Showing posts with label Baking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baking. Show all posts

Saturday, 22 February 2014

So much cake

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Every weekend at this time of year I load a cake into a box and hope the combination of dark, rainy evenings + unfamiliar heels + a tiny cocktail livener before heading out to the party won’t lead to a baked-goods-buttercream-meets pavement disaster.

Almost everyone who is dear to me has a birthday round about now. I am in the middle of a four-weekend-long baking blitz. It started with Séan (chocolate, of course), then Liz (the cake you see here), tomorrow it’s my best pal Victoria (red velvet, cream cheese frosting) and next weekend my friend Lola’s daughter Mary – astonishingly - turns 18 (60 chocolate cupcakes). Depending on chance and shared geography, the dying glimmers of winter might also find me baking for my brother, nephew and mother. My scales are WHITE HOT and my baking cupboard runeth over with sprinkles, edible glitter and tiny candles in all colours.

Liz’s cake had to be a special one.

A few years ago, Liz noticed that whenever she went to literary festivals with her husband Pete she would bump into people from Stoke Newington reading from their books, singing their songs, telling their jokes. In a moment of creative-yet-cosy inspiration, she thought ‘If we had a festival in Stoke Newington we could all stay home and sleep in our own beds’.

So in the space of a few months, she took this idea and created Stoke Newington Literary Festival on a hunch and a credit card. Five years on, Stokey LitFest is a mad success, a riot of creativity, talk, fun, songs, drink and discussion which continues our little corner of London’s tradition of dissent, debate and dissolute behaviour.

So when Pete emailed some of us a few weeks ago to ask if we could help him organise Liz’s fiftieth birthday party, of course I volunteered to make her cake. Big enough for a hundred people or so. Truthfully, I enjoy the sheer exuberance of using dozens of eggs, kilos of chocolate and packets and packets of butter, working out the architecture of the thing. Gold dust! Let’s scatter gold dust over it, why not? For Liz is golden and we love her.

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Salted Caramel Buttercream Chocolate Cake

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A quick email back-and-forth with Pete and we decided on something chocolate-y and salted caramel-y, because really who wouldn’t love that? No one we would care to share a dance floor with, for sure. A quick Google search and I came across this smack-you-in-the-face-delicious recipe on Melissa Coleman’s elegant and charming blog, The Faux Martha. For those of us with WHITE-HOT scales at our disposal (and for whom cup measures are a challenge), I’ve metric’d up the ingredients’ list here.

This quantity makes one 23cm two-layer cake; I think I multiplied it by about six or so for Liz’s cake.

FOR THE CAKE:

Dry
170g plain flour
60g unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt

Liquid
150ml single cream
100ml whole milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Creaming
170g unsalted butter, room temperature
350g caster sugar
4 large eggs

FOR THE Salted Caramel Buttercream:
225g caster sugar
60ml water
100ml double cream
heaping pinch of sea salt
340g unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large egg whites

FOR THE GANACHE:
280g dark chocolate
70g icing sugar, sifted
200ml double cream
2 large egg yolks
40g unsalted butter, room temperature
heaping dash of sea salt

Friday, 13 September 2013

A Sweet Consolation Prize

 

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

Albert Camus

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A bowl of Bramleys from our tree.

Summer left like a well-mannered guest, slipping away quietly, without fuss. There are fewer dinners in the garden, sitting around into the night over the end of the cheese, picking at soft fruit and polishing off the last of the rosé. Washing takes longer to dry on the line. We reacquaint ourselves with the sock drawer after weeks of neglect. And then suddenly the greengrocers’ shelves are filled with figs, damsons, cobnuts and ruby-skinned pears.

Hello, autumn. We’ve been expecting you.

If I plunged my hand into a bag of favourite autumnal words, pulled out five, arranged them into an order and then created a recipe from that, this is what would happen.

Browned butter caramel apple cake

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A slice of cake for breakfast.

I made this cake with the apples from our small, espaliered Bramley, which this year is doing everything in its power to make me love its twiggy self. It is so heavy with fruit it will keep us in pies, cakes, jellies and chutneys all winter.

Don’t be put off by the longish list of ingredients. You probably have most of them hanging about anyway.

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Browned butter caramel apple cake. I think I love you.


For the cake:
250g unsalted butter, cubed, plus a little more for greasing the tin
200g plain flour
50g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
100g light muscovado sugar
100g caster sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp cognac, cider brandy or calvados (optional but good, obviously)
About 3 cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks, about 300g prepared weight


For the caramel sauce:
120g unsalted butter
120g light muscovado sugar
60ml whole milk
Good pinch of flaky sea salt

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas 3. Lightly butter a 22cm springform cake tin, line the bottom and sides with baking parchment and lightly butter the parchment.

