Oh so yummy, festive, orange, cranberry and chocolate bread

oh so yummy, festive orange, cranberry and chocolate bread

Merry (belated) Christmas everyone!

It’s funny the foods that you crave.  I keep surprising myself with what my tastebuds hanker after.  My latest three cravings are mature cheddar cheese and milk chocolate digestives.  Those two cravings kicked in a year after I moved and as I didn’t buy or eat a lot of cheese in the UK, can you see why I surprised myself?!

My friend Hannah came to spend Christmas in Cambodia this year.  I asked whether she’d like to bring out a selection of cheeses out with her so that we could have a cheese and wine evening.  And she did!  She had an unexpected 24 hour delay in Doha, and amazingly the cheese survived!  I don’t think that I’ve ever relished the flavours of each of those cheeses, as much as I did that evening!  Thank you, Hannah.

A selection of beautiful english cheeses, trying to disguise themselves as pac men. Thank you Hannah!
A selection of beautiful english cheeses, trying to disguise themselves as pac men.  The camembert is baking in the oven. Thank you Hannah!
Hannah and Esther waiting patiently for me to take this photo and finding it very funny!
Hannah and Esther waiting patiently for me to take this photo and finding it very funny!

I said three, right.  Well, there’s this bread…

I’m pretty sure that Sainsburys does an AMAZING chocolate, cranberry and orange bread at Christmas time.  I’ve eaten it pretty much every year since discovering it.  Except last year.  Last year, was my first Christmas in Cambodia and I couldn’t find any cranberries, frozen, fresh or dried in the whole of Phnom Penh.  Not that I could search very far and wide because of my poorly left knee.

orange, cranberry, chocolate bread

I’ve been thinking about this eating this bread for a couple of months now.  So in November, I bought a bag of dried cranberries whilst I was in Australia to bake it as my festive loaf.

dark chocolate chunks dried cranberries

I couldn’t find a recipe for this bread online.  So, I modified Richard Bertinet’s cranberry and pecan bread recipe from Dough to recreate one of Sainsbury’s festive bread creations.  I loved it.  Hannah loved it.  (She’d never heard of or eaten it before – WHAT?!?!? and she lives in the UK!)  It smells intoxicating and the flavours balance and complement each other perfectly.  We were happy to eat it, just as it was.  No spread, it doesn’t need one.  If you want to, you could try eating it with cheese, like we did.   Surprisingly it works.

Three things:

  1. Make sure that you use chocolate chunks and not chocolate chips.  Chocolate chunks are bigger and taste more satisfying than chocolate chips.
  2. Make it a white loaf.  It’s meant to be a festive treat.  Don’t spoil it by adding more fiber to it.
  3. The chocolate makes it a messy bread to cut and eat.   That could be because it’s just a wee bit warmer in Cambodia than the UK at this time of year… But I dare you to resist eating it when it’s fresh out of the oven!

Finally, finally (and this isn’t late!).  Hope that you have a wonderful New Year’s Day celebration and wishing you all the best for 2015.

orange zest

orange, cranberry and chocolate dough

Ingredients for my oh so yummy, festive Orange, Cranberry and Chocolate Bread.

  • 500g strong white flour
  • 7g fast action yeast
  • 10g salt
  • 350g water – you can do 350ml but weighing it is always more accurate I think.
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 100g dark chocolate cut roughly into chunks
  • 100g dried cranberries

Method

1. Put the dark chocolate, cranberries and orange zest in a small bowl and give it a good mix.  I discovered that the orange zest actually starts plumping up the cranberries while you’re making the dough – cool!

2. In another medium sized bowl, weigh out the flour, add in the yeast and give it a quick stir to mix it into the flour.  By mixing the yeast with flour first, I don’t worry about the salt touching the yeast and thus deactivating the yeast.

3. Now add in the salt, give it a stir.  Then add in the water.   Use a dough scraper, or your hands to combine the water and flour together as much as possible before turning the mixture out onto your work surface.  It is quite a wet dough to begin with, so don’t worry.

4.  Knead until the dough is springy and smooth.  This probably takes about 10 minutes but it depends on what method you use and how wet the dough was to begin with.  I use Richard Bertinet’s slap and fold method.

5.  Now transfer the orange zest, cranberries and chocolate into the medium sized bowl you used for the dough mixture.  Then, lay the dough on top and spread it out so that it envelops the entire surface.  What you’re going to attempt to do next is wrap the dough around the chocolate and the cranberries and mix it so that you can combine them with the dough.  Doing it this way in the bowl makes it a much neater, efficient process, than if you were to do it on a work surface.

