November 14, 2017

APPLE CAKE and the case of the wrong tin.

Apple cake

A bit of an ugly duckling.

I would have to agree that this is not the most good looking cake I have included in the blog, but I plead mitigating circumstances.

In early September we moved house and only three days later fled back to France to enjoy what was left of the nice weather.  Three weeks after that we returned to the UK to begin organising the process of doing up our new house, which is a 1960’s bungalow in dire need of modernisation and a bit of TLC.  The kitchen is probably not very old and although it looked good in the agent’s photos in reality it most definitely is not, being cheap and badly fitted.

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The boiler was so old that the plumber laughed and took pictures to show his mates.  The first job was to replace it and all the radiators, which ended up being a major upheaval and the plumbing equivalent of a re-wiring.  This has left us with a workable but not very pretty kitchen which is difficult to keep clean.

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It does at least function, although I miss my dishwasher and have renewed respect for my mum who cooked for four of us and washed up by hand every single day.  I now have the sandpaper hands that she had at my age.  A new dishwasher will come with a new kitchen in late November – not a moment too soon!

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The top oven, untouched and not as clean as it looks.  Ugh.

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The oven, bright and sparkling without its layers of grease.

The double oven/grill was filthy.  I don’t mind too much cleaning layers of my own muck off an oven, given the right products, but cleaning other people’s is a step too far.  Yes, that is a layer of grease in the bottom of the grill compartment.  I was all for leaving it exactly as it was and using just the hob and our camping stove until our new kitchen was installed, but after a week or so I realised that I could not survive without an oven for at least two months so decided to tackle it.

I used a product called “Oven Mate” which is a fairly evil and vicious gel that you paint on the cold oven surfaces and shelves and wipe off three hours later.  It did a fantastic job of cleaning the oven but I’m afraid I chickened out of doing the top oven/grill.  Whilst it pains me to leave it like that – it’s like having an ogre lurking in the kitchen, waiting to bite me if I accidentally open the wrong door – I simply can’t bear the prospect of cleaning it. 

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Because we are waiting for a new kitchen most of our kitchen stuff is still in boxes piled up in the dining room.  There seems little point in unpacking it all and putting it away only to have to empty the cupboards again in a few weeks’ time.

Just to digress slightly, I am thrilled to have a dining room, having not had one since living in the old Edwardian flat I rented in Headingley, Leeds, in 1971.  That had a proper dining room, with parquet floor, picture rails and a fine fireplace.  After that I had either a “through lounge” arrangement or a dining kitchen.  This new dining room would originally have been the front bedroom until the upstairs was added to the bungalow, but it’s a good size and we have great plans for it.

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And so I come to the reason for having a rather untidy looking cake.  It was my dad’s and Nick’s birthdays on consecutive days and a cake of some sort was called for.  After weeks of rummaging through packing boxes to find essential items, I was fed up with the chaos and on opening a box marked “cake tins”  picked up the first tin I found inside and thought it would do fine for the apple cake recipe.  If I had used a regular tin it would have been fine, as you can see, but with this tin the cake is meant to be turned upside down to reveal the fancy shape on top and that’s where things went pear shaped.

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I possibly could have turned it back the other way up but thought there was a risk that it might fall apart completely so decided to slather it in a good sprinkling of icing sugar instead.

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As well as not using the right tin, I also didn’t use the right ingredients.  The recipe called for almond essence but I had no idea where mine might be.  In rummaging I spotted the jar of mixed spice so used that instead along with the zest of an orange, which I had seen in another recipe and sounded like a nice idea.

It was delicious.  Definitely my favourite apple cake so far.  The original recipe comes from Jo Wheatley, a GBBO winner of a few years ago and is called “Auntie Helen’s Apple Cake”.  You can see it here.

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It was packed full of apples and I thought the spice and orange variation worked really well.  Next time I might use one less apple (maybe mine were a little too big) to make the cake more stable but it was lovely.  Definitely one to do again – but using the right tin next time!

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Digressing ever so slightly again, I served it on my new cake stand which was a bargain purchase recently from Tesco.  I have a huge collection of cake stands (I simply dare not confess exactly how many but suffice it to say more than any person can ever need) and really didn’t need another.  However, I liked the slogan on this one, things in the world being so wrong at the moment, so when they were reduced eventually to £3, I swooped.

Ingredients

125g caster sugar

125g soft margarine or spreadable butter

185g self raising flour

4 small eating apples, peeled and sliced (I would use three next time)

3 eggs, beaten

40ml double cream

1 tsp mixed spice

zest of 1 orange

Method

Preheat the oven to 170°C / 150°fan.  Grease and line the bottom of a 23cm round springform tin.

