Sunday, 22 December 2013

Funky Fairtrade sugar meringues

This week I chose Fairtrade sugar as my main ingredient (hence the sugar post a few  days ago) and it was partly because I caught a few minutes of a Paul Hollywood (baking god in the UK) programme where he introduced the 'Meringue Girls', who are (very successfully), making meringues 'cool' and becoming quite famous in the UK... here is a link to their website:

Anyway, what really struck me, was their technique to colour the inside of the piping bag in order to create the most beautiful coloured meringues... and so I decided to give it a go... here goes my experiment:

- 3 egg whites
- 175 grs. of Fairtrade caster sugar
- pink and purple food colouring gel
(cream and berries optional!)

1) Heat the sugar under the grill until it is just about to start melting (starts to turn slightly brown). This is also part of the Meringue Girl's technique.

2) Beat the eggs (in a clean and dry bowl) until partly stiff.

3) Add the sugar, a spoonful at the time, and beat again until very stiff.

4) Prepare your piping bag, by turning it inside out and colouring lines with a small paint brush (I used pink and purple food colouring gel)

 5) Insert the beaten egg-whites and start piping!

6) Bake in the oven at 120C for 1 1/2 hrs, until they can be lifted easily from the bottom without sticking. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and leave them in there until cold.  Enjoy!

The verdict:

Well, they were actually quite easy and fun to make... and they offer so many 'funky' possibilities (no wonder the 'meringue girls' are doing so well) and certainly deliver on the 'Wow factor'... but, for me, the problem is that meringues are simply too sweet.... and after 1-2 small  bites, I just didn't want any more...
In the summer we often have them with Greek yogurt and fresh berries... and that works well... so perhaps I will try them again then... but I don't think they delivered what I was hoping for in terms of a winter dessert!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

In support of all visionaries out there!

Now, I know that this blog is about Fairtrade Food... but I just have to include a little paragraph about this company that I am in awe of ... it's called Visionary Soap, and it sells a wide range of Fairtrade bath & body care products manufactured here in the UK.

All their products are handmade using natural ingredients from producer groups in Palestine, India, Sri Lanka, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and South Africa and they use a very high percentage of Fairtrade ingredients in all of their formulations, which is fantastic already, but what makes them even more special is that all their products are made through a job training programme within marginalised communities in southern England ,offering opportunities to individuals that are in need here in the UK too. WOW!

They are now trying to develop a Fairtrade certified, organic liquid soap range using coconut oil from Fair Trade Alliance Kerala (FTAK) in India (remember them from my cashew posts?), and need out help! they are trying to raise £10,000 to fund the first production run, through a crowd-funding campaign.

Please check out the details of how you can get involved, and also their website where there is much more information!

We need more of this type of visionaries in this world, and I for one have contributed my bit... hope they can achieve this, and MUCH MORE!!!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

About Fairtrade Sugar and early forms of fairtrade campaigning

This week I will talk about Fairtrade Sugar.

Sugar, like coffee and cocoa, is one of the most successful Fairtrade products sold in the UK.  I clearly remember how in 2008 the Fairtrade world was rocked when the giant Tate & Lyle announced its commitment to convert 100% of its retail branded sugar to Fairtrade.This was one of the biggest switches ever to be made to Fairtrade, and according to the Fairtrade Foundation website, the increase in the total volumes  of Fairtrade sugar sold in comparison to the previous year as a result was around tenfold! Now that is significant.

But, of course, sugar as a commodity has an enormous amount of history and the bit that really interests me is the sugar boycotts of the late 1700s when , thousands of pamphlets were printed both in the UK and the USA which encouraged people to boycott sugar produced by slaves. According to the BBC's History website around 300,000 people abandoned sugar resulting in sales dropping by a third to a half.

Hundreds of thousands of people also signed petitions calling for the abolition of the slave trade. Many even supported the campaign against their own interests.  The size and strength of feeling demonstrated by these popular protests made even pro-slavery politicians consider the consequences of ignoring public opinion.

Mobilisation of the public remains an essential tool in achieving political change, and it's certainly at the core of the Fairtrade movement.  The sugar boycott is one of the earliest examples of consumers using their purchasing power to reject the trade in goods that had not been ethically produced.

I have the greatest admiration to all of those activist around the world, who in most circumstances, lobby for or against something they believe in and dont just  ignore the great challenges out there and who are not to wrapped in their own lives to see all the major things that still need changing in the world.

I love some of the images of labels at the time:

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Fairtrade Walnut Panettone... disaster

So, I was feeling all christmassy and reminiscing about being back home (in Bolivia where I'm from) where it's not Christmas until someone has given you a huge panettone, you didn't want and probably don't like very much!