Warm the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over a medium heat (a stainless steel pan is better than a dark-bottomed one as it’s easier to see how brown the butter is getting). The butter is ready when it’s a rich shade of hazelnut brown and it smells nutty and delicious. Pour it into a bowl to cool.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, almonds, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

When the butter is cool, tip it into the bowl of a stand mixer with the sugars and beat until creamy and light, about 5 minutes. With the motor still running, slowly pour in the eggs, pausing from time to time to make sure everything’s well incorporated. Beat in the vanilla and booze, if you’re adding it. On a low speed, beat in the flour mixture being careful not to overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and scatted the apple pieces evenly over the top. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Place the tin on a wire rack while you make the caramel sauce.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Whisk in the sugar, milk and salt. Keep stirring vigorously until everything blends into a smooth, silky sauce and simmer until thickened slightly. Pour half of the sauce over the cake, making sure it’s evenly distributed, and leave it for 10 minutes until it’s fully absorbed into the cake.

Remove the cake from the tin, peel off the parchment and put the cake on a plate. Pour over the remaining sauce and let it trickle down the sides. Leave the cake to cool completely then serve in fat slices with generous spoonfuls of crème fraiche, greek yoghurt, clotted cream or vanilla ice cream.

Friday, 14 June 2013

One for the road

 

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Browned butter biscuits

Tomorrow morning, Séan and I set off on our annual drive to the south west of France. That’s just the 16 marriage-enhancing hours, door to door. It’s a modern Kerouacian romp of shouting at the SatNav and arguing over whether the dog needs a wee.

Service stations are where whimsy goes to die, or at least to stock up on wiper blades and pallid chips, where low aspiration and low blood sugar meet, and weary, glazed eyes seek out sticky glazed doughnuts to fill the hungry gap between now and inevitable Type 2 diabetes. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t say ‘holiday’ to me.

Due to our (my) desire to be on holiday as soon as possible, we don’t stop much. We rely for sustenance on a hastily-scrabbled-together-at-dawn holiday picnic of egg-and-cress sandwiches, salt-and-vinegar crisps, fruit, perhaps some leftover pie or cake, sturdy biscuits which will withstand being rattled about in the car, bottles of water and a huge thermos of coffee.

Of course, some take en route sustenance very seriously indeed. You know when you get on a plane and your neighbour suddenly produces a linen napkin and a beautiful bento box filled with sushi? You never want to sit next to that person. They would be no use at all if there was An Incident. For example, if we were suddenly required in the cockpit to fly the plane, she would be unavailable to take instructions from air traffic control due to an urgent need to remove the wasabi stain from her three-ply dodo wool sweater.

I am a great believer in the redemptive power of the snack, but it doesn’t do to be too precious. Contrary to what many a modern calendar/mousemat/comedy mug/inspirational postcard might have you believe, sometimes it really is the destination not the journey.

Sturdy biscuits which will withstand being rattled about in the car

These are made from browned butter, which gives them a deliciously sweet and nutty flavour. They are a plainish biscuit, which is generally my preference. You can even leave out the rolling in sugar part if it offends your abstemious nature. They’re the sort of thing you can make when the cupboard’s practically bare and they last for ages in a tin. Perfect for a road trip. If you have one of them in your future this summer, you should try them.

Makes about 3 dozen

150g unsalted butter, cubed
1 tbsp vanilla extract
260g light muscovado sugar
1 tsp flaky sea salt
2 eggs, 1 separated
320g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
Golden caster sugar, for rolling

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Roll them in sugar, or not.
It’s entirely up to you.

In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan melt the butter over a medium heat, stirring frequently, until the solids go a deep golden brown and it has a rich, sweet, nutty aroma - it really will smell delicious. This should take about 6-7 minutes. Hold your nerve. Immediately pour the butter into a medium-sized mixing bowl to cool and stir in the vanilla. Beat in the sugar until well combined and glossy. Beat in the whole egg and one egg yolk.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt. Gradually beat into the butter and sugar until you have a smooth, firm dough. Divide the dough in two. Roll each piece into a log about 5cm wide. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate until firm, at least an hour. At this point if you like, you can freeze one of the batches of dough.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line some baking sheets with baking parchment. If you are rolling the biscuits in sugar, scatter and few tablespoonfuls onto a sheet of baking parchment. Lightly beat the remaining egg white with a teaspoon of cold water and brush the dough with the egg wash before rolling in the sugar. Slice the biscuits into 5mm rounds and place on the baking sheets – leave a minimum of 2cm between each biscuit as they spread out a bit.

