Ska vi fika?

Sweden! Land of Vikings, ABBA, and delicious baked goods. Honestly, have you seen all their biscuits? What about the cakes? And the cinnamon buns? HAVE YOU SEEN THE CINNAMON BUNS? Recently, I promised to bake for my group at university, and I decided to try my hand at kanelbullar, the traditional Swedish cinnamon buns.

The Scandinavians take their coffee breaks very seriously – in Swedish, the word for sitting down and having a coffee together is fika. You know, this word always makes me giggle like a teenager, because it sounds like the German word ficken – you can Google that, or just use your imagination…!

In my first year of university, I was lucky enough to live with a beautiful little Swede called Malin, who introduced me to the idea that fika is not just “going for a coffee”, it includes some kind of sweet treat and most probably some fresh gossip. If you want to investigate further, the website Try Swedish has a nice little article. They also have lots of other fun information if you’re fascinated by all things Scandinavian.

As for this recipe, it comes from a book that I got in IKEA called, surprisingly enough, Fika. I love this book! I got it about a year ago and in Germany, so I’ve no idea if they still have it in store – but there are some copies available on Amazon. And honestly, there seem to be millions of Scandinavian cookery books floating around at the moment, and they all look pretty great. Do you have any yourself? Have you got any favourite recipes? I’d love to hear about them!

This book is beautiful and has wonderful pictures on the ingredients pages, like this one:

And talking of ingredients…

For the pastry:

2 42g cubes of fresh yeast (I couldn’t find this, so I used dried yeast following this conversion table)
500ml milk
1kg wheat flour
200g softened butter
170g sugar
2 fresh eggs (free range or organic, please)1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cardamom (I skipped this because I bought the pods and then found out you can’t grind cardamom by hand with a pestle and mortar… so unless you have a spice grinder, buy it ready-ground!)

For the filling:

100g marzipan
100g softened butter
100g sugar
2.5 tablespoons breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

For the glaze:

2 tablespoons water
1 fresh egg
1 pinch of salt
You can also decorate these with some chunky sugar crystals if you can find them

This recipe makes around forty (that’s right, forty) cinnamon buns, so make sure you’ve cleared plenty of space in the kitchen. It also takes a long time because the dough has to proof twice, so be warned.

First off, you need to warm up the milk and dissolve the yeast in it (in a big bowl, preferably). I did this in stages, warming half a cup of milk at a time (for a minute or so in the microwave). It took some stirring, tutting, and muttering under my breath before it would all dissolve, but keep faith, it will happen eventually.

Then sieve in the flour and mix them, trying not to bash the dough around too much. It will be quite dry still at this stage.

Now for the rest of the dough ingredients – put them all in! Now the dough needs kneading. The recipe says to use the dough hook on your mixer. I don’t have that, so I decided to knead by hand, which honestly I don’t really know how to do. The dough is really sticky, so you need a floured surface, and I just tried to squeeze and stretch and generally move it about. You are aiming for something “smooth”, which I think I managed after about 12 minutes or so. My hands were so so covered in dough. Don’t think there’s any way to avoid that.

Put the dough back into a bowl, chuck a tea towel over it, and leave it for thirty minutes to proof. It should double in size according to the book, although my dough definitely didn’t. Any master bakers know why that might be?

Anyway, lest you think you have time to relax, let’s get cracking on the filling. In a smaller bowl, rub all the ingredients together with your hands. They should combine pretty easily, and you may just want to eat it with a spoon. Resist!

Once the dough has proofed, reflour your surface, hands, and rolling pin, and take a deep breath. Give it a knead for good measure, then divide it into two. Roll each half out into a big rectangle. Try and get it reasonably thin and even, then spread out the cinnamon filling with a knife or the back of a spoon.

Roll it up! You’ll have two big rolls, and you need to cut them into slices. The recipe says 2-3 centimetres across, but this is what I did, and some of them ended up pretty huge – I’d go for 1-2cm. Please report back to me!

