Naked Fruit Cake aka Mrs Milne’s Christmas Cake with Pineapple

The naked fruit cake

I never knew that fruit cake could be offensive.  That is, until Kiley, an American friend of mine, explained that in the U.S, there’s this tradition that people tend to ‘re-gift’ fruit cakes because they don’t like fruit cakes.  Hence those receiving the cake are kind of being told, “Here I’ve brought you a cake.  I mean, I don’t like it and someone gave it to me.  I guess you probably won’t like it too but hey, now it’s your problem.  And no, I didn’t like what you got up to at the office party.”  Hence, there’s offence in the giving and receiving of fruit cakes in the States.

The ease with which one can buy pineapples, ready to eat (or bake with!) in Cambodia.  This is at the Russian Market, Phnom Penh

Lining this 8inch cake tin for its looooong bake.

Not so in the UK.  I mean, some Brits really dislike fruit cake and would spit it out.  However, most like to eat fruit cake at any given time, from celebrating marriage with a rich boozy fruited wedding cake covered in marzipan and icing to the everyday cup of tea with a sticky slice of fruited malt loaf.  Shall I even mention Christmas cakes, Easter simnel cakes, Dundee cake..?  My mum used to make a fruited tea loaf which was delicious when toasted and buttered.

Perhaps (if I may venture a guess without causing offence) this clear cultural divide over fruit cake is because the majority of Americans have never experienced a good moist fruit cake?  I can relate!  I never really enjoyed eating fruit cake very much either growing up.  Much like how I didn’t really enjoy mince pies.  Too rich, too sweet, too dry, too much whiskey!  But I tolerated them because they were synonymous with Christmas.  I’d peel off the royal icing, give it to my brother and nibble away at the marzipan (which I loved even as a small child).  Sometimes I picked out the fruit when there was too much of it and the dried fruit was really dry and almost bitter.  Or the alcohol overwhelmed the cake.  But, from time to time, a homemade fruit cake would redeem all the bad ones for me.

Then one day at Mrs Milne’s* house, she gave us a slice of her christmas cake.  Oh it was glorious in it’s moistness, flavour and simplicity.  Not overly sweet.  No royal icing.  No marzipan.  No alcohol in this one either.  Just. a. naked. fruit. cake.  Mrs Milne told us that it was the addition of pineapple that set this cake apart, and I believe her.  Whenever I’ve used pineapples in a cake, they often  impart moisture, rather than pineapple flavour to a cake.

Now, over a decade later, it’s still my go-to fruit cake recipe.  I used it as my marathon training cake this time.  It seemed apt to fuel up on.  I left it a couple of weeks in a sealed container in the fridge while I went on holiday to Penang and 4 weeks on, it was still moist and moreish. I baked it for Christmas for Paul, one of my colleagues, because he’d been hankering after fruit cake for as long as I’d worked with him.  3 months on, he still requests I bake him one, once a fortnight, and then complains that he can’t stop himself devouring it.  He likes royal icing but not marzipan, so that’s how I make it for him.

What I love about this recipe is the lack of planning required.  See, I just can’t be bothered with the whole affair of soaking and feeding the fruit weeks or even days in advance.  I don’t have the fridge space for it and I definitely don’t want to leave it out for the ants, cockroaches and rats now that I live in the tropics.  I can pretty much make this cake from start to finish within 2-3 hours, depending on which cake tin I use.  (more on that below).  And now that I can source almost all of the dried fruit here in Phnom Penh, there’s nothing stopping me making this cake all year round.  I still have difficulty finding mixed citrus peel and currants, but it’s so much better compared to 3 years ago.  You can buy bags of mixed dried fruit in Thai Huot but they look weird with chopped red and green cherries perhaps?  So I came up with my own measurements, based on looking at the proportions of the ingredients of a Sainsburys bag of mixed dried fruit.

Anyway, what’s stopping you.  Go on, I dare you not to like this.

If you do add brandy, or whiskey… Then do tell me what you did.  I’ve never bothered, but I might like to one day.

*Mrs Milne was my singing teacher from when I was 14-18 and one of those wonderful, life-giving, energetic, charismatic, generous Scottish women.  I don’t know where she got this recipe from, so I attribute this recipe to her.

Ingredients for Naked Christmas Cake from Mrs Milne.

  • 7oz/200g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 8oz/225g tin crushed pineapple (drained) or 1 fresh small pineapple, skin and eyes taken off.  One weighs between 250-300g here in Cambodia.
  • 2oz/50g glacé cherries, quartered
  • 5oz/150g butter, cubed and softened
  • 4½oz/125g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 12oz/350g mixed fruit or
    • 170g sultanas or golden raisins, as they’re called in Cambodia
    • 68g black raisins
    • 62g currants
    • 50g mixed peel
  • Brandy if required.

Method

  1. Chop up the pineapple* very finely and put it into a medium sized bowl.  I guess you could also blitz it in a food processor for speed, but I don’t have one so it’s a knife and the chopping board for me.  *If using tinned pineapple, drain the crushed pineapple first before putting it in the bowl.
  2. Measure out the dried fruit and add them to the pineapple.  If you’re going to add brandy, then add it in now.  Give it all a good stir so that they mix well.  Leave it as you get on with the rest of preparation.  As the dried fruit sits with the pineapple, they’ll get a chance to plump up as they soak in the liquid.
  3. Preheat the oven to 160ºC/320ºF/Gas Mark 2½.  Prepare your cake tin.  Because of the long baking time, I wrapped the outside of my baking tin with newspaper, tied it up with some string.  I also lined the bottom and sides of my cake tin as well.
  4. Measure out the flour in a medium sized bowl and add the chopped glacé cherries to the flour and coat them in flour.  This helps the cherries not to all sink to the bottom of the cake.
  5. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  I use a hand mixer on high speed for about 5 minutes.  Next beat in the eggs one by one.  Then lower the speed and mix in the flour with the cherries.  Finally, add the fruit.  You can continue with the hand mixer, or using a spatula, fold in the fruit or give it a good stir.  Whichever way you choose, make sure it’s evenly mixed in.
  6. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and level the top with the back of metal spoon or the spatula.  Then pop it in the middle shelf of the oven and bake… I do recommend checking on the cake to make sure it doesn’t burn on top.  I’ve put suggested timings below according to cake tin sizes.

I have used various sized cake tins to make this and of course the baking time differs.

  • 8 or 7 inch tin = 1hour 45mins.  Check on it at 1 hour 15mins
  • split the mixture into two 6inch tin = 1 h – 1h 15mins.  Check on it at 45 mins
  • split the mixture into two 2lb loaf tins = 45mins-1hour.  Check on it at 40 mins.

My colleague, Paul, wanted it with royal icing but without the marzipan. So, this is what he got.

Lemon Polenta Cake and the Last Time that I will…

cake for breakfast
Continuing the tradition of cake for breakfast

Each time, someone comes to visit me from the UK, I ask them to bring me over some lemons.  At 75 cents each here, they’re a much dearer ingredient than their equally delicious greener counterpart, the lime.  This time, I think that my sister brought me over a kilo of them; a much better suited present than the kilo of homegrown beetroot she once left in my fridge.  So now, I have a treasure trove of lots of lemony lemons living in the bottom of my fridge.

lemons, lemons
And so, I’ve begun to work through my favourite lemon recipes.  Last weekend, I came across this one, from 2013.  Don’t be put off by the name.  It’s actually a really simple cake to make and makes an elegant dessert.  When I mentioned it to Caroline, my housemate, she decided that lemon polenta cake was her preferred dessert over Kampot Pepper Brownies.  Actually, that Saturday evening, she declared that it to be her favourite of all my cakes that she’s ever eaten.

