June 12, 2016

MINI FRAISIERS

fraisiers

I spotted some lovely looking strawberries in the supermarket recently – sadly we don’t grow any of our own, one day perhaps.  Wondering what to do with them I had an urge to bake a  Fraisier Cake.  Or possibly even mini ones.

fraisiers2

I began looking at recipes and remembered that some of the contestants on Great British Bake Off had an awful lot of trouble with this cake one year.  If my memory serves me right, it was a technical challenge set by Mary.  When I looked at her recipe online it said “tricky to achieve, but certain to impress”.  Alarm bells started ringing in my head.

You can see the recipe here.  It requires home made sponge, crème patissière and a layer of marzipan.

Now I have to say that making crème patissière is not one of my strong points.  In fact I have only ever made it twice before and on both occasions it didn’t thicken.  Most disappointing when everyone and their grandmother seems to be able to whisk up a crème pat with effortless ease and it turns out perfect every time.  (I have the same trouble with scones.  Everyone seems to be able to make perfect scones but not me.  You could build houses with mine.)

Then I found a James Martin recipe online for a Fraisier, called “cheat’s strawberry gâteau”, where he uses shop bought sponge flan for the top and bottom layers.  You can see that recipe here and it gave me an idea.

fraisiers3

Mary’s recipe included a home made fatless sponge for the base and top.  I’m good at making fat free sponges but time was an issue so I decided to go with James’ bought cake version.  I really wanted to make individual cakes for a special evening with guests but I could imagine myself getting into a terrible mess trying to construct them and turn them out so that they looked half decent.  So instead, I decided to make them as desserts, in little glasses.

They were a huge success.  I even made crème pat and it set perfectly.  I used this recipe here.  I used shop bought cake which in France is called “quatre quarts” and its nearest equivalent in the UK would be a madeira cake.  I used French cream, beaten and thickened with something called “Chantifix”, which is guaranteed to always thicken your cream and is good as long as you don’t mind the added sugar – which in this case I didn’t as I was aiming for a chantilly effect.  In the UK double or whipping cream, sweetened with a little icing sugar would do the same job.

The ones without any alcohol for the children were marked using cocktail sticks, so that there could be no uncertainty.

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This month’s Love Cake theme is “no bake”, which, because I (couldn’t be bothered) didn’t have time to make my own sponge means that the mini Fraisiers fit perfectly.  You can see the details here.

Ingredients

I shop bought madeira cake or quatre quarts

1 punnet of strawberries

8 tsp Cointreau

250ml double or whipping cream, or crème entière and a sachet of Chantifix

For the crème pat

4 egg yolks*

65g caster sugar

15g plain flour

15g cornflour

350ml whole milk (I used semi skimmed and it was fine)

½tsp vanilla extract

icing sugar for dusting.

Method

You will need 8 glasses, tumblers or dishes of a suitable size.

First, make the crème pat.  Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl using an electric whisk, until they turn pale and thick.  Whisk in the cornflour and flour.

Put the milk and vanilla into a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 30 seconds.

Very slowly pour half of the hot milk onto the egg yolks, whisking all the time.  Pour the mixture back into the pan onto the remaining milk.  Bring gently back to the boil and simmer for one minute, whisking all the time, until smooth and thickened.

Pour the finished crème pat into a clean bowl and dust with icing sugar to prevent a skin forming.  Sit the bowl on top of another containing iced or very cold water to cool.

Slice the cake into thin slices about 1cm thick then, using suitable pastry cutters, wine glass rims or jam jar rims, cut 8 large and 8 small circles of the right size to fit the base of your chosen glasses.  Put a smaller circle in the bottom of each dish and splash over a teaspoon of Cointreau. (Omit this step for children.)   Add a layer of crème pat about 2cm thick.

Rinse the strawberries and slice them into thick slices vertically.  Push slices into the crème pat against the sides of the glass.  Just slice a few at a time as it’s not easy to say exactly how many you will need.

