Archive for August, 2009

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Sunday Bake-a-thon

August 20, 2009


On the same Sunday morning that saw me conquer the lemon drizzle disaster I also needed to use up a carton of buttermilk. Most of the buttermilk recipes I’ve collected are bundt cake ones which I adore. I never tire of looking at (and picking at)the cracked top as it cools in the tin before turning it out and marvelling at the smooth underside. Plus they’re dream cakes for slicing and sharing.

A mixture of fresh and frozen blueberries along with just enough lemons left from the nemesis cake and I was good to go with this recipe from Bonappetit. This cake is delicious and was a hit with everyone. Don’t forget to coat the blueberries in flour to distribute them evenly throughout the batter.

And, because I can never bake just one cake I also attempted these apple muffins from Smitten Kitchen (there was also a Victoria Sandwich, but more on that another time).



I’m not won over by these muffins. I think the memory of the apple and date cake is still too wondrously fresh for another apple based recipe. I didn’t help by not chopping the apple into small enough pieces – again my lack of forward thinking meant I didn’t fully consider the end muffin sized product. However, the crumb was lovely and light and the smell alone whilst they were baking was wonderful

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The Cake That Nearly Beat Me

August 20, 2009

I couple of months ago I bought the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and one of the first cakes I made (due to a fruit bowl full of lemons and a shiny new loaf tin – thank you Lakeland) was the Lemon Loaf. The recipe calls for whole milk which I didn’t have so I substituted with buttermilk – that’s allowed isn’t it?

The cake was an unmitigated disaster.

I can’t remember how long it actually took to bake but I know I had to reset the timer in five, then ten minute intervals several times before the skewer had any hope of testing clean. The cake was so heavy that a section of the top sheared off straight from the oven revealing a centre so stodgy that I just stood staring in disbelief.

After cooling it was obvious this was not fit to be dished up, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. I donated it to a colleague under the guise of a potential trifle ingredient, but accept that it probably ended up in her bin rather than mine.

I really didn’t think that making such a minor substitution would’ve had such a disastrous effect, but in the end it was my novice baking status, rather than instinct, that let me down. There’s an error in the original recipe; 560g of flour should actually read 350g. I imagine this error would be a glaring one to someone with more experience but it passed me by, it was only a chance visit to their website and a click on the innocuous sounding link for ‘further tips and revisions’ (ahem!) lead me to a PDF document with a page of tips and revisions to three of their recipes. A proof reader is in trouble somewhere I fear.

So, a Sunday waking of 4am meant several hours of baking time and the Lemon Drizzle was in my sights.

I was tempted to try again with the buttermilk substitution just to see exactly where the blame for the original failing lay, but decided that the frustration of another cake fail would be too much to bare, especially at that ungodly hour.

The baking time is 1hour 15 minutes, which is a little on the long side for a loaf tin and should’ve made me think ahead a bit, but I’m not that good at seeing the bigger picture and so placed the tin into the oven, set the timer, and popped off to clean the bathroom, as you do. I came back downstairs about 40 minutes into baking to a concerning hint of ‘burnt’ in the air. The cake had risen way above the top of the tin and was touching the element at the top of the oven. A few minutes of panic later and I’d extracted the cake with only minor damage to it and myself (and it’s never a proper baking session without an injury of some sort). After picking the smoking debris off the element and repositioning the shelf the cake was returned to finish cooking. I couldn’t believe this bloody recipe had nearly beaten me again.

The end result was a little on the ugly side because of the damage to the top, luckily it was destined to be sliced and distributed at work rather than presented whole – good job too.

An additional tip – should you want to bake this for yourself – is that I remembered from disaster no 1 that pouring the syrup over the cake resulted in a lot of the syrup being lost of pooling around the sides, so I made good use of a skewer and spent a long time drizzling slowly in intervals to ensure as much of the syrup as possible got into the cake.

Was the whole thing worth it? Well, I can’t see beyond the second near miss, and I feel that the authors couldn’t been more detailed in their instructions (error aside) but the resulting cake was moist and tart and seemed to go down well. It keeps, wrapped, for a coupled of days and would no doubt make an excellent base for a trifle!

