Category Archives: Baking

Spread a Little Joy. #ChristmasWithMackays

Christmas is not a word I normally utter until at least 1st December.  I’ve no time for people who do their gift shopping in mid June, (and worse still, feel the need to tell you about it!), our decorations don’t come out of their tissue paper slumber until about 13th December, and I can still be heard uttering, “we’re in for an Indian summer”, when most people are stocking up on selection boxes.  However, the one exception to this, (just!), is Christmas food.  I love Christmas food.  The bakes, the roast, the sweets.  All of it.  I’m happy to start thinking about what I’m going to make, and more importantly, eat during the festive period once the last of the Guy Fawkes bonfires have burned out.

Just around the time that I was starting to think about mince pies, roast turkeys and the like, word came out about the #ChristmasWithMackays challenge.  Following on from their successful #BakingWithMackays initiative, the Arbroath based producer of jams, marmalades, curds, preserves and conserves, asked bloggers to come up with recipe ideas specifically for Christmas, using their products.  Well I’m always up for a challenge, so decided to have a bash.  The recipes have been tried, tested and tweaked and my merry band of guinea pigs gave them the thumbs up, (to be fair they’d eat anything but having tasted them myself I can say they were actually pretty good.)  The idea behind these recipes is that they offer a lighter alternative to traditional Christmas pudding and cake but are still full of the flavours we associate with the festive season.

Citrus & Spice Steamed Christmas Pudding

Serves 6 – 8 (or 4 very greedy people)

Ingredients:

  • 4 – 5 tbsp Mackays pink grapefruit marmalade    
  • 175g soft butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • juice and rind of 1 small unwaxed orange
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 tbsp Marsala (optional)

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Method:

  1. Grease a 900ml pudding basin, (mine is a bog standard Pyrex bowl), and put the marmalade in the bottom.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat the eggs in one at a time.  If the mixture looks as though it’s curdling, add a spoonful of your flour and beat like crazy.
  4. Sift in flour and spices, add vanilla, orange rind and juice, and Marsala, (you can use any booze you like or leave it our completely).
  5. Mix everything together so all the spices, rind etc. are evenly distributed.
  6. Spoon mix into pudding basin, on top of the marmalade.
  7. Lay a large sheet of baking paper on top of a sheet of foil.  Grease the baking paper with butter to stop it sticking.  Fold a pleat in the centre of the foil and paper to give the pudding room to expand as it cooks.  Tie the foil onto the pudding basin with string. It needs to be really tight so tie twice to be safe.  Tie on a length of string to create a handle over the top of the pudding.  Trim off the excess foil and paper and tuck it all underneath to make sure the pudding is completely watertight.
  8. Put a saucer face side down into a really large pot, sit the pudding on top of the saucer, fill the pot with boiling water from the kettle about halfway up the pudding basin, clamp on a lid and leave on a very low heat to putter away for around 2 1/2 hours.
  9. Keep an eye on the water level during this time and top up with boiling water if needs be.
  10. To test if the pudding’s ready insert a skewer into the middle.  If it comes out clean it’s ready, if not give it about another 15 – 20 minutes.
  11. Once ready, remove the foil and paper and carefully turn onto a plate or cake stand.
  12. Serve with custard, cream, brandy butter or ice cream.

If you have a pudding basin with a lid and a nice fancy steamer you can miss out all of step 7 and most of step 8.  To be honest though, the paper/foil pot/saucer methods work perfectly.

The pudding will keep for about 3 – 4 days if covered well.  It doesn’t generally last that long!

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I think this pudding is perfect for those who don’t like fruit laden, traditional Christmas pudding or those who want a bit of a lighter option.  This pudding smells and tastes like Christmas with the lovely orange and spices, (and booze!), and the sharp, tangy grapefruit marmalade cuts through the sweetness and richness and goes really well with all the spices.  If you cook this you won’t need expensive scented candles in the house.  It smells fantastic when it’s cooking!  If you don’t like some of the spices I used you could easily change them for something you prefer.  I like a strong ginger flavour and less cinnamon, you may be the complete opposite.  Do go easy on the cloves, though, or the pudding will taste like a trip to the dentist!  Likewise you can use any booze you like or miss it out completely.

The pudding mix can be made in advance, so if you’re making this on Christmas Day you can get all the mix done, covered and tied in the morning, leave it and then just pop in to steam as and when you want.

Now you’ll probably notice that the ingredients and mixing method for the pudding look remarkably like those of a baked sponge cake.  I thought so too so decided to try this out as a baked cake rather than a steamed pudding.  You only need a few tweaks if that’s the option you prefer…

Citrus & Spice Christmas Cake

Serves 8 – 10

Ingredients:

  • 200g soft butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 200g self raising flour
  • All other ingredients exactly the same as those used in the steamed pudding
  • Icing sugar, glitter, any decoration you like

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 190c/375/f/gas 5 and grease and line 2 x 20 cm loose bottomed cake tins.
  2. Mix everything together as instructed in the steamed pudding recipe.
  3. Divide the mixture between the tins, knocking each on your work surface to release any air bubbles.
  4. Bake in the oven for around 20 minutes, (my oven only take 17 minutes so get to know your own oven).  When a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, it’s ready.
  5. Cool cakes on a wire rack and remove from tins.
  6. Once completely cool spread a generous amount of Mackays pink grapefruit marmalade on one of the cakes and top with the other cake.  Whipped cream or one of the lovely flavoured creams you get at Christmas, whipped up, would be delicious spread on top of the marmalade before topping with the second cake.
  7. Dust a snowfall of icing sugar on top of the cake or go crazy with glitter and baubles or any other festive adornment you fancy.

