Sprinkles!

I have almost a full jar of sprinkles in the cupboard that need to be used up. I know this is unusual – everyone loves sprinkles – but I don’t often decorate things when I bake. So, I picked out a cookbook on cupcakes (Cupcakes by Susannah Blake) and decided to choose something from it that would benefit from some white and pink balls being scattered on top of them.

I decided to attempt a recipe for pistachio cupcakes, as I’ve never cooked with pistachios before. I ground them in the food processor, leaving me with a fragrant green rubble that smelled fantastic. Unfortunately, by the time they’d been baked into cupcakes and topped with icing, the pistachio flavour was very muted. This may have been my own fault – I didn’t want to make a royal icing to top them with as the recipe suggested, so I instead made the glacé icing from the cardamom cupcakes I made a few weeks ago, adding the sprinkles on top. Overall, it was a bit too much as the sweetness overpowered the fairly delicate flavour of the cake.

I have two challenges now from this baking experience, firstly to develop a way of using the pistachio cake in a way that would allow the flavour to shine and secondly to use the sprinkles with a cake that will stand up to their sweetness, or perhaps just make a plain sponge, so that the sprinkles can be the star of the show, as perhaps they should be.

The King’s Curse

The King’s Curse, Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory’s work in general focuses on the stories of historical female figures, which can be fascinating given that history has very rarely been told from their point of view. This book focuses on Margaret Pole, a member of the court of Henry VIII, who also happens to be a Plantagenet heir. Whereas with Gregory’s previous novels that I’ve read I had a rough idea of what happened to the protagonists, I had no idea what was in store for Margaret Pole. I was fascinated by the narrative point of view in this book – in some respects, Margaret is a bystander at court; her life and safety is very much at the mercy of the whims of Henry VIII. We see the chaotic events of the later years of his reign through her eyes as a spectator, providing a different perspective on them. The description of the effect of the dissolution of the monasteries on poor people during this period was particularly effective. However, Margaret is not merely depicted as a spectator someone else’s drama. Rather, she is shown as a powerful figure in her own right, managing an estate, building property and acting as matriarch to her family after the death of her husband.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel; it was an easy, gripping read that left me with lots to think about. I would recommend it.

Chilli Flakes

The first time I remember coming across chilli flakes was alongside the salt and pepper in jars at Pizza Hut, sat on the table so you could sprinkle them over your pizza at will. Until fairly recently, I would have said that I didn’t like chilli, partly because I feel that too much chilli tends to overwhelm other flavours and partly because I just can’t handle that much spice. However, I’ve experimented a bit in recent weeks with cooking with fresh chilli to taste and am becoming gradually more confident with it.

I use chilli flakes on occasion, mostly in chillis and occasional dishes that require a slight kick, but I usually reduce the amount by about half. I generally only use them when a recipe requests it – it’s a spice I’m very unlikely to be able to use instinctively in the way I would cinnamon or paprika.

I came across a recipe for something called ‘Cheddars’ in The Great British Book of Baking, which is a book published several years ago based on The Great British Bake Off. Now, I should probably explain that I don’t watch the Bake Off because I find the competition element of it too stressful, but I do love the way that it has inspired people to bake and I love the culture surrounding it. This book is a really useful baking book as it features lots of basic recipes, such as scones, victoria sponge and bread, as well as more inventive recipes, and is therefore great for anyone wanting to learn about baking or for more experienced bakers looking for new ideas. I chose the cheddars because I like Jacob’s mini cheddars and wanted to attempt a homemade version. They’re not all that similar to the commercial brand, as they are more like cheesy shortbread biscuits. They’re more crumbly, less crunchy and would I think be really good as a pre-dinner nibble/appetiser. The chilli is a good addition – not too spicy, just adding a subtle kick and is actually a really good way to lift the cheesy flavour.

Poldark

Ross Poldark, Winston Graham

It took me a while to get into this book, which I think was because I watched the BBC adaptation a few months ago and didn’t need to keep reading to find out what happened. However, once I did get into it I really enjoyed it. Ross Poldark has returned from war to find his father dead, his estate extremely run down and the woman he loves engaged to his cousin. What emerges from this premise is a story of inter-class romance, economic hardship and Cornwall itself.

I expected the love story to play second fiddle to the mining story, but that wasn’t the case in the book. Graham focuses mostly on the relationship between Ross and Demelza, as well as Verity’s relationship with Captain Blamey, while the developments with the mine and Francis’ financial difficulties are almost secondary to the rest of the plot. It’s concern with the difficulties of the miners reminded me a bit of Charlotte Brontë‘s Shirley, as their economic hardship is brought to the fore and we see Ross try to fight for justice for them, struggling with his own place in society as he is brought up against the class of gentlemen of which he is supposed to be a part.

The novel ends on an optimistic note, a serene picture of the nature of Cornwall. But, as we know from the TV series, there is much more of the story to come.