These should be looking a bit like cinnamon rolls now. Line a baking tray (or probably a few baking trays) with baking paper, and set out the rolls. Leave some space for them to spread. They should be swirl side up, if you see what I’m saying. Cover them with tea towels and leave them for another twenty minutes to half an hour.

Get the oven on at 250°C, and it should have warmed up by the time the cinnamon buns are ready. Again mine, er, didn’t. In fact, I don’t think they got any bigger at all? Anyone have any suggestions as to why that might be?

Beat the egg with the salt and water and brush it onto the buns before they go into the oven. They’ll take about seven minutes, so make sure you watch them like a hawk.

Smaklig måltid!

Frankfurt am Main

During my recent visit to Germany, we took a day-and-a-half-trip to Frankfurt am Main, Germany’s financial capital and fifth largest city. I had very mixed feelings. I had a really nice time there, walking around between shining skyscrapers and the medieval old town, weaving in and out of tourists and men in pinstripes. But there was also an awful lot of poverty around: homeless people sleeping in the streets, many of whom clearly had substance abuse issues, and a small, dreary red light district right at the foot of some of the biggest bank buildings. It was pretty terrible to see such disparity in wealth so close up.

That serious point made, they DO have some nice buildings. Our walk through town can be divided into two sections. First, new:

That last one is from outside the European Central Bank. I know I look a bit like a weird puppet, but believe it or not, this was the best of several shots. Some of you over on other continents might not understand why I felt the need to photograph skyscrapers, but they’re actually quite rare here – some European cities have construction bans that prevent anything being built that will significantly change the historic skyline, and, well, lots of our cities are really old, and so are all the main buildings. So Frankfurt is something of an oddity on our little continent – hence the pictures.

What makes Frankfurt even more of an oddity is that there is also an Altstadt, or old town:

Die Römer, Frankfurt’s beautiful medieval town hall.

This sign commemorates the first ever German parliament. If you study German history, you’ll hear about the “revolutions” of 1848, although I should warn you that there is a lot less action and a lot more middle class liberal men talking than the the word revolution implies. They did want a united, democratic Germany though, and that’s how this parliament came to be set up in Frankfurt.

Here’s me and my mate Schiller. We’re just having a chat about Weimar Classicism.

The traditional drink here is Apfelwein, literally “apple wine”. You can have it sweet or sour. I tried it sweet, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it – I mean, I like cider, but it has a different taste from any ciders I’ve tried. It’s definitely worth a go if you’re in the area – make sure to report back!

I have more photos, but I feel like I might be crossing the line from “informative and interesting” to “incredibly self-indulgent”, so I will leave you with two final pictures of the main station:

Do I look like a teacher?

That’s what I found myself asking two weeks ago at the start of the academic year. Do I? Because as of 1st September, I’m training to be one.

This is quite a big change in direction for me. It’s funny, I always thought of teaching as something I’d think about later on in life, when I had had my distinguished and successful career (translation, interpreting, maybe a touch of diplomacy), lived on at least three different continents, and had dinner with several important politicians. Well, at the ripe old age of 24, I’ve had a rethink when I realised that I wasn’t actually going to enjoy this grand plan. I’ll be spending the next year as a trainee teacher, but I hope I will still manage to post regularly.

Of course, there’s the workload and the university assignments and the pressure to be scared of, but I was also nervous about something else: looking the part. I feel a little like I might be too young to be in charge of a classful of teenagers, so I want to look authoritative, but not thirty years older than I really am. So what’s a girl to do? Get sewing of course!

Two patterns today! The top is New Look K6217, which I got with Sew Magazine. The skirt is the Simple Sew Wiggle Skirt. Unfortunately, the Simple Sew website doesn’t have this pattern – I got it with Love Sewing magazine, but that back issue is sold out. I’m sorry!