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Again, this is a great alternative for those who don’t like or don’t want heavy, fruit Christmas cake.  The addition of spices, orange and booze take it up a notch from a normal Victoria Sandwich so it does feel and taste more special and festive.  Without cream the cake will keep for a good 3 – 4 days as long as it’s covered.

Both the steamed pudding and the cake would also work really well with Mackays spiced ginger preserve but I think the tangy marmalade was a really tasty and quite unusual addition and really worth trying.

So there we have my #ChristmasWithMackays recipes.  Worth a try for a wee change and both really, really easy and pretty purse friendly.  Although I’m presenting them as Christmas recipes I think they’d both work well any time of the year. Remember, a pud is for life…not just for Christmas.

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How To… Piñata Cake and Guinness & Rye Bread

This past week I’ve been doing quite a bit of baking and I’ve been asked to blog the instructions for two of these bakes by several people.  The first, and most popular, is a piñata cake that I made for my niece’s birthday.  The second is an experimental Guinness & rye loaf.  An experiment which turned out much better than I thought it would!

I’ll try and give the instructions in as clear and easy a way as possible but, of course, if there’s any questions just ask.

Piñata Cake

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This is a really easy way to give a sandwich cake a bit of wow factor.  The cake is filled with sweets and when it’s cut the sweets will spill out of the cake.  Hence why it’s called a piñata cake.

I made this with a Victoria Sandwich recipe.  I wanted three layers so I used a standard recipe for two of the layers and then just halved that recipe for the third layer.  I wasn’t sure if that would work but luckily it did.  So here’s the ingredients and method for the sponge part:

Ingredients:

200g soft butter (100g for the 3rd layer)

200g caster sugar (100g for the third layer)

4 eggs (2 for the 3rd layer)

1 tsp vanilla extract (a scant tsp for the 3rd layer)

200g self raising flour (100g for the 3rd layer)

Food colouring gels (optional)

Method:

Set the oven to 190c/375f/Gas Mark 5

Butter and line 3 x 20cm tins

Cream the butter and sugar together until very pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating after you’ve added each egg.  Stir in the vanilla with a metal spoon.  Sieve in the flour and stir to mix with a metal spoon.  At this point I divided the mix and coloured each layer differently with food colouring gels.  That’s completely optional.  Divide the mixture into the tins and bake for approximately 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool in their tins on a wire rack.  Repeat all the steps for the 3rd layer of sponge.

Now to explain how to assemble and fill the cake.  I used a small amount of seedless raspberry jam to sandwich the layers together.  I used a mixture of Smarties, white chocolate buttons, sweetie teeth and dolly mixtures to fill the cake but to be honest if I was making this again I would use only Smarties as they ‘spill’ out of the cake much easier.  Jelly beans would probably work well too.  At least 5 tubes of Smarties would be needed to fill a cake of this size.

Put the bottom layer of cake on a board with the flat side on the board.  Take a small amount of sponge out of the middle of the cake so you get a slight crater in the cake.  Spread jam round the top of the cake – don’t put any jam on the crater part.  Take the second sponge and cut a circle out of the middle of the cake so your left with a cake ring.  Sit the ring on top of the bottom layer and fill the hole with your sweets, (see pic above.)  Spread jam on top of the ring but make sure it doesn’t drip into the sweets.  Take the third layer.  As you did with the bottom layer, remove a small amount of sponge from the middle of the cake so you’re left with a crater.  If you do this on the rounded side of the cake you’ll be left with a nice flat top for decorating.  Sit the third layer, flat side up, on top of the other two layers.  Press it down gently to make sure all the layers are sticking together nicely, but not so hard that jam comes squirting out of the sides.  Don’t worry if there’s any gaps around the side of the cake as these can easily be filled and smoothed out with your icing.

At this point you could just cover the whole cake with buttercream or cream cheese icing and the effect would still be the same when you cut into the cake.  Because my niece wanted a Peppa Pig cake I was decorating it with fondant icing.  I made a vanilla butter cream and spread a thin layer all over the cake, filling in any gaps around the side of the cake, (see pic above.)  I then put it in the fridge until the buttercream set.  This stops crumbs from the cake getting into your icing.  I then removed it from the fridge and applied a second coat of buttercream which was the glue for the fondant icing which was rolled out, draped over the cake and cut and smoothed to a neat-ish finish, (see pic above.)  I then decorated the cake with a fondant icing Peppa Pig, fondant stars and my niece’s name iced onto the cake.

Any decoration would work well with this cake whether it’s a creamy icing or a fondant or royal icing.  There’s no way of telling from the outside of the cake that there’s loads of sweeties inside so the look on face of the person you’ve baked it for when then they cut into it will be worth the little bit of extra work you’ve put into making the cake.  I promise, this is not much more difficult that baking and assembling a standard sandwich cake.  You’re just making one extra layer and doing a wee bit of cutting.  If you don’t want to waste the extra sponge you’ve cut out you could maybe use it to make cake pops or just eat it as you go along!

Guinness & Rye Bread

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I hadn’t baked any bread for a while and fancied having a bit of an experiment with a new loaf.  As I had some Guinness in the house and some rye flour that never gets used I thought I would try using them in the loaf.  The recipe was based on a tin loaf recipe with a few tweaks.  Tweaking doesn’t always work in baking as it’s such a science but sometimes it’s good to try something new.  If it works, great.  If not, it’s all a learning experience.  I’m glad to say this particular experiment worked.

Ingredients:

300g strong bread flour

100g rye flour

8g table salt

7g instant yeast

25g unsalted butter, melted,

250ml Guinness

oil for kneading and greasing the tin

Method:

Put the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl.  Make sure the salt and yeast don’t touch at this stage as the salt will kill the yeast.