6. Once the chocolate and cranberries are combined with the dough, turn it out from the bowl briefly.  Add a little bit (about a tablespoon) of vegetable oil to the bowl to prevent the dough from stick to it as the dough rises.  Cover with cling film or a wet tea towel and leave it rise.  I leave mine to rise in the fridge for a couple of hours so that the flavours have longer to mature.  You could leave it at this stage, in the fridge, for a couple of hours to 2 days.

7.  Prepare a baking tray by lining it with baking paper, or covering it with a layer of semolina so that it doesn’t stick to the tray.  Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto your work surface.  Push your fingers firmly into the dough to leave dents.  This is a much gentler way of knocking the air out.  While you’re doing that try to shape it roughly into a rectangle.

8. Next, strengthen the dough.  Mentally divide the dough into three sections.  Take a third of the dough to the centre and push it down firmly in the middle with the heel of your hand.  Then take the other third of the dough to the centre and push it down firmly with the heel of your hand.  Finally fold the mixture in half and again push it down firmly with the heel of your hand.

9.  This next bit is up to you.  I cut my dough into two halves and shaped one into a circle and the other into a square-ish loaf.  You can shape it into one or as many loaves as you wish.    Cover with damp tea towel or oiled cling film.  Let them rest until they have doubled in size again.  In the meantime, preheat the oven to 250°C/480°F/Gas Mark 9.

10.  When the dough is ready, cut deep, clean incisions in it to help create shape and release gas.  I made a hash (#) sign on one loaf and cut three slices on the other.  I then sprayed the tops of them with water to create a bit of steam as they bake.  (My new electric oven doesn’t like it when you spray the inside of the oven with water.)

11. Whack them in the oven.  After 10 minutes turn the oven down to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7 and bake for 40-50 minutes.  Check that the bread is ready – it should sound hollow when you tap it’s bottom.  If not, set the timer for another 5 minutes and check again.  Let them rest for at least 5 minutes before you enjoy and devour it.

orange, cranberry, chocolate bread

 

Making mincemeat of khmer (and two suet free mincemeat recipes)

Ha! If only.  It’s more like I’m butchering the language, particularly since I’ve been away from Cambodia for almost 3 weeks.  But, indulge me in my choice of slightly obscure title.  When I came up with it before Christmas, it seemed like the perfect lead into giving you an update on my language learning and include a Christmas mincemeat recipe, or two, at the same time.  Then my NZ holiday scuppered the timings, ever so slightly…

Mincemeat v.1

Well, 3 months into learning khmer and my efforts have been paying off to varying degrees of success.  It’s nice to get comments from people who kindly tell me that I speak khmer well, or that I know a lot. I realise that we are generally our worst critics when we are learning language, but honestly, their feedback couldn’t feel further from the truth.  I make a lot of Khmers laugh at how I trip over words, mix up words that sound similar (think bye and bike), struggle with the pronunciation of peculiar sounds that are foreign to the english and korean tongue.  To illustrate the kinds of mistakes that I’ve made, look below:

mürl (10 000) and mürn (to watch)
toe’it (small) and doe’it (similar/like)
ban cha’oo (Vietnamese pancake) and ban ???? I still don’t know what it is that I say.  But when I say it, it’s a swear word apparently. Can you imagine how nervous I am about asking for one from a seller?

It’s not just the laughs that make language learning so enjoyable. I think that I’ve said before how I’m really enjoying learning this very literal language. The other day, I learnt that the khmer for the colour burgundy is poah chreuk chee’um. The literal translation is ‘the colour of pig’s blood’; not quite as majestic sounding as burgundy, the word we use to describe a regal red colour!

IMG_3713

More recently, my improved language skills has meant that more and more Khmers feel able to have a ‘proper’ conversation with me.  Unfortunately, I only understand 50% of what they are saying!  So, I have to make up the rest of what they have said because I don’t want to break the flow of the conversation.  As you can imagine, this could lead to all sorts of misunderstandings.   I think that the real problem is with me not wanting to lose face.  I’ve been doing this in korean for such a long time that it’s become some sort of default setting in me.  In korean, we call this pretending, 아는척 – ah-neun-chug.  

