Category Archives: cake

Mince pies using sweet shortcrust pastry (Preparation time: 1.5hrs)

I was chatting to my housemate about making pastry the other day and she was telling me of a Hawksmoor pie recipe that used both eggs and suet in the recipe and it dawned on me that this would be a great way to make sweet shortcrust.  By making the pastry with suet it made the pastry beautifully light and more flaky than crumbly.

The concept of using two types of fat to make the pastry is not a new one, growing up the Delia Smith recipe that I used to follow for mince pies used equal amounts of butter and to make the recipe.  However I have found the in using suet you get a far better distribution of fat throughout the pastry which gives it a marbled look when rolled out and it helps to turn the pies a beautiful golden brown colour during cooking.

Now to the mincemeat aspect of this pie – there is absolutely nothing wrong with using shop bought mincemeat!  This is exactly what I do however I like to ‘pimp’ it up a bit by adding chopped walnuts, cranberries, glace cherries, plump sultanas and brandy.  So if you have some dried fruit or nuts in you cupboard that you would work chuck it in, not only will it add to the flavour it will add to the texture of your pies.  Enjoy!

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Banana and date cupcakes (sugar-free and dairy-free). Preparation time: 30/40 minutes

My sister-in-law set me a challenge to develop a cake that is suitable for my nephew, Leo.  Leo is 8 months old and a truly happy baby who I am pleased to say seems to love his food!  My brother and sister-in-law are in the process of weaning Leo at the moment and are following the ‘baby led weaning‘ method.  Baby led weaning is a fairly new concept to me, but strikes me as a sensible way of introducing a baby to food.  Put simply baby led weaning is the where you give food to a baby and they feed themselves.  So far as I can tell one of the major advantages is that they eat what you eat (within reason) and subject to a couple of basic principles to ensure that your baby’s diet has a very limited amount of salt and sugar.

Now then back to the challenge, to develop a cake suitable for baby led weaning.  My sister-in-law asked me to create a cake that did not contain refined sugar.  My first thought was what about using honey, however after a bit of research it became clear that this would not be a suitable substitute on this occasion as the general consensus is not to introduce honey to a baby’s diet until they are a year old.  Not being a fan of sweeteners I set my mind to what I could use as an alternative.  My solution – dates and banana pureed in a little boiling water.  Using that as a sugar substitute I tired a couple of different recipes.  The first attempt resulted in a dense but very moist sponge more like a muffin.  The second attempt is the one I am going to share here as it produced a much lighter fluffier sponge that rose beautifully.  What I should point out it that I made cupcakes instead of a cake as it was a better portion size for a baby.  The other benefit of cooking them this is it means that you can freeze them individually and use them gradually rather than worry about them going stale.

I suspect that you are wondering what it tasted like – unsurprisingly it is nowhere near as sweet as a typical cake but as mentioned it has a lovely light texture.  I asked my family for their thoughts on the cupcake and the comments were as follows “Where’s the jam?” and “Any chance of some cream with this?”  I think these responses boil down partly to the fact that instinctively they expected something much sweeter and secondly that it is unlike me to serve a cake without icing.  So if you are making this for both adults and babies perhaps treat it a little like a scone for the adults and serve with a little jam and cream on the side so those of your family with a sweeter tooth can satisfy their cravings.  Enjoy!

Tip:  if you have bananas that are going black and you are thinking about throwing them away don’t!  Peel and freeze them as they will be perfect for this recipe as it works best with ripe bananas.

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Spiced apple cake

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This has been a weekend of cooking with seasonal food.  Today’s seasonal ingredient was apple, more specifically Russet apples.  I was very fortunate to be given a huge bag of Russets by a friend when I went to visit her at her family’s farm outside of London and I have been slowly using them up over the course of the last couple of weeks.   Russet apples are good to cook with as they tend to hold their form which is great if you bake them in a cake and have a wonderful tangy flavour.

This afternoon I used some of the apples to make a spiced apple cake.  I used a combination of fresh and dried spices to make this cake, simply because I have fresh ginger in my fridge at the moment however using all dried spices in the recipe would be fine and if you can’t get your hands on Russets, then use any other variety of tangy eating apple to make this cake.