Nonetheless it was wonderful to watch everyone leave their offices on Christmas Eve with the customary (and dare I say almost obligatory) box of panettone, a pretty dodgy bottle of wine and a whole chicken. I have lived abroad for too long to know if this still happens... but I certainly have very fond memories of this... especially when I proudly received them for the first time and my mum used them to make our family's traditional Picana (a Christmas soup with several meats and several bottles of wine!) and so, I decided to give it a go.... how hard could it be?

I guess the fact that all the recipes and websites I came across almost encouraged you to opt for something else should have been a clue... but off I went and purchased my special panettone baking cases on line, some lovely Fairtrade walnuts from Traidcraft and I chose the easiest recipe I could find (with only one rising period) certain i would be able to pull it off.

Well... I don't think I need words to describe what happened next... I'll just show you.
Complete sticky mess.

Which I somehow managed to get into the (very expensive by the way) cases, and which simply failed to rise... AT ALL.. after 4 hours in the warm airing cupboard:
Still holding on to my optimism and thinking it couldn't be that bad... after all -I had added loads of Amaretto to the recipe - so it could only taste great... I decided to still go ahead and bake them.

And when they came out... they didn't look that bad...

But... don't be fooled. The were foul. We all had a couple of mouthfuls of the weird sweet bready mess that could not be called a panettone... and to the bin the went.

What went wrong? well... I think I may have accidentally used 4 eggs and 3 extra yolks, rather than 3 eggs and 4 yolks... I guessed that 15 teaspoons of butter it would be half a pack...and finally because of all the flour I added while trying to knead the dough (sticky mess)... and Chris thinks that my addition of walnuts and amaretto might have had an effect as well... perhaps the alcohol killed the yeast?

Oh well... I guess I've learned my lesson... and after all, I admit it, I am one of many Bolivians, that don't actually like it anyway!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Fairtrade coffee bean chocolate bark

The key ingredient for this recipe is Fairtrade coffee beans (whole). Coffee is another one of the most successful Fairtrade products in the UK. Most big brands and supermarkets have their own Fairtrade lines and there are also many specialised and boutique brands.

I love coffee.I wish I could drink more of it! but I can only handle 1 cup a day before I have trouble sleeping at night... but I do cherish and look forward to my 10:00 a.m. cup, once Lucas goes down for his morning nap.

Like wine or tea or beer I suppose, I find that coffee has such a culture around it, from how anyone prefers to drink it, to its origin, all it's tasting notes and the snobbery around 'ruining it' by adding milk or sugar.

I wanted to find a recipe where coffee was not just another ingredient, like in many of the cake ones I came across... but where it was king! and so I remembered a Cafe back home, where instead of crisps, they would offer you a small bowl of chocolate covered coffee beans and how divine it was to crunch the beans and get the sweetness and creaminess of the chocolate. It was then that I stumbled upon the concept of chocolate 'bark' (looks like tree bark, as in the picture above) which is a popular handmade gift in the US... so with the festive period approaching (and a Xmas party around the corner) I decided to give it a go.

It's actually very simple... and I warn you... I'm not sure I can really call it cooking... but in any case here it goes:

- 150 grs of dark chocolate
- 150 grs of white chocolate
- 1/4 cup of fairtrade coffee beans (whole)


1) Prepare a sheet of non-stick baking paper.

2) Grind the coffee beans a bit, but so that some of them are still whole.

3) Break the chocolate into small squares and melt it. I  just used the microwave, but you need to remember to only blast it for 30 seconds at the time, then stir and repeat until it's all melted.
Do the same with the white chocolate.

4) Spread it on the paper, sprinkle the ground coffee and then using a spoon, spread the white chocolate on top making lines for the bark 'look''.

5) Or you could spread the white chocolate and just sprinkle the coffee on top.

5) Pop them in the fridge for at least a couple of hours until they become solid again and you can peel them off the paper.

6) That's it, simply break them into pieces and enjoy!

The verdict

Well, they were nice, but I think you have to really like coffee to love them... it could easily be too strong a flavour for some. I also thought they would make great handmade gifts, but because they were quite delicate and prone to melting... it could be difficult to either wrap them or get them to their destination intact. 

I also felt that actually they needed to be part of something else, like perhaps to sit on top of the coffee cake i didn't make!

The best part for me was how fun it was for my daughter to make her own version...

Will I make them again? I don't think so... but I still want to experiment with coffee, so I'll continue researching ideas, especially since I've had a mysterious anonymous delivery of Fairtrade coffee, which I plan to use next time!