I wasn’t so sure.  I wanted rather a lot more tartness, than the original recipe was giving me.  So, I changed the syrup to a drizzle, reducing the amount of sugar and replacing the icing sugar with caster sugar.  The second time round, the lemony tartness complemented the sweetness of the cake beautifully.lemon polenta cake 1

So, let me set the scene, if you are reading this blog for the first time.  It’s June 2013. I’m preparing to leave one life behind and begin a new one in Cambodia.  I’ve just finished working my last week as a Skills Programme Coordinator at the University of Warwick and in the midst of packing up my Redfern flat.  I’m too busy to notice the misery and grief that will soon engulf me.  Thus, I have a much more pragmatic and much less miserable outlook to goodbyes than in this later post.

The last time that I will:

  • Have a tutor meeting
  • Wash my mug at work
  • Walk out the doors in University House as a Student Careers and Skills employee
  • Teach a Warwick Skills Workshop
  • Bake in my redfern kitchen

These last two weeks have been full of ‘last times’. I’ve been trying to acknowledge each one as they come round. It’s not a fully indulgent, let’s sit down and have a cry over them. I don’t really go for that kind of sentimentality. More of a passing nod to say – I saw you and I noticed.ingredients for lemon polenta cake

I realised that you know the last thing I’ve baked in each of my kitchens every time that I’ve moved. I think that I’ve chronicled each move with a recipe.  The countless hours of mundane wrapping and packing into boxes, only made bearable by thoughts of food.  Haha…  Reminisce with me. There was the lemon and ginger cheesecake when I left Cryfield. Then I was up til the wee hours making pots of bramble jelly when I moved out of Heronbank. I made a valiant attempt at using up my bananas and created whiskey, chocolate and banana cake when I moved out of the Subwarden flat in Cryfield 3, which I affectionately refer to as my rabbit warren years. Finally, I have to to move out of Redfern and I baked lemon polenta cake.

lemon zest for lemon polenta cakeprepare the dry ingredients

I’ve done better with each move. David worries less and less about whether I’ll get everything packed up in time for the removal men.

This time I packed away my baking equipment and books the Sunday I finished work; a week before the moving deadline and the day before my CELTA course is due to start.

Which leaves me sitting forlornly at my kitchen table, reminiscing about the huge amounts of baking I’ve done in this kitchen. I don’t know when I’ll be baking again in the next 4 weeks during my CELTA course and I feel bereft.

unbaked lemon polenta cake
baked lemon polenta cake
 

Lemon Polenta cake, adapted from Nigella

Ingredients

  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 100g polenta (try to find the finest)
  • 1½tsp baking powder – if you want it to be gluten free then use the gluten free variety.
  • 3 eggs
  • a pinch of salt
  • zest of 2 lemons

Lemon Drizzle:

  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 75g golden caster sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350 °F, Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 23cm springform round cake tin.

2. In one bowl, measure out the ground almonds, polenta and baking powder and give them a stir.

3. In another bowl, add the butter, sugar, salt and lemon zest.  Cream them together, preferably with an electric mixer or a stand mixer, for a couple of minutes until the mixture changes colour and becomes light.

4. Add in an egg and mix.  Then add a third of the dry ingredients from step no.2  All the time, keep on mixing.  Alternate between adding an egg and dry ingredients.  Nigella notes that you can make this cake entirely gluten-free if you don’t have gluten-free baking powder by beating all the ingredients really hard at that this point.

5. Splodge the mixture into the prepared cake tin and smooth it out with a spatula or a knife.

6. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes.

7. Meanwhile, make the lemon drizzle.  Measure out the sugar in a bowl and then add the juice of two lemons.  Stir together until the sugar dissolves in the lemon juice.

8. The cake is baked when it’s coming away from the edges, firm on top but still rather pale colour on top.  Prick holes to allow the drizzle to seep through.  As you can see, a toothpick can look rather unsightly.  But who cares, when it’s this delicious.  Pour the prepared lemon drizzle over the top of the cake.  Leave to cool as long as you can bear in the cake tin before eating it.

squeeze lemons for lemon drizzle

And I have to say – it’s even more delicious the morning after, when the lemons and almonds have had a bit more time to get to know each other and the flavours have melded together.

lemon polenta cake 2

Spiced Banana and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cake: the first foray into baking in Cambodia

Banana and chocolate chunk cake

I hadn’t meant to create an entirely different cake when I decided to bake the chocolate, whiskey, currant banana cake (or Dumb Rum Banana Cake, as it’s known in Emma’s house) as my hello gift to Liberty Family Church.  The cake just morphed into something different as Becci and I trawled along the aisles in Lucky Supermarket, looking for ingredients, on my first Saturday in Cambodia.

  • Firstly, I discovered that butter is expensive.  The cheapest block of 227g of butter was $3.50
  • Chocolate is expensive as I expected.  There isn’t a tesco value or sainsbury basic equivalent block of dark chocolate that I can use either.  Hmm…
  • Sultanas and currants are ridiculously expensive.  The 180g of sultanas was going to cost me $1.90.
  • I couldn’t see a bag of walnuts or pecans that I can use in baking.
  • Rum or whiskey – well, alcohol is pretty cheap in Cambodia.  I wasn’t sure whether Cambodians would like the flavour of either one of them in a cake.

I’m standing looking at the dried food shelves and wondering if there’s any cheap dried fruit in Cambodia.   I’m scratching my head, ‘what am I going to do about flavour and texture?’  All my normal options were out and obviously I needed to economise on some ingredients.  And thus the cake transforms from a chocolate, nutty, whiskey, currant, banana cake into a spiced, banana cake with chocolate chunks.  ‘Out with the dried fruit and nuts’, I decide.  ‘I’m going to add flavour with a mix of spices and create texture by adding a greater quantity of chocolate chunks to it.’

Plenty of chocolate surely covers over a multitude of improvisations.

There was never a moment of questioning whether I should bother baking.  Needs must and all that – I wanted to give a hello present to the church and I needed to do some baking.

ingredients for banana and chocolate chunk cake

Ingredients for the Spiced Banana and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cake

  • 175g plain flour
  • 2 tsps of mixed spice or 1 tsp of cinnamon powder, 1/2 tsp of ground ginger, 1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg, 1/4 tsp of ground cloves
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 125g unsalted butter, melted
  • 90-100g soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large or 4 small very ripe bananas, mashed (about 300g in weight with the skins off)
  • 200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and line (preferably) springform cake tin, anywhere between 23-25cm. I only had a 25cm round cake tin at hand.  It was the first time I’d used it and it worked beautifully for sharing with so many people.

2. Measure out the plain flour, spices, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and give them all a good mix with a metal or wooden spoon. This means that you don’t get any lumps of salt or bicarbonate of soda in the eventual cake.

3. Melt the butter either in a pan or in zap it in the microwave in a pyrex bowl.  Now add the sugar to the butter and stir well until the sugar is well blended into the butter. It should look almost toffee-like in colour because of the brown sugar. Follow with the eggs. Beat them in, one at a time, to the sugary buttery mixture.