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The Perfect Project For a Sunday Afternoon

August 10, 2009

Jumping from blog link to blog link I came across Dinner with Julie and a browse through her recipe index lead me to an intriguing sounding Brown Rice Muesli. My favourite meal of the day is breakfast, I often go to bed thinking of my morning porridge and would eat breakfast foods for every meal if I could. Stays in hotels are all about the selection of goodies on offer in the morning – you can keep your eggs and bacon, pastries and muffins no matter how decadent or perfectly cooked, for me it’s all about the cereals on offer, the selection of dried and fresh fruit and if there is the possibility of mixing my own combination, piling the ingredients high and adding plenty of yoghurt then I’m the happiest girl in the room. The Brown Rice Muesli didn’t take my fancy but the recipe was coupled with one for Fleur de Sel Caramels. I’ve been treated recently to some wonderful salted caramel ice cream but have never made anything like it myself.

After the ganache disaster of the previous post that necessitated a mad dash to the shops for extra ingredients, I was left with a fair amount of spare double cream and the caramels were a perfect way to use it up, I had plenty of golden syrup and it seemed like a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

I’m not sure that I managed the recipe successfully as I had nothing to compare it to, I aimed for the ‘firmer chewy caramels’ but still found them quite soft. They also melted easily at room temperature (although the afternoon I took them into work was warm) I struggled to remove the foil so popped them in the fridge overnight and it came off fairly easily in the morning, the chilling also helped when cutting them into bite size chunks. I think I underplayed the salt, I’m an absolute salt fiend and was wary of making them to my taste. I didn’t do the second dusting as suggested in the recipe and think I was a little conservative overall. There was no way I was going to wrap each one in greaseproof paper but mini muffin cases were a perfect alternative to pop them into. The feedback was good and they were great fun to make – fascinating to watch the caramel boil away and the smell was divine!


Fleur de Sel Caramels


1 cup golden syrup

2 cups sugar

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
2 cups whipping (heavy) cream
2 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
fleur de sel or flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Line the bottom and sides of a 9″x9″ baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease the foil.

Combine the syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves completely and the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. (If you like, add a couple drops of lemon juice to prevent crystallization – I was fine without.)

Wash any sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes.

Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more if it needs it. Attach a candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook uncovered, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 305°F.

Meanwhile, bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan (add grated nutmeg first if you’re making the nutmeg version); turn off the heat and set aside.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter.

Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful.

Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally at the beginning to more frequently at the end, until the mixture reaches 260°F for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for an hour or so, until slightly firm but still tacky. Sprinkle the surface lightly with flaky salt, pressing gently to help it adhere if you need to. Leave for another 3-4 hours, or until firm.

Invert the sheet of caramel onto a dry cutting board or sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the foil and if you like, sprinkle the other side with more salt. Cut the caramels with a large, sharp knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.

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Almost Fudge Gateau

August 10, 2009

Lady Poker Night is a semi-regular gathering that calls for a chocolate based dessert (to follow S’s infamous Chilli) and I had my lovely new copy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours to turn to. I was tempted by the Cinnamon Squares and the Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread, but reasoned these goodies suitable for easy work-place distribution and I wanted a cake. I wanted a round cake to be sliced into wedges not squares, I wanted to use some of the patisserie chocolate I had in my cupboard and so, the Almost-Fudge Gateau it was.

I have had a little look around the web to try and find some pictures of the finished product as I like to know what I’m aiming for and came across lots of comments about 70% chocolate being too bitter (there’s a lot of chocolate in the cake and the glaze). I only had 70% but needn’t have worried, I and the other poker players didn’t find it too bitter at all. It does need something to cut through the richness though. I had creme fraiche and others had some double cream, good vanilla ice cream would’ve been wonderful too. Doris lists the baking time as 35 – 45 minutes, mine was done at 35, after cooling I wrapped it and added the glaze the following day ready to take to the poker evening, and that was where the fun began.