Cream together the fat and sugar using an electric whisk, until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Sift and fold in the flour and spice, along with the orange zest and cream.

Stir through the apple slices until well coated in the batter.  Transfer to the tin and bake for 40-50 minutes until golden brown and done.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.  Sprinkle liberally with icing sugar and serve warm with cream or ice cream, or cold.

Cuts into 8 – 10 delicious slices.

October 29, 2017

STICKY TOFFEE LOAF CAKE and a good reason for not baking.

sticky toffee pudding cake

There will not be as much baking going on in this house over the next few weeks, or even months.  The reason being – I am on a diet.  A quest to lose the more than two stone I have gained since I retired, preferably by the time we return to France next spring.

The excess weight did not arrive overnight, it was a gradual thing, the result of the constant availability of food, eating a meal instead of just a sandwich at lunchtime, and possibly an overly enthusiastic interest in all things cake.  The last half stone has appeared since we lost our dog Lulu last summer and, with 2016 being my personal annus horribilis, no doubt a bit of comfort eating as well.

I have lost weight successfully before on various eating plans, the most successful being a calorie counting regime.  I accept that an increased activity level would help matters, but it would be hard to fit in any visits to the gym at the moment, what with doing up our new UK house and – keeping an eye on our new puppy, Hugo.  We have a lot of plates spinning and are only just keeping ourselves sane – you can read more about it here if you like.  We can hardly be described as inactive, compared to those who might sit in front of a computer or a TV all day, and it’s good to see that the first half stone has already disappeared.

However, I still have plenty of cakes and other bakes to write about, in fact a backlog of baking posts that should keep me going for quite a while.  It will actually be nice to bring the blog up to date so that all those bakes don’t just disappear forever into the mists of time.

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Nick made this cake for the last CCC meeting.  I had made it myself (and blogged about it) a while ago and when I looked it up it turns out that that was three years ago – how time flies!  I remembered that it was a delicious cake, full of spice and just right for early autumn, with its dates and pecans.  You can read about it here.

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Autumn arrived unusually early in our little corner of France.  Considering that the cake club meeting was on 27th September, looking at the photos you would think that it was a month later.  September is usually a glorious month in the Loire Valley, warm and sunny, with all the joys of summery days without the baking heat of say July and August.  This year September was disappointing, cool and showery.  (Apparently October has been better – but we were not there to enjoy it, sadly.)

It was definitely a “mists and mellow fruitfulness” kind of day when Nick baked his cake and I had to take the cake outside to get enough light to take its picture.

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The cake is made to a Delia Smith recipe – Nick is very much a fan of Delia – and rightly so.  I can’t recall having too many failures with any of her recipes.

This time we decided that we liked the rustic look of the cake without its icing so decided not to ice it.  That was a good decision I think.  Sometimes an icing is called for but on this occasion the cake was perfectly delicious without it.  (For those who like the intense sweetness of a sticky toffee pudding, the icing would satisfy the need.)

It kept really well for several days.  Chunks of it sustained us on our long, twelve hour journey back to Derbyshire from the Loire.  The last few pieces kept us going and our spirits up when we faced the first tranche of building work on our new house in the UK.

You can see the original recipe with the iced version here.

Ingredients

1 tsp mixed spice

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

110g chopped dates

50g pecan nuts, chopped

110g Flora Buttery (or similar, such as Lurpak Spreadable)

50g black treacle

175g golden syrup

150ml milk

2 eggs, beaten

225g plain flour

Method

Preheat the oven to 150˚ C / 130˚ fan / gas mk 2.  Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment or use a paper liner.

Put the butter, treacle and syrup in a large saucepan over a low heat and melt them together.  (Warming the tin of treacle in a saucepan of hot water will help to make it easier to measure out.)

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, mix in the milk then the beaten eggs.  Sift in the flour, spices and bicarb, whisking in gradually until smooth.  Add the nuts and about two thirds of the dates, mix well and pour into the tin.  Drop the remaining dates onto the top of the cake and push them in a bit with a skewer.

Bake on a low shelf for 1½ hours to 1 hour 50 minutes until done, risen and cracked on the top.  Cool in the tin for 30 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Cuts into 10-12 slices, depending on how thick you like you slices of cake.

October 20, 2017

CHOCOLATE, ALMOND AND AMARETTI CAKE

chocolate amaretti cake

This is one of those very rich, fudgy chocolate torte kind of cakes.  The kind where you can really only manage one small slice although you would dearly like to eat another!