Whisk the cream until thick (follow the instructions on the Chantifix packet if using) and fill each glass up to the top of the strawberries, making them all even in fullness.

Place a larger disc of cake on top of the layer of cream and dust with icing sugar.  Add half a strawberry for decoration.  Put slices of strawberry on a cocktail stick to identify any alcohol free portions.  Chill in the fridge until needed.

*I have anguished many a time over what to do with unused egg whites.  Meringues are another of my not very strong points.  I have occasionally resorted to throwing them away after they have lurked in the fridge and haunted me for a few days.  I now discover that if you simply cook them in a saucepan like you would make scrambled egg with a whole egg, the dog loves them with her breakfast.  One conscience eased and one very happy dog!

Serves 8.

June 10, 2016

PRUNE AND APPLE LAYER CAKE

prune and apple cake

A few weeks ago, I was reading this post in one of my favourite blogs over breakfast and an idea for the forthcoming Loire Valley CCC meeting sprang to mind.

Karen used cooked apple and home made lemon curd as the filling for her cake but whilst I was reading the post I was busy spreading something called “crème de pruneaux” on my toast.  Anyone who is not a fan of prunes should stop reading now! 

We love prunes in our house, possibly due to having been fed so many of them as a child in the 50’s.  In fact I love any kind of prunes, even the much derided tinned ones that we got for “afters” for school dinner, or at home served up cold with warm custard or rice pudding (delicious).  Apart from this cake, other baking triumphs using prunes include chocolate prune cake, a clafoutis of prunes soaked in rum and a prune and apple crumble, all delicious. 

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Anyway, the French must eat a lot of apple compôte as there is a huge amount of supermarket shelf space dedicated to it in France, whilst you would be hard pressed to find more than a jar or two in the UK.  We love it.  I especially like the one that has lumps or “morceau” of apple in it which is very handy for rustling up a quick cheat’s apple crumble. 

As for the “crème de pruneaux”, I can’t say I have ever seen anything like it for sale in the UK.  It’s almost like a cross between a compôte and a confiture, more runny than a jam but stickier than a compôte.

prune and apple cake3

prune and apple cake4

The theme for the cake club was “Saints or Sinners”.  In other words, a cake that would be vaguely good for you or one that was no holds barred, don’t give a damn, sinful in every slice.  This cake is essentially a Victoria sponge sandwiched together with the prune jam and apple compôte, with a little lemon icing drizzled over the top.

Thinking that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and we all know how good for you prunes are, I felt my cake qualified unquestionably as a saintly cake!

I even polished my halo and made the sponge properly, using the “weigh the eggs” and creaming method – as opposed to my usual chuck it all in and cross fingers all-in-one method.  Double brownie points in saintly terms for that I think!

prune and apple cake5

Anyhow, it was very nice and I will definitely be making it again.

Ingredients

4 eggs, weighed in their shells

The same weight in:

Softened butter, Flora Buttery, Lurpak Spreadable, or baking spread

Caster sugar

Self raising flour

A tablespoon of milk (if needed)

For the filling and icing:

1 jar of Crème de Pruneau

1 jar of apple compôte “avec morceau”

4 tbsp. icing sugar

Juice of ½ lemon

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4. Butter two 20cm sponge tins and line the bases with circles of baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (using a stand mixer, hand held mixer or by hand). Beat the eggs and add them gradually to the mixture, beating well with each addition. Sift the flour into the bowl and fold in by hand. Add the milk if the mixture seems too stiff.

Divide the mixture evenly between the cake tins and level the top. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown and springy. Cool in the tins for a couple of minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. When cool, slice each cake into two horizontally using a bread knife so you now have four layers.

Taking the bottom half of one sponge, spoon about 4 dessertspoons of crème de pruneaux onto the cake and spread out evenly. Do the same with 2-3 spoons of apple compôte, spreading out carefully in an even layer. Put the top half of that sponge on top and spread with prune and apple in the same way. Then add the bottom layer of the second sponge and do the same.