Top tip: Emma shared a really good tip with me, if you are going to melt the butter in the microwave.  Use a pyrex bowl, add the butter and COVER IT WITH KITCHEN PAPER.  It means that if the butter happens to explode in the microwave, because you zap the butter for a bit too long, it won’t go all over the inside of your microwave.

preparing to bake banana and chocolate chunk cake

4.  Now add the mashed bananas,vanilla extract and the chopped chocolate to the mixture and mix them in well.

5. Add in the flour mix (from step 2) but add a third of it at a time, stirring well after each addition. Once all of the dry mixture is mixed in, add the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 50-60 minutes. I check after 40 minutes and if the cake looks like it is browning at the top too quickly, then I cover it with some baking paper to protect the cake from burning. The time needed for the cake to bake will vary depending on the size of the cake tin that you use, so don’t worry if the cake needs an extra 15-20 minutes in the oven. You’ll know when the cake is done when you insert a cake tester, or I use a sharp knife, into the cake and the tester comes out clean.

6.  Let the cake cool completely.  Then cut it up into as many pieces as you like and share it around.

Of course, you could serve it whilst it’s still warm with cream or icecream.  I just find that the cake is easier to cut when it is cold and you don’t get so much chocolate goo all over the knife as you are cutting it.  The cake stores well in an airtight container – not that this one had a chance.  It was all gobbled up in under 10 minutes.

The verdict? The cake is really tasty.  The chocolate chunks give it texture and bite that would be missing if you omitted them.  The spices worked really well in transforming the flavour of this cake and it went down really well with the Cambodian palette too.  I still prefer the chocolatey, whiskey and currant version of the cake (who would blame me) but while I’m here, I will quite happily bake this new banana and chocolate cake.

Cake, anyone?

Kat’s mum’s apple cake

Apple cake baked in Phnom Penh
The apple cake that I baked living at Simon and Becci’s in Phnom Penh

I recently found out that these apples are really tasty and cheap, compared to the other varieties of imported apples that they sell here.  So, when I woke up, I realised that the one thing that I really wanted to do today was to bake Kat’s mum’s apple cake.

applesapples slices 2
Remember how I confessed to being a baking addict?  Since moving to Cambodia, I’ve limited myself to baking once a week and I think that’s as far as my baking addiction allows me to go before I get my next fix.

That need fuelled my first ever visit to a fruit stall in the Russian market, where I bought 8 pomme for 8400 riel (the equivalent of $3.50).    I may have overpaid for my apples: I haven’t learned yet how to bargain for food in the market.  But, I didn’t mind paying a bit extra if if meant that I could bake.  However, I wasn’t quite prepared to pay $3 for 250g of palm sugar (the only raw sugar they had available), when what I really wanted was demerara sugar.  Let’s bake together at a later date, palm sugar.  I think that you’ll be delightful in a cookie.

This apple cake goes down in my baking history as the third ever cake I made on my own.  I was 21 at the time.  Kat’s mum baked this apple cake for us when Kat invited a few friends to her Devonshire home for a holiday during our final year at university. The cake tasted wholesomely delicious and I found myself asking Kat’s mum for the recipe. I was no baker in those days so what convinced me to attempt making this cake was her reassurance that the recipe was really simple.

And it was.  Once it entered into my baking repertoire, it was then pretty much the only cake that I baked for the next 2 years.

I told you that I came late into this baking thing later than most foodies.

apple peel

The only step that requires a bit of time is peeling, coring and chopping the apples and this time, Simon and Becci did that bit for me this time round.  Hurrah for happy helpers.  But once you’ve done that, you can pretty much throw the ingredients altogether, mix it around with your hands and pop it into the oven.  There’s no faffing with trying to make it look pretty: part of the charm of baking this cake is that is meant to look rustic.  I’ve made it before when I’ve reserved a few choice apple pieces to make it look prettier, but the detail got lost underneath the topping of sugar and ground cinnamon.  You can also use a loaf tin or a round tin, as you can see from my photos.

Since being here and discovering how expensive it is to bake with butter (the cheapest i’ve found is $3.50 for 227g) I reverted back to using margarine.  The cake tastes better, I think, if you make it with margarine rather than butter.

You can also use any apples.  I really like using cooking apples because of their tartness and size, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

Ingredients for Kat’s mum’s apple cake

  • 8oz/225g self-raising flour
  • 4oz/110g margarine
  • 4oz/110g granulated sugar, preferably golden but it can be white
  • 3 or 4 cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 1-2cm slices.
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • a splash of milk

Cake topping – adapt the measures according to taste.

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.  Grease and line either a 2lb loaf tin or a cake tin, that is deepish and anything between 8-10 inches.
2. Prepare the topping first for ease because your hands will be gloopy by step 5.  In a small bowl, mix together the demerara sugar and cinnamon.
3. Peel, core and chop the apples and put them into a large mixing bowl.
4. In a medium sized mixing bowl, rub together the flour, butter and sugar until they resemble crumbs.  Add this crumbly mixture to the apples.

until the mixture resembles crumbsmixing the apple cake 2throw the cake mixture into the tin

5. Add in the eggs and a splash of milk.  Mix it around with your hands so that it all combines into a gloopy mess.
6. Sprinkle the demerara sugar and cinnamon mix on top of the cake.

Trying to make it pretty apple cake
you can prettify it if you want

7. Pop into the middle of the oven and bake for about 1 hour.  Check after 40 minutes.  If the top of the cake is browning too much  then cover the top with foil.  The cake is ready when a tester comes out clean.
8. Let it cool down and rest before taking it out of the tin.

trying to make it pretty baked apple cake
but the cinnamon/sugar topping negates the efforts

Enjoy while it’s still warm if you can.  I think that it’s worth pointing out, that with this cake you get one portion of your fruit and veg allowance, only if you eat a quarter of the cake.

A Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake with Baileys Ganache


hazelnut brown butter cake slice
I had already decided that I was going to like this hazelnut brown butter cake the moment I saw it. And then I read on:

‘This is a cake that has it’s roots in dacquoise and meringue.’ – Shuna Fish Lydon

A whatcha, whatchamacallit? Dacquoise and meringue.

Meringue is a dessert that we’re pretty aware of, but dacquoise? I’ve been blissfully ignorant of its existence until Monday evening. I was trying to find another cake recipe to make for Sarah’s birthday, other than Praline Almond Cake, because I didn’t have enough butter for that recipe and I was much too tired to trawl round Tescos. I can’t even remember how my brain jumped from praline almond cake to hazlenut brown butter cake, but somehow I found myself reading Smitten Kitchen Deb’s enticing blog entry on it. Debs links onto Eggbeater Shuna’s detailed poston how to make this cake. I highly recommend reading Shuna’s step-by-step instructions before baking the cake because if you follow it, it’s pretty fool-proof. And that’s where I first stumbled across dacquoise. A dacquoise, so Wikipedia tells me, is a french dessert made with layers of nut meringue and whipped cream or buttercream. The meringue is normally made with almonds and hazlenuts.

I decided to read up a bit more on the cake. I got as far as Jibuyabu’s metricised description on making this cake(thank-you) and then I stopped. It was 9:30pm and I needed to begin the baking.