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It’s a Rachel Allen recipe from her “Food for living” book.  I have waxed lyrical about her recipes before and this is another one that I would highly recommend.  It appears in several places on the internet, one of which is here.  I have adapted it slightly to use ground almonds instead of flaked almonds because that’s what I had in the house.

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I have made several cakes of this kind before, using various recipes, but this is my favourite so far.  A lot of them are way too rich for me, the intensity of the chocolate being more than I can take.  For me, this one is just right, dense and squidgy without being too rich and sickly.

Amaretti biscuits can sometimes be hard to find in the shops, both in France and the UK, if you’re looking for them at the wrong time of year.  I have bought them before in both Aldi and the Co-op at a sensible price and with the amaretti season (Christmas) coming up, it should soon be easy to get some more.  I shall stock up as they usually keep for ages and it’s really annoying when I see a recipe that uses amaretti biscuits that I would like to try, I have none in the cupboard and can’t buy them anywhere because it’s the middle of May!

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This cake would be great for a dinner party or buffet table dessert.  It’s incredibly easy to make, is perfectly delicious and can be made the day before needed.  In fact this one kept really well for several days in an airtight tin.  It needs no embellishment other than a dusting of icing sugar and some berries on the side if you like.

Ingredients

150g 70% dark chocolate, melted

50g amaretti biscuits

100g ground almonds

175g caster sugar

grated zest of 1 orange

100g butter, cubed

4 eggs

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Butter and base line a 20cm round springform cake tin.

Put the amaretti biscuits in a food processor with the sugar and orange zest.  Process until finely ground and slightly gritty.

Add the ground almonds and process briefly to combine.  Blend in the butter and eggs, then the chocolate, until smooth and well combined.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35 - 45 minutes, or until the cake is puffed up and slightly cracked around the edges.

Cool in the tin for 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack or plate to cool completely.

The top will have cracks which can be disguised with a nice dusting of icing sugar or cocoa powder!

Serves 8-10.

October 15, 2017

APPLE AND GINGER MUFFINS

apple and ginger muffins

I don’t make muffins too often, in fact not often enough.  When I made these muffins for a CCC “anything goes” event, I had quite forgotten how nice muffins can be.

The “anything goes” theme is one where members can bake anything they like, not just cake, which made a nice change and it was fun to see what people thought of to bring.  There were sausage rolls, quiche, meringues, eclairs, flapjacks and madeleines.  And of course my muffins. 

(Just in case you’re wondering, and you’re probably not, why there is a small knife with the plate of muffins, it’s because at a CCC event where everyone likes to try a small piece of everything on the table, a whole muffin is not a good idea.  Half a muffin would be more than enough if there was to be room in the tummy for all of the other delights on offer.  Those who have ever been to a CCC event will completely understand this problem!)

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After a pleasant hour or so of leafing through my ever growing collection of recipe books I chose a recipe from this one by Rachel Allen.  I like her recipes, have used quite a few and have never had a failure with any of them.  The recipe is actually for pear and ginger muffins but she suggests apples as an alternative. As we had several apples going begging in the fruit bowl I decided to use them.  I wondered how they would go with ginger as opposed to the more traditional cinnamon and it turned out to be a delicious combination.

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Thinking about it, one of the reasons that I don’t make muffins more often is that generally they don’t keep too well.  They can be slightly stale after one day and definitely bird food after two or three.

However, in the recipe it says to “whisk together until smooth” which kind of goes against the concept that “lumpy batter makes light muffins”.  (I can’t exactly remember where I read that phrase but think it might have been in a Nigella Lawson book.)  But, having every confidence in Rachel Allen’s recipes, whisk it I did, until nice and smooth.  The result was that the texture of the muffins was more like a cake than a muffin, with the added delight that they were still perfectly nice to eat several days later.  Curious.

In fact, with the quantity of mixture and the texture of the muffins it occurred to me that it might work as a bundt cake - the next time I have a surfeit of apples.  Anyway, apple and ginger is a winning combination.  Cinnamon makes me nervous as it takes only a smidgen too much of it to make a cake taste slightly soapy.  It’s not so easy to overdo the ginger and although a whole tablespoon seemed like a lot actually it was just right.

Ingredients

275g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tblsp ground ginger

1 tsp salt

200g caster sugar

4 eggs, beaten

150ml vegetable oil

300g dessert apples, peeled and chopped into 1cm dice

1 tblsp demerara sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4.  Put 15 muffin cases into two muffin tins.*

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Add the eggs and oil and whisk together until smooth.  Fold in the chopped apples.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, filling each one about three quarters full.  (I use an ice cream scoop which makes it easy to get them evenly filled).  Sprinkle with demerara sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and springy to the touch.  Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  You can dust with icing sugar or ice with a water icing if you like, instead of sprinkling with demerara sugar.

