Archive for October, 2009


Project Christmas Cake

October 26, 2009
The evenings are drawing in, leaves are collecting in the gutters and the magpies are doing a splendid, if noisy, job of clearing them; plus the first Christmas advert is on TV (Argos in case you hadn’t noticed) so it must be time to buy currants. Lots of things I bake over the year call for sultanas, raisins or other dried fruit, but none, other than Christmas cake, need currants.

I decided this year to go with Mary Berry’s recipe. Simply because I bought her latest book awhile ago and it was at the forefront of my mind. I have a wonderful rich fruit cake recipe that I use to take into work as it doesn’t contain nuts or need booze, but the alcohol content of this one (or my liberal interpretation of the recipe) means it can be made in advance. The downside is the forward planning needed in order to soak the fruit overnight, but Sunday mornings usually start early for me so a couple of Saturdays ago I checked the drinks cabinet for brandy, popped off to Waitrose to buy currants and got out the kitchen scales. Mary’s recipe has a great section where she scales the recipe to accommodate various tin sizes. I wanted to make an 8″ square and also some smaller ones as gifts. Good old Lakeland sell bakers moulds which are great if you’re making cakes to give as gifts so I doubled the recipe for the 8″ square tin and managed to make five of the medium sized moulds. The moulds took just over two two hours to cook through (with three in one oven and two in another) but the large one took over five! Good job I woke early and had no plans for the day.

This last Saturday I repeated the whole exercise all over again for another five small cakes. There’s not enough time to make more before Christmas but I plan to make the rich fruit cake nearer the time to take into work. I have no photos at the moment due to ongoing laptop issues, but hope to add some soon.

Other than the pre-soaking of the fruit the recipe comes together really quickly. I left out the candied peel (nasty stuff) and just increased each of the other dried fruits. I’ve also decided not to ice the cakes* so have put nuts and cherries on the top and will glaze them nearer the time, they do need some kind of adornment as these are not pretty cakes when plain. However the smell as they’re baking is just divine. There really is no other smell like it, better even than fresh bread I think and with the aroma of Christmas in the air I could even forgive Argos for starting their campaign in October.
Mary Berry’s Classic Rich Christmas Cake
Ingredients for 23 cm (9″) round or 23 (8″) square tin
  • Glace Cherries 150g
  • Ready to eat dried apricots 150g
  • Currents 400g
  • Sultanas 225g
  • Raisins 225g
  • Candied Peel 65g (I added extra of each of the other dried fruits)
  • Brandy 4 tbsp (and then some!)
  • Plain Flour 275g
  • Grated Nutmeg scant 1/2 tsp
  • Ground mixed spice 3/4 tsp
  • Softened butter 275g
  • Dark muscavado sugar 275g
  • Large eggs 5
  • Chopped almonds (I used flaked) 65g
  • Black treacle 1tbsp
  • Rind lemon 1 1/2
  • Rind orange 1 1/2
  • Baking times (aprox) 4 3/4 hrs
140C (Fan) 120 Gas Mark 1
  • The night before you want to make the cake, rinse the cherries in water, drain, dry and cut into quaters. Cut/chop apricots and put all fruits in large bowl, add brandy, cover and leave.
  • Preheat oven, grease and double line tin.
  • Measure flour, spices, butter, sugar, eggs, almonds, treacle and rinds into large bowl, beat well (good workout for the upper arms) and then fold in the fruits.
  • Spoon in to tin and spread out evenly with back of spoon (if decorating with whole blanched almonds or brazil nuts and cherries now is the