The garden is buzzing again. Well, buzzing, flapping and crawling in fact. Each day, once the morning fog has lifted and the air warms up a little, there are bees, butterflies and ladybirds out and about and looking for food.
They’ve spent the winter hiding out in sheltered spots, and now their priority must be to find food. The ladybirds would be more than happy with a meal of aphids, and the early growth of nettles is supposed to be good for attracting aphids… yes, that would be another reason to let a patch of nettles grow in the garden. But if it’s early in the season and there aren’t enough aphids to go around, the ladybirds will broaden their diet and feed on nectar and pollen too.
The bumblebee queens that are fresh out of hibernation are also looking for nectar. They need the sugary liquid to build up energy reserves, and fuel their flights in search of a suitable nesting site. The crocus flowers were getting a lot of visitors over the weekend. Even the pots of flowers on the patio got plenty of attention – just goes to show that you don’t need a garden to be able to grow some nectar for the bees.
The weather has been good enough for us to eat outdoors too… almost unheard of in these parts so early in the year. A (very) late breakfast on Sunday made the most of the warm, still conditions, and we were able to enjoy home baked teacakes and a cup of coffee sitting on the steps at the back of the house. I’ve been using the Hairy Biker’s recipe for spiced teacakes, which is very good, for a while now. After making them a few times, I started to use my new favourite spice mix in place of the individual spices in the original recipe. I’d seen Lebanese 7 spice called for in some of the recipes in Anissa Helou’s book Levant and, curious as to how it would taste, I bought a pack when I saw it at the supermarket. Turns out it’s just right in these teacakes – making a traditional English bake with a Middle Eastern flavouring. The next step in the evolution of the perfect teacake came about more recently. This month, The Spice Trail over at Bangers & Mash has ginger as the featured spice.
Ginger in any form is acceptable, including that lovely sweet, sticky preserved ginger that comes bathed in an even sweeter and stickier syrup. Using chopped ginger in place of some of the dried fruit adds even more flavour to the teacakes. Split them, toast them and serve them spread with some good, salty butter – very good for breakfast… even on a day when the sun isn’t shining.
375g strong white bread flour
¼ tsp sea salt
2 tsp fast action dried yeast
3 tsp Lebanese 7 spice
zest of 1 orange
50g golden caster sugar
4 knobs of preserved stem ginger, about 75g, chopped
150ml semi-skimmed milk
50g unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp syrup from a jar of preserved stem ginger
Mix the flour, salt, yeast, spices, orange zest, sugar, ginger and currants together in a large mixing bowl.
Add the milk to the melted butter, then beat in the egg and ginger syrup. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mix to form a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and knead for 5-10 minutes. Return the kneaded dough to the mixing bowl, cover and leave to prove for 1½ hours.
Divide the dough into six equal pieces, and shape each one into a flattened round. Place the teacakes onto a greased baking sheet. Cover and leave to rise for 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 190oC, 375F, gas 5. Once the oven is heated, bake the teacakes for 15-18 minutes, until they are golden brown and sound hollow when the underside is tapped. The original recipe says the teacakes should be eaten within 24 hours. But we have, on rare occasions when they’ve lasted more than one day, toasted and eaten them on the second day without any complaints…