Bake until firm and golden, about 15 minutes. Cool for a couple of minutes on the baking sheets before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. They will keep for about a week in an airtight tin.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Cookbooks and Cake: A Winning Combination


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A delicious way to celebrate Free Cakes for Kids Hackney’s hundredth cake. On Sunday afternoon, the sun shone, cakes arrived, shortly followed by people, a lot of people, who bought lots of cookbooks and ate heroic amounts of cake. Most impressive, most unstinting in this latter effort was my friend Lola’s husband who will now forever be known as Barry ‘Four Cakes’. Neighbours came. This being Stoke Newington, some of them came bearing gifts – a little tomato plant, some homemade smoked cheese. Strangers came and sat happily in the garden, chatting, flipping through their new books. My friend Julia made a NAAFI’s worth of tea and coffee. Séan washed up with characteristic cheerfulness. The hallway was full of bikes, pushchairs and scooters. In three hours, about a hundred people came through the door and helped us to raise a thousand pounds for Free Cakes for Kids Hackney. A THOUSAND POUNDS. That’s roughly twice as much as I hoped we might make and means a lot more birthday cakes for a lot more kids. Thank you to the many FCKH bakers who brought such beautiful cakes and to those of you who came and helped to make it such a happy, successful day. See you all again next year? DSCN8927
Julia makes yet another cup of coffee. DSCN8910
The dining room turns into a bookshop for a day.
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Enjoying the precious sunshine. DSCN8946
The FCKH committee rocking their brand new tote bags.
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My contribution – a lemon and blueberry layer cake, which I didn’t even get to taste. By the time I turned around, it was but crumbs.
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Scones with clotted cream. I did try one of these and it was so good.

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A present from my neighbour, a little tomato plant. He also brought me this smoked cheese, below.

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Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Cookbook and Cake Sale


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My first cake for Free Cakes for Kids Hackney

Recently I signed up as a volunteer for Free Cakes for Kids Hackney. Essentially, FCKH matches up keen bakers like me with families who find it difficult to provide birthday cakes for their children. I get to bake, which I love, and a kid gets to blow out some candles. Simple.

When FCKH were trying to think of a way to celebrate the making of their hundredth birthday cake, I had an idea. My dining room table was creaking under the weight of more than a hundred cookbooks I’d been sent as a judge for the Guild of Food Writers’ Cookbook of the Year award. Why not have a cookbook and cake sale to raise some funds so we can make more cakes for more kids?

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Some books for the sale.

So if you’re free this Sunday, May 19, do come. There’ll be many of the biggest titles from 2012, so you can tuck into brand new copies of Ottolenghi, Nigella, Jamie, Hugh and Mary Berry at knock down prices - and there’ll be quite a few second-hand books too. And if that isn’t a big enough draw, we’ll be serving tea and cake, of course.

There are Free Cakes for Kids groups springing up all over the country. If you’d like to volunteer or donate, check out their website here.

COOKBOOK AND CAKE SALE

19 May, 2-5pm, 112 Rectory Road, Stoke Newington, London N16 7SD

Cash only, please.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

What’s the fastest cake in the world?

 

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Cheddar cheese scones, cucumber sandwiches and dark mocha cake.

When he was a little boy, my nephew Angus’s favourite joke was ‘What’s the fastest cake in the world?’. Answer: ‘Sssccccone!’, delivered with tousled head moving rapidly left to right. His second favourite joke was ‘What’s the second fastest cake in the world?’ Answer: ‘Merrrrrringue!’, delivered in the manner of a car racing around a tough corner at Brand’s Hatch. He’s now in his second year at Sheffield University and his jokes haven’t got any better. At least not the ones he tells me.

On Friday, I invited my friends Jane and Lola to tea. A batch of scones was certainly in order, along with cucumber sandwiches and cake. A plain scone with raspberry jam and clotted cream is a fine thing indeed, but as the cake was a dense chocolate number with a rich, coffee buttercream icing I thought a savoury scone might be better. They certainly vanished very quickly, quicker, in fact, than you could say ‘Sssccccone!’.

Cheddar Cheese Scones

This is the basic recipe but you can adapt it as you wish. Add a pinch or two of chilli flakes, or some finely chopped thyme, dill, chives or oregano if you like.

Makes 6 large scones or 10 smaller ones.

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220g self-raising flour, plus a little more for dusting the cutter
1 tsp English mustard powder
Pinch of salt
60g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes, plus a little more for greasing the baking sheet
50g mature Cheddar, grated
A few grinds of black pepper

About 150-180 ml whole milk, plus a little more for brushing the scones

Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/Gas7. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

Sift together the flour, mustard and salt. Rub in the butter with your fingertips then use a knife to mix in the cheese and pepper. Make a well in the middle and use the knife to stir in enough milk to make a soft dough.