My preliminary reading on this cake intrigued me. All three bloggers were in awe of this chef named Suzanne Goin, like we should all know her. “Chef Goin served this as her wedding cake. Need I say more?” – Smitten Kitchen. Well yes. Who is she? and why should that sway my decision on whether or not I should make this cake? As it turns out she is one of America’s most highly-acclaimed chef. That is, at least, according to her book on Amazon. Debs and Shuna are US based food bloggers so that probably explains their awe of her. So, okay maybe that should sway my mind. But it doesn’t really. At least, not yet. I wondered, whether she is the equivalent of say, Tom Ketteridge in the UK. Now, all you non-Brits, might be typing Tom Ketteridge into google search because you’re scratching your head and wondering, ‘who is this Tom Ketteridge dude?’ Just this incredible michelin starred chef! Ah – the nuances of across the pond baking.

I tell you what, though, if we just call the cake what it is – a hazelnut brown butter cake – I think that it makes it sound utterly enticing. Don’t you think so?

hazelnut brown butter cake ready to go
The ‘not your standard cake’ ingredients and the fun of trying out a new technique, validated it as the one to make as Sarah’s birthday cake (the same Sarah of the Cardamon, White Chocolate and Rosewater angst and Chocolate Macarons)

In Suzanne Goin’s original recipe, she serves it up with sauteed pears and icing sugar; Debs from Smitten Kitchen went for a chocolate ganache. It’s a no-brainer which option Sarah would prefer, and I tweaked Deb’s version and replaced the coffee with baileys liquor.

And I’ll tell you what – the cake lives up to expectations and tastes perfectly divine. On Tuesday evening, I served it up and we all commented on how it smelled and tasted like ferrero rocher. It’s not heavy, even with all that butter. Moreover, I believe that it would taste better as it gets older because of all that lovely moist nuttiness. Do you know – I’m pretty sure that we all managed two slices, after a pretty big main meal – so there’s not much a chance of this cake hanging around that long.

Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake with Baileys Ganache, adapted from Smitten Kitchen, Jibuyabu and Sunday Suppers at Lucques

Ingredients for the cake

  • 140g blanched whole hazelnuts plus some extra for garnish
  • 225g butter
  • 1/2 vanilla bean or 1tsp of vanilla extract
  • 170g icing sugar
  • 45g plain flour
  • 180g egg whites, which is about the equivalent of 5 extra large egg whites or 6 large egg whites
  • 45g granulated sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and prepare a 23cm or 25cm springform cake tin, by greasing the sides and lining the bottom with baking paper. I only had a 23cm cake tin and it turned out fine.

toasted hazelnutshazelnuts and icing sugar
2. Toast the hazelnuts under the grill or in the oven, by spreading them out in one layer on a baking tray, until they smell gorgeously nutty and turn a golden brown. It normally takes between 10-15 minutes. Once done, leave them cool. I transferred them onto another baking tray so quicken the cooling process.

3. Put the butter in a medium sized pan. Slice the vanilla bean lengthways down the middle and scrape out all the seeds onto the butter. Add the vanilla bean to the pan. Now, make the brown butter. I was a bit intimidated by this ingredient until I read this tutorial on Poire au Chocolat. Cook the butter on a medium heat until the butter browns, finishes crackling at you and smells nutty. It’ll take a good couple of minutes for this amount of butter. Take the pan off the heat and leave it to one side to cool. Remove the vanilla pod and dump it in the bin.

preparing butter to brown with vanilla
4. Weigh out the icing sugar and place in a food processer. Once the hazelnuts have cooled down, add them to the food processer too and whizz them up until they are finely ground (this takes about 10 minutes, interspersed with moments of me scraping the sides of the food processer with a knife so that everything gets whizzed up). Add the flour and pulse it a few times to ensure that the flour is evenly mixed through. This mixture will smell gorgeously nutty and it tastes good too, if you happen to get some of it on your fingers while you are emptying this out into a large bowl. There are some perks for being a bit clumsy.

5. Whisk the eggs with a stand mixer or a handheld electic beater. I held off adding the sugar until the eggs had formed soft peaks, but in the original recipe she says to add the sugar in from the start. Keep whisking until they form stiff peaks.

6. In a small bowl, take a large dollop of egg white and a generous splash of brown butter and mix it together vigorously before re-adding and folding it to the egg whites. Eggbeater Shuna explains this process as creating an emulsion between two ingredients that would normally repel each other (whisked egg whites and butter) so that after it is introduced to egg whites, it makes it easier to incorporate the remaining large quantities of ingredients.

7. Alternate folding in the dry mixture of the icing sugar, hazelnuts and flour and the liquid brown butter to the egg whites, being careful not to overmix and knock back all the air that you’ve carefully worked into the egg whites.

cake batterhazelnut brown butter cake
8. Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 40-50 minutes. It’s done when the cake is coming away from the sides of the tin and a knife comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for about 30 minutes, before then inverting it onto a wire rack so that you can peel the baking paper from it’s bottom.

9. Turn the cake back over onto the plate that you’ll be serving on.

** You could serve it just like this with a dusting of icing sugar and sprinkle the reserved hazelnuts. To make it pretty, why not use a stencil?

Ingredients for the ganache

  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 100ml double cream
  • 2 tbsp baileys or irish cream equivalent

Method

chocolate ganache 1chocolate ganache 2
1. Break up the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small pyrex bowl. As you can see, I put mine directly into a pyrex measuring jug to make the pouring bit over the cake easier.

2. Heat up the double cream in a small pan until it just starts bubbling and then pour it over the chocolate. Leave it for a few minutes, then gently stir until all the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Add in the baileys and stir to incorporate.

preparing to dress the cake with ganachecake with ganache
 

3. Carefully pour the ganache evenly over the cake. It doesn’t matter if some of the ganache spills over the sides of the cake. I think that it adds a certain charm and elegance. Decorate the top of the cake with the remaining hazelnuts. I toasted and crushed them before sprinkling them over the cake. Alternatively, you could make caramel hazelnuts or a hazelnut praline (unfortunately, I had run out of sugar as well, so couldn’t pursue either of those options). Or… just serve it as it is. Plain with the chocolate ganache.

You can make this a day or two in advance and store it in the fridge or in an airtight container in a cold room. So, go on – bake this one up and impress your friends.

Happy Birthday Sarah Cake

Understudies in Nigella’s Chocolate Banana Bread: Introducing Whiskey and Currants

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I know this is a rather strange title for a recipe: this is another one of my cakes that appeared, as it were, from the magic created when the actors of a recipe are not there, one looks for the understudies and BOOM! the result is far better than the original. I say ‘another’ because it isn’t the first time that I’ve improvised with ingredients whilst baking. My baking history is chequered with them, for example the courgette and walnut cake when my cupboard lacked most of the ingredients in and the carrot and pinenut cake that was created when I put baking powder in the wrong bowl of herman…

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The smell of this banana cake, that I conjured up, is of Christmas. No wonder as I used sloe whiskey and currants to substitute the called for dark rum and sultanas, respectively.

Have you ever come across – ? No! Have you ever tasted a banana cake that’s like a Christmas cake? You’ll now start posting recipes in my comments box to tell me of various banana cake recipes that do 🙂 *giggle* I would welcome them.