Add the butter and about 2/3 of the Guinness and turn the mixture around with your fingers to make a dough, (if your hand looks like a claw you’re doing it right!)  Slowly add the rest of the Guinness whilst mixing until all the flour has been picked up into a dough.  You might not need to use all the liquid or you might need a bit more, (the Guinness comes in 330ml bottles so you’ll have plenty.)  Keep mixing in the bowl until you have a rough dough.

Spread a little bit of oil on your work surface to stop the dough sticking.  Put the dough on the work surface and then knead for a good 10 minutes until the dough feels smooth and not sticky.

Put the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave somewhere warm for at least an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Oil a 1kg loaf tin.

Tip the dough onto a work surface that’s been lightly floured.  Shape the dough into a ball until all the air is knocked out and you have a smooth dough.  Roughly shape it into an oblong to fit the tin making sure that any folds are on the bottom.  Put the dough into the oiled tin.

Put the tin into a plastic bag and leave it somewhere warm for at least an hour until the dough has doubled in size.  It should spring back when you prod it gently.  Set the oven to 220c and put a roasting tin in the bottom of the oven.

Dust the top of the loaf with a wee bit of flour.  Fill the roasting tin with some water to create steam, which will give you a nice crust, and put the bread into the oven.

Bake for around 30 minutes.  You’ll know the bread is ready when you take it out of the tin and you tap the bottom and it sounds hollow.

Cool the bread, out of the tin, on a wire rack.

The flavour of this bread was yeasty and nutty.  The smell when it was baking was fantastic and the Guinness and rye flour gave it a lovely colour.  This was great just with butter but would also be perfect with cheese.  Given it’s ale content it would be the ideal loaf to have with a Ploughman’s.  Delicious.

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Spread A Little Happiness. #BakingWithMackays Part 1.

Whilst I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth, I really like jams, marmalades, jellies, etc.  One of the greatest pleasures in life for me is a jam sandwich made with either raspberry jam or bramble jelly, (incidentally I’m a salted butter with my jam girl and the bread has to be Mother’s Pride plain.)  So I was really excited when I got the chance to be part of #BakingWithMackays, an initiative that Mackays, the Arbroath based producer of jams, marmalades, curds, preserves and conserves, have been promoting on Twitter.  I selected a number of items from Mackays’ range which they very kindly sent to me in return for me coming up with some recipes and telling you all about them on here.  All of the posts for #BakingWithMackays will come under the title of ‘Spread a Little Happiness’.

The first of these recipes is Ginger & Lemon Sandwich.  This was made using Mackays’ Spiced Ginger Preserve.  It’s a very simple recipe based on a traditional Victoria Sandwich, but highlights how by using different ingredients or flavours, an old favourite can be transformed into something new and exciting.  I love ginger and use it a lot in my cooking; both savoury and sweet.  I love the heat it provides and matched with zesty lemon it’s a culinary marriage made in heaven.  Ginger is reputed to have a number of health benefits so if you bake and eat this cake perhaps you could convince yourself you’re actually being very health conscious!

 

Ginger & Lemon Sandwich

Ingredients:

200g butter, softened

200g caster sugar

4 eggs

200g self-raising flour

zest of 1 lemon and 1 tbs lemon juice (you could replace this with 1 tsp vanilla extract if you wish)

small tub whipping cream (approx. 200ml)

approx. third of a jar of lemon curd*

approx. third of a jar of Mackays Spiced Ginger Preserve

2 – 3 tbs icing sugar

(I’ve given approximations here as I think it’s a personal choice how much filling you have in your cake.  As you will see from the photograph below I probably used too much filling!)

*Mackays produce a lemon curd but I think it’s fair that I point out here that I didn’t use their’s for this particular cake.

 

Method:

1.  Grease two 20cm loose-bottomed cake tins and line the bottoms with baking paper.  Preheat the oven to 190c/375f/gas mark 5

2.  Cream the butter and sugar together for a good 5 minutes with an electric whisk, (if you’re lazy like me!), until really pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.  If the mixture looks like it’s starting to curdle slightly just add a wee bit of your flour, beat well and it’ll all come good.

3.  Stir in the lemon zest and juice or vanilla with a metal spoon.

4.  Sieve in the flour and stir in with a metal spoon.

5.  Divide the mixture between the 2 tins.  Top Tip…if you make a slight dip in the middle of the cake batter your cakes will come out with a flatter top.  I always forget to do this!  Knock each tin on your work surface to get rid of any air pockets and put in the oven to bake for approximately 20 minutes.  This is totally dependant on your oven.  I’ve found with my oven 17 minutes is the perfect cooking time.  Once ready the cakes should bounce back when pressed slightly and a skewer inserted into the middle will come out clean.  Leave the cakes to cool completely on a wire rack.

6.  When the cakes have cooled completely remove them from the tins.  It’s easiest to do this by sitting them on a mug and pushing down so the outer ring of the tin falls but the cake and base of the tin are still secure on top of the mug.

7.  Whip the cream until it’s voluptuously thick but hasn’t gone ‘buttery’.  Fold the lemon curd through the cream.  It’s nice to have ribbons of the curd so don’t mix it through completely.  For an extra lemon hit you could add some additional lemon zest.

8.  Place one of the cakes on a serving dish or cake stand and spread thickly with the Spiced Ginger Preserve.  Top with the lemon curd cream, (you probably won’t need to use it all but it’s nice to serve on the side as well or, even better, eat straight from the bowl!), and place the second cake carefully on top.  Sieve a small amount of icing sugar over the surface of the cake.

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Et voila!  Ginger & Lemon Sandwich.  Perfect with a cup of tea.  A lovely combination of sharp lemon and spicy, earthy ginger.  I recommend you give it a try.