This cake is great for afternoon tea, however I would also say that it would also make a fantastic pudding served with some cream or crème fraiche.  This cake has a lovely warmth from the spices, but the overriding flavour comes from the tanginess of the apples.  This recipe is well worth a try -enjoy!

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Spiced Apple cake

Ingredients:

  • 3 Russet apples (peeled, cored and sliced)
  • Juice of ½ a lime
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1” fresh ginger (peeled and finely grated) (If using dried ginger use 1 tsp)
  • 150g soft margarine
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 175g plain flour
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 or 2 tbsp milk
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Steps:

  1. Preheat your oven to 170C Fan.
  2. Line the base of a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.
  3. Spoon the honey into the cake tin and spread around the base of the tin.

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  1. Prepare the apples then place in a bowl with the lime and ginger and mix together gently.
  2. Place the apples carefully in the base of the tin in a decorative fashion.
  3. Prepare the cake batter using the ‘all in one’ method. Place the margarine, sugar, eggs, flour and spices in a bowl.  Using an electric whisk beat the mixture together until you have a smooth thick batter with a consistency of clotted cream (use the milk to loosen the batter as needed).
  4. Pour the batter into the cake tin and level it out gently using the back of a spoon.
  5. Place the cake in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre of the cake.
  6. Once cooked, remove the cake from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool.
  7. Just before you serve the cake sift over a little icing sugar.

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Chocolate brownies

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I’ve had a couple of dinner parties lately mid-week and I’ve found that the best way to stay stress free is to do as much preparation in advance as possible, consequently, last Sunday afternoon, when I returned home from sailing, I made brownies.  They didn’t take long to make and were prepared and cooked in under an hour and made enough to feed 16 people for pudding comfortably.

I have read a lot of recipes that say you must use the very best chocolate when making brownies, however, I have found the cheap and cheerful chocolate from supermarket works really well and as such I’m disinclined to splash out on ridiculously expensive chocolate.  I would recommend trying different types of chocolate to see what works best for you and what you prefer.  My personal preference is anything with 70% or more cocoa.

What makes these brownies stand apart from others that I have made is that they are wonderfully gooey in the middle whilst retaining a slight crust. They are a perfect amount of decadence to finish off a meal.  I tend serve with a mixture of summer berries and either ice cream or soured cream depending on what I have available, but they are also excellent on their own.

Chocolate Brownies (makes 32)

Ingredients:

  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 200g butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200g granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 50g white chocolate (roughly chopped)
  • 50g walnuts (roughly chopped)
  • 50g cocoa powder (sifted)
  • 85g plain flour (sifted)

Steps:

  1. Preheat your oven 180C / 170CFan.
  2. Line a 20cm square cake tin.
  3. Melt butter and dark chocolate in a bowl above a saucepan of barely simmering water.
  4. Whilst the chocolate and butter are melting, whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla until trebled in volume.
  5. Pour in the chocolate mixture and continue to whisk until fully combined.
  6. Then gently fold in flour, cocoa, walnuts and white chocolate.
  7. Pour into the pre-prepared tin and bake in oven for 20-25 mins. Remove the brownies from the oven when they have a slight wobble but a firm crust.
  8. Leave to cool completely in the tin, once cool cut into roughly 32 triangles.
  9. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

Note:  These brownies keep for over a week if stored in an airtight container in a cool place.

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Nectarine and almond tart

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I caught up with some of my old school friends last week at a dinner party, we each got designated a course to bring. I have to say I do not think that I have eaten that well in a long time, we had four courses of scrummy food and the company was excellent.

My offering was a nectarine and almond tart.  With soft fruit coming into season at the moment it seemed a shame not to make a pudding that incorporated it some how.  I haven’t worked with pastry in a while, so I decided to make a dish that incorporated the two. The trick when making this pudding is to use fruit that is not too ripe so that it holds its form and doesn’t produce too much liquid when it is cooking which will cause the frangipane (which is an almond sponge) to become quite dense.

This tart can be eaten both hot or cold and is a great pudding to have in your repertoire for dinner parties or picnics.  Enjoy!