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Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead very gently, just enough to bring it together. Pat the dough out into a round about 2cm thick. Dip a 7cm cutter in flour (or a 5cm one if you’re making smaller scones) and cut the dough out into rounds. Transfer them to a baking sheet.

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Gently knead together the leftover dough and cut out some more scones until you’ve used up all of the dough. Brush the tops lightly with milk. Bake for 13-15 minutes (10-12 minutes for smaller scones), until risen and golden. Cool slightly on a wire rack and serve warm with plenty of butter.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Baking for a Sweeter Tomorrow

 

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This cake is my insurance policy for a sweeter tomorrow. When you have a selection of cakes covered in icing, fruit and chocolate as we did for Séan’s birthday, a humble brown cake doesn’t exactly steal the limelight. When all else is but crumbs, there’s every chance you will have a slice or two of apple cake left the next day to enjoy in blissful isolation with a cup of coffee.

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Just the right amount of leftovers.

I based this cake on a recipe I found here. I adjusted it to work in a two-litre bundt tin as I don’t have a three-litre one, and added maple syrup to the glaze. I also sprinkled over some praline, as I think it’s often good to have a little sweet, nutty crunch with your cake, but you can leave it out if you like.

Spiced Apple Bundt Cake with Maple Syrup Glaze

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For the optional praline:

125g shelled hazelnuts
200g caster sugar

For the cake:

200g plain flour, plus a little more for dusting the tin
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly-grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cardamom
Good pinch of ground cloves
½ tsp salt
400g apples
225g unsalted butter, softened, plus a little more for dusting the tin
250g caster sugar
80g light muscovado sugar
Finely grated zest of a lemon
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice
3-4 tbsp milk

For the glaze:

70g light muscovado sugar
50ml whipping cream or double cream
2 tbsp maple syrup
30g unsalted butter
1 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt

If you’re using the praline, make it first. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Scatter the hazelnuts in a roasting tin and place them in the oven. If the hazelnuts still have their skins, roast for 7-8 minutes until the skins are just blackened. Tip them into a clean tea towel, cover and leave for a minute before rubbing vigorously to remove the skins – don’t worry too much about getting every speck off. If they’re already skinned, simply roast them for 5 minutes or until lightly toasted.

Line a baking sheet with Silpat or lightly buttered baking parchment. Warm a heavy-bottomed frying pan over a medium heat – it’s best to use one with a shiny interior rather than a dark, non-stick one as it will make it easier to see when the caramel is the right colour. Tip the sugar into the pan in a thin, even layer. When the sugar starts to melt, stir it gently to encourage it to melt evenly. When it has dissolved, stop stirring and watch it carefully. When it has turned a rich, golden amber, tip in the nuts and quickly stir with a fork before tipping out onto the prepared baking sheet. Cool completely then either chop roughly with a knife or pulse in a blender. You’ll have more than you need for this cake, but it keeps well in an airtight jar and you can use the leftovers to decorate other cakes and puddings.

Lower the oven temperature to 160°C/325°F/Gas 3. Thoroughly grease a two-litre bundt tin with butter. Scatter in some flour and cover the tin with cling film. Give everything a very good shake, remove the cling film and tap the tin to remove excess flour. This will show up any spots you’ve missed with the butter, so give them a little touch up.

Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt. I sift them twice so that everything is well combined but I’m sure this isn’t strictly necessary.

Peel and core the apples and grate them coarsely. Pat them with some kitchen paper to remove excess liquid. You should have about 225g apples.

In a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugars until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla, lemon zest and juice. Fold in the flour mixture with a metal spoon and then gently fold in the apples. Mix in enough milk to make a smooth batter. Spoon into the prepared tin and gently smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Bake for about 45-50 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 15 minutes then turn out onto a rack set over a plate.

While the cake is cooking, make the glaze. Stir together all of the ingredients in a small, non-stick pan over a low heat until all of the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat slightly and whisk until the mixture comes together into a smooth, glossy sauce.

While the cake is still warm, pierce the top all over with a skewer and pour over the glaze, allowing it to soak into the cake before pouring over more. Use a spatula to scrape the glaze which has dripped from the cake onto the plate back into the pan. Warm it through and pour it over the cake. Sprinkle on some praline and cool for a further 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

There’s Only So Much Toast



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Every year I make marmalade. I love the restful, rhythmic chopping and the smell of it simmering in the pan. I love the look of a pleasing stash of gleaming, amber jars of it on the shelf. I love it on toast.
But let’s be honest, there’s a limit to how much toast a girl can eat in a year. I’m always looking for ways to include it in things as well as on things. I use marmalade to glaze hams, in a sticky glaze for chicken drumsticks, in steamed puddings and in cakes.
For Séan’s birthday, I wanted to make a marmalade cake based on this favourite Nigel Slater recipe for a loaf cake. In honour of the boy’s birthday, I gussied it up with a bit of booze, a thick layer of chocolate ganache and some sparkling, crystallised orange slices so in the end it was rather like a huge, posh Jaffa Cake.
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Planet cake.