I’ve only ever attempted a ganache once before and it was a disaster. I’m not a fan of frostings and glazes, finding them far too sweet and not enjoying the additional complications they bring to storing and traveling so tend to opt for recipes that don’t need them. Dorie lists this glaze as ‘optional’ but the cake looked like it needed it and I wanted to give it a go. My first two attempts failed, the ganache split and I couldn’t recover it. I then had to make a mad dash to the shops to buy more cream, had a little sit down with google and tried to work out what to do. My third attempt involved pouring the hot cream over broken, but unmelted chocolate but this too split, finally – and with many thanks to Joy of Baking who I should’ve turned to after the first failed attempt – I added a tablespoon of butter to the cream (and so did away with the syrup in the original recipe) poured the just boiling mixture over the broken chocolate and then left for 5 minutes before whisking gently – success! I’ve listed Dorie’s original recipe as well as the one I used below. Unfortunately the excitement of the moment and ensuing rush to get ready for the evening meat I completely forgot to take a picture of the finished cake, I’m gutted as it looked pretty damn fine but I’m sure I will be making it again soon.

Almost-Fudge Gateau

Dorie Greenspan ‘Baking; from my home to yours’

(conversions to metric are mine)

5 large eggs

9 oz (258g) bittersweet chocolate coarsely chopped

1 cup (220g) sugar (I used golden caster)

5 tbsp unsalted butter cut into chunks (2.5oz/72g)

2 table spoons of coffee or water (I used coffee, a hint of coffee always so good with chocolate)

1/3 cup (55g) all purpose flour

Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350F (180C), butter a 9-inch spring-form pan, line the bottom of the pan, butter the lining and dust the buttered pan with flour, tapping out the excess (I didn’t line the pan, just buttered and floured and it came out fine). Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or silicone mat.

Separate the eggs with whites into a large mixing bowl and yolks in small bowl,

Melt the chocolate, sugar, butter and coffee in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water until melted – sugar may still be grainy. Remove form heat and let sit for 3 minutes.

Using a wooden spatula, stir in the yolks one by one, then fold in the flour.

Beat eggs with pinch of salt until they hold firm but glossy peaks. Using the spatula, stir in a quarter of the whites into batter, then gently fold in the rest.

Scrape batter into pan and jiggle pan to spread evenly.

Bake for 25 – 45 minutes until evenly risen (may rise around edges first) and the top has firmed (may be cracked)

Allow to rest in pan for 5 – 10 minutes, then run a blunt knife gently around the edges and remove the sides of the pan. Invert cake onto rack and remove base and paper. Invert onto another rack and allow to cool to room temperature right side up. As it cools it may sink

For the Glaze

Turn the cooled cake over on the rack so your glazing the bottom and place the rack over a baking sheet lined with paper to catch any drips

Dorie’s version:

4oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup heavy (double) cream

2 teaspoons light corn syrup (golden syrup is an acceptable substitute)

Melt chocolate in heatproof bowl over pan of simmering water or in microwave – chocolate should be just melted and only warm, not hot. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan and stir very gently with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Stir in the corn syrup

My version – Dorie’s quantities, Joy of Bakings method:

4oz chocolate

1/2 cup cream

1 tbsp butter

Ganache: Place the chopped chocolate in a medium sized stainless steel bowl. Set aside. Heat the cream and butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil. Immediately pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Stir with a whisk until smooth.

Pour the glaze (which ever version you use) over the cake and smooth with metal icing spatula, don’t worry if it drips unevenly down the sides of the cake. allow to set at room temperature or refrigerate if impatient.

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My Kind of Cake

August 7, 2009

Despite my love of baking, given the choice I would opt for savoury end of the baked goods spectrum. When I visited Betty’s Tearooms in York earlier in the year it was the fruit cake with Wenslydale that jumped out at me rather than the display of sweet patisserie. When I saw the photo of this cake made by Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe I immediately thought that this is my kind of cake. Plus, I had all the ingredients to hand.

