastes then.
So to sum up, I agree with Kate that dark chocolate and red wine is a fabulous and unusual match and is definitely one to try at home. There’s scope to play around with Pinot Noir and Merlot but here’s what I suggest for a truly Gothic experience: get a bottle of Bandol, the above mentioned Domaine la Suffrene or Château de Pibarnon is another great example, make a batch of my beetroot crisps with chocolate chilli sauce, (recipe above right) draw the curtains, light some candles and settle down with a Gothic novel or film just be prepared to be very, very scared! And if you want to get in the mood, read on for a chilling extract from Dracula.
There he lay looking as if youth had been half-renewed, for the white hair and moustache were changed to dark iron grey; the cheeks were fuller, and the white skin seemed ruby-red underneath; the mouth was redder than ever, for on the lips were gouts of fresh blood, which trickled from the corners of the mouth and ran over the chin and neck. Even the deep, burning eyes seemed set amongst swollen flesh, for the lids and pouches underneath were bloated. It seemed as if the whole awful creature were simply gorged with blood; he lay like a filthy leech, exhausted with his repletion*
And to think I thought red wine and chocolate would be a radical taste sensation…
My fellow bloggers at the wine and chocolate evening were:
My thanks to Kate Thal and the Green & Blue Wine Bar for such an interesting and unusual evening.
*Bram Stroker Dracula Wordsworth Classics 1993
March 13, 2009
Posted by Katrina under Wine 1 Comment
A wine tasting of Loire wines made me dream of the past, but a glass of Coteaux du Layon inspired me to look forward to a sweet future.
I’ve talked about the Proust effect on this blog before, but as I was reminded of this neuroscientific phenomena at a wine tasting organised by Loire Merchant Charles Sydney last week, I make no excuse for re-examining it.
The Proust Effect is a vivid involuntary memory triggered by an aroma. It is so dubbed in honour of Marcel Proust’s description of eating Madeleines in Remembrance of Things Past. I love the idea because it effectively allows me to be in two places at once and to wander about professional wine tastings looking vague. (I’m still working on an excuse for looking vague the rest of the time.)
Harvesting Cabernet Franc grapes
At the Charles Sydney wine tasting I had a number of pleasing Proustian bi-polar moments. This is probably because I have an incredible soft spot for the Loire Valley in France, mainly because have enjoyed so many happy days there. If I drink a glass of Muscadet I remember sitting in front of a huge shellfish plateau in a restaurant in Nantes on the point of breaking open a spider crab with my bare hands; taste a Sancerre and I’m dancing at a harvest party to gypsy guitars; a Chinon and I’m crouched in front of a vine laden with perfectly ripe fruit, the morning sun just starting to burn off the early morning mist and a day of harvesting and laughter in front of me. Clearly these experiences make me predisposed to like Loire wines, so do these sentimental reveries prevent me from making any sort of impartial judgement? Absolutely not, because history re-written is an almost impossible challenge to beat. Lets start with the Muscadet.
Muscadet is still blighted by the curse of 1970s crimplene tanktop, it’s hard to assess anything popular in that decade without feeling you’ve wandered into an Abba revival. But Charles Sydney’s two Muscadet producers are so much more than a Mama Mia pastiche. These are serious wines which deserve to be savoured in the here and now.
Domaine de la Chauvinière 2008 has a hard-core Muscadet lovers iodine edge to it backed up with good lemony notes which make this a real blast of sea wind and a treat for anyone who loves salt. (Yeah, yeah, to health fanatics. Is salt the contemporary love that dare not speak its name?) www.everywine.co.uk sell this wine for £4.33 (not including VAT) which strikes me as being a bargain.
For a more mellow style Muscadet I enjoyed Le Fief Guerin, made by Jérôme Choblet of Domaine des Herbauges. This is richer than the above with a round sultana fruit note and a cleansing mineral/limestone on the finish which places its flavour profile firmly within the Muscadet family. The 2007 is available at Waitrose for £5.69 which again makes it good value.