Marmalade and Chocolate Cake


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For the crystallised oranges:
1 small orange, thinly sliced and ends discarded 200g caster sugar 750ml water 1-2 cardamom pods, bashed, optional


For the cake:

175g unsalted butter, softened, plus a little more for buttering the tin
100g marmalade Finely-grated zest and juice of a large orange 1 tbsp Cointreau, optional 175g caster sugar 3 eggs, lightly beaten 175g self-raising flour, sifted Pinch of salt

For the syrup: Juice of 1 large orange Juice of 1 lemon 100g icing sugar 1 tbsp Cointreau, optional

For the ganache: 200g dark chocolate 200ml double cream

Start by making the crystallised oranges the day before you want to make the cake. Put the sugar in a pan with the water and cardamom pods if using and stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat, add the orange slices and simmer gently for a couple of hours until the oranges are completely soft and have lost all trace of bitterness. Leave overnight to cool in the syrup. Remove the slices with a slotted spoon and pat dry on kitchen paper. Reserve the syrup. It will keep in a jar in the fridge for several weeks. Use it to glaze cakes, poach rhubarb, trickle over Greek yoghurt or to use as a base in cocktails.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4. Lightly butter a 23cm springform cake tin. Line the bottom and sides with baking parchment and butter the parchment.
In a small bowl, whisk together the marmalade with the juice and finely-grated zest of the orange, and the Cointreau if using.
In a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until pale, light and fluffy. Pour in the beaten egg a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the marmalade mixture. Remove the bowl from the stand and gently but thoroughly fold in the flour and salt with a metal spoon. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and smooth the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes until a cocktail stick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Place the orange juice, lemon juice, Cointreau if using and icing sugar into a small pan. Warm over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat.
As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, pierce it all over the top with a skewer. Pour on a little of the syrup, let it soak in and then pour on a little more until you’ve used it all up, making sure the cake is evenly soaked. Cool completely in the tin then remove it carefully from the tin (the syrup will make it a bit fragile). Remove the baking parchment and invert onto a plate.
To make the ganache, break up all of the chocolate into small pieces and place them in a bowl. Heat the cream in a pan just until bubbles appear around the sides, then pour it over the chocolate. Leave it for 30 seconds then stir it until the chocolate is completely melted. Spread the chocolate over the cake and top with the orange slices.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Happy Birthday, Sweetness



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It was Séan’s birthday last week. He insisted on making his own cake to take into the office. I’m fairly certain this is the first cake he’s baked in the 15 years we’ve been married. I did not help. It turned out brilliantly. I was slightly irked. I threatened to install the new router on the computer, fix the dodgy loo cistern and put a new blade on the lawnmower.
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The cake Séan made.
Of course, I did none of these things. They don’t sound much fun to be honest. Instead, for his birthday party yesterday, I made three cakes. That’ll teach him. Eighteen of us went to The Russett, a great café along the road from our house, for roast chicken and then piled back into our kitchen for crisps, cakes and prosecco.
I’ll blog the rest of the recipes over the next week or so, but I’m starting with the red velvet cake because this is the one the birthday boy requested. As it’s his birthday, I bent my usual house rules about using only seasonal fruit and veg. Don’t judge me (yeah, Nick).
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Marmalade and chocolate cake, red velvet cake and apple and cinnamon bundt cake.

Red Velvet Cake
I’ve made this cake loads of times, for birthday parties, engagement parties, bridal showers and just for the plain old love of the light sponge combined with the tangy cream cheese icing and mountain of fruit. It’s very easy, very pretty and is always a big hit. I was once stopped in the street by a woman I didn’t know who’d had a slice at a friend’s party to say it was the best cake she’d ever tasted. Sweet.
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Leo, being patient.
For the cake:
300g plain flour, sifted 2tbsp cocoa, plus a bit more for dusting the tins 1 tsp baking powder 1tsp bicarbonate of soda ½ tsp salt 250ml buttermilk 1 tbsp red food colouring 1 tsp cider vinegar 1 tsp vanilla extract 320g caster sugar 120g unsalted butter, softened, plus a bit more for greasing the tins 2 large eggs


For the icing:
110g unsalted butter, softened 500g full-fat cream cheese, room temperature 1 tsp vanilla extract 300g icing sugar, sifted A couple of punnets of raspberries A couple of punnets of blueberries