Some people are much braver than me and stop to clarify meaning.  I’m going to have to adopt some of their bravery to force myself out of this habit.  You’ll have to imagine my big sigh, just now, in this realisation and resolution.

tart, tart, granny apples in the absence of cooking apples

Nevertheless, even with all my bad behaviour and language, the Friday before Christmas, I sat an exam, passed and graduated from the Survival Khmer language course. Hurrah! So, I celebrated by getting on a plane and going on holiday to New Zealand for a few weeks! Yeah 🙂 because that’ll really consolidate my language learning!

The all important lime zest and lime juice!

But my time here isn’t all about language learning is it?  I bake a lot too.  Simon had asked me to make some Christmas refreshments and baking for the church’s Christmas service.  So, I made two versions of mincemeat based on the availability of ingredients I found, or lack thereof!  Andrew gave me this recipe and normally I make this recipe with sultanas, currants, citrus peel and most importantly fresh cranberries. But my efforts to locate any cranberries, fresh, dried or frozen, in Phnom Penh have yet to bear fruit. Pun unintended. 😛  Even with the deviation from the original recipe, these mincemeat recipes were a hit and I was asked for the recipe – particularly for version 2.

Throw all the ingredients into the bowl

And that was my astonishing discovery whilst recipe testing.  The vast majority of Khmers like mincemeat, even amongst children.  Of my Khmer taste testers,  I found that only 1 in 20 didn’t like how it tasted.  Is that the same in the UK too?  Have I been long under the wrong impression that 50% of UK population don’t like mincemeat?

Or is it, just that this is just one of the tastiest mincemeat recipes out there?  Lol.  I’ll let you decide in due course.

Mix it all together

I don’t use suet in these recipes.  Instead, I use grated apple to give moisture and bulk.  The advantages of this approach are that you don’t have to cook it and you can use it immediately.  Taste-wise, I think that it’s superb.  It’s fresh from the apples (it’s even better with the cranberries) and zingy from the limes.  The only spice I added was nutmeg.  The nutmeg I used was ground already and thus, I used more than I expected.  Using freshly, grated nutmeg will have a much stronger flavour so add to taste.  You could always add cinnamon, cloves or a hint of ginger.  In future versions, I would like to add some alcohol of a sort, like rum or brandy.  This time, however, I had a budget to stick to.

Jar of mincemeat

Ingredients for Mincemeat v.1
Makes about 650-700g

2 green apples, grated (preferably cooking apples, but any tart green apple will do)
150g seedless raisins
250g mixed dried fruit – the pack I found had glacé cherries, raisins and citrus peel
75g roughly chopped blanched almonds
60g dark brown sugar or muscovado sugar also works.  I used light brown sugar because that’s what I had then added 2 tbsp of dark brown sugar later for flavour.  If I made this again, I’d only use dark brown sugar.
Zest and juice of 1 or 2 limes, depending on their size
2 tbsp orange marmalade or 50g of chopped candied citrus peel
Ground nutmeg to taste – I added 1tbsp in the end but do add it 1 tsp at a time

Ingredients for Mincemeat v.2
Makes about 650-700g

2 green apples, grated (preferably cooking apples, but any tart green apple will do)
150g seedless raisins
150g mixed dried cambodian fruit – pineapple, papaya and mango
75g roughly chopped blanched almonds
50g sunflower seeds
60g dark brown sugar or muscovado sugar also works
Zest and juice of 1 or 2 limes, depending on size
2 tbsp orange marmalade
Ground nutmeg to taste – I added 1tbsp in the end but do add it 1 tsp at a time

Method
Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.  You can use it straightaway or store in sterilised jars in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Happy helpers learning how to make mince pies
Happy helpers learning how to make mince pies

Water Orange Cat, aka Lime Juice

Curious?

Before I left the UK, I was asked what I was most looking forward to eating in Cambodia.  The first thing that popped into my mind was a drink, lime juice.  I developed a liking for it on my first visit to Cambodia over 3 years ago and now I’m sort of addicted to it.

lime juice

That being the case, I guess it is quite fortuitous that my favourite Khmer word is the one for lime juice, which I learned on my second day here. Ttuk kreu’ik ch’mmaa.  Let me break it up for you:

Ttuk is the word that they use to describe water/liquid.

Lime is called kreu’ik ch’mmaa – orange cat. I think that most citrus produce is a type of ‘kreu’ik‘ – orange and they add a descriptive word after it in order to specify it. Limes get the description cat because the face you pull when you eat a lime, is like a cat. Apparently!  I’m only explaining the language.

Ttuk kreu’ik ch’mmaa.  Water orange cat.