While I’m asking – do you know what makes a cake into a bread? I don’t know. Why is it that most banana cakes call themselves breads? Is it to do with the loaf tin that they are made in?

mixing egg
So… a confession. I made this cake because I was being made to pack up house, again! Do you remember the previous times that I moved flat and I found myself just having to make two lemon and ginger cheesecakesand bramble jelly? My fellow resident tutors and flat movers, David and Lucy, were really worried about the lengths that I went to avoid putting things away. So now, I’m very aware that I bake to distract myself from the pain of packing boxes; there’s always good reason. This time, I had a hoard of frozen bananas, 12 as it turned out, that needed to be used up. Well, why not strike a compromise with the chore of packing and this golden (brown) opportunity, and try out quick and easy banana bread recipes.

So, I did with Nigella’s and Deb’s (from Smitten Kitchen).

 

According to Nigella (How to be a Domestic Goddess), ‘[T]his is the first recipe anyone hesitant about baking should try: it’s fabulously easy and fills the kitchen with that aromatic fug which is the natural atmospheric setting for the domestic goddess.’Well that sold it to me… as if I needed any convincing. Nevertheless, there are even easier, equally enticing banana cakes out there. Cue: Smitten Kitchen’s Jacked Up Banana Bread. I made her banana bread at the same time that I made Nigella’s and it is just a tad easier to make. I’ll post that recipe later, because this variation of Nigella’s banana bread recipe, with the whiskey and currants, supersedes it in taste, flavour and richness.

 

banana and chocolate cake ingredients

 

Ingredients (and a suggestions box of other substitutes for the dried fruit and liquor at the bottom of this post)

  • 100g currants.
  • 75ml sloe whiskey, or any whiskey
  • 150g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 125g unsalted butter, melted
  • 90-100g soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 large or 4 small very ripe bananas, mashed (about 300g in weight with the skins off)
  • 60g chopped walnuts
  • 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Method

1. Put your chosen dried fruit and liquor into a small saucepan (I measured the currants and whiskey directly in the saucepan for ease) and bring to the boil. Now, remove from the heat, cover the saucepan and leave for an hour or so, in order that the currants can plump up as they absorb the most of the liquid. After which, Nigella says, to drain the currants. I decided it was a waste of the sloe whiskey, so I ended up adding it all, currants and whiskey, to the cake mix at the appropriate step. I’m rushing ahead of myself here. While the currants are plumping up, move on with the rest of the recipe.

2. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and line a 2lb loaf tin. I only have a 1.5 lb loaf tin and it just about manages it.

banana and flour
3. Measure out the plain flour, cocoa powder into a medium sized bowl. Now add in the bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and give them all a good mix with a metal or wooden spoon. This means that you don’t get any lumps of salt, cocoa powder or bicarbonate of soda in the eventual cake.

4. Melt the butter. I’ve used both methods of carefully zapping butter in the microwave (um, careful and zap don’t seem to be natural partners but what other word describes what happens in a microwave?) and melting it in a saucepan. Both work. If you are going to zap it in the microwave, choose a large pyrex bowl that is big enough to make the cake mixture in, as it will save on the washing up later.

stirring butter and sugaradding the banana - looks really yummy!
5. Once melted, add the sugar to the butter and stir well until the sugar is well blended into the butter. It should look almost toffee-like in colour because of the brown sugar. Follow with the eggs. Beat them in, one at a time, to the sugary buttery mixture then add the mashed bananas and beat well.

6. Now add the currants and the remainder of the liquid in the saucepan, along with the walnuts, vanilla extract and the chopped chocolate to the mixture and stir well.

adding the chocolate, nut and fruitadding flour to chocolate banana mixture
7. Add in the flour mix (see 3) but do it a third at time, stirring well after each addition. Once all of the dry mixture is mixed in, add the cake mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour. I check after 40 minutes and if the cake looks like it is browning at the top too quickly, then I cover it with some baking paper to protect the cake from burning. Sometimes the cake takes a little bit longer to bake, so don’t worry if it needs an extra 15-20 minutes in the oven. You’ll know when the cake is done when you insert a cake tester, or I use a sharp knife, into the cake and it comes out clean.

adding flour to chocolate banana mixwet banana and chocolate cake mix_1wet chocolate and banana cake mix_2
8. Leave the cake in the loaf tin to cool down completely, before slicing it up to eat. It does smell absolutely heavenly at the point the cake leaves the oven, but the inside of the cake steams up and collapses if you cut into it when it’s warm. Trust me. I made that mistake last week at Baking Club when we were far too impatient to wait because we were experimenting with various liquors and naturally wanting to taste the different flavours.

Verdict? Scrum-dili-O-cious. Honestly, this version is truly scrumptious and rich in flavour. I’ve made a few variations (listed below) but there is something to be said about how the flavours of whiskey, chocolate and banana complement each other and stand their ground against each other in this cake. You know how I said to leave the cake to cool down completely before cutting into it. I discovered that this cake gets better with age. The chocolate, whiskey and banana mature well together if you can bear to leave it a day or two before eating it and you’ll have a more complex flavour to savour. Leave the cake in an airtight container for at least a week and it won’t dry out… if it lasts that long!

Baking Club came round last Wednesday laden with various liquors. We tried a few out.

  • Banana, Date and Toffee Bread: 100g chopped up dried dates, 75ml of butterscotch schnapps, subsitute half of the soft brown sugar with dark brown sugar. I’d also leave out the 25g of cocoa powder with replace it with plain flour so that the toffee has a chance of coming through.
  • The original Banana and Chocolate Bread: 100g sultanas, 75ml dark rum – this is Nigella’s original recipe. Tastes alright but the whiskey and currants one tastes even better. I might try this one out later without the chocolate and compare it to Smitten Kitchen’s version.
  • Banana, Apricot and Chocolate Bread: 100g chopped up dried apricots, 75ml apricot brandy. – gave this one away before tasting it.

chocolate banana whiskey currant bread
 

An alternative to Christmas cake, perhaps?

Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

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choc beetroot muffins

My sister and her husband are coming to Warwick next week and their imminent arrival reminds me, amongst other things, of the beetroot they left me with the previous summer.

First of all. Whoever came up with the idea of adding beetroot in chocolate cake deserves a medal. You saved me from letting the vegetable go to waste. Let me take you back to my summer last year (when we had a summer!)

Oh dear…What was I thinking?

Everytime I open the fridge door, I have been glared at by the beetroot that has been discarded in the corner. I can’t believe that after I discovered my dislike of its flavour, I went ahead and bought some more beetroot.

I know that it’s silly, but there’s a wee bit of me that believes that beetroot will eventually taste alright if I eat enough of it. However – I just can’t face another savoury beetroot meal (see the entry on the fuschia beetroot risotto). So, I have decided that for the timebeing the best place for beetroot is in a cake and I’ve been baking this Chocolate and Beetroot cake from Delicious magazine. It’s main attraction is using raw beetroot, as opposed to the cooked stuff.

Top Tip: Use kitchen gloves when handling and grating beetroot to prevent the juices staining your hands. They’ll also protect your nails and fingers from being accidentally grated.

beetroot beetroot

But first, I’ll answer the question: why bother adding beetroot to chocolate cake?