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4. Lightly butter two 23cm springform cake tins and dust them with cocoa powder.
Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a medium-sized bowl. I like to sift everything twice so all the ingredients are well blended.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, food colouring, vinegar and vanilla. It will be the most beautiful colour.
Using a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar. Don’t expect it to become light and fluffy, but it should be well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in a quarter of the dry ingredients followed by a third of the buttermilk mixture. Repeat until all of the ingredients are incorporated, ending with the final quarter of the dry ingredients (dry, wet, dry, wet, dry, wet, dry).
Divide the batter between the prepared cake tins and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the tins, on a rack, for 10 minutes. Turn out of the tins and cool completely.
To make the icing, beat the butter in a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the cream cheese a little at a time until everything is very well blended. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the icing sugar until everything is smooth.
When the cakes are completely cool, place one cake on a plate, spread some of the icing on top and arrange a generous layer of raspberries and blueberries over it, pressing lightly so they stick to the icing. Place the second cake on top and cover the whole thing with the remaining icing. Top the cake with the rest of the fruit.
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A slice of red velvet.

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Not much left …

Monday, 28 January 2013

Come To Lunch, Bring Your Slippers

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Last Saturday night, as I roasted and whisked and rolled, I wondered if it all might be in vain. I was prepping for a Sunday lunch which might never happen. I dusted the counter with flour to roll out the pastry as snow fell heavily on the kitchen’s glass roof. The cats shot through the catflap and threw themselves in front of the fire where they meticulously licked fat flakes from their whiskers and paws.

Lunch the next day was to welcome home four of our closest friends, Vanessa and James from Cambodia and Richard and Stuart from Australia. Their planes were due to arrive at Heathrow between five and six on Sunday morning. It seemed a good idea, on Boxing Day, when we discussed getting together for a jet-lag-deferring Sunday lunch. But now every news bulletin came with dire updates about runways being closed. Newspapers screamed about ‘Snowmageddon’. Perhaps it would just be Séan and I, tucking into that rolled shoulder of pork and rhubarb and custard tart?

But planes landed. Guests came. Radiators were draped with lightly steaming mittens and scarves. Pegs struggled under the weight of damp wool and fat down coats. Boots lay in a heap in the hall. They’d all brought their slippers. I like that. I like having a house where people pad about in their slippers. It’s what makes it home.*

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Snow soufflés rise from plant pots.

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Frosted magnolia.

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A present from Cambodia. Silk, peppercorns, peanut brittle, a little aluminium coffee filter and ground coffee which smells so deliciously of chocolate, I want to rub my face in it.

 

*Or perhaps a prelude to The Home, where I hope we’ll all end up one day, surviving on soup, show tunes, gin and gossip, cheating at cards and fighting over the best lounger on the terrace.

 

Rhubarb and Custard Tart

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Back in 2008, on the very first shoot I did for River Cottage, we made this pretty, and pretty delicious tart . I’ve made it quite often since and I’ve tinkered with it slightly, adding some orange zest to the pastry and cramming in even more rhubarb, because you really can’t have too much of a good thing.

For the pastry:

225g plain flour, plus a little more for dusting the tin
110g unsalted butter, softened, plus a little more for greasing the tin
110g caster sugar or vanilla sugar
A few gratings of orange zest
Pinch of salt
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten


For the filling:

800g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 5cm pieces
Zest of 1 small orange
Juice of half an orange
3 tbsp caster (or vanilla) sugar
1 vanilla pod, split and cut in half


For the custard:

250ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, split
5 large egg yolks
2-3 tbsp caster (or vanilla) sugar

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Sorry this picture is a bit rubbish. Snapped it on my phone just as I took the tart out of the oven and I forgot to take a new one the next morning, but it gives you an idea of the fruity, vanilla-y goodness.

First, make the pastry. Lightly greasy a 28cm, loose-bottomed flan tin, dust it with flour and tap out the excess. Sift the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Whisk in the sugar, zest and salt with a fork. Add the egg yolks and mix with a knife until the dough comes together. Knead very gently and quickly into a round, smooth disc. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate while you prepare everything else.

While the pastry is resting, roast the rhubarb. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. In a roasting tin, mix the rhubarb, zest, juice, sugar and vanilla, then bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until soft and slightly caramelised. Cool, strain off the juices (save it to pour over greek yoghurt – so good) and remove the vanilla. You can rinse and dry the vanilla pod and use it in the custard if you like. Thrifty.

While the rhubarb is cooling, line the tart tin. On a lightly floured surface (or between two sheets of baking parchment or cling film), roll out the pastry and line the baking tin, letting the excess pastry hang over the side. Refrigerate again for 15 minutes or so.