Ingredients for making lime juice

It made me laugh – a lot!  I do love learning languages and there were two reasons why I was so keen to get stuck into learning the language when I arrived.  Of course, my main reason was simply to be able to communicate with people and get around.  Secondly, don’t you think that you learn so much about the culture from the language?  For example, one thing I’ve found out about Khmer is that they love to put words together to make up new words, like they do in German.   Then today, I learned that onions are, ‘k’tum barang‘ which translates literally as garlic french. It led me to ask my teacher whether onions were brought over by the French, and thus not native to Cambodia. He’s a 21 year old who isn’t as interested in food as I am. “Yes” he says slowly, not entirely sure why I am so interested in finding out about the history of onions.

the laborious part of making lime juice

Anyhow, back to ttuk kreu’ik ch’mmaa.  I especially loved Tuesdays and Fridays, when I was living with Simon and Becci because their househelper came round and made a big container of fresh lime juice and yummy food.  Not that Simon and Becci don’t make yummy food – it’s just… ugh… I’m digging myself into a hole.  So, anyways, Simon and Becci had taught her how to make the lime juice and I asked them to tell me.  Then on one bank holiday, I spent an hour making sugar syrup and squeezing the juice of 13 limes.  Perhaps I don’t work out enough, but I really felt it in my hands and arms the next day.

You can vary the amounts of the sugar and the limes, according to how you like your lime juice to taste.  I like it a bit on the tart side and not overly sweet.

cup of lime juice

Ingredients for homemade lime juice – this makes 2.4 litres

  • 200ml of freshly squeezed lime juice – about 8-11 limes, depending on the size of your limes
  • 225g white sugar – caster or granulated
  • 250ml water
  • more water – I make it in 2.4litre bottles (see step 2)

Method

Top tip: make the sugar syrup first so that it has a chance to cool down while you are squeezing the limes.

1. Add the sugar to the water in a saucepan.  Put the saucepan on a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved completely.

2. Once the sugar syrup has completely cooled, add the lime juice and pour into an empty container and dilute with water by filling the container to the top with water.

3. Serve poured over ice.

lime juice - ttuk kreuik chm'maa

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?

A Twist on Cranachan: Raspberry, Oatmeal and Whiskey Roulade


Demolished Cranachan
Cranachan – pronounced ‘cran-ah-hkun’ (the ‘ch’ being the soft, guttural, scottish ‘ch’ sound, as in loch’). The scrummy, scottish dessert made with raspberries, whiskey, honey blended with cream and sprinkled with oats. I’d like to appease the purists in cyberspace by letting them know that I had planned to serve it up in the traditional way at my Haggis, Neeps and Tatties in 3 ways Dinner Party.

Until Friday. At 10pm, I had this hankering to make it into a roulade because I’d never made a roulade before. You see, I don’t have a swiss roll tin and previously, that has been the one barrier that has stopped me from baking a roulade. However, as I was in an inventive mood, I improvised with a suitably sized baking tray and it all worked out. Hurrah 🙂

Well, there was more improvising in store. I know that you can make the roulade base purely with egg whites and sugar; there were too many online recipes demanding that I add in some sort of flour or flour substitute. So, that’s when I came up with the idea of using toasted oatmeal. And as I couldn’t find a recipe for an oatmeal meringue online, I made it up. So, as the hand beater is whisking the egg whites, balancing somewhat precariously on the bowl, I measure out the oats, scatter them across a baking tray and carefully toast them in the oven until a wonderful nutty smell wafts around the kitchen. As you can imagine, I had more moments of K-mix envy as I stood attached to my electric mixer, passing it from one hand to the other as I waited for stiff peaks to form. I can only imagine the freedom of leaving the egg whites to whisk in the stand mixer, while I line the tin, toast and ground the oatflakes… Admittedly, not that it stopped me but that procedure wouldn’t have held the same amount of trepidation.

Naturally, I wanted to omit the cream to create a healthier, lighter dessert and I replaced it with full-fat greek yoghurt. If you’d like to do this, then wait until it’s almost time to serve the dessert before you start spreading the greek yoghurt onto the base. It’s much runnier and wetter than whipped cream so will seep through the base, softening the structure.

(Incidentally Friday was Burns Night. Perhaps the scottish bard inspired me to take artistic license with this dessert.)

whisky cake to go with the roulade
My guests really enjoyed the cranachan roulade on Saturday night. The raspberry, honey and whiskey combination is sweet but not overpowering. Those who like oats particularly enjoyed the nutty, oaty flavour of the base. So I’d make this again with a few tweaks (see below).