Answer: Mostly for the moistness it adds to chocolate cake, and moistness is an essential quality in a goodchocolate cake. It’s alright. Not everyone tastes the “secret ingredient” in this cake. Nonetheless, I think that the beetroot flavour comes through. Not at all in an overpowering way; I would describe it as a hint of earthiness. Somehow the beetroot marries nicely to the chocolate, in an earthy kind of way. I’m going to stop before I try to make the chocolate-beetroot combination into a sexy one.

chocolate beetroot muffins 1packing up the muffins

The first time I made it, I baked them as 12 muffins for a friend’s picnic and there was enough mixture left over for a small loaf cake for my work colleagues to sample. I made a chocolate buttercream icing to go on top and finished it off with some slivered almonds. That was in the September with the first lot of beetroot given to me. Then with this second lot of beetroot, which I bought (silly me) I recently made three little cakes as a dessert, and a 20cm cake for another friend’s dinner do. This time round, I finished them off with the chocolate sour cream icing detailed in Delicious’s recipe. I’ve never been very interested in making icing (or as the Americans call it, ‘frosting’) as I’m not very fond of it. So, I’m pleased that I pushed myself on to learn something new.

chocolate beetroot muffins

What I like about this recipe is the end result: a scrummy, moist and very indulgently chocolate-y cake. Interestingly, the sponge in the muffins had wee air holes in it, like a wispa bar; the cake was a denser texture. If you like chocolate fudge cake, then I’d recommend you the cake version, especially with the chocolate sour cream icing. There’s no fooling yourself that it’s healthy, however, as there’s an awful lot of chocolate that goes into it. Even on the basis that there is a vegetable in it. (Although surely if you ate enough of it, you could add it as a portion of your daily fruit and veg..?)

So, stock up on your dark chocolate before you bake this because you’ll use a lot.

Ingredients for the Chocolate and Beetroot cake, adapted from Delicious Magazine’s Chocolate and Beetroot Cake.

  • 250g plain chocolate
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 150g light muscovado sugar
  • 100ml sunflower oil
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 250g raw grated beetroot

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4 and grease a 22cm round loose-bottomed cake tin* (see above for variations). Line the bottom of the tin with baking paper.

2. Slowly melt the chocolate in the microwave in short blasts. The second time round, my pyrex bowl was indisposed because of Herman (more about him earlier). So, I carefully melted the chocolate in a saucepan on a low heat and took the pan off the heat, the moment the chocolate at the bottom started melting, so that I didn’t burn it. Set the melted chocolate aside to cool.

3. Peel and grate the beetroot using a normal cheese grater (see top tip about handling beetroot). Put the grated beetroot into a sieve over a sink and squeeze out the excess moisture. Leave it in the sieve whilst you get on with the next steps.

4. Whisk together the eggs, sugar and oil in a large bowl for 3-4 minutes. Add in the vanilla extract.

5. In another bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and ground almonds. I’d recommend sifting the flour and bicarb of soda because you don’t want to be eating ucky lumps of bicarbonate of soda in the baked cake. Then add them to the wet ingredients and fold it in with a spatula.

6. Now, add in the grated beetroot and pour in the melted chocolate. Mix thoroughly. The mixture should be a dark violet colour.

dark violet beetroot chocolate batterbaked beetroot cake

7. Pour the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 50-60 minutes in the middle of the oven. Mine needed the full hour. Check after 30 minutes and if the top seems to be browning too quickly, then cover the top with baking paper or foil. If you bake them as muffins, you’ll need 14-20 minutes. The cake is done when your cake tester comes out clean inserted in the middle.

8. Let the cake cool in its tin for a few minutes, then take it out of its tin and let it cool on a wire rack.

I made the chocolate sour cream icing the following morning, but you don’t have to wait that long.

Ingredients for chocolate sour cream icing

  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 100g sour cream
  • 100g icing sugar

Method

Melt the dark chocolate gently in a pan, or in the microwave. Allow to cool, then add to the melted chocolate, the icing sugar and the sour cream and beat until you have a thick, spreadable chocolate gooey icing.

Spread it over the cake, et voila!

icing on beetroot chocolate cakechocolate beetroot cake

iced chocolate beetroot cakechocolate beetroot cake 2

120 cupcakes, lots of buttercream and an eggs–celent cupcake recipe

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Item no. 7 on my 30 for 30 list reads: run a cupcake workshop.

So, on 30th January 2012, that’s what I did. As you can tell, the date is still imprinted in my mind!

You know those moments when you wonder how you got yourself into ‘that’ situation. Well item no. 7 was one of them. This was my first ever cupcake workshop that I’d attended, never mind organise, host and teach. Having said that, I did have that tingling sense of nervous excitement about facilitating it; and terror by my lack of knowledge and expertise in the cupcake decorating front.

So, I marshalled some troops, in the form of enthusiastic volunteers, to assist me. I’m very grateful to them. (Now, I feel like I’m writing the acknowledgments section of a book :P. Bear with me.)

  • Midge taught on using fondant icing and sugarpaste.
  • Sarah hosted, lent me her a muffin tin, and listened to my ideas.
  • Emma printed certificates, shared tips from a friends experience of a cupcake workshop, made fondant icing.
  • Emily helped come up with the prose for the certificates (I added the poetry), practised piping with me days before the workshop, and rescued the buttercream!

The evening before, I had a 6 hour bake-a-thon and produced 4 different varieties of cupcakes: strawberry, courgette and sultana, vanilla, chocolate and green tea, using 5 different recipes, totally over 120 cupcakes in all! I am indebted to Kenny the Mixer, whom I fell in love with. (more about him in my strawberry cupcake post.)

On the morning of the workshop, I used 2kg of butter to make a vast quantity of buttercream.

I used A LOT of butter for this workshop. I’m estimating at least 7kg worth. So, when you’re charged £40 for a cupcake workshop – part of it goes towards buying the butter!

cupcake_workshop_7

What fun we had 🙂

So, I’d factored in 15 minutes for people to arrive late and get a cup of tea or something wet. Even though I’d asked people to arrive to start at 2pm, as I anticipated, there were some delays.

We began with pink champagne and a very quick icebreaker in pairs, where we shared our names, our previous experience with cupcakes and also one cupcake related thing that would push us out of our comfort zone. Then all of us fedback the main points. I remember that my pair and I both confessed a dislike of frosting, which had prevented us on venturing out on the cupcake decorating front. (This was before my discovery of meringue buttercream.)

Courgette and sultana cupcakes topped with lime and pistachio buttercream were doled out to each of the participants.

At this point I said that I’d really like them to learn something that they could do at home, have fun and make lots of mess!

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I hope we achieved that.

A few people had already told me that they needed to leave early for the school run, so I planned the workshop so that there were parallel activities running throughout the afternoon which guests could choose.

  1. cupcake baking vs. sugarcraft
  2. piping decorations vs. sugarcraft
  3. piping decorations vs. assembling cakes
  4. assembling cakes and play

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There were a lot of laughs and memorable moments. My guests had so much fun and lots of pretty cakes to take home afterwards, which I was thrilled about. Remember, how I was truly uncertain about it’s outcome?

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In the end, I think that I squashed too many learning objectives (forgive my teacher speak) and activities in there. When I reflected on it, I decided that in future, I would try this as 3 x 2hour workshops: 1. baking cupcakes; 2. piping frosting; and 3. sugarpaste. As I was reflecting on this, I had this delicious moment when I realised that what I was doing was CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT. The thing that I felt that I was incompetent to do and really scared of doing at work. So, one of my unexpected learning outcomes was greater confidence at work for lesson planning. When I unpack this, the workshop was a gem of a learning experience!