*Makes 12-15 muffins, depending on how much you fill the cases. 

September 26, 2017

MINI SAUSAGE ROLLS

sausage rolls

I called on a friend recently and she was busy making little sausage rolls for a birthday party.  I hadn’t made sausage rolls for years.

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I didn’t realise you could buy sausage meat in France, but then I had never looked for it.  My friend said she finds that it can be a bit coarser than the meat you buy in the UK so she blitzes it in a food processor for sausage rolls and also adds a few bits of veg for flavour.

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You can buy packs of ready made puff pastry everywhere in France an in some supermarkets they have the rectangular sheets which are ideal for sausage rolls, better than the circles of pastry which obviously need a lot of trimming,

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Only a few days later we were invited to an apéro dînatoire at another friend’s house.  This is like being invited round for drinks but with extra nibbles, or, as this other friend put it, more than just a crisp.  In fact there is usually enough food to be sufficiently fed for the evening, all tasty finger food and lots of it home made.  So I decided to make a batch of mini sausage rolls to take with me.  They were delicious and disappeared fast, all forty of them!

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I added some onion, tomato and red pepper to my sausage meat which everyone seemed to love.  Next time I might experiment with some other flavourings, paprika, curry powder or whatever takes my fancy on the day.

For another guide on making mini sausage rolls see the BBC Good Food website here.

Ingredients

2 packs of feuilletée rectangulaire (oblong ready rolled puff pastry)

500g pork sausage meat

1 egg, beaten

1 tomato

1 small onion

½ a red pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180°fan / gas mk 6.  Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.

Put the vegetables into a food processor and blitz briefly to chop finely.  Add the sausage meat and blitz again until smooth.

Unroll one sheet of pastry and cut lenghtwise along the centre to make two long strips.  Divide the meat into four equal parts and spoon one part along one strip of pastry to make an even sausage about an inch inside the edge.  Brush the opposite long edge with beaten egg.

Fold the nearest pastry over the meat and roll the whole thing towards the opposite edge so that a long sausage roll is formed and the join in the pastry is underneath.

Cut the roll into ten roughly equal sections, prick the tops with a fork or slash with a knife, brush liberally with egg and place slightly apart on the baking sheet.  Repeat with the other half of the pastry.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and brown and the meat is cooked.  While the first batch is baking make the second batch.

Remove to a wire rack to cool. 

Makes 40 mini rolls.

August 17, 2017

GINGER GUINNESS CAKE

guinness ginger cake

In recent years I have made a lot of cakes.  It all began with the charity cake stall for the BBC Children in Need appeal which we held at work for the first time more than ten years ago.  That’s when I started looking for new recipes.  Then I joined the Clandestine Cake Club and started my own branch of the CCC in France in 2014.  .

My hunger for new and interesting recipes grew and grew and since then I have made an awful lot of cake.  Some of them have been, frankly, awful.  The truly awful ones have never made it to the blog, but some of the slightly disappointing ones have.  Probably the most awful of all was the apple and kale cake I made a few years ago, a cake which led me to two important conclusions.  One is that cabbage, unlike some other vegetables, has no place in a cake.  The second is that some recipes are eternally popular for a good reason.  They work.  New recipes and new cook books are to be treated with a certain amount of scepticism. 

That doesn’t mean that new recipes are to be avoided.  They should most definitely be tried along the lines of “life is an adventure or nothing”, and occasionally up pops an absolute gem.  Like this one.

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It comes from the Sainsbury’s baking recipe collection volume 2.  I have been unable to find the recipe anywhere on the internet so I can’t give a link to the original.  In the book it’s called a Ginger Stout Cake but as I used Guinness (the only stout available in our local supermarket in France), I have renamed it.  The other reason for renaming it is that it will be up there with my other very favourite cake to make for a birthday, cake stall or any other reason, the Chocolate Guinness Cake by Nigella Lawson.

I have written the recipe here as per the amendments I made to suit the ingredients I could get hold of.

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The moment I cut into it I knew it was going to be good.  After the first mouthful I thought “wow!”.  Nick, who is not a great cake lover, thought it was wonderful, had two slices straight away and banned me from offering it to anyone else so that he could get his fair share of the rest, something previously unheard of.