My own invention of Cranachan Roulade, serves 6-8 people

Ingredients for the meringue base

  • 4 egg whites
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 50g toasted oatmeal or finely ground oatflakes

Ingredients for the filling

  • 500g greek yoghurt or 250g lightly whipped double cream
  • 2 tbsp whiskey
  • 3 tsp runny honey, preferably of the heather honey variety. I didn’t have any so I used a Thai honey instead and it was good.
  • 350g raspberries

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Line a 23x33cm swiss roll tin (or a similar sized baking tray with raised sides) with tin foil or baking paper, folding the sides up so that you create a raised 4cm border and squeeze the corners together. Lightly spray or brush with vegetable oil.

2. If you are using a stand mixer, then you can do step 2 after you begin the whisking of the egg whites described in step 3. Measure out the oat flakes and spread them on a baking tray and pop it in the oven for 4-5 minutes. Then take them out, turn them over and pop back into the oven for a few more minutes. The oats should be a very light brown colour and smell deliciously nutty. Leave to cool for a few minutes and then grind them up in a food processer until they are the texture of ground almonds, at the very least. I think that I created oat flour, I ground the flakes so fine.

3. Whisk the egg whites until they have a firm peak. Then add the caster sugar in 4 stages if you are using an electric beater, or all in one go if you’re using a stand mixer, continuing to whisk for 5 minutes until stiff peaks form. I used an electric beater and made the mistake of adding all the sugar in one go. The resulting base was fine but it took at least 15 minutes before anything vaguely resembling stiff peaks formed.

making meringue
4. Now add the ground oatmeal to the meringue mixture. Fold it in using a metal spoon until it is just mixed in, making the utmost effort not to knock out the volume in the meringue mixture.

5. Spoon out the meringue mixture onto the prepared tin and evenly smooth it out using a palette knife. Now pop it into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until it is firm to touch and ever so slightly brown on top. In the meantime, prepare an additional sheet of foil or baking paper that is just larger than the size of the tin and sprinkle it with icing sugar or caster sugar. I didn’t do this and in hindsight I think that it’s a good way to further ensure that the base doesn’t stick to the foil.

6. Take the roulade base out of the oven and allow to cool for about 3 minutes. Here comes the slightly scary part, akin to when you flip pancakes, so do it with confidence. Quickly invert the baking tin onto the prepared sheet of foil, so that the lining is on top. Leave for a few minutes, then gently remove the foil on the base. Don’t worry if a few bits come off. No one will see it anyway. Leave to cool completely.

*You could make it up this point the day before and leave the base out on the side, like I did.

oatmeal rouladeSpread the cream on the roulade
6. For the filling, empty the yoghurt into a medium sized mixing bowl. Mix in the whiskey and honey. Spread the mixture evenly on top of the base but leave 2cms round the edges cream free. Sprinkle a thin layer of raspberries on top, reserving a few raspberries to decorate the roulade.

7. Now to roll. This proved trickier than I anticipated. Not helped by the fact that I chose to roll with the longer edge and my hands are too small to do it. When you’ve finished rolling, leave the foil around the roulade so that it is easier to gently transfer the roulade onto the serving dish. Or, if you are using cream, then you can store the roulade in the fridge for a couple of hours with the foil tightly wrapped around it before serving.

Enjoy and cheers!

Here are my top tips on rolling:

1. Sprinkle the foil with icing sugar or caster sugar before inverting the base onto it. This helps prevent the roulade base from sticking to the foil.

2. Make a cut along the edge of the roll, about 2 cms in, that you’re going to begin rolling with so that you are only cutting halfway into the base. This will help you create a roll, as opposed to a circle. Just so that you know, unlike moi, most people use the shortest edge.

3. Use the foil to create tight roll by firmly pulling the foil horizontally away from you with one hand and at the same time gently pressing down on the foil with the other. Do it slowly to start off.

4. Here’s an online video tutorial.

Variations on the theme: I’d like to experiment with a few tweaks to this recipe. Next time, either make a raspberry sauce by crushing raspberries and adding sugar to it or make a raspberry compote. Spread the raspberry sauce on the base. Substitute mascapone in place of the greek yoghurt or cream so that there’s a firmer mixture before adding the raspberries, rolling it up, sprinkling with icing sugar et voila!

Cranachan Roulade

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?

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?