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Nectarine and almond tart (Serves 8-10)

Ingredients:

Pastry:image

  • 8oz plain flour
  • 4oz butter (at room temperature)
  • 1oz caster sugar
  • 1 egg

Frangipane:

  • 3 eggs
  • 5oz sugar
  • 3oz ground almondsimage[1]
  • 3oz plain flour
  • 6oz soft margarine
  • 1/4tsp baking powder

Decoration:

  • 2-3 firm-ish nectarines cut in wedges
  • A few flaked almonds to decorate

Steps:

Pastry:

1.      Grease and flour a 20cm loose bottomed tart tin.

2.      Place butter, sugar and flour in a bowl and crumb together using your fingers. 

3.      Add the egg and bring the pastry together, be careful not to over work it.

4.      On a floured surface roll out the pastry until it is large enough to fit in your tin, place in the tin and gently push the pastry into the edges and using any excess pastry to patch any holes. Dont cut off any excess that goes over the edges yet .  Afterwards lightly prick the pastry with a fork, place in the fridge for 20 minutes to chill. 

5.      Remove from fridge and trim the edges of the tart pressing down slightly as you do so, place a sheet of baking paper over the tart and fill with baking beans.

6.      Blind bake pastry for 15 mins at 190C and then remove beans and bake further 5 mins.

Frangipane:

1.      Whilst your pastry is cooking prepare your frangipane.

2.      Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together with an electric whisk for 2 minutes.

3.      Once your pastry is cooked. Leave to cool for 5 mins, before spooning in the frangipane, decorate the tart with the nectarine wedges and almond slices.

4.      Place the Tart in the oven and bake at 170C for 35-50 mins.

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Lemon cake with mascarpone icing, lemon curd and summer berries

photo 2With my brother’s wedding fast approaching I thought I had better try out another cake idea that I have had for his wedding.  As it was my birthday and it is tradition at work to bring in cake I thought I would take the opportunity to try this cake out on a lot of people.  In the end I think around 40 people ended up trying the cake with a number of people sneaking back for seconds…

As I mentioned in an earlier blog (An idea for a wedding cake) my brother and his fiancé have decided to have a “bake off” at their wedding and are encouraging their guests to bring a variety of baked goods.  It is my understanding that the cakes will be judged on both creativity and presentation.  At the moment I am thinking that this is going to be the cake that I bake as I think will all the colours of the summer berries it is visually very pleasing, however, I think that I am going to have to make a few refinements to the cake to make it more structurally sound as ideally I would like to make the cake several tiers higher.

I ended up icing and decorating the cake at work as I could not face the idea of taking the finished cake onto the London underground.   I popped into the work canteen at around 8.30am and put the cake together within about 10-15 minutes.  All in all it was a stress free process as the beauty of this cake is that is does not matter how messy the cake looks after you have iced it because the berries will cover any mishaps that you may have.

So, why do I think that this is going to be the cake that I make for the bake off?  Well, as the wedding is at the end of August and we are all crossing our fingers that the weather is going to be lovely, I felt that a light cake that has a beautifully creamy filling which is countered by the sharpness of the lemon curd and summer berries would be the type of cake that people would want to eat.  However, we shall just have to wait and see how it turns out.

I would definitely say that this is a cake to try.  If you do not want to make such a large cake, then halve the recipe and bake the cake in a 10″ tin and you will have a lovely cake for either afternoon tea or a summer pudding that your guests will love.

photo 1Lemon cake with mascarpone icing, lemon curd and summer berries

Ingredients:

For the cake:

8 eggs
400g soft margarine
350g caster sugar
400g self raising flour
zest of 2 lemons
1tsp baking powder
1-2 tbsp milk

For the mascarpone icing:

250g mascarpone
150g- 200g icing sugar
zest of a lemon

For the filling and toppings:

1-2 heaped tbsp lemon curd (per layer of sponge)
1 punnet strawberries
1 punnet blueberries
1 punnet blackberries
1 punnet raspberries

Steps:

1. Preheat oven to 170C and line a 10″, 8″ and 6″ round cake tin with baking paper.

2. Beat together in a bowl the soft margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.

3. Add the eggs, flour, zest, baking powder and milk, then beat together using an electric whisk for 1-2 minutes.

4. Divide the cake batter up between the 3 tins and bake for around 15-20 minutes for the 6” and 8” tins and 35-45 minutes for the 10” tin or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre of the cake.