Finally, put the remaining top layer of the second sponge on top. Make a thin icing using the sifted icing sugar and lemon juice mixed to a paste. Drizzle over the cake, encouraging it to drip down the sides. Decorate with your choice of decoration or fresh flowers.

Serves 8-12.

May 26, 2016

PINEAPPLE UPSIDE DOWN CAKE

pineapple upside down cake

My brother has been staying with us in France for a holiday and while he was here he said he would like to do some baking and get more confident with making cakes from scratch instead of using packet mixes.  I was delighted to show him the ropes but surprised that he said he would really like to bake a pineapple upside down cake.

I had never made one before myself!  I know they were popular in the 70’s but would have been far too posh or complicated for my mum to consider baking.  Her ideas naturally rubbed off on me so I never made one either.  Then they went totally out of fashion.

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Lately they have become popular again but somehow I still never got round to baking one, so I was pleased to have an excuse to give it a try.

Curiously, as I started to browse through my collection of recipe books only two recipes for this cake turned up and both had something a bit quirky about them.  I really wanted a dead easy recipe to start my brother off, something simple and uncomplicated that was likely to turn out perfect and boost his confidence, having a few basic techniques.  I then resorted to Google and instantly came up with this recipe on the BBC Good Food website and decided to go with that.

He went shopping for a tin of pineapple rings but couldn’t find any and came back with pineapple chunks instead.  They worked fine and looked great, arranged on the cake in an irregular fashion with a few glacé cherries randomly dotted in between.

pineapple upside down cake2

It was a good cake for a baking lesson, principally an all-in-one method but with creaming of the butter and sugar for the topping as well.  I showed him how to grease and line the tin, weigh ingredients accurately – “what, as accurately as that – crumbs!” - check for doneness, release the cake and so on.  I also explained the difference between the creaming and all-in-one methods of cake making as there was a bit of both in this cake.

pineapple upside down cake4

The cake was a great success.  I liked the random effect of the pineapple instead of the traditional rings.  The flavour and texture were excellent and we were all very pleased.  In fact my brother was extremely chuffed and is planning to make it again for his daughter this weekend.  I wrote out the recipe for him in my own words so that he could take it home with him.

I will certainly make it again myself. 

Ingredients

For the topping

50g softened butter, Lurpak Spreadable or Flora Buttery

50g light soft brown sugar

1 small can of pineapple chunks in syrup

A few glacé cherries

For the cake

100g softened butter, Lurpak Spreadable or Flora Buttery

100g golden caster sugar

100g self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

2 tbslp of the pineapple syrup from the can

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease the base and sides of a 20cm springform or ordinary round cake tin and line the base with a circle of baking paper.

Using an electric whisk (or by hand), beat together the butter and sugar for the topping until smooth and spread over the base of the cake tin and a quarter of the way up the sides. 

Drain the pineapple chunks using a sieve or colander over a bowl so that you reserve the syrup.  Arrange the pineapple pieces over the butter and sugar topping and dot a few cherries in between.

To make the cake, put all the cake ingredients including 2 tblsp of the pineapple syrup from the can.  Beat with an electric whisk or by hand until well combined.

Spoon the mixture carefully over the pineapple chunks so as not to disturb the arrangement and level the top.

Bake for 35 minutes or until done.  Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before carefully turning out, upside down, onto a wire rack to finish cooling. 

Cuts into 8 slices.

May 19, 2016

RHUBARB, ORANGE AND ALMOND CAKE

rhubarb cake

This is the cake that features on the front page of the current issue of Delicious Magazine.  It looked delicious and, having some rhubarb in stock, I couldn’t wait to make it.

It’s official title is “rhubarb and amaretti cake with orange and rosemary syrup”.  Whilst I had plenty of rhubarb I had no amaretti biscuits and couldn’t find any very easily in the shops.  I dare say I might have been successful if I had been determined but, here in rural France, all shops are a long way from where we live (apart from the little village store) and they mostly close for lunch, making it difficult to get to more than two of them in a day.  Life is too short for that so I used an alternative that I did have in the cupboard – some boudoir or Savoyard biscuits.

rhubarb cake2

There wasn’t enough rhubarb in it to make it the dominant flavour and although I used a large sprig of rosemary I couldn’t detect any flavour of that at all.  The flavour was strongly of almonds and orange. 