I’m afraid I’m not going to be much more help linking to the fabrics I used. The white cotton with yellow polka dots was an end-of-the-roll price from John Lewis, an upmarket department store here in the UK. They stock beautiful fabrics that are only really affordable in the sale (to me at least). The purple fabric I used for the skirt is from Westfalenstoffe, or Westphalian Fabrics, if you want to translate. It was quite expensive (fifteen Euros per metre – I got it during my trip to Kassel), but the skirt only needs 1.5m of fabric, and I figured I’d have to invest to get something professional-looking. If you have a chance to get hold of some Westfalenstoffe, do – this is such a lovely, thick, quality cotton, and it was super easy to work with. Because I need to be both professional and grown-up, I lined the skirt with silk. Fancy! Apart from happening to have some silk going spare (I once bought a few metres for a never-completed project at university), it’s nice to wear in summer and winter, so I figured it would help me get maximum wear out of this skirt.

I really like the New Look pattern – it also includes some simple trousers I’ve made a couple of pairs of, a plain straight skirt, and a soft kimono-style jacket that I’m on the lookout for fabric for. This top was actually the very first garment I made when I started learning to sew in January 2015 – and I made it way too big. So now, a few months later and a few garments down the line, I decided to take it in at the back so it fits. I still think it sits a little weirdly, but I’m happy enough with it. The construction is easy – it has kimono sleeves, so you cut them out with the body pieces, no darts, no zip, and the neck is finished with bias binding. You can see a much better fitted and sewn version on Sew Deputy right here, if my version hasn’t convinced you.

And the skirt! I love this pattern, which I feel guilty saying because I couldn’t find a link for you to buy it. But there are so many pencil skirt patterns out there! Try many, and report back! For now, this one is my favourite. It’s an easy make and it fits really nicely – I have four versions myself, and I’ve made two for differently-sized friends. I am particularly pleased with this one though – it’s the first thing I’ve made that I think looks pretty professional, especially with the lining too. There isn’t any instruction for lining included in the pattern, but thankfully, Tilly and the Buttons have a great tutorial that helped me out a lot.

And my ultimate teacher accessory? A cardigan.

Emy Sews Vintage Casual

One of the many things (and there are many) that I love about wax print fabric is that it comes in lengths of six yards (5.5m), so there’s always plenty of fabric to play around with. You’ve seen this particular pattern before, because I used it to make my friend Simo some shorts, and then I had enough left over to make myself a skirt.

Ta da! The pattern is from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual – and I LOVE this book. Love, love, love. If, by some miracle, you haven’t heard of Gertie, you should go to her blog, stopping on the way only to order her books. The first one is called Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing, and I also x4 love it. Each books comes with patterns – shirts, skirts, dresses, jackets, trousers… all with a serious vintage vibe and a multitude of suggestions for personal touches. But you know, even though I want to make almost all of them, the patterns aren’t my favourite part of the books. My favourite part is the sheer wealth of sewing information: drafting! Fitting! Tailoring! Honestly, I find a new little bit of information every time I pick it up.

The pattern I used was the Flared Skirt. In the book it’s made in striped sateen, and Gertie also gives two variations: an A-line mini skirt and a quilted skirt with flannel lining that is on my to-make list. The pattern is very simple and the instructions are very clear, so this is a quick make. I actually think if I make it again I’ll add a waistband so that I can tuck tops in easily if I want to.

Hey guess what? I pattern matched. This is the centre front seam in the middle of the blue bamboo thing. I was very impressed with myself, because pattern matching usually just makes my brain sore and I give up.

OK, so I had a bit of a hemming nightmare. I actually don’t really know what happened, but instead of being even, my hem pulls up at the sides. Hmm. I think this is because I didn’t have anyone to help me measure  pin, and I haven’t yet investigated in a mannequin. I don’t think it is too noticeable when I wear it and am walking about, so I haven’t lost any sleep over it. Next time I’ll recruit an assistant!