5. Leave to cool completely before cutting each of the cakes in half.

6. Make the mascarpone icing by beating the mascarpone in a bowl until soft, add the lemon zest and a little of the icing sugar at a time until you get a consistency of a smooth butter cream.

7. Place one half of the 10” sponge onto a plate then smooth over a little of the mascarpone icing, add 1-2tbsp of lemon curd on top and smooth over with a palette knife. Repeat the process until all of the sponges are stacked on top of each other. (Make sure you don’t use all of the mascarpone icing as you will need some left over to act as the glue to stick the fruit on the cake.)

8. Once the cake is stacked up, then spread the remainder of the mascarpone icing all over the cake before decorating with the berries.

Tip:  If you want to make the cake more special decorate with roses and sprigs of mint interspersed between the berries!

 

Chocolate celebration cake

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My middle brother, Alex, is getting married in August to his lovely fiancée, Jayne, and I cannot wait!  Over recent months there has been much talk of dresses, flowers and of course cakes…  Jayne and Alex have decided to hold a “bake off” at their wedding and have sent the following message out to their guests:

 Wedding Bake Off

We like cake. 

We really like cake, a lot. 

In fact we like cake so much, one wedding cake just won’t be enough… We’re dreaming of a whole table of different wedding cakes, with afternoon tea to follow the ceremony.

We know we have a lot of friends and family members who are amazingly talented bakers.  Can you help us to make our cake dreams come true?

Join our great wedding bake off, and battle it out to be crowned the best wedding cake baker! 

There will be a very democratic judging process on the day…and the favourite wedding cake will be the one that we save and cut in the traditional wedding way.  There are no rules for what to bake or how it is presented, the more creative the better! 

 Not being the type of person to shy away from a challenge I have donned my apron and started testing out a couple of ideas I have had for a  wedding cake to see if: (a) it tastes good; and (b) looks presentable.

At the moment I am in two minds about the flavour.  Our family loves a good chocolate cake and the one that I am going to share with you today certainly ticks that box.  However, as the wedding is in August and will hopefully be on a beautifully hot and sunny day, I am of the view that a lovely light lemon cake would go down much better.  The other option is of course to do multiple cakes… but this might be a step to far as I suspect in the days building up to the wedding things are likely to get a little bit busy.

So, about this cake, as I mentioned it is a chocolate cake.  I suppose you are wondering why I think it is worthy for a wedding cake?  Well… it is not just a chocolate cake, it is three layered super light chocolate cake, filled with a rich chocolate mousse and covered in a white chocolate and sour cream icing, decorated with raspberries…

If you like chocolate, I would recommend trying this cake as it is rather decadent!

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Banana and chocolate loaf

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I am not a huge fan of very ripe bananas so when I found myself with several fairly black looking bananas I had to think of something to do with them.  Fortunately one of my colleagues happened to mention fairly recently that their favourite cake is banana loaf so my decision was easy.

First up I should say that banana and chocolate loaf is definitely a cake and not a bread – it is a fairly dense cake and goes extremely well with a cup of tea.  This is the type of cake that doesn’t like to be rushed in the oven, don’t be over anxious and open the door regularly as you will cause the cake to sink and it won’t change the cooking time.  So my advice is be patient, put your feet up read a book and wait for your cake to be ready!

Banana and chocolate loaf

Ingredients :

  • 6oz bananas (peeled and mashed)
  • 4oz soft margarine
  • 6oz caster sugar
  • 8oz plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1tbsp rum
  • 1 heaped tbsp crème fraiche
  • 4oz plain chocolate (broken into small pieces)

Steps:

  1.  Preheat oven to 150C (fan).  Grease and line a loaf tin.
  2. Cream the soft margarine and sugar together in a bowl using an electric whisk.
  3. Slowly beat in the eggs (add a little flour if the mixture looks as if it might curdle).
  4. Whisk in the flour, salt and baking powder.
  5. Then add the mashed banana, crème fraiche, chocolate and rum and mix well.
  6. Pour the cake batter into the loaf tin.  Place in the oven and cook for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer comes out of the cake clean.
  7. Leave the cake to cool before serving.