Having said that, this was a fabulous cake.  I would make it again without the rosemary in the glaze and might try to squeeze a few more bits of rhubarb on the top.  It was easy to make, came out looking just like the picture (always a relief) and went down really well with a spoonful of cream as a dessert. 

Highly recommended!

There is also a story behind the cake stand.  You can read all about it here.

For the cake

225g unsalted butter, softened ( I used Flora Buttery. Lurpak spreadable would work well)

200g golden caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

Zest of 1 large or two medium oranges

200g ground almonds

50g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

8 amaretti biscuits, broken into chunks ( I used 4 boudoir/Savoyard biscuits and ½tsp almond extract)

1-2 thin sticks rhubarb

For the glaze

Juice of the orange

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 tblsp granulated sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4. Grease and line the base of a 23cm springform cake tin, or loose bottomed fluted tart tin (the cake is quite shallow).

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

Add the vanilla extract (and almond extract if using) and the eggs, one at a time, beating well until incorporated. Ignore any curdling as the mixture will come back together as it bakes.

Fold in the flour, ground almonds, amoretti chunks and orange zest.

Spoon into the prepared tin and level the top.

Wipe the rhubarb and slice each stick into half lengthways. Cut into 12 or so pieces, roughly 6 cm long, and arrange over the surface of the cake. Push lightly into the mixture leaving them 2/3 uncovered.

Bake for 35-40 minutes until done. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, make the syrup by putting all the ingredients into a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 4-5 minutes to reduce slightly. Taste and add a little lemon juice if you prefer it to be slightly sharper. Pour over the cooled cake.

To serve, dust the cake with icing sugar or sprinkle with granulated sugar. Serve warm or cold with cream, whipped cream or crème fraîche.

Cuts into 12 slices.

April 28, 2016

RASPBERRY AND PINK FIZZ DRIZZLE BUNDT CAKE

raspberry and pink fizz2

For our most recent meeting of Loire Valley CCC the theme was chosen by our host and was “What’s your tipple?”.  For this Nick had an urge to bake a champagne cake.  Then he remembered that as we were in the Loire Valley the best thing to use would be the local fizz.  Not far from where we live there are vineyards and wine growers that make the most delicious sparkling wines.  Very drinkable and a fraction of the price of real champagne.

Champagne attracts all kinds of snobbery.  There are those who say that nothing can taste as good as champagne, however it is made and wherever it is grown.  Then there are the reverse snobs who sneer at the snobbery of champagne drinkers and say that it is no better and overpriced just because it is made in the champagne regions.

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Personally, I love champagne and believe you can tell the difference.  If anyone would like to challenge me to a blind tasting of a couple of champagnes and a couple of good sparkling wines, I would be happy to oblige.  As long as you buy!  Equally I love the Loire Valley sparkling wines and there are plenty of them around here to choose from.  If we have been drinking the local fizz for a week or two and then treat ourselves to opening a bottle of champagne, I always find myself saying, ah yes, champagne, it is different.

It’s also an excellent painkiller.  If you have back trouble a couple of glasses will make the pain and muscle spasm so much better – I know, I have researched it fully!

raspberry and pink fizz4

Nick adapted a recipe that he found on the internet to make his cake.  The only problem was that it stuck to the tin, in spite of a generous coating of cake release spray.  We think it was the raspberries that glued the cake to the tin where they were on the surface.  He carefully removed the pieces of cake that were left in the tin and placed them in the gaps in the cake.  With a strategic drizzling of pink fizz icing nobody could tell!

It tasted lovely.  The flavour of the raspberries was strong and you could definitely taste the fizz in the icing.

