It has come to this. The IC has been a second home to me since I started uni, providing me with the funds to just about sustain myself independently of my parents (ish) and occasionally treat myself to a piece of shiny new climbing gear – all of this in exchange for hard work, less hard work and sometimes just giving off an illusion of work, sometimes subtly, other times blatantly. To clarify, the Information Commons is an awesome library at the University of Sheffield, the building has now become somewhat of a Sheffield landmark and it was a great honour to work there – even though as a student I loathed it because I could never concentrate there, I still loved its architecture. I have built a little career of part time student jobs here, starting as a book shelver and, as of this week, leaving my post as an IT technician. So it is with a heavy heart that I move to pastures new.
Apparently, people bring cake into work. No idea if that is just my office but given the slightest reason or excuse people will go and buy cake and then share it with their colleagues, bless them. Cake on birthdays, cake on last days, cake just because we felt like cake. Politely saying no to a slice is always nigh on impossible when the cake just happens to be placed on a table next to my desk. Combined with the sedentary nature of our work this has to be a recipe for disaster. I decided to go with smaller sized cakes, an idea that later evolved into shortbread and cookies. And I decided to bake them myself, of course. That was never a question.
For Thursday, my last day, I started baking on Tuesday afternoon. The idea was to make three completely different kinds of baked goods so that everybody in the office would like at least one. I decided to start with the orange shortbread as I thought shortbread only improves with time. My shortbread came courtesy of Spooning with Rosie, and I have to say while absolutely delicious, I would not describe it as shortbread! I used marge instead of butter and Lily tells me that that was where I went wrong for starters. However, even so, the shortbread lacked that shortness and dry crumbliness you would usually expect. Nobody seemed to mind though and the cakes went, well, like hot cakes. Moreover, using marge makes your shortbread vegan – and there is a dire lack of decent vegan baked good that do not have the texture of cinder blocks. Boom.
The real roaring success were my gingerbread and chilli caramel cookies (thanks Popina!). These were relatively easy to make, the caramel being the only tricky part and, what’s more, they made my house smell like Christmas. Being the retard I am I had to make two batches of the caramel, I managed to burn the first one quite quickly in my Le Creuset pan, which retains heat amazingly well (and that is exactly what you don’t need when making caramel). A word of warning: hot caramel gets very hot! I know this because, of course, I managed to burn my hand with it quite badly. It was all worth it though, the cookies were loved by all and sundry. These cookies are deliciously chewy with a crispy, spicy caramel topping – you need to keep them in an airtight box for them to stay that way. The caramel seeps into the cookies quickly, and while this does not affect the taste, it makes the little biscuits less appealing.
My last creation, these lovely little puff pastry tarts with frangipan and berries, was lazy and laborious at the same time. Lazy: I felt a bit weary from all the baking so I used shop bought puff pastry. There’s no two ways about the fact that I have never even tried making home made puff pastry. Laborious: picking gooseberries in the garden and foraging for blackberries around Sheffield, falling into brambles and consequently looking like I love to self-harm with all the scratches on my forearms. Frangipan is a delicious mix of ground almonds, sugar and egg and makes a lovely, light filling for fruity tarts. I first had these on a happy evening of wine and Glee with Jess and Marion, and the recipe can be found on Jess’s blog.
By the way, I am constantly baffled by the fact that no one picks any of the gorgeous blackberries that can be found on hedgerows all over Sheffield! They are free and they are delicious, what is the problem? Please enlighten me.
Orange Shortbread (this quantity yielded 30 small biscuits)
200g butter, not marge, butter!
350g self-raising flour
100g caster sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 orange, zest and juice
flaked almonds to decorate
Preheat the oven to 170°C and line a baking tray with parchment. Cut up the butter into small cubes and place it in a mixing bowl along with the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest. Work the ingredients together with your fingertips as you would a crumble topping – the result should resemble crumble topping. Add the orange juice to the mixture and work it into the crumbs, forming a ball.
Take a small lump of the dough, flatten lightly with your thumb and press some flaked almonds into the dent. Space the biscuits neatly with about 2cm between them, they will rise a little bit. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden.
Ginger and Chilli Caramel Biscuits (makes about 15)
for the biscuits:
50g butter or Stork – yes, marge is fine here
100g caster sugar
50g crystallized ginger
130g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
for the caramel:
100g caster sugar
pinch of cayenne pepper or chilli (I used quite a lot, don’t be afraid of it)
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line a baking tray with parchment. Chop the crystallized ginger quite finely, but some larger chunks are fine – and desirable. Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the egg and mix well. Stir in the crystallized ginger. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and ground ginger, then add this to the wet ingredients.
Using a greased spoon, take a small amount of the mix and place on the baking tray. You need less than you thought you would, these rise and spread out a lot when baking. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 20-25 minutes – but take care as they burn easily.
In the meantime get started on the caramel. Put the sugar and chilli powder in a pan and start heating it gently, stirring often. Take care not to burn it. When the sugar has melted completely take off the heat immediately and get decorating. I used a spoon to drizzle over the biscuits to make Jackson Pollock style splatters.
And now I need to pack. Next stop, Liverpool.