Truly Eggs-celent Cupcakes

So, I was thinking about which of the five cupcake recipes to share with you, then decided against it. Rather, I’d like to introduce you to the simplest of cupcake recipes. I got taught this by a biology teacher in my secondary school many years ago, and I still remember it.

You will need a set of weighing scales.

Ingredients

  • Egg(s)
  • Self-raising flour
  • Butter
  • Caster sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4/350F. Line cupcake/muffin tins with liners.

2. Weigh the eggs and record their weight. Next, you’re going to be using that magic number to measure out the self-raising flour, caster sugar and butter.

3. Once you’ve weighed out all the ingredients, place in one bowl and mix all the ingredients together. Use an electric mixer or a spatula – it doesn’t really matter.

4. Using a tablespoon or a dessert spoon, dollop a spoonful into the cases.

5. Bake in the oven for about 12-15 minutes, until a tester/knife comes out clean.

5. Take out and leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes and then let them cool completely on a wire rack.

Tada! Enjoy.

Martha Stewart’s Strawberry Cupcakes with the fabulous Strawberry Meringue Buttercream Frosting!!!

To be honest, I would never have made the strawberry meringue buttercream that makes this cupcake if it wasn’t for the beautiful photo in Martha Stewart’s cupcake’s book. I mean, the very name, Strawberry Meringue Buttercream sounds pretentious, preposterous and… p,p,p… what other word am I looking for that starts with ‘p’?. Come on, be honest. How many of you had heard of meringue in a buttercream before?

martha stewart cupcakesmartha stewart strawberry cupcake
Having said all that, I did make them, meringue buttercream frosting and all! Do you remember that last year I listed a fair number of things that stop me from trying new recipes... Well, dear reader, I tackled three just here:

  • a new/complicated technique
  • not being put off by a bit of baking equipment that I don’t have
  • and getting over my dislike of frosting

Having made the recipe and tasted it (so delicious!), please don’t get put off making both parts of this recipe. Particularly the pretentiously, preposterous (I’m joking now) strawberry meringue buttercream. This buttercream is YUM!

There were four noteworthy moments that I’d like to share:

I borrowed a Kenwood Mixer, which we nicknamed “Kenny”, and duly fell in love with it. I must confess that after the first time that I used the Kenwood, I sent a text message to Sarah, his owner, which stated “Kenny is a dream!” Kenny definitely made the experience a much easier and better one. But, as I have to remind myself now, if you don’t have an equivalent, then use the electric mixer.

You’ll want to use a big bowl to make the cake mixture. A glance of some of the ingredients list gives it away: 2¾ cups of flour. 2 sticks of butter.

Martha says that this makes 36 american sized cupcakes. I read in the Hummingbird bakery book that UK muffin tins are the same size as US cupcake tins. More cross-pond confusion. So, I duly baked these in a UK muffin tin, and excitedly found some pretty pink muffin cases to bake them in. In the end I made 42, but it could be that I underfilled the cases a little bit.

I still don’t quite get what the UK substitute is for US all-purpose flour. The baking forums are ambivalent on this. Martha’s recipe explicitly states that the ¼ cup of cake flour shouldn’t be self-raising flour. By that instruction, I deduced (rightly or wrongly) that I shouldn’t use self raising flour for the all-purpose flour bit. Unfortunately, at that point in my 6 hour cupcake bake-athon, I realised that I didn’t have enough plain flour. And then my kitchen scales started playing up. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I used mix of plain and self-raising flour (ratio unknown), and substituted the cake flour for cornflour. Martha – I deduced by cakeflour that you wanted a flour that would create a lighter texture to it.

So, Martha. My question to you: did I commit a great baking sin?

strawberry cupcake mix 2strawberry cupcake mixstrawberry cupcake mix 3
Looking at these photos now, I’m thinking that the strawberries have a very similar appearance to pomegranates. Hmm…. I wonder whether… Next time I bake this, I’m going to try it with pomegranates. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Anyway, back to Martha Stewart’s Strawberry Cupcakes, adapted by moi. And I converted the recipe into grams for my UK readers.

Ingredients for the Strawberry Cupcakes

  • 340g self-raising flour
  • 35g cornflour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 225g butter, softened and cubed
  • 375g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs + 1 egg white
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups finely chopped strawberries – about 20 strawberries.

Method

1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180C/350F. Line the muffin tin with paper cases.

2. Measure out the dry ingredients and sift together into a medium sized bowl. That’s the self raising flour, cornflour, baking powder and salt. You don’t have to sift, but the sifting helps it to be a lighter cake.

3. Cream the butter and sugar together until light in colour and fluffy in texture. This normally takes between 5-7 minutes with an electric whisk. If you’re using a mixer then use the beater attachment.

I think this is the moment I fell in love (again!) with the Kenwood mixer because I could just leave it to work its magic whilst I read the instructions again and got the eggs, vanilla, measured out the flour…

4. Add the vanilla extract at this point (one of my variations to Martha Stewart. I think that it helps to mix the flavour in evenly into the mixture). Then add in the eggs on a slow speed, one egg at a time with a tablespoon of the flour mixture, to prevent the mixture from curdling.

5. Now mix in the remainder of the flour mixture into the wet batter. Then pour in the milk and continue to mix well.

6. Finally add the chopped strawberries and mix the cake batter with a spatula or a wooden spoon.

Using a tablespoon, dollop out the cake mix into the prepared muffin cases. For each of the muffin cases, I estimated 2 dollops of the tablespoon worked well.

Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, turning the baking tins once in the baking, so that the cupakes have an even bake. Test them with a tester/sharp knife and if it comes out clean, they are ready. Let the baked cakes cool in the muffin tray for 5 minutes and then cool completely on a wire rack.

uniced cakesiced cakes
So, by the time I got to make the Strawberry Meringue Buttercream, half of the strawberry cupcakes had been used up at the cupcake workshop. As I read Martha Stewart’s recipe on the meringue buttercream frosting, I just couldn’t quite convince myself to use her method. She pretty much mixes all the ingredients together, heats it and mixes it, and somehow that didn’t suit the perfectionist in me. So, I searched through Ruth Clemens’ Pink Whisk blog and found a meringue buttercream recipe that I could adapt. I think there’s also an element of me believing Ruth’s blog to be more honest over Martha’s book.

Besides, Ruth sold it to me, “This post also includes the recipe for the absolute best cupcake topping in the world – meringue buttercream frosting – I can eat this straight off the spoon! It’s definitely worth the effort and once you’ve tried it you’ll never go back to ‘normal’ buttercream!”

Okay, Ruth. Let’s give it a go and see whether it’s worth the effort.

It is. I don’t normally like buttercream frosting because it’s too rich and sweet, but I make an exception for this one. The addition of the meringue means that it feels much lighter and airier to eat. Also on the decorating front – it holds it’s shape really well. Once again, probably because of the meringue.

So, here’s my version of delicious Strawberry Meringue Buttercream, adapted from the Pink Whisk. From another of Ruth’s posts, I’d seen that she’d used Two Chicks liquid egg whites and approved. So, I decided to save myself the worry of wondering what to do with leftover egg yolks, and searched the aisles in Sainsburys to purchase some liquid egg whites.

Oh, and I also bought myself a sugar thermometer especially for the task too. That’s one way of tackling the issue of not having a piece of baking equipment.

