Tea loaf to die for.

When I was first diagnosed with Diabetes I was in denial for about a year afterwards. I was given the news that I had a chronic condition and then just turfed out onto the pavement with no useful information. I was told that I would need regular check ups and that it was very important to look after my feet. That was literally all the information I was given. I went home in a daze, clutching a prescription for Metformin. This is the standard drug used to treat Diabetes and for many people it works fine. It is also relatively cheap. I stared into my cupboards and wondered what I was supposed to eat. I kind of knew I needed to cut down on sugary foods but other than that I was in the dark. Once I started to read up about my condition I realised that it was just as important to monitor my carb intake as it was to avoid sugar. I used the Diabetes UK website for lots of information and I signed up for an online course with them which helped a little. I took the Metformin for two weeks and suffered horrendous side effects. I have an irritable bowel anyway and the medication had a catastrophic effect on this. I went back to my doctor who tried half-heartedly to convince me that the side effects would pass, but eventually she agreed for me to try an alternative, a new drug which is apparently kinder to the digestive system. It is also more expensive than Metformin! It works in two ways, one tablet is taken in the morning after food and mimics the body’s insulin to regulate blood sugars, the other, taken with the last meal of the day channels any sugars made in the body straight to the kidneys so it can be passed in the urine. I literally pee out the sugar my body produces! Sorry for sharing but my urine smells sweet!! The obvious downside to this drug is that I tend to get more UTI’s than normal due to the sugar in my bladder, but so far it hasn’t affected me badly. I also have to take a statin every evening before bed. My cholesterol has never been high but because I’m diabetic the doctors want it to be as low as possible. Last time I had a blood test it was 2, pretty low.

I have two check ups during a year, the main one includes full bloods, a through check up all over and a foot check. They use a hand-held sonograph machine to check the blood flow in my feet and look for any cuts or bruises. I have to be very careful with new shoes because even a little blister takes ages to heal and can become infected easily. I also get a flu jab in the winter. Thankfully I have not had any serious illness for a good few years now and my HB1AC levels have remained stable, even dipping into normal ranges if I have been actively losing weight. I tend to diet for a while then my weight loss hits a plateau and I fall off the wagon for a while, before starting all over again. As I get older it is harder to shift the weight too, but I do what I can and sometimes I get stressed, so my eating gets more erratic, but I try my best.

One of the recipes I found on the website course is really easy and tastes amazing. I make one of these every few weeks and, because I am easily tempted to devour it within a few days, I cut it into slices and wrap them individually in cling film before freezing them. I can make a loaf last about ten days like this and it is a lifesaver if I need something sweet in a hurry. It has no added sugar and is made with just four ingredients. I make a jug of strong black tea, with about four or five teabags in a pint of boiling water and soak 500g of dried mixed fruit in the tea overnight. You don’t need luxury dried fruit for this recipe, the basic own brand stuff is fine. The following day mix two eggs and 300g of all purpose flour into the fruit mixture and put it into a greased, lined 2lb loaf tin. Bake at 180 degrees (160 fan) for about 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. It makes a dense, rich cake with very little fat and sugar, just the natural sugar which occurs in the fruit and tastes amazing on its own or with a little butter.

Thanks for reading. xx

If at first you don’t succeed………………….

After the gypsy tart failure of last weekend I was determined to find out where I went wrong. I consulted a few baking forums and got various suggestions. I then asked my sister for her recipe and immediately it became clear that I had made quite a few fatal errors. I had looked up a recipe online and it was so different from my sisters that I was astonished. The online recipe called for condensed milk and evaporated milk, along with soft brown sugar. ¬†Em’s recipe uses only evaporated milk, sugar and lemon juice, which apparently is crucial to help with setting, something about the acid in the lemon reacting with the fats in the milk, it actually makes perfect sense now I think about it. When I mentioned my tart disaster to my mum she pointed out that the milk needs to be chilled overnight which helps it to whip up better. The tips came thick and fast and I stored them all up in my already overstuffed brain for future attempts.

Em’s recipe is from my Grandmother’s little notebook so it is measured in old money but I have converted it into grams for this blog. If you fancy having a go I can assure you that it is pretty much idiot-proof. This idiot made a perfect gypsy tart this afternoon which is currently cooling ready to surprise Big after dinner. He has been a very good boy this weekend so deserves a treat! Make or buy a sweet shortcrust pastry case, or you could make little individual ones. Chill a small tin of evaporated milk in the fridge overnight. This has to be a small tin, weighing 170g, not half of a large tin. While it is still very cold start whisking it in a stand mixer or with a hand-held whisk, starting off slowly and gradually building up to a high speed. After about five minutes it should be thick and creamy and pale in colour. Whilst continuing to whisk, add a teaspoon of lemon juice then slowly add 227g of dark soft brown sugar. You could use light Muscovado but the dark one will give a richer, slightly bitter caramel flavour, which brings a little relief in such a sweet dessert. When all the sugar is incorporated and the mixture has the texture of double cream pour into the pastry case and bake at 160 degrees, or 140 fan for 20 minutes. It should be just set on the top and still pale. It won’t brown at all. Leave to cool before enjoying a slice.

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Thanks for reading. xx

Gypsy tart. Does it make you…….?

A few days ago Big mentioned that he loved gypsy tart. Inwardly I groaned. Gypsy tart is a fickle dessert. I have made it a few times, it works roughly half the time. I can use the exact same recipe every time and get completely different results. The ingredients for the filling, namely condensed milk, evaporated milk, brown sugar and lemon juice need to be the right temperature, measured very accurately and whisked for the right length of time in order to become thick and creamy. Get any of these factors wrong and the filling will not set. However, get everything perfect and send a prayer to the Goddess of Baking and this tart is the best dessert you will ever eat.

I first had gypsy tart at primary school. Back then children didn’t take boxes of sandwiches for lunch from home. We all ate school dinners and mostly they were yummy! Everything was cooked fresh on site and the menu was wholesome and varied. We didn’t have a choice, there was no buffet style service, you ate what you were given. The “dinner ladies” were large, red-faced, formidable women who went from table to table with a huge metal trolley on wheels and dished out the food. Naturally, I loved pudding best. I recall huge jugs of thick custard, often it was pink for some reason, and slabs of steaming hot sponge or coconut crunch which had to be hacked into small chunks with a spoon. On one fateful day we were served sweet macaroni, yes pasta in a vanilla custard and literally no one ate it. The slop bins were full to the brim with it and the dinner ladies were stuck with vats of the stuff which wasn’t easy to dispose of, it was so gloopy. I don’t know whose bright idea it was to make it but we never got it again!

My sister and I loved gypsy tart so much that we begged mum to make it for us. We didn’t get it often, it was a rare treat because the ingredients were pretty expensive and mum was thrifty. As we got older and left home, she would make it for after Sunday lunch. My children loved it too, especially when it went wrong. On these occasions mum would be highly embarrassed dishing out slices of pastry, then spooning the liquid caramel on top but they hoovered it up regardless. They also loved her cakes when they sunk in the middle, strange kids. But the very best thing about gypsy tart was the rhyme. Come on, you all know it, Gypsy tart makes you fart, custard powder makes it louder!! How we loved chanting this at the table, it was exhilarating being allowed to swear in front of our mum. She pretended to disapprove but she laughed too.

So today I made gypsy tart for Big. The pastry case was crispy and golden brown but the filling refused to set. When I cut into it the caramel puddle inside flowed out all over the worktop. I handed it sheepishly to Big and he looked at it for a second before clearing his plate and declaring it “perfect”. Strange boy.

image_564350327708697Thanks for reading. xx