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This month’s Love Cake Challenge from Jibber Jabber is “I’ll drink to that”.  You can see the details here.

teatime treats

This month’s Teatime Treats Challenge from Lavender and Lovage is “Regional and Local recipes and ingredients”.  You can see the details here.

Ingredients

For the cake

225g butter, softened, or Lurpak Spreadable

300g golden caster sugar

6 eggs

350g self raising flour

6 tblsp pink fizz

150g fresh raspberries (or frozen, thawed)

1 vanilla pod, seeds

For the drizzle

6 tblsp pink fizz

6 tblsp granulated sugar

For the icing

6 tblsp pink fizz

1 tblsp icing sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease a large Bundt tin with cake release spray or melted butter.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a little flour if the mixture begins to curdle.  Add the pink fizz.

Fold in the flour, followed by the vanilla seeds and raspberries.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and bake for 45-60 minutes until the cake looks browned, begins to pull away from the tin and passes the skewer test.

While the cake is cooking, prepare the drizzle by gentling heating the pink fizz and sugar in a small saucepan until the sugar is dissolved.

Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack.  Prick holes in the top of the cake using a skewer and pour the drizzle gently over the cake.  Leave to cool.

Mix the icing sugar with enough pink fizz to make a runny icing and drizzle over the cooled cake.  Add sprinkles and/or glitter if you like.

Cuts into 16-20 slices.

April 8, 2016

APPLE AND COCONUT CAKE

apple and coconut cake7apple and coconut cakeapple and coconut cake2

I recently bought the new Sainsbury’s baking book.  I did hesitate briefly and wonder whether I need any more baking books, but then remembered that this book costs about the same as a single copy of any popular monthly magazine, which I would read once then throw away, possibly after cutting out and saving a couple of recipes.  So I talked myself into the idea that it was money well spent…….and a girl can never have too many recipe books.

apple and coconut cake3

A few days later I spotted this cake stand in a local charity shop.  Once again I hesitated for a moment.  I already have several cake stands…...plenty in fact.  Then I remembered a conversation with someone in a shop recently.  Her friend had a handbag fund.  For birthdays and Christmas she asked for a contribution to her fund instead of a present and when the fund got up to £1,100 she bought herself a Mulberry handbag – a cheap one at that.  So then I felt less guilty about spending the grand total of £7.99 on a new recipe book and a cake stand. 

I have to say that if I had £1,100 with which to treat myself I would not spend it on a handbag for all the tea in China, but each to their own I suppose. 

apple and coconut cake4

apple and coconut cake5

The book has lots of tempting recipes in it but this apple and coconut cake caught my eye.  I had found a pack of dessicated coconut at the back of the cupboard and thought it was time I did something with it. 

The cake was quick to make and lovely to eat, an all in one mix with apples arranged on the top.

apple and coconut cake6apple and coconut cake8

It had a nice, even crumb and kept well for a few days in an airtight tin.  I think that next time I might add a spoonful of apple compote to make it even more moist and to add more apple flavour, but in fact it was perfectly alright without any deviation from the recipe.

Ingredients (as used by me)

For the cake

125g Flora Buttery.  Softened butter or any other baking spread would be fine.

175g golden caster sugar

200g self raising flour (gluten free flour also works well)

2 eggs

1 tblsp semi skimmed milk

50g dessicated coconut

½ tsp vanilla extract

For the topping

1 dessert apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

juice of ½ a lemon

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tblsp demerara sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 180° C / 160°fan / gas mk 4.  Grease a 20cm round springform tin and line the base with a circle of baking paper.

Put all of the cake ingredients into a large bowl and beat with an electric whisk until well combined.  Spoon into the prepared tin and level the top.

Put the topping ingredients into a bowl and carefully mix together until the apple slices are evenly coated.  Arrange them on top of the cake mixture.

Bake for 40-50 minutes until the the apple is brown and the cake passes the skewer test.  Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then remove and cool on a rack.  Dust with icing sugar before serving.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.