Drop scones

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We grew up in an old farmhouse called Bluegates that was notorious for its draughts, and on the whole being freezing.  Friends used to come to our house armed with the clothes that they were allowed to get dirty in.  However, if they did not have sufficient layers to stay warm they were directed to the ‘jumper cupboard’ and often returned looking like the Michelin man. 

I have many fond memories of Bluegates but, I think one of my favourite memories was when my parents decided to get their first AGA.  Learning to cook on an AGA was a skill in itself, particularly if it is coal-fired and there was no way of governing the temperature.  Many cakes often came out slightly crispy and black around the edges.  However, there was one thing that I think we all quickly mastered – drop scones, cooked on a hob that has been lightly oiled.

Sadly, where I am staying in London there isn’t an AGA but, what it does have is a heavy bottomed non-stick frying pan that is perfect for cooking this tea time treat.  They are so quick and easy to make that you can have them on the table within a matter of minutes.  They are an ideal snack on a cold, slightly overcast day – definitely worth a go!

Drop Scones (makes 9)

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  • 1 egg
  • 3 heaped tbsp plain flour (roughly 100g)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 50-75ml milk

Steps:

1.  Place the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

2.  Whisk in the egg, then slowly beat in the milk until you have a consistency of thick pouring cream.

3.  Heat a little oil in a frying pan, then spoon in a little of the batter at a time, cook on each side for 30 seconds to a minute or until they are golden brown.

4.  Serve whilst they are hot with a little butter, jam and/or honey.

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Macaroons

Today is a sad day as I am leaving France and heading back to the UK to seek gainful employment once again.  I have had a cracking 15 months or so and here are a few of the things I have learnt along the way…

How to…

1.  … put turkeys to bed – swear at them profusely whilst waving your arms frantically.

2.  … catch a bee swarm – apply the following expression ‘if at first you don’t succeed try, try, again’.

3.  … birth a goat – keep calm and be prepared to get messy.

4.  … cover yourself in paint – paint the ceiling with a roller.

5.  … hang a picture– choose a picture that is big enough to hide all the errors behind particularly on plasterboard.

6.  … pronounce the final ‘t’ in chiot when asking how the puppy is – don’t (as I have learnt the somewhat embarrassing way it is silent).

7.  … construct and de-construct multiple items from Ikea – build the item instinctively and find you have bits left over when you’ve finished, then read the instruction booklet and then repeat the process correctly.

8.  … cut your finger – look away when you are peeling a quince.

9.  … make a chocolate cake that even the dog rejects – try a new recipe without flour and add several courgettes.

10.  … say ‘goodbye’ to a puppy – with difficulty.

As a way of saying thank you to a few people that I have met whilst I have been here I made some macaroons as a little ‘cadeau’.  As I have learnt over the last couple of months macaroons are not something that should be made if you are in a rush – if you don’t whisk the egg whites enough and mix rather than fold the almonds and sugar in, you run the risk of a runny mixture that does not work.

However, done right, macaroons are a real delight, they should have a crisp shell with a gooey middle.  The recipe below is just for plain macaroons, you can fill them as you wish with ganache or butter cream and jam to make them individual.

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Macaroons (makes 50-60)

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  • 3 egg whites
  • 4oz ground almonds
  • 6oz icing sugar
  • 2½oz caster sugar
  • a few drops of food colouring (optional)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 160C fan.
  2. Whisk the egg whites to the ‘soft peak stage’.
  3. Continue to whisk the egg whites adding the caster sugar slowly (if you going to use food colouring add it at this point).  Continue whisking until you have a smooth ‘glossy’ mixture.
  4. Place the almonds and icing sugar into a food processor and blitz until you have a finer crumb.
  5. Sieve the almond and sugar mixture into the whisked egg whites (don’t worry if some of the almonds don’t pass through the sieve, put it in a small bowl to be used in a crumble, cake etc.).
  6. Gently fold the almonds into the egg whites.
  7. Once the mixture is fully incorporated, put it in a piping bag with a large circular nozzle.
  8. Pipe the mixture in 1” circles onto baking sheets that have been lined with baking paper.
  9. Once all of the mixture has been used, tap the trays firmly once to release any air bubbles then leave to form a skin for 20-30 minutes.
  10. Bake for 12-14 minutes, then remove and allow to cool completely on wire racks. 

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