As always things get a little more expensive when you head to the Central Vineyards. Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé producer Florian Mollet demonstrates why his wines have a natural the gun-powder aroma by bashing together a pair of flint stones then telling me to stick my head in a glass. It’s an effective trick which really shows-off the glorious mineral notes in his Sancerre, Roc de l’Abbaye 2008. This is a great glass of wine but the 2007 costs £12.49 a bottle at Oddbins. Bearing in mind I’m as skint as the next person with a fixed rate mortgage at the moment then I won’t be buying it especially if there are Muscadets as good as the above mentioned sitting next to it on the shop shelf.
Picking Sauvignon Blanc
Luckily there were also some reds to ease the recession pain and this being the Loire there were some great Cabernet Franc wines. My favourite Chinon was Les Blancs Manteaux, Vieilles Vignes 2006 from Domaine de la Noblaie. It was delicious with intense and dark smoky fruit and a chewy, yet supple, tannic finish.
Cabernet Franc also makes a showing at Jacky Blot’s well known winery, Domaine de la Butte. While the flagship wines from the top ‘La Haut de la Butte 2007’ and the mid-point ‘Mi-Pente 2007’ of the Bourgueil slope impressed me as always, the lower priced La Pied de la Butte 2008 really appealed because of fresh, clean and juicy fruit and a typically quirky Cabernet Franc touch of pencil shavings which add a really savoury note.
No Loire tasting would be complete without a look at some Chenin Blanc wines. The apogee here was a triplet of pudding wines from Coteaux du Layon made by Domaine Philippe Cady. The River Layon, one of the River Loire tributaries, is one of the few Loire vineyard regions that I haven’t visited, but tasting these wines made me want to pack my bags and head off immediately.
The trio were all from the Coteaux du Layon sub-region St Aubin with two single vineyard wines from Les Varennes and Volupté. All were from 2007 vintage. They all had a delicious and distinctive linseed oil perfume with a heady honey and orange palate. However they got progressively sweeter: the St Aubin had a still fresh 110g of residual sugar, Les Varennes had a concentrated and very naughty 170g but the Volupté had a teeth-jarring 220g which for me pushed it over the top.
Winemaker Alexandre Cady then produced a Volupté from the 1997 vintage. Turning back a decade this wine was made in a very different style. This was mature Chenin Blanc with a cinder toffee aroma, complex waxy, hazel nut and dry honey flavours with a very fresh clean finish. It wasn’t just the maturity which differentiated this wine though, the residual sugar was back down to 170g. Cady explained that at the time ‘people wanted less concentration’ but it begs the question how will the 2007 Volupté be in a decade. Or to re-phrase the question is it worth buying some of this wine and squirreling it away? I suspect yes. The extra concentration will knit together and really show off the flavours.
At the end of a wine tasting which had inspired so much ‘Proust Effect’ retrospection it was good to be thinking of the future and wondering how these wines will evolve and where I’ll be when I try then next. It was good to turn away from the past and look forward and lose myself in future Loire travel plans and bottles of wines, after all these are the things that memories are made of.
Fellow Loire wine enthusiast Jim Budd was also at this tasting, inevitably he had a different take on events. To view his blog visit:
March 2, 2009
I’ve been writing this blog for a few months and have been delighted by the positive response that I’ve received from colleagues, friends, family and complete strangers. I’ve now consolidated what I like doing with this space, and what I want this blog to be, so I’ve decided to rename it:
Chocolate Chilli Cupcakes
Here’s what the title Chocolate Chilli Cupcakes means to me:
Flavour of the Month
Food, Health and Well Being
Politics of Food
Writing and Literature
Breaking Bread with Loved Ones
Chocolate and Chilli is flavour of the month. It’s springing up everywhere. A blog I wrote a few months back, the first Chocolate Chilli Cupcakes, has had by far my highest strike rate. There’s even a new crisp, one of the Walker’s ‘do us a flavour’ packs, which tastes of Chilli Chocolate. (FYI I think these crisps are good but the addition of vinegar, which is necessary to keep them crisp-like, does rather skew the delicate juxtaposition of the chocolate and chilli notes or am I over analysing?) So hopefully Chocolate Chilli Cupcakes shows that this blog is about the zeitgeist of food and wine.