You can follow Mackays on Twitter at  @Mackays_jams or like on Facebook at facebook/Mackays.jams

 

 

 

 

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Have Your Cake And Eat It

This past week I’ve been doing a lot of baking. More specifically, I’ve been baking a lot of cake. This is no bad thing as the smell of cakes baking in the house, especially during this vile weather we’ve been having, is both cosy and comforting.

First up were Pimm’s Cup Cakes. I baked these to have on Sunday which was World Baking Day. I was going along to a Tea Party Crafternoon run by knittykittybangbang and thought these would be a welcome addition to the cake stand.

Unfortunately it’s far from Pimm’s weather just now but if you eat these in a warm, cosy house, perhaps watching ‘Escape to the Sun’, or similar, it might not feel as though you’re in the grip of some Armageddon-esque storm.

Pimm’s Cupcakes

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There are lots of recipes on the go for these and I’ve tried a few of them. This is my cobbled together version that borrows from several of the recipes I’ve tried. I top them with cream cheese frosting because I don’t like buttercream but you could easily make a Pimm’s flavoured buttercream if that is your preference. You could also leave out the filling if you can’t be bothered with it, but it’s a really nice addition and I strongly recommend you include it.

This makes 6 large muffin size or 10 – 12 fairy cake size.

Cakes:

  • 125g butter, softened but not melted
  • 125g golden caster sugar (it doesn’t have to be golden, that’s just what I always use)
  • 2 tbsp Pimm’s
  • 2 large eggs
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tbsp milk

Filling:

  • 5 strawberries (approximately, depends on how big they are)
  • 8 – 10 raspberries
  • a couple of segments of orange, skinned
  • about an inch of cucumber
  • about 4 – 5 mint leaves
  • tbsp Pimm’s

Icing:

  • 115g butter, softened but not melted
  • 165g cream cheese, at room temperature (that is really important. It won’t mix well otherwise)
  • 330g icing sugar, sieved
  • tbsp Pimm’s
  • lemon juice (optional)

Decoration:

  • sliced strawberries
  • whole raspberries
  • small, thin pieces of cucumber
  • mint leaves (smaller ones look better)

Equipment:

  • paper cupcake cases – either muffin or fairy cake size. If you can get red, white and blue ones they look great for these.
  • 6-hole muffin tin or 12-hole fairy cake tin
  • If you have an electric hand whisk or freestanding mixer and a food processor these cakes will be even easier to bake!

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees if you want flat-top cakes or 180 degrees if you want dome-top cakes. (That is a TOP TIP. I spent years trying to get flat-top cupcakes until I discovered it all came down to temperature and time in the oven. This came courtesy of lovely Marian Keyes‘ fabulous book, Saved By Cake). Line trays with paper cases.
  2. Using an electric hand whisk or a freestanding mixer if you have one, (you lucky sod!), cream the butter, sugar and Pimm’s until they’re really light and fluffy. A good 5 – 7 minutes I’m afraid, or at least until your arm wants to drop off.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time and give a good mix after each one. If it looks like the mixture has curdled a bit don’t panic, just add a wee bit of your flour to the mix and give it a good beat. It’ll all come good. (That is also a TOP TIP).
  4. Add the flour, baking powder and salt to the mix. I don’t think you need to sieve it unless you want to. Add the milk and fold the whole thing gently with a metal spoon but don’t over mix. (That is a DOUBLE TOP TIP. If you use a plastic or wooden spoon to mix with you’ll knock the air out of the thing you’ve just spent 7 minutes getting light and fluffy. If you over mix at the flour stage you’ll get tough, dry cakes).
  5. Dollop a spoonful of the mix into each case. You want them to be about 3/4 full so they don’t spill madly over the top.
  6. If you’re doing big muffin sized cakes and you want flat-tops bake for around 25 minutes, 22 if you want dome-tops. If you’re doing fairy cake size bake for 22 minutes for flat-tops and 18 minutes for dome-tops, (remember they’re done at different temperatures). It’s important to stress each oven is different so just keep an eye on them. You likely know how long a cupcake takes in your oven. I tend to turn my tray halfway through as I’ve got a hot spot in my oven. When a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, they’re ready. This particular recipe gives a moist, sticky cake. I think that’s down to the booze. Cool them on a wire rack and don’t even think about putting any icing near them until they’re completely cool, tempting as it may be!
  7. To make the fruity filling chuck all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until mushy but not totally annihilated. If you don’t have a food processor or a blender you could probably achieve the same result by mashing with a fork but the orange and cucumber may prove slightly more difficult to mash. Put this in the fridge to chill whilst the cakes are cooling.
  8. Once cool, cut a circle out of each cake to remove the centre, (not all the way down to the bottom of the cake), fill with about a teaspoon of the fruity mix and pop the cake tops back on. You might have to ditch a small amount of the sponge you’ve cut out so the fruit doesn’t come spurting out the top.
  9. To make the icing, cream the butter, cream cheese, icing sugar and Pimm’s together. I also add lemon juice to give a slightly sharper flavour. Now, if you’re using a freestanding mixer you’ve probably got one of those posh guard things to stop the icing sugar flying everywhere. If you’re like me and you’re using an electric hand whisk, try and cover your arm and the bowl with a tea towel so you and the kitchen don’t end up looking like something from Miss Havisham‘s parlour, (another TOP TIP). However, please be careful to make sure the tea towel doesn’t slip and end up in the blades of your whisk. I speak from bitter experience. You’ll need to mix for a good 2 – 3 minutes to incorporate all the sugar. If it’s looking a bit ‘loose’ just pop in the fridge for a bit before you start icing. I actually baked my cakes on Saturday, covered them when they were completely cool and iced them on Sunday, (sounds like a Craig David song!) This is absolutely fine to do. The booze in the cakes keeps them nice and moist.
  10. If you’re more talented than me you can pipe a lovely swirl of icing on the top of each cake. However, I just sort of spoon a bit on and encourage it over the top of the cake with the back of a teaspoon. Top with raspberry, sliced strawberry and cucumber and a small mint leaf. Try not to top with the fruit until just before serving to keep it as fresh as possible and to avoid it ‘bleeding’ all over the icing.
  11. Apply to face and enjoy.