Reduce the temperature to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Line the tart tin with several layers of cling film, leaving plenty hanging over the side. Fill generously with baking beans or uncooked pulses or rice. Bring the excess cling film over the top to make a sort of blind baking ‘pad’. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven, take out the ‘pad’ and prick the pastry all over with the tines of a fork. Brush lightly with egg wash (steal a little of the egg yolk from the custard and whisk with a splash of water or milk) and return to the oven for about 8-10 minutes, until the case is golden and completely cooked through. Remove from the oven and trim off the excess pastry with a small, sharp knife.

Reduce the oven temperature to 130°C/250°F/gas mark ½.

Make the custard. Pour the cream and split vanilla pod into a pan and heat until the cream is just scalded. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar, then pour into the cream, whisking to combine. Pour through a fine sieve into a jug. Scrape the seeds out of the pod and into the custard.

Spoon the rhubarb into the pastry shell and pour over the custard until it's about 5mm from the top. Bake on a tray for 30-40 minutes, until the custard is just set but not too firm – it should still have a little wobble to it. Serve cold.

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Sunday, 30 December 2012

There’s Something About Turkey

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My default setting for dealing with leftovers is to throw them all together and cover them with pastry. Eat and repeat. Until January, when some law about dusting off the juicer and salad spinner comes into play.

Please excuse the less-than-stellar sunshine brightness of these photographs. They were taken in my parents’ kitchen which, like the kitchens in many Victorian houses, is in the far northern corner of the house. In the days before refrigeration, it gave the food a fighting chance of staying fresher for longer. Even now in this kitchen you can happily leave butter out between September and June without any risk of it being easily spreadable on anything other than the hottest of toast. It is the perfect kitchen for making pastry.

Until recently, the kitchen was even more crepuscular. A thicket of trees comes almost up to the house, shading the mossy path to the front door. The house is at the top of a valley and even the gentlest of breezes whips and licks around its walls in the most ferocious fashion. In a storm last spring, a huge tree was whipped and licked right into the kitchen wall.

Tree for Debora

My parents, who were in another part of the house at the time, didn’t notice. They were alerted by the postman who came to the back door rather than the front and explained his usual route was barred by several tons of unruly tree. It took my brother and nephew a whole day to clear a path to the house, then a gang of men with proper machinery arrived and, over several days, transformed the tree into neat logs and mountains of chippings.

So I suppose what I’m saying is sorry about the pictures but it could have been a whole lot worse.

Turkey Pot Pie

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Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients for the pie. At Christmas, I usually have all of this stuff kicking around in the kitchen and I suspect you may do too. If you’re missing anything, don’t worry. Just add a bit more of something else. Essentially, it’s leftovers in a sauce with pastry over the top. Adjust any of these ingredients depending on what you have – if you have any leftover ham, that would certainly be good. The only important thing about making this pie is that you make it without having to go to the shops. That’s the best seasoning of all.

A large knob of butter
1 large onion, diced
1 bay leaf
A couple of sprigs of thyme, plus more for seasoning later
1 large parsnip or 2 small, cut into 1cm dice*
2 carrots, cut into 1cm dice*
1 celery stick, diced (optional)
250g chestnut mushrooms, halved, or quartered if large
2 garlic cloves, diced
1 rounded tbsp plain flour, plus more for dusting
About 700ml chicken or turkey stock, or leftover gravy if you have it, hot
100ml white wine
Leftover cooked turkey, skinned, and cut or shredded into large chunks
1 bunch spring onions, trimmed and cut into 1cm pieces
A couple of handfuls of frozen petits pois
2-3tbsp crème fraîche or double cream
1 tbsp Dijon mustard, wholegrain or plain
500g ready-roll, all-butter puff pastry or shortcrust pastry
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten with a little water

*You can use leftover roasted carrots and/or parsnips if you have them. Leave them whole and add them towards the end with the turkey.

Melt the butter over a low heat and add the onions, a pinch of salt, bay leaf and a couple of sprigs of thyme (on the branch). Sauté gently, stirring from time to time, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the parsnip, carrot (unless using roasted ones, add these later) and celery if using and sauté for a further 5 minutes until slightly softened. Turn the heat up and add the mushrooms and another pinch of salt. Sauté, stirring from time to time, until the mushrooms have given up their moisture and started to brown slightly. Add the garlic and stir for a minute. Sprinkle over the flour and stir for a couple of minutes. Add a ladleful of the hot stock or gravy and stir, scraping up any bits which have stuck to the bottom of the pan, then add the rest of the hot stock or gravy along with the wine. Bring to a simmer and let it all bubble away for 5 minutes until the sauce is thickened slightly.