Secondly chocolate and chilli has a neurological effect. Here I shamelessly plagiarise one of my earlier postings:
The chocolate releases seratonins in the brain creating a happy feeling. As seratonins are used to counteract depression they are a singularly potent ingredient, combine them with chilli, which also releases natural mood enhancing endorphins and these fairycakes give a sense of physical and mental well-being that is truly uplifting.
OK while I’m sure that narcotics investigators never made a dawn raid to seize a batch of cupcakes, but this does demonstrate that there is a clear link between food, health and well being. This blog takes nutrition seriously.
In the kitchen chocolate and chilli is not an easy relationship, it takes some good cooking to execute it properly. First the chocolate melts on the palate, then a moment later the chilli kicks in with a pleasing burn. However this can mean that this is a flavour sensation in two halves which can be disjointed unless other spices are judiciously used to bridge the gap.
I was recently chatting with Micah Carr-Hill, head of taste at Green and Black chocolate, who told me that he didn’t like any of the commercially available chocolate chilli bars and is working on a recipe for Green and Black. (I actually rather like Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Chilli Chocolate, but I guess Carr-Hill would be out of a job if he didn’t think he could improve on the competition. I’m sure we all await his creation with anticipation.) What Carr-Hill’s criticism proves is that chocolate and chilli is a difficult blend to get right, unlike the easy marriage of chocolate and ginger for example.
So hopefully the title Chocolate Chilli Cupcakes shows that this blog is about rising to culinary challenges for the sheer pleasure of good cooking.
Raw Cocoa Beans
The next important point is both chocolate and chilli are cash crops which are mostly grown in the developing world and so are subject to the vagaries of international trade. Both products raise issues around sustainability, biodiversity, farming and fair trade practices. My Chilli Chocolate Cupcakes blog will not shy away from the tough issue surrounding the politics of food.
Then I like the name Chocolate Chilli Cupcakes because it is alliterative and trips off the tongue. I like words and literature and I like using food and wine as a metaphor in my creative writing. (Check out my earlier Like Meat Loves Salt short story). I hope this blog will include some good writing.
Plus nobody ever baked a batch of cupcakes just for themselves. This blog is as much about people as it is about food and wine. It is about breaking bread with loved ones.
So while the title Chocolate Chilli Cupcakes may seem incongruous I believe that it is actually very pertinent. I hope that you’ve been amused reading this and that once in a while you will return to see what I’ve posted. I mean to have fun writing it and I look forward to seeing your comments. I intend to update Chocolate Chilli Cupcakes every Friday. This Friday’s posting will be a short extract from my new play The Prince and Culinette.
So that’s enough blog-analysis. Now have a Chocolate Chilli Cupcake:
Chocolate Chilli Cupcakes
My thanks to Mark Whitfield markwhitfieldphotography.com for his photography and endless patience.
100g SR Flour
50g Cocoa Powder
0.5 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Chilli Powder
1 tsp Cinnamon
0.5 tsp Cardamom
0.5 tsp Nutmeg
2 Tablespoons Strong Black Coffee
0.5 tsp Vanilla Essence
2 Tablespoons Milk if Required
Paper cupcake wrappers
100g Dark Chocolate
Sift the flour, cocoa, spices and salt.
In another bowl beat the eggs and combine with coffee and vanilla
In a food processor cream the butter and sugar.
Then blend in the egg and coffee mixture.
Fold through the dry ingredients.
Add milk if required to make a soft texture.
Put 12 cupcake wrappers on a tray and drop a large spoon of mixture into each one.
Bake for 12-15mins at 180°c.
When cool decorate with melted chocolate, hundreds and thousands, green and red icing or whatever you think makes your fairies look as devilish as possible.