The cake was moist, soft, deliciously spiced and strong on ginger flavour.  With the slightly glossy glaze from the ginger syrup and dotted with diced stem ginger, it looked classy and grown up and needed no other decoration.  I urge you to try it!

Ingredients.

200g unsalted butter

200ml Guinness (or other stout)

200g caster sugar

50g dark soft brown sugar

3 tbsp black treacle

2 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp mixed spice

2 large eggs

75ml natural yoghurt*

25ml milk*

300g self raising flour

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the topping

3 balls of preserved stem ginger, diced

3 dessert spoons syrup from the jar

Method

Put the Guinness, sugars, butter, treacle, ground ginger and mixed spice into a large saucepan and heat gently until the butter has melted, without letting it boil.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4.  Butter and line a 23cm round, deep springform cake tin**.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yoghurt and milk, then pour the cooled sugar mixture into the bowl.  Sift in the flour and bicarb and, using an electric whisk, beat until well combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about an hour until done.  The cake should lose its wobble in the middle but not be too firm.

Remove from the oven and whilst still warm drizzle over the ginger syrup and dot with the diced ginger.  Cool in the tin and remove when cold.

(*The original recipe uses 100ml buttermilk but I substituted a mixture of yoghurt and milk.)

(**The original recipes uses a 20cm square tin and bakes the cake for 40-45 minutes.)

Cuts into 12-16 slices, but allow two slices each!

August 8, 2017

GOOSEBERRY AND ELDERFLOWER CAKE

gooseberry and elderflower cake2

My little gooseberry bush in France produced a couple of handfuls of gooseberries this year, against all odds.  The soil is not at all good and we struggle to grow many things, apart from tomatoes, cucumbers, broad beans and courgettes.  In fact it’s interesting to see what grows and what doesn’t.  My rhubarb plant, a precious cutting from my mother’s old rhubarb bush that produced tons of fruit each year, finally gave up the ghost this year, succumbing to the heat and the stony, clay soil.  But my gooseberry bush is showing promise, although many people said it was impossible to grow them in this part of France.  I froze some of them and supplemented the rest with some brought from a UK supermarket to make this cake.

gooseberry and elderflower cake

It’s an adaption of a recipe in the book “make me a cake as fast as you can” by Miranda Gore-Browne, a GBBO contestant of a few years ago.  It’s a whisked sponge, fat free and therefore very light.  The gooseberries are cooked until soft to create a compote for the filling and the juice is used as a glaze for the cake.

The recipe suggests that you could sprinkle icing sugar on the cake instead so I did both.  I then decided it would benefit from a little decoration but of course by now elderberry flowers are long since gone so I used some flowers from one of our rose bushes and leaves from my gooseberry bush.  I was very pleased with the result.

The cake was delicious, gooseberry and elderflower being a gorgeous combination.  The cake was flavoured with elderflower cordial as per the recipe but I used an elderflower liqueur called St-Germain to flavour the cream.

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St-Germain is a French liqueur which I have to say is delicious.  It’s my current favourite digestif and ever since I first learned of its existence in Phil’s brilliant blog, “as strong as soup”, have been on the lookout for a bottle.  Having searched the shelves in French supermarkets I finally tracked down a rather dusty bottle lurking at the back of a shelf in my local Tesco!  I love the rather art deco style of the bottle.

Gooseberry and elderflower cake

100g caster sugar

4 large eggs

100g SR flour, sifted

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp lemon zest (about half a small lemon)

2 tbsp elderflower cordial

For the filling

100 ml whipping cream

1 tbsp elderflower cordial **

200g gooseberries

40g caster sugar

1 tbsp water

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4. Grease and base line two 20cm sandwich tins.

Using an electric whisk or stand mixer, whisk together the sugar and eggs for 3-4 minutes. The mixture should triple in volume.

Sift in the flour and bp and fold in gently with the lemon zest.

Transfer to the tins and bake for about 10 mins, until done. On removing from the oven, sprinkle the cordial over the cakes and leave to cool in the tins for 5 mins. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the filling, put the gooseberries, sugar and water into a small pan and cook until the berries are just soft but still holding their shape. Remove the berries from the pan using a slotted spoon and set aside. Turn up the heat and boil the syrup for a few mins until thickened. Leave to cool.

Whip the cream until thick and fold in the elderflower cordial.

Put one cake onto a serving plate and spread the gooseberries over it. Spread the cream on top of the berries. Put the other cake on top and pour the cooled gooseberry syrup over to glaze. (Or simply dust with icing sugar and decorate with flowers.)

** I used St Germain elderflower liqueur in the cream.

Cuts into 8-12 slices.