This week was the Pinnies & Petticoats Eurovision Song Contest extravaganza. We each selected a country and had to take along a bake pertaining to that country. As one of the last to choose, I ended up with Iceland. I have to be honest, I know very little about Icelandic cuisine, especially any baking heritage they might have. Thank God for Google!

In every search I did the same cake kept getting mentioned; the Vinarterta. This is a celebration cake that’s made for weddings and at Christmas. Vinarterta literally translates as ‘Vienna Cake’. It became very popular in the US and Canada at the end of the 19th century due to Icelandic immigrants taking versions of their family recipe with them. The Vinarterta remains popular in the US and Canada today. This may explain why all the recipes I found for it used American weights and measures. The recipe I finally chose came from The Epoch Times, which I’ve given here but with a few of my own tweaks, hints and tips.

Vinarterta is a cake made up of 3 to 8 layers of very thin sponge sandwiched together with a variety of fillings, the most common filling being prunes. The cake can be made without it’s icing 3 – 4 months before you want to eat it and it apparently improves with age. You really need to bake this at least 1 day before serving. When I made mine I went with the 8 layers and popular prune filling.

Icelandic Vinarterta

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The picture above shows the cake in its various stages of assembly. You can have a Vinarterta without icing but I felt the icing gave it a more ‘finished’ look. However, as I don’t like buttercream I would be happy to have it without.

This makes a large cake that would easily feed 12 – 16 people. It’s very rich so should probably be served in small slices.

Prune Filling:

  • 500g prunes, pitted
  • 1/4 cup golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Cake Layers:

  • 1 cup butter, softened but not melted
  • 1 1/4 cups golden caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp single cream
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • zest from half an orange (I also added most of the juice from the 1/2 orange)
  • 4 cups plain flour, sieved
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 – 2 tsp ground cardamom (I only had whole cardamom so just took the seeds out and crushed in a pestle and mortar)
  • pinch of salt

Almond Buttercream:

  • 1/2 cup of butter, softened but not melted
  • 2 cups icing sugar, sieved
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 – 2 tbsp single cream

Equipment needed:

  • 2 – 4, 8 inch round cake tins. Loose bottomed are pretty essential for this.
  • Baking parchment or cake release if you have it.

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and grease and line your cake tins. I only had 2 tins the same size so I just had to do 4 batches of 2. After the first batch I used cake release instead of greasing and lining the tins as I found it easier and quicker. Use whichever method you prefer.
  2. Boil the prunes with just enough water to cover them until soft. Drain them but save 1/2 cup of the prune water. Blitz the prunes in a food processor until smooth. Put them back in the pan with the prune water, sugar, and cinnamon and reheat gently until thick enough to spread. Remove from heat and beat in the vanilla. Leave to cool. This can be made a day ahead.
  3. Using an electric hand whisk, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until it’s all incorporated and the mix is very light. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the cream, orange zest and almond essence. Sift in the dry ingredients and gently fold together, (remember the DOUBLE TOP TIP from the last recipe). What you will end up with is more of a dough than a batter.
  4. Divide the dough into 8 even portions, (yes, I weighed mine but I can’t judge anything by eye). Spread each portion of the mixture with your fingers into the cake tin. At this stage you might want to give up. A portion looks nowhere near enough to cover the bottom of the cake tin but keep at it and eventually the mixture will start to spread evenly. The layer will be very thin and you’ll almost be able to see the cake tin shining through. Don’t worry!
  5. Bake each batch of cakes for 10 – 15 minutes, (mine took 10 minutes. Remember, each oven is different). Be careful not to overcook. The cakes should be cooked through but remain pale, not brown.
  6. As soon as they come out the oven remove the cakes from the tins and cool on a wire rack. Just be careful. Because they’re so thin, they’re really delicate. Almost as soon as they’re out the oven they’ll start to go crispy, more like a biscuit than a cake.
  7. Repeat this rigmarole until all 8 layers are done.
  8. Once all the cakes are cool, (which takes no time), start to assemble. Each layer should be sandwiched with an equal portion of the prune filling, (again, I weighed it), but leave the top layer plain.
  9. Wrap the cake up tightly in cling film and leave somewhere cool, at least overnight.
  10. (We’re now on the following day. When you unwrap the cake you’ll notice that the layers have gone from being crispy back to a soft, spongey consistency as the cakes have taken in some of the moisture from the prune filling). To make the almond buttercream put the butter, icing sugar and almond extract in a bowl and beat with an electric hand whisk until all the sugar is combined, (remember the TOP TIP about the tea towel). Add a small amount of the cream until you get a smooth, spreadable consistency.
  11. Spread a thin layer of buttercream evenly all over the cake. I find the easiest way to do this is by having the cake on a cake stand so I can turn it easily, (you may have one of those fancy cake decorating turntable jobs), and using a palette knife to spread the icing on and smooth it out.

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As you can see from the picture I added some Icelandic flag butterflies to my cake to tie in with the Eurovision theme. Completely unnecessary kitsch!

I didn’t expect to like this cake as I thought it would be too sweet for me but surprisingly I enjoyed it! The buttercream was too much for me but it does give a nice finish to the cake. If you were making this for someone with a nut allergy you could easily substitute the almond extract for vanilla or orange extract. Go easy if you’re using orange though as it’s pretty strong stuff. A 1/4 tsp of any flavouring in the buttercream is probably enough.