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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

 

And finally I baked… Dorie Greenspan’s Banana Bundt Cake


Dorie Greenspan

Saturday, Week 1:

I’ve indulged myself with a lie-in this morning and at midday, I’m lounging in my pj’s with my dressing gown wrapped around me for warmth on this rather chilly October day. I have a to-do list as long as my arm, and I should have been out and about at least an hour ago… However, yesterday my legs were shaking as I got out of bed. The fresh intake of students, the start of the academic year, all that energy and effort, lack of sleep, adrenalin are taking their toll on me. Somewhat sheepishly, I also admit that some of it is my own fault for staying up and baking a cake.

I confess that I am a baking addict. When I have been putting off baking for some time, there comes a point when I just have to bake something. The urge starts in my stomach and emanates out to the rest of my limbs. My fingers drum nervously on the desk, my legs crisscross, and I keep fidgeting in my seat. I am physically twitching to just get on and bake something. I don’t get this about cooking food. This is purely related to baking, baking, baking. And so this is how I realised that I am a baking addict.

Earlier this week, 4 sad, brown bananas on top of my fridge kept asking me to bake them in Dorie Greenspan’s Banana Bundt Cake. (I’ve been wanting to bake this cake since I saw it here as a Secret Agent Cakein Ari’s blog six months ago.)

“No brown bananas,” I said, “I don’t have time to do anything about you now.”

“But you must, you must.” They sang back, “In a day, we will be too far gone for even a cake to rescue us.”

So, I made a date with them for Wednesday evening. Which is how, after walking around my block and talking about freshers stuff with students, at 11pm on Wednesday evening, I eventually started baking Dorie Greenspan’s Banana Bundt Cake (from Baking: From My Home to Yours).

By the way, I noticed that every blog post about this cake only uses cup measures, which rather irritates me as a UK baker, used to measuring things out in grams or ounzes. So, I’ve measured it out in grammes in this version of the recipe. Instead of plain flour, I substituted self-raising flour for all-purpose flour. I know that all-purpose flour is the US equivalent of plain flour. However, I read on some forum that the results are better with self-raising when baking cakes.

Ingredients

  • 4 very ripe bananas, mashed up in a bowl
  • 225g butter, cubed and softened
  • 300g golden caster sugar (I decided on golden caster sugar for a richer flavour, but 3/4 of the specified amount.)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 450g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 225ml sour cream or yoghurt (in the absence of sour cream, but wanting the richness, I had some leftover double cream which I mixed with yoghurt)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and generously grease a 12 cup/23-25cm bundt tin. I used a pampered chef oil spray to coat it liberally with oil.

2. Mash up the bananas in a bowl and put them to one side. In another bowl, sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter for about 5 minutes, until the colour is pale and it looks fluffy. Then add the sugar and cream again for a few minutes. I used my Sainsbury Basic electric mixer but I had total KitchenAid Mixer envy because it would have come into its element with this cake. Indeed, Dorie recommends using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.

four sad bananasbanana bundt cake batter

4. Add in the vanilla extract. One by one, add in the eggs and give it a good whizz with the mixer after each egg. Add in the bananas. Give it another whizz with the mixer.

5. Next, add in half of the dry ingredients (flour, salt and bicarb of soda) and mix well. Then pour in the sour cream or yoghurt and mix it in. Finally, beat in the remainder of the dry ingredients and finish it off with a good whizz with the mixer to make sure that everything is beaten in.

6. Pour the cake batter into the bundt tin and spread it out evenly on top. Firmly bang it on a work surface to release any trapped air bubbles.

banana bundt cake batter poured inbanana bundt cake batter 1banana bundt cake in the tinbanana bundt cake and tin

7. Bake in the oven for 65-75 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean. However, check on it around the 35 minute mark and cover with foil if it looks like it is browning too quickly on top, so that the bottom doesn’t burn.

8. Let it cool in the bundt tin for 10 minutes, then carefully invert it onto a wirerack to reveal a beautifully turned out bundt cake and allow it to cool completely.

I made the suggested lemon drizzle icingwhich perfectly complements the cake and is simple to make.

Ingredients

  • 150g icing sugar, sifted
  • lemon juice. Start with 2 teaspoons. I ended up using juice of half a lemon.

Method

1. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Add in the lemon juice, starting with 2 teaspoons. Mix. Keep adding the lemon juice, one teaspoon at a time, until the icing reaches the consistency you desire for a drizzle.

2. Drizzle the icing over the cake. Ta Da.

banana bundt cake

my sliver of bundt cake for breakfast

The verdict? Oh, I need to be careful to make sure that I hold myself back and don’t come across as OTT at this point because this cake tastes even better than the reviews promised it would be.

