Softening the Sunday Blues

Yesterday, frustratingly, started off like most Sundays recently, in a delicate state; no loud noises or sudden movements. This was surprising given that I had smugly given up “drinking to excess” for January. As my friend reverently highlighted at the beginning of the month, “How will you define excess? The limit for the average woman is under two glasses of wine!”. This question of definition, it turns out, is pivotal to enabling one to give up doing something “to excess”. I had audaciously chosen to abstain from defining excess, instead relying on my will power to self-discipline and police this radical new way of socialising, thereby setting myself up to fail. Please do not misconstrue this to mean that, had an interpretation been decided upon, either in my mind or vociferously to friends, I would have effortlessly conformed to the new January rule. It is my deep felt and sincere opinion that giving something up (aside from smoking) is completely counterintuitive. To deny yourself something in its entirety only serves to compound your need for that one thing. I would rather live a life of moderation, allowing myself a little of everything, practicing a low-level of restraint, all the time, coupled with exercise and a healthy lifestyle, than starve myself of any fats, carbs, meat, dairy, sugar or alcohol. I.e. almost everything that can bring pleasure to our taste buds. Julia Child once wrote “Everything in moderation, including moderation itself”, which I like to remind myself of on a regular basis. I am, of course, conscious of the food and calories which I consume, but not to the point of obsession. How can one be truly interested in food; cooking, eating and everything it entails, whilst cutting down on all those areas which provide the finest taste sensations and combinations?

Bringing you back to my highly un-salubrious Sunday… Once I had emerged from the comfort of my bed, fuelled by cups of tea and an oversized Cumberland sausage sandwich, I was able to plan an afternoon of baking to gently ease myself out of the bleak cloud hanging over me. At times like this, I enjoy referring to a recent cookery magazine to lead me directly to something seasonal and exciting to experiment with in the kitchen. The issue of choice was Sainsbury’s Magazine, February 2014 (doubtlessly my favourite food magazine and a bargain in the current monthly food publication market) in which I found a Parsnip and Pecan TrayBake by Lorraine Pascale and a recipe for Char Siu Bao (fabulously sweet, salty and savoury barbecue pork dim sums). Yes, I know what you are thinking, an unlikely pair of recipes, bound by no similarities or connections whatsoever. However, it just so happened that I had been craving some kind of vegetable based cake all week and baking with parsnips would be a welcome twist on my favourite cake of all time – carrot with cream cheese frosting.  Happily, the second recipe presented a very timely opportunity for me to try out my new bamboo steamers. Having decided on these two recipes, I could already feel the joy and content, in anticipation of time spent alone in the kitchen, spreading through my weary and dehydrated self.

Coincidentally, and always rather excitingly (to me), I already had most of the ingredients for the cake at my disposal, thanks to the generous use of spices in my Christmas baking. I had to make a few minor adjustments to the recipe, deciding to use walnuts rather than pecans (at any rate, they are cheaper) and orange zest in the cream cheese frosting rather than stem ginger (my preference of the two as it happens). Nonetheless, I saw these as improvements and it is always rewarding to personalise recipes. Wholemeal flour was the one thing which I did not have, and is an ingredients I have never actually used. Now I have a bag I am excited to experiment with some wholemeal loaves and rolls – watch this space!

The recipe created a dense traybake which matched the spices very well, creating an envelope of warmth with each mouthful. The parsnips gave just the right level of sweetness, along with some dark brown sugar, and ensured a deliciously moist and moorish result.

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Don’t be alarmed, the parsnips will rebel against your grater, unless of course you choose to use a food processor, but frankly why bother for such a small amount? I rather enjoyed the satisfaction of some slight physical exertion on a Sunday afternoon.

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Yes, there is a large crack down the middle of the cake but I challenge you to bake this cake in the wrong sized cake tin and come out with any other result! Despite complacently having almost all of the cake ingredients in the cupboard, a 20cm square cake tin is not something I own or wished to purchase on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

I therefore opted for a slightly smaller, rectangular baking dish and used this natural cake aesthetic as an excuse to slather on an exuberantly thick layer of cream cheese frosting. Problem solved!

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The frosting should just start to edge over the sides, holding its shape in sumptuous curves around the cake

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Like so….

Adapted from Lorraine Pascale’s Parsnip and Pecan TrayBake – Sainsbury’s Magazine, February 2014

Parsnip and Walnut Traybake

Makes 16 small squares.

Make the cake up to 3 days ahead and ice when ready to serve. The uniced cake can also be frozen.

For the Parsnip and Walnut Cake

Spray oil or butter for greasing

225g parsnips (around 3 medium parsnips), peeled and coarsely grated

200g wholemeal flour

100g dark brown sugar

75g very soft unsalted butter

50ml sunflower oil

50g walnuts, roughly chopped

5 tbsp semi-skimmed milk

2 tbsp clear honey

2 medium eggs, plus 1 egg white

2 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp ground ginger

large pinch of ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Orange Frosting

zest of 1 1/2 oranges

200g low fat Philadelphia cream cheese (at room temperature)

5 tbsp icing sugar (sifted)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Spray a little oil or lightly grease a 20cm square baking tin and line with baking paper (so the edges overhang the tin, making the cake easier to remove).
Put all of the ingredients for the sponge into a large bowl along with a large pinch of salt. Mix together until well combined. Spoon the mixture into the tin and smooth th top with the back of a spoon. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the cake is springy to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Mix all the frosting ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Cover and chill until ready to use.
Remove the cooled cake from the tin and peel off the baking paper. Spread the frosting evenly over the cake and cut into squares.
Disappointingly, I am out of time so the char siu bao adventure will have to wait until my next post. I can promise it will be worth the wait!
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