If you’re looking for a bake club or party theme I suggest you give Eurovision a whirl. We had an amazing range of bakes and everyone really got into the spirit of the night. I think it helped that we all had our own country to go off and research. I can’t remember them all off the top of my head, but amongst last night’s bakes were, Russian tea cakes, Black Forest gateau, madeleines, monkey bread, rhubarb cakes, rye bread, Italian bread, baklava, apricot doughnuts, Danish pastries, Greek honey cake, Swedish meatballs, potato cake and stuffed prunes. If you’d like to see more detail of what was baked and some of the recipes from the night just pop over to the Pinnies and Petticoats’ Facebook page.

The third thing I baked this week was a version of banana loaf. The only reason I baked this is because I had 2 bananas kicking about the house that were black. I won’t eat a black banana but I hate waste.

I decided to have a bit of an experiment with this bake and added some maple extract to the mix. I adore maple syrup and the idea of banana and smoky maple really appealed to me. Maple extract is readily available online, (I bought mine on Amazon). I’m not sure this would have worked as well using maple syrup as I don’t think the syrup would give a strong enough flavour, (the extract is really concentrated), and adding a liquid to the recipe would affect the bake.

The recipe I use as a base when making banana loaf is Nigel Slater’s Black Banana Cake. Nigel’s version has hazelnuts and chocolate chips in it. I substitute those for walnuts and dried fruit. This version should feed 8 people who will get a slice each, (1 slice!), or 2 hungry sods over the space of a couple of days.

Banana, Walnut & Maple Loaf

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Ingredients:

  • 175g butter, softened but not melted
  • 175g sugar (if you have it use half light muscovado and half golden caster, otherwise all golden caster sugar will do)
  • 55g chopped walnuts
  • 2 large eggs
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 2 very ripe bananas, mashed coarsely
  • 1/4 tsp maple extract (or 1 tsp vanilla extract if you don’t have maple)
  • 55g currants (or dried fruit of your choice. I just happened to have currants in the house)
  • a little demerara sugar (optional)

Equipment:

  • an 8 x 5 inch loaf tin
  • baking parchment

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Line the base and sides of the tin with baking parchment. I have to confess I was lazy and scrumpled up a piece of baking parchment, smoothed it out into the tin and poured the mixture on top. This method works fine but you’re not absolutely guaranteed to get a perfectly shaped loaf.
  2. Using an electric hand whisk, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy and almost coffee-coloured.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. Gently fold in the walnuts, dried fruit and flour.
  4. Then gently fold in the banana and maple extract. Be careful not to over mix.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and smooth the top if necessary. Dust with a little demerara sugar. This isn’t necessary but it gives a nice crunchy topping to the loaf.
  6. Bake in the lower shelf of the oven so the top of the loaf tin is aligned with the centre of the oven, (that is a Delia TOP TIP), for between 1 hour and 1 hour 10 minutes. Cover the cake with foil if the top is getting dark too quickly.
  7. Remove from tin and cool on a wire rack. Don’t remove the baking parchment until the loaf is completely cool or you run the risk of breaking it.
  8. This is best eaten at least a day after baking, (torture!), so once completely cool wrap tightly in cling film.
  9. The only way to eat this is with ice cold, salted butter, thick enough for you to see your teeth marks in. It’s even better if you warm the loaf very slightly before buttering. Must be taken with copies amounts of tea or coffee

If you can get maple extract it’s really worth trying this in place of the usual vanilla. For one thing your house will smell amazing when it’s baking and the smoky taste along with the walnuts and banana is fantastic. I’m also keen to try the maple extract in an American pancake recipe to have with crispy bacon. No doubt I’d still continue to drown my pancakes in maple syrup as well!

The final recipe in this post is for a cake I didn’t actually bake this week but it came up in conversation and I promised to include it here.

This is a recipe I’m very proud of as it’s the first cake I invited myself. The cake came into existence about a year ago and proved very popular at the time. A lovely mix of coconut, lime, rum and mint, this bake is called Beach Loaf and was inspired by my love of a good cocktail and the memories of sunny beach holidays.

I don’t have a photo of it to include here but I do plan to bake it again soon and will add in a photo then.

Again, this should feed 8 people 1 slice each or more likely a couple of people who know what’s good for them.

Beach Loaf

A cake to transport you to the sun-kissed shores of the Caribbean from the relative comfort of your own kitchen.

Cake:

  • 190g unsalted butter, softened but not melted
  • 190g plain flour
  • a good handful of mint, chopped finely
  • 1 lime, grated zest and juice
  • 190g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 50g plain yogurt
  • 60g desiccated coconut
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbs rum of your choice (optional)
  • coconut shavings for decoration (optional)

Syrup:

  • 1 lime, juice only
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • tbsp rum of your choice (optional)
  • approx 100ml water

Equipment:

  • 8 x 5 inch loaf tin
  • baking parchment

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees and grease and line the loaf tin.
  2. Cream butter, lime zest, sugar and rum with an electric hand whisk until really light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
  4. In a separate bowl mix flour, coconut, baking powder, salt and mint.
  5. Add dry ingredients to batter, folding gently. Don’t over mix.
  6. Fold in yogurt and lime juice.
  7. Pour in to prepared tin and sprinkle coconut shavings on top.
  8. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. The pieces of coconut on the top will have gone a lovely toasted brown colour.
  9. While the cake is baking make the syrup. Put all the syrup ingredients into a small pan and bring to a boil and allow volume to reduce by half until you achieve a syrupy consistency. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t boil over and remember boiling sugar is a dangerous beast. Be careful!
  10. Once the cake has come out the oven, insert a skewer into it several times and then carefully spoon over the lime syrup, letting it seep into the cake.
  11. Leave to cool for a while in the tin before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  12. This is delicious sliced and eaten as it is or served with either yogurt, cream, creme fraiche or mascarpone sprinkled with some lime zest.