Add the spring onions, peas and turkey (and roasted veg if using). Remove from the heat. Stir in the crème fraiche and mustard. Stir in about a tablespoonful of fresh thyme leaves, removed from the stalk and roughly chopped. If you have any parsley, chives, tarragon or chervil kicking around, you could also add a sprinkling of these, either alone or in combination. Season with salt and pepper. Cool.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6. Either leave the turkey mixture in the pan you cooked it in, so long as it’s ovenproof, or pour it into an ovenproof dish.

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Dust the work surface with a little flour and roll out the pastry so it’s large enough to cover the surface of the ovenproof casserole or dish with about 5cm to spare. Brush the edge of the dish with a little of the egg wash, drape over the pastry, crimp it to the edges and trim. You want an overhang of about 2cm. Brush the top with egg wash, sprinkle on some salt, pepper and thyme leaves. Place on a baking sheet and cook for about 30-35 minutes, until the filling is bubbling hot and the pastry is golden.

Monday, 24 December 2012

A Sweet Thank You


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Cookies, as far as the eye can see.

I spent a happy evening turning the kitchen into a factory. A biscuit factory to be precise. In the space of a few hours I made eight dozen chocolate crackle cookies and four dozen oatmeal and raisin cookies. When I bake like this I go into a sort of trance of measuring, whisking, beating, sprinkling and rolling, punctuated by the ping of the kitchen timer. I rotate the baking sheets through the oven and put them onto the table in the garden to cool quickly between batches, enjoying the cooling blast of evening air.

Clearly even I can’t eat that many cookies, at least in one session. I parcelled them up in little bags to give to my neighbours and my favourite local shopkeepers. So if you’ve chatted with me over the fence, sold me a book or a bra, a lamb chop or a cat collar, a newspaper or a bunch of flowers, the chances are you’ve already tried the pretty Christmas Crackle Cookies here. If not, they’re fun to make in a mud-pie sort of way. I’ll post the oatmeal cookies in January, when we can all do with a cosy, chewy, pretending-to-be wholesome (they’ve got OATS in - they’re practically health food) cheer up. In the meantime, thank you to all of you who visit my blog and leave such lovely comments, both here and on Twitter. I wish you all a delicious Christmas and a sweetly chewy New Year.

Christmas crackle cookies

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This makes about eight dozen cookies, but you can halve it quite easily if that’s too many for you. The dough also freezes well so you could keep some of the packages in the freezer, ready for when you want to rustle up a quick batch.

I took as my inspiration for this recipe Martha Stewart’s recipe here, though I tinkered with the method quite a bit. My tips for success are these:

· Chill the dough for at least four hours, or overnight if possible. Take the packages of dough out of the fridge one at a time – you want the batter to be very cold when you work on it.

· It helps if your hands are really cool. Run them under the cold tap or dip them in chilled water from time to time. You’ll need to wash them quite frequently anyway, as it’s a rather sticky business.

· Handle the dough as little as possible to turn them into little balls. They don’t have to be perfectly round. Roughly round is fine – the oven will do the rest.

· It’s quite pleasingly messy, so line your work surface with baking parchment or clingfilm to make cleaning up easy.

225g plain chocolate, about 70%, broken up into small pieces370g plain flour
100g cocoa
4tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
225g unsalted butter, room temperature
400g light muscovado sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
150ml whole milk
2 tbsp Kahlua, optional
2 tsp vanilla extract

Icing sugar and caster sugar for rolling

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely-simmering water (the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl). Melt, stirring from time to time. Cool.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. If I’m making this quantity, I sift it twice to make sure it’s well blended.

In a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth then add the sugar and beat until very light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs about a tablespoon at a time, beating until well combined after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and Kahlua if using, then the cooled chocolate.

With the beater on a low speed, add a third of the sifted flour mixture, then half of the milk, and repeat, ending with the last third of the flour. Mix until just combined – with this large quantity, I finish it off by hand, but with a half batch you should be fine. Be careful not to overmix though or the cookies will be tough – the dough should be soft and cakey, rather mousse-y. Divide the dough into eight flattish discs of about 220g each and wrap them in clingfilm. Refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Line baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment. You will need to cook these in batches. Make sure the sheets are cool and the oven back up to temperature before you embark on each batch.

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Ready to roll.


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Ready for the oven.

Place a large sheet of baking parchment or clingfilm on your work surface and set up a bowl of caster sugar and a bowl of icing sugar, ready to roll the cookies. Remove one batch of dough from the fridge and use a teaspoon to scoop out little balls of dough. Roll them quickly into balls roughly the size of a small walnut. Toss them first in the caster sugar then in the icing sugar until they’re well coated, then arrange on the prepared baking sheet about 2cm apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until flattened and the sugar coating has split into a crackle pattern. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. They will keep in an airtight container for about 4 days.

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