Can a cake be described as soft and velvety? Because that’s how I would describe the texture of this cake. Each mouthful is an utter joy and delight to eat. The flavour is rich and deep. The lemon drizzle lends a subtle sharpness to the richness of the cake. My colleagues had some the next day and they loved it.

Top Tip: I’ll let you into a secret. This is one of those cakes that gets even better if you leave it a day (at least!) if you can resist it. I dare you. Sure, the icing will become more opaque over time, but you can store it in an airtight container for at least a week. The flavours mature and become even softer. MMmmmmmm…..

Allinson’s Banana Cake: my marathon training cake

I’m training to run a marathon that is in May – EEEEeeeekK! It’s my first one and to say that I’m terrified is an understatement. So, I try not to think too much of the distance or the number of hours that I’ll be running. However, I can’t seem to stop myself thinking about what food to feed myself towards the end of a long run. I am ravenous. It’s a different kind of hunger to when I was training for my first half marathon. Then, I found myself craving melons towards the 10 mile mark. So far, I can’t seem to eat enough of this one cake.

Allinsons Banana Cake with Chocolate
I know that my latest posts have been about buttermilk, but bear with me whilst I share one more buttermilk cake recipe and then I’ll move onto something else. This is the one that started it all. It began a few years ago when I found this gem of a recipe on the back of Allinson’s Wholemeal Self-raising Flour packet. I wasn’t entirely convinced at how it would turn out. But I thought, ‘why not? I’ve got the ingredients at hand. What do I have to lose but maybe some bananas that are going off anyway, some sugar, butter and flour?’ So, I made it for an English Tea Party for Study Abroad/Erasmus students at Leicester University as part of their Welcome Programme. And then I had to make it again for my colleagues because it all disappeared before they got a taste.

And..?

3 years on and a couple of banana cake recipes later, this has turned out to be one of my favourite banana cake recipes and I bake it frequently. It’s also one of the few cakes that I get a craving for. So, I’ll buy bananas deliberately in order to bake this cake, rather than eat the bananas as they are. I know that’s not the common practice with bananas. A further confession. Sometimes I see how long I can leave the bananas ripening before they become unusable. (Answer – black and mouldy.) I’ve proved to myself that the banana in its various shades of mottled brown to very black is edible… in a cake… and will last a bit longer if you pop them in the fridge.

One of the nice things about this cake is that you can make variations of it, which is handy when you’re baking it frequently. I’ve experimented by adding 100g of milk or dark chocolate chunks successfully, tried white chocolate chunks (doesn’t work because they don’t have enough flavour to come into their own in this cake), decorated the top with dried apricots soaked in apricot brandy. My preference? I like it as just a plain banana cake.

I’m sure that you can find even more variations. I’d love to know them so please share 🙂

Ingredients for Allinson’s Banana Cake, adapted by yours truly.

  • 100g/3½oz softened unsalted butter, cubed or as I recently discovered, you can subsitute it with 80ml sunflower or vegetable oil. I think that the oil makes the sponge a bit lighter.
  • 140g/4½oz caster sugar (I halved the sugar, so add some more, if you’d like it a bit sweeter)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 350g/12½oz wholemeal self-raising flour (feel like I should say Allinson’s, since its their recipe… and I’ve only ever used their flour)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 bananas, mashed
  • 75ml/3 fl.oz buttermilk (how to make your own buttermilk)
  • optional extra ingredient – 100g chocolate chunks; chopped walnuts or pecans…

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a deep cake tin. I find that anything between 18-23cm works. Just vary the baking a time a bit. A 23cm cake tin needs a bit less time in the oven than a 18cm one.

2. Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy. Then gradually add in the egg. Or, if you’re using oil, then beat the sugar and egg together first, then add the oil.

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. The sifting helps to create lightness which is important when using wholemeal flour. Remember to add the bran that remains in your sieve back into the mixing bowl. I tried using the bran to decorate the cake last time but it just went everywhere so I wouldn’t recommend doing that.

4. Add 3. to the butter and sugar and mix well. It will resemble bread crumbs if you’re using an electric mixer, or feel very stiff if you’re doing it by hand.

breadcrumbs banana cake mixture
5. Add in the mashed bananas and the buttermilk and mix well. If you want to pop in an optional ingredient, such as chocolate chunks or nuts or dried fruit, then do so at this stage

Top Tip: Coat your chocolate chunks lightly with flour before adding them to the cake mixture. This will help them not to sink to the bottom of your cake during the baking process.