I’m really proud of this cake. It has a lovely fresh flavour and really does remind me of holidays – hence the name! I’d be thrilled if some of you reading this give this bake a try. If you do, please send me some photos and let me know how you got on. When I first devised the recipe I sent a copy of it to Nigella Lawson who, I’m pleased to say, was very complimentary about it. The recipe ended up on her website although it’s had a few tweaks since then.

As we battle through this typical British summer of snow, hail, sleet, rain and gail-force winds we should all remember the wise words of a certain Mr. Worzel Gummidge and indulge in a cup o’ tea an’ a slice o’ cake. Enjoy.

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Smell my cheese!

I’m sorry to say this post has nothing to do with Alan Partridge but does have everything to do with cheese.

I’ve not mentioned before, but I’m one of two founding members of a bake club called Pinnies and Petticoats. The club is for anyone who loves baking, (and eating!) We’ve been on the go for about 6 months and meet once a month to share our bakes, eat, have a drink and a bit of a blether. When we set the club up we were adamant that it shouldn’t be all about rules about what you were and were not allowed to bake and there was definitely to be no competition element to the proceedings! We envisaged this as a club where all levels of baking were celebrated and enjoyed and where no one should feel intimidated by other members’ skills. If people came along with Rice Krispie cakes, well, we would be delighted. No one’s bakes would be getting judged, rated or criticised at our club. On the whole, I’m glad to say, I really think we’ve managed to keep to that original ethos. If baking and eating’s your thing you should check us out. We warmly welcome new members.

Most months we have a theme and this month’s theme was cheese. I was really looking forward to this one as I don’t actually have a particularly sweet tooth and cheese really lends itself to savoury bakes.

Bobert was available to come along to this one and he decided he wanted to bake a cheesecake. He’s fairly new to baking and doesn’t get to do it very often but when he does his stuff’s normally lovely, (yes I’m biased but also honest!) I’d seen a recipe online for Rhubarb Crumble Cheesecake that I thought would be pretty tasty. The recipe had featured in ITV’s ‘Food Glorious Food’, (it didn’t win). I didn’t watch more than 10 minutes of this programme as I thought it looked like a hideous, badly done rip-off of my beloved ‘Great British Bake Off‘. Well, it was produced by Simon Cowell’s company so what did I expect? Anyway, that aside, the recipe looked good and Bobert was keen to give it a try.

Without sounding awful, baking with Bobert does remind me a bit of baking with a child. It’s not his fault, it’s mine. I have all the ingredients and equipment set out for him, (he doesn’t know where anything lives in this house!), so literally all he needs to do is follow the recipe with me in the background for any help and advice.

There were quite a few stages to this cheesecake from baking the base, cooking the rhubarb, baking the cheese part of the cake and then making and baking the crumble. It did take quite a long time but I think it was worth the effort. Apart from the base which I didn’t think was good, (possibly too much butter recommended in the recipe), it was really delicious. The cheese part was creamy and light and the crumble, with the addition of almonds, was lovely and crunchy and buttery. Because rhubarb was used the cake wasn’t cloyingly sweet so I would be more than happy to eat this again. It also seemed to go down well the fellow bakers at Pinnies and Petticoats too. For a very novice baker I think he did a brilliant job!

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For my bakes I decided to do a variety of cheese biscuits and biscuits to be served with cheese. A cheeseboard is one of my all time favourite things. It’s something that we very often have for dinner when no one can be bothered cooking. I ended up doing 5 types of biscuits: Oatcakes, Blacksticks Blue & Poppy Seed Sables, Parmesan & Chilli Stars, Cheesy Feet, and Celery Hearts. The recipe for the oatcakes is from Nigella Lawson‘s ‘How To Be a Domestic Goddess‘ book, but the recipe is not available online.

I make the parmesan and chilli biscuits all the time, (they’re the easiest thing on earth and taste so good it’s unbelievable!), but I hadn’t made any of the others before although I’d been dying to try the cheesy feet so I could use my foot shaped cookie cutter. I changed the recipe for that one slightly by adding a wee bit of salt and mustard powder, rolling the pastry out even thinner than specified so I could get a really flaky, crunchy biscuit, and I brushed the tops with beaten egg. The recipe for the sables used Stilton but as I had some Blacksticks Blue in the house I used that instead and they tasted really good. The biscuits that didn’t contain any actual cheese were the oatcakes and celery hearts. On their own I think the oatcakes tasted like carpet tiles, (having eaten a lot of carpet tiles in my time!) However, once there was a bit of cheese on them they tasted fine. Let’s face it, oatcakes are really just a vehicle for getting the cheese in your gob anyway! I really liked the celery hearts although not everyone at the bake club did. I suppose celery is an acquired taste. I love it! These biscuits actually have celery seeds in them, not celery. I think their taste and smell is fantastic and they go really, really well with cheese.

I served my biscuits along with some homemade chilli jam and onion marmalade and some cheddar and Caboc cheeses. Apart from the oatcakes, which didn’t really get eaten, (well, they were the poor relations to the others!), the rest seemed to be popular amongst the other bakers, in particular, I think, the cheesy feet. A glass of red wine in hand, I don’t think this was something I could really have gone wrong with.

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The range of goodies we had at Pinnies and Petticoats was fantastic! There were loads of savoury and a number of sweet dishes. Treats included homemade bread and homemade cheese, lamb and stilton pasties, feta and olive samosas, parmesan shortbread, cheese puffs, bacon and cheese twists, pear and goats cheese tartlets, mascarpone and basil tart, various cheesecakes, lemon cake with goat’s cheese frosting, cheese and chilli biscuits, (some with almond), bacon and cheese cupcakes, and a fantastically retro party hedgehog bedecked with cheese and pickles. The spread was amazing! I did end up with a cheese hangover and didn’t get the best night’s sleep after eating so much but it was absolutely worth it. Everyone went to so much effort and on the whole I enjoyed everything I ate. The best bit was the Tupperware of goodies we took home at the end of the night!

