I'm a big fan of a Marguerite Patten Christmas cake recipe from a 2007 Guardian supplement. I make one every year. I'd planned to make smaller versions as gifts for friends this year, but don't know how to adjust the cooking times. I want to make four cakes, so should I just go for four separate smaller tins, or for a cake tin with dividers? And how should I adjust the baking times? The original calls for 90 minutes at 160C and then two hours at 145C.
There was only one thing for it, and that was to go to the oracle herself. This is what Marguerite told me: "It's quite hard to adjust the cooking times, and I hate giving advice on things I haven't tried myself – ideally, I'd like to know exactly how big the cake tins are. But I suggest starting at 150C, then, after an hour, if the cake has changed colour, drop to 140-145C and test with a skewer after a further hour's baking."
I really like the giant couscous in ready-made deli salad mixes, but can't find it uncooked anywhere.
This made me look more deeply into the world of couscous than I had reason to before, and fascinating it is, too, what with multiple names, variants and even ingredients. It is rather too complicated to go into in detail here, but suffice to say it would seem that the one you're looking for is mougrabieh or moghrabieh, a Levantine variant popular in Israel that's made using hard wheat rather than the semolina wheat used in the smaller couscous. The Sardinian pasta, fregola sarda, could also fit the description (try Melbury & Appleton). Anyway, Merchant Gourmet has giant couscous at £2.09 for 300g, and it's sold in a good many supermarkets and delis. If you want a genuine Levantine version, try the Liban Vert brand (£2.95 a kilo) from maroque.co.uk, which also stocks fine and medium couscous, as well as Belazu's traditional Moroccan version made from barley.
In the matter of the Barnsley chop (14 December), it seems I traduced the name of the incomparable Jane Grigson and apologise profusely for it. As Mary Lorigan, Sheila Partington, Ronald Bell and Michael and Gillian Harrison all pointed out, the great woman does deal with the question in her Observer Guide To British Food. And thanks to Kathleen Roberts and Paul Barton for their contributions to the debate. In an attempt to illuminate the mystery, I leave the last words to Clive Poppleton who, quoting the Ferret of the Barnsley Chronicle, wrote, "The dish is thought to have originated at the King's Head Hotel on Market Hill in 1849. On market day, farmers were served a 'very large chop' known as the Barnsley chop. When Barnsley town hall was opened in 1933, the then Prince of Wales and other guests were served Barnsley chops. The weight of each chop was 1lb 6oz, and just two chops came from each animal. A civic review in 1949 said the chop comprised the first three ribs after the shoulder, and only two such chops can be obtained from a sheep. It was then dressed and hung for about 10 days, before being cooked by a special process to ensure tenderness. It's usually served with chips and Barnsley-brewed beer."
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