6. Transfer the cake mixture into the prepared baking tin, smooth and pop it into the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean.

banana cake mixture
I think that it’s the combination of the wholemeal flour and banana that gives the cake its wholesome and moreish character. The top of the cake crisps up slightly and lends a wonderful slightly crunchy, sweet flavour. The flavour of the banana isn’t too overpowering, for those of you who aren’t overly keen on it and leaves you wanting to nibble on some more. Mmmmm Mmmmm MMmmmm.

Incidentally, I do recommend the back of flour packets as a good place to find yummy baking recipes. Flour companies should know these things, since flour is normally the primary ingredient. Now, I should listen to my own advice more often and make those chocolate thins that are on the back of the plain wholemeal flour one…

Raspberry and Buttermilk Cake

 

raspberrybuttermilkcake
I really like discovering delicious new recipes, especially when you weren’t looking for them. It feels like stumbling across some hidden treasure. This cake is exactly that. I found this one in Smitten Kitchen as I was googling for a recipe that I could use up the buttermilk that I had leftover from a banana cake baking session. Fortuitously, I happened to have all the ingredients at hand. Winner! So, I just got up and started baking the cake 🙂

raspberries
If you don’t have buttermilk, you can substitute it with natural yoghurt but it doesn’t quite taste the same. Better yet, I have since learned how to make my own buttermilk, the cheat’s way. The proper way requires either churning butter and using the leftover milk (hence the name, buttermilk) or shaking a pot of double cream for a l.o.n.g time for the same effect.

The raspberries all sank to the bottom the first time I made this (the cake still tasted scrumptious). I had a hypothesis that the fruit wouldn’t sink if I first lightly powdered them with flour before I added them to the cake batter. So, I tested this out the second time I made this cake. I poured the batter into two cake tins and scattered in one, lightly floured raspberries, and the other with bright, red raspberries. When both cakes turned out beautifully with raspberries floating dreamily on top, I was flummoxed as to why the first time round had been a disaster. However, now I’m remembering that I forgot to preheat the oven and so the batter was left out for a while, so maybe the raspberries sunk then… *sigh* Basic common sense, Miss Cha – remember to switch on the oven and turn on the cooker at the mains so that the oven can actually preheat.

 

raspberrybuttermilkcake2twotypesofraspberriesoncaketwotypesofraspberrycake1
 

Raspberry and Buttermilk Cake, adapted by yours truly from Smitten Kitchenand Gourmet Magazine

List of Ingredients

  • 55g/2oz unsalted butter
  • 135g/5oz caster sugar (for the cake) + 1 tbsp of caster sugar (to sprinkle on top of the raspberries)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • grated zest of half a lemon
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 130g/4.5oz plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 125ml/4fl oz buttermilk, stirred
  • 140g/5oz of raspberries

Top Tip: you can substitute the raspberries with other berries. I imagine that blueberries would taste heavenly, or cherries with almond flakes on top…

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F or Gas Mark 5 and line a 18-20cm cake tin, or alternatively dust it lightly with flour.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together for about 2-3 minutes with an electric mixer (I finally got one!) or 5-7 minutes by hand.
3. Mix in the vanilla extract, the lemon zest, and then finally the egg.
4. In a separate bowl, measure out the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
5. Slowly add 4. and the buttermilk to the wet mixture. I’d recommend adding the flour in three batches, alternating each time with the buttermilk. This way, it will be easier to mix and the mixture won’t curdle. If you’re doing this with an electric mixer, do it at a low speed.
6. Spoon the mixture into the tin, smooth the top, then scatter the raspberries evenly on top of the mixture. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of caster sugar over the raspberries.

raspberrybuttermilkcake2scatterraspberries
7. Pop it into the centre of the oven and let it bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the tester/knife comes out clean.
8. Let it rest in the tin for about 10 minutes, and then cool on a wire rack.

The verdict? Well, this cake is a winner in my eyes. Its simple to bake and you can make this cake and eat it within an hour. It is wonderfully moist from the buttermilk and the raspberries lend a lovely freshness to it. Also, the cake tastes delicious, even when the berries have sunk to the bottom. If that happens to you (and I don’t think it should as long as you remember to preheat the oven) here’s how I remedied it – by serving the cake, turned upside down. You could also sprinkle lots of icing sugar on it.

remedyraspberrybuttermilkcake
p.s. The cake freezes well too. Wrap it up twice with foil and a plastic bag to freeze it. Just take it out the freezer the night before and leave it on the side to defrost it – simple.