Ingredients for Strawberry Meringue Buttercream

  • 5 large egg whites (I did indeed find and use Two Chicks liquid egg whites)
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 100ml water
  • 500g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbsp strawberry jam
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

Method

Top tip: This is much easier to do with a stand mixer. K-mix, Kitchenaid’s were made for these jobs. As a non-owner, I borrowed my friend’s Kenwood, I have much K-envy. So, if you have one, please make this just so that I know that they are being utilised for what they were created for!

1. Whisk the egg whites in a big bowl until they are soft peaks (foamy but don’t hold their shape). Keep whisking, this time adding in 50g of sugar, a spoonful at a time. Continue whisking until they form firm peaks (they don’t lost their shape when you take the whisk out).

2. Leave to one side. In a small saucepan, gently heat up the water and the 250g caster sugar so that the caster sugar melts into a syrup. Once the sugar has melted, put the heat up to full and boil it up th 121C.

Ruth said that it would take 10 minutes. I took about 20 minutes, but wondering whether I either have a faulty thermometer or did something wrong. Anyway, 20 minutes later, it had almost reached 118C and I decided that was good enough for me. Didn’t seem to affect it too much this time.

3. Start whisking the egg whites again at a low speed. Slowly, slowly pour in the sugar syrup into the egg whites. Keep whisking for another 8-10 minutes, until the meringue mixture cools. I had a break at this point to allow the bowl to cool down a bit.

4. When the bowl is cool to touch, it’s time to add the butter. This is a slow process and be patient with it. Basically you have to add the butter to the egg whites in small pieces. If you have a mixer – keep it on the whisk attachment. I didn’t weigh this out, but I estimate that I pretty much added between 10-20g each time. Let one piece of butter be incorporated fully, before adding the next. The mixture does look like it’s going a bit wrong because it becomes liquidy. But don’t worry, that’s normal.

5. Finally(!), when all the butter is added, (if you want/need to, use the paddle attachment on a slow speed to ensure that the butter is all fully mixed in). Then swap in the whisk attachment to whisk the mixture so that it has the consistency and appearance of whipped cream.

meringue buttercreambuttercream piping bag remnants
6. Add the flavouring at this point. I separated my meringue buttercream frosting into two batches and added 1tsp vanilla extract into one and 1tbsp of strawberry (and the tiniest smidgen of red gel food colouring) to the other.

7. Fill those piping bags and away we go 🙂

strawberry cupcakes and meringue buttercream frosting 2strawberry cupcakes and meringue buttercream frosting

IPHONE FALLS HEADLONG INTO FROSTING

UM! So yes, as I was taking photos, my Iphone slipped out of it’s case and crashed into the decorated cakes. Naturally(!), I ran to grab my camera, so that I could capture a shot of that moment.

when the iphone fell into the buttercream

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to interview the said IPhone at the time, and take a shot at what it had to say about all of this because some cupcake had got in the way.

picking iphone up

🙂 The salvaged cupcakes!

rescued cakes

 

A Carrot, Sultana and Pinenut Cake with a secret – he’s Herman!


carrot, sultana, pinenut muffins
This is my favourite Herman cake recipe because it is so flavoursome and moist.

I have never been honoured with so many requests for this recipe from foodies, which confirms my suspicions that this is the BEST variation on Herman cake. So, here it is, by popular demand. (Plus, this medium has the added benefit of being far more convenient than sending the recipe multiple times via text or email to my colleagues and friends who have been asking me for this recipe.)

This cake is a wonderful example of how you can improvise successfully when baking (another example would be the Courgette and Walnut Cake). This time, I made the mistake of putting baking powder in the wrong bowl of mini herman, had run out of apples and was thus forced to improvise an alternative Herman cake, with ingredients I had on hand. Thus, the delicious Carrot, Sultana and Pinenut Cake was born, and proved far tastier than it’s apple/pear and cranberry counterpart.

The inspiration for the pinenuts is probably from my love of korean and italian cuisine: it would appear to be a popular ingredient in both countries. Essentially, it is the pinenuts that make this cake what it is, so please don’t scrimp and omit them.

Perhaps some of you, who have tended to Herman for a few cycles, have similar sentiments to my own towards Herman. I find it restricting to be tied into baking a Herman cake every 10 or so days. Then the thought of baking the same cake over and over again, kills the joy of baking with such a quirky ingredient. I’ve spoken to enough of you herman cake bakers to know that you empathise with my need to deviate from the standard apple/cinammon/sultana cake. So, for all of you attentive Herman carers out there, this is a recipe is dedicated to you.

Ingredients

  • one measure of Herman (a cup)
  • 150g self raising flour
  • 100g demerara sugar
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs, beaten (see note below referring to doubling the recipe)
  • 100ml vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 2 large or 3 small grated carrots, which is approx. anything between 150g-200g.
  • 50g pinenuts
  • 50g sultanas

Note: For a double batch, rather than use 4 eggs, I did the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda trick of substituting an egg. Austerity measures are required when baking endless cycles of Hermans.

Method

1. I like to soak the sultanas first by putting them in a small heatproof bowl and covering them with boiling water. If you’re super-organised, then do this a few hours beforehand. This will mean that your sultanas are plump and juicy once baked, rather than dry and hard.

2. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and line a 2lb loaf tin, or line a muffin tin with paper cases. I think that it will make about 18 muffins, depending on how high you fill the cases.

3. Measure out the flour, sugar and spices and make a well in the middle. Add in Herman, the vegetable oil and the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly.

dry ingredients hermanadding hermancarrot cake herman batter
4. Drain the sultanas and add the sultanas to the mixture, along with the grated carrots and pinenuts. Give it a good mix.

herman loaf tinherman muffin tin
5. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for about 50 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean. Check at 40 minutes and if the top is browning too quickly, cover it with baking paper or foil. If you are going to make the muffins, then dollop a tablespoon of mixture in each of the cases. This way, there’ll be space to put on the optional cream cheese frosting. Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean. Leave the cake/muffins to cool for 5 minutes and then let it cool completely on a wire rack.

The verdict?

Delicious, served on its own or with a dollop of icecream/greek yoghurt. I’ve frozen the muffins for another occasion and planning on topping them with a plain cream cheese frosting.

herman familydressing for work
On Sunday morning, I baked a double batch of this and produced a wee family of these cakes. In addition to the loaf tin, the mini muffin tin came out, and I borrowed some normal sized muffin tins from a friend. Later on the Monday, I dressed the loaf for work.

And what happened to Herman?

Well, Herman lives on in my flat: I didn’t have the heart to finish him off this weekend. I baked a double quantity of my favourite Herman recipe (the carrot, sultana and pinenut cake) and prepared batter for Herman pancakes before I realised that I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to Herman… yet.

p.s I couldn’t help but notice that Herman has been featured on the Guardian‘s Life and Style recently. It’s amusing how a yeasty goo mixture has madeit onto a national paper. I give props to Lizzie Enfield for pushing my teenage, red-haired, kitchen inhabitantinto the limelight. At some point I mean to write a blog post, entitled ‘100 days of Herman’ with photos of the various Hermans I’ve produced, from pancakes to streusel coffee cake (thanks allrecipes), by way of celebration. It would have be retrospective given that the 100 day mark has already passed us by. Watch this space.