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Easter Parade

Apologies folks as it’s unseasonably late to be writing about Easter although, in my defence, my raspberry chocolate egg remains, as yet, unopened…yes, I’m a freak! However, as Easter in this house involved lots of baking and cooking, (and eating!), I really think it deserved a mention on here.

Hot Cross Buns

Like countless others, I was put in the mood for a bit of Spring-time baking after watching The Great British Bake Off Easter Masterclass. As I’ve become slightly obsessed with bread making I decided to have a crack at Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns first, (that sounds vaguely pervy!) These were actually really easy to make and the only part of the process that I found tricky was kneading the fruit into the dough without half of it pinging across the kitchen! Stupidly I decided to watch them being made again on the programme once they were in the oven. Doing this before I baked them might have been more useful. It turns out the recipe on the BBC food website was actually slightly different to the one that featured onscreen. Not helpful Beeb! Luckily the changes were only in how much cinnamon and orange went into the mix, (the website stated half the amount), but in my paranoid, ‘new to bread baking’ mode I was initially convinced my buns were going to be rubbish! I’ve noticed since I made these that the BBC has corrected the recipe so if you download it from here you won’t need to double the amounts they give you.

I was a bit nervy about piping the crosses on to the tops as piping isn’t my best skill and I’ve not got the steadiest hands in the world, but for a first attempt they weren’t bad. The smell whilst the buns were baking was fantastic so my hopes were raising along with the dough…sorry! When they came out the oven they looked bronzed and delicious. A brushing of warmed apricot jam had them gleaming and looking pretty inviting. Yes, they were a bit bokety-shaped but I was really proud of them and they smelled divine!

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Now I’ve never had a Hot Cross Bun out of a shop that I’ve really liked but I had to try one of these to make sure they were baked ok. I’m sorry if this sounds boastful, but they were really good! The addition of chopped apple into the mix was lovely and even though there was half the amount of cinnamon and orange that there should have been I could still taste it. It was at that moment I was regretting telling Bobert he could take them in to work for the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary A&E staff to scoff. I’m reliably informed they went down very well and vanished in less than 15 minutes. These absolutely have to be eaten with cold, salted butter. Spread thickly enough that you can see your teeth marks in it.

Easter Pavlova

As I’ve mentioned before, I absolutely love Pavlova. I’ve tried many variations and am always on the lookout for new flavour ideas so when I saw Mary Berry whip up her Easter version which included lemon curd and Cadbury’s Mini Eggs I knew I had to give it a bash. I was looking for a dessert idea for us to have for our Easter Sunday dinner and this looked perfect.

I liked this recipe as the egg yolks left over from making the meringue could be used to make the lemon curd and I’m ashamed to say there’s been many times I’ve chucked egg yolks away as I couldn’t be bothered making anything with them. However, if you can’t be bothered making your own I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a shop-bought jar of the stuff. As the Pavlova was only going to be feeding 2 of us I reduced the size a bit, (who was I kidding? I could have eaten it to myself!) Again, this recipe involved the dreaded piping to make wee nests round the Pavlova for the Mini Eggs to sit in. Mine may have looked as though poachers had been at them but I like to think it added a certain, ahem, charm!

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The other nice bit of this recipe was the addition of candied lemon peel. This was very easy to make, looked really pretty on top of the cream in the centre, and tasted lovely. The finished Pavlova looked suitably pretty and very Spring-like, and the addition of the lemon curd and lemon peel took away some of the jaw-aching sweetness of the meringue. I’ll definitely be making this again and will probably just miss out the Mini Eggs for a year-round, delicious dessert.

Mrs Crumble Cooks’ Rack of Lamb

As well as all the sweetie goodness we were having at Easter we did need an option for the main part of our dinner and Bobert requested rack of lamb. Now this was a good thing as not long before that I’d spotted a recipe I really liked the look of on mrscrumblecooks.wordpress.com This is the blog of a fellow food lover. You should have a look. I ordered the rack from Andrew Gordon and was delighted when he said he French trims them as standard as I really didn’t want the hassle of doing it. One day I will try this myself! If you go on to Mrs Crumble’s blog you’ll get the full recipe, (and also instructions on how to French trim), but essentially the lamb was marinated overnight in delicious things such as pomegranate molasses, cumin, ginger, etc. The only addition I made was some fresh coriander just because I love it and I had some to use up in the fridge. The result was a Moroccan-inspired dish which would also go really well with couscous and some nice flatbread as well as the more British addition of veg and potatoes. Middle Eastern food is my absolute favourite and the best food I’ve ever eaten was in Marrakech so I was really looking forward to this!

Rack of lamb doesn’t take long to cook and it really should be a bit pink in the middle but you absolutely must, must, must leave it to rest as with all meats. The marinade goes nicely blackened on the outside. Don’t worry about this! The cutlets we got from the rack were a really good size and there was loads of meat on them. I know people think rack of lamb is an expensive cut for the amount of meat you get, but, as usual, shopping at Andrew Gordon was really good value for money and the cutlets were certainly bigger and meatier than any I’ve seen in supermarkets. We had the lamb with asparagus, (not good at all. Probably a bit early for it to be honest), and Chantenay carrots,…if you haven’t tried these, you must. They actually taste of carrot!…and the ubiquitous roast potato.

This was a really lovely meal and a wee bit different from our usual roast. I suspect the marinade would work equally well on other cuts of lamb. Give it a baa-sh!

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