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.
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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)
- sliced strawberries
- whole raspberries
- small, thin pieces of cucumber
- mint leaves (smaller ones look better)
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 500g prunes, pitted
- 1/4 cup golden caster sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 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
- 1/2 cup of butter, softened but not melted
- 2 cups icing sugar, sieved
- 1/4 tsp almond extract
- 1 – 2 tbsp single cream
- 2 – 4, 8 inch round cake tins. Loose bottomed are pretty essential for this.
- Baking parchment or cake release if you have it.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- Repeat this rigmarole until all 8 layers are done.
- 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.
- Wrap the cake up tightly in cling film and leave somewhere cool, at least overnight.
- (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.
- 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.
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
- 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)
- an 8 x 5 inch loaf tin
- baking parchment
- 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.
- Using an electric hand whisk, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy and almost coffee-coloured.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. Gently fold in the walnuts, dried fruit and flour.
- Then gently fold in the banana and maple extract. Be careful not to over mix.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- This is best eaten at least a day after baking, (torture!), so once completely cool wrap tightly in cling film.
- 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.
A cake to transport you to the sun-kissed shores of the Caribbean from the relative comfort of your own kitchen.
- 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)
- 1 lime, juice only
- 50g golden caster sugar
- tbsp rum of your choice (optional)
- approx 100ml water
- 8 x 5 inch loaf tin
- baking parchment
- Preheat the oven to 170 degrees and grease and line the loaf tin.
- Cream butter, lime zest, sugar and rum with an electric hand whisk until really light and fluffy.
- Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
- In a separate bowl mix flour, coconut, baking powder, salt and mint.
- Add dry ingredients to batter, folding gently. Don’t over mix.
- Fold in yogurt and lime juice.
- Pour in to prepared tin and sprinkle coconut shavings on top.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- Leave to cool for a while in the tin before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
- 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.