Johanna is based in Melbourne where it’s winter, so this moist, dense fruit filled cake must make for the perfect accompaniment to a pot of tea on a chilly afternoon. The seemingly constant wet weather here meant it didn’t feel too odd to be making such an autumnal dish at what’s supposed to be the height of summer.

Johanna had adapted the original recipe by changing caster sugar to demerara and substituted some of the plain flour for wholemeal. I added a tea spoon of mixed spice and next time I make it (which will be soon) I will try the addition of a handful of walnuts.

Apple and date cake

2 green apples, peeled, cored and chopped into chunks

1 cup (155g) pitted dated, chopped

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

1 cup boiling water

125g unsalted butter

1 cup (250g) raw sugar (demerara)

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla essence

1 cup (155g) plain white flour

½ cup (77g) plain wholemeal flour

1 tsp mixed spice

Topping:

60g unsalted butter

½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed

2 tablespoons milk

Cover chopped dates and apples with bicarb and boiling water and set aside to cool – the wider the bowl the quicker this will be, approx 1 hour.

Beat together butter a sugar until pale and creamy add eggs and vanilla essence. Add the fruit mixture and fold in the flours in two lots

Spoon into a well greased 23cm round cake tin and bake in a preheated 180C for 45-50 minutes.

Prepare the topping about five minutes before the cake is due to come out of the oven by mixing all the ingredients in a small saucepan over a low heat until the butter has melted and sugar has dissolved (you can also do this in the microwave). Allow the topping mixture to cool and thicken slightly before spreading over the cake.

Return the cake to the oven for another 15 – 30 minutes (it was just 15 minutes for me) test by inserting a skewer



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Wholemeal Honey Cake

August 3, 2009




Not that I believe you need an excuse to eat or bake a cake, but I’m always on the lookout for special occasions for which to get the cake tins out. My good friend C has grandchildren coming to visit this week, had recently given me a recipe for Hugh Fearnely-Wittingsall’s Wholemeal Honey Cake and challenged me to produce one that didn’t sink in the middle as her previous attempts had done. My plan was to spend Sunday morning baking, so when the morning started with 4.30 on my bedside clock at least I knew the kitchen would smell divine by the time the shipping forecast came on.


As the majority of the products from my kitchen get distributed amongst work colleagues I try to keep them nut free (I nearly killed a colleague once – a long story for another time) I dismiss so many recipes on the basis that they full of wonderful crunchy nuts or are based on fluffy ground almonds. A shame as I love nuts and sometimes you can’t just leave them out or find an adequate substitute. But this cake was not for work, it was filled with ground almonds and covered with a liberal sprinkling of slivered ones – wonderful for catching the honey that’s drizzled over when fresh from the oven.


Unfortunately, sink it did. The recipe called for self-raising wholemeal flour which I couldn’t find, so I added an extra teaspoon of baking powder (a possible cause for the slump?) it also seemed to contain an enormous amount of butter – so much so that whilst baking it ran out of the bottom of the tin. It also took an additional 20 minutes of baking until the centre was set, my oven is trusty and I don’t usually have to make such big adjustments – the butter? Were I to make it again I would reduce the amount and I’m tempted to have another go soon as I don’t like to be beaten and would like to see what difference less butter would make (perhaps a whole 100g less?) but I will wait for C to enjoy this one and indicate she’s ready to receive another.




Wholemeal Honey Cake


350g unsalted butter, softened
265g unrefined caster sugar
4 organic eggs
150g ground almonds
150g wholemeal self-raising flour (I used plain wholemeal with an extra 1tsp of baking powder)

1 tsp baking powder
50g flaked almonds
3-4 tbsp runny honey


Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/ gas mark 3. Grease a 24cm diameter, springform cake tin with a little of the butter and line the base with baking parchment.

Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl, and cream them together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the ground almonds, then sift in the flour and baking powder and gently fold these in, too.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin, scatter the flaked almonds over the top, and bake for 45 minutes (or 65 in my case), or until a knife pushed into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and, while it’s still hot, evenly drizzle all over with honey. Place the tin on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or cold.