One thing I really liked about the hem was the finishing: in Gertie’s book, she suggests using “hem lace”, but unfortunately I can’t seem to find a UK stockist of that. If you know one, please comment IMMEDIATELY and let me know. I did, however, find some really cute lace-topped elastic in a charity shop for £1. I think it actually might be knicker elastic? I decided it would do as a stand-in, and I think it looks really cute.

So there we are, a skirt that, thanks to the English weather, I am unable to wear for the majority of the year. But I am very pleased with it anyway!

You might have noticed that I made matching bangles and earrings – a “how to” is coming on Quick Tricks soon!

Raspberry and Orange Polenta Cake

At risk of you thinking that Waitrose is my only recipe source, I’m going to share another of their sweet treats with you today – a raspberry and orange polenta cake.

The great think about this is that it’s gluten free, but doesn’t have any nightmare ingredients that you either can’t find, or have to hand over a fortune for: polenta and ground almonds take over from flour, and do a very good job. Of course, most of us can happily chow down on wheat and rye without a second thought about gluten, myself included, but people with an intolerance or coeliac disease have to watch out.

One of my friends, Tom, has to avoid this particular protein composite, so when I heard he and his fiancée were visiting, I thought it was about time to crack out this recipe. His brother also joined us, and I think together we made a crack baking team.

And you know what? It’s delicious. Easily the best cake I’ve had in a long time. The texture is great, the raspberry and orange strike a great balance between sweet and sour… just try it.

Jen and Josh on orange duty

200g margarine
300g golden caster sugar
3 large free-range eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g polenta
200g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder (check that you pick a gluten-free variety!)
Finely grated zest and juice of two oranges
165g raspberries
2 tablespoons flaked almonds
2 tablespoons orange liqueur (optional, but not really)

1. Get the oven on! 160°C (320 Fahrenheit) and line a tin – the recipe card recommends a 23cm Springform cake tin

2. Whisk the margarine and 200g of the sugar (not the whole lot!) until the mixture is creamy. Then it’s time to beat in the eggs and the vanilla extract. Unless you’re us and forget, in which case do it in a panic right before the cake goes in the oven.

3. Add in the polenta, ground almonds, baking powder and orange zest and mix, mix, mix. Around now it will start to smell incredible. Stir in the raspberries (carefully, or you’ll end up with mush). Spoon the whole lot into the tin, and sprinkle the flaked almonds on top. Now it goes into the oven for about fifty minutes, until it’s firm and golden brown.

Tom the master mixer
The batter is pretty delicious too

4. When you have about fifteen minutes of cooking time left, start simmering the orange juice and the other 100g sugar. Give it a stir now and then and make sure the sugar isn’t sticking to the pan and burning. It will thicken up into a syrup. Once you’ve taken it off the heat, you can stir in the not-really-optional liqueur. This syrup has a really unusual flavour – it’s kind of like marmalade! But nice, I promise.

Me supervising the syrup

5. Once the cake is out of the oven, make a few little holes in it with a skewer and pour over the syrup

6. Let it cool before you eat it. Be strong.

Quick tricks: making hair flowers

Honestly, this is so quick and easy I feel like a bit of a cheat writing a blog post about it.

When I knew I was going to be making this dress, I thought how lovely it would be to have some blue hair flowers to go with it. Blue, however, doesn’t seem to be a popular hair flower colour and, well, I couldn’t find any. Whilst walking around Sheffield town centre filled with existential despair (how could you do this to me, Accessorize?), I spotted a shop selling bunches of plastic flowers for a pound. A pound? Hmm.

An hour later I was home, armed with plastic flowers, the kind of hair clips I haven’t worn since I was a little girl, and some very serious-looking glue. I picked a Bostik glue that had “metals” in the list of things you could use it to stick – I’m pretty sure anything strong will do.

From there, it was simple – I cut the stems of the fake flowers as close to the petals as I could (be careful not to cut into the part holding the flowers together), popped the clips open, drizzled plenty of glue on the base of the flowers, arranged them nicely on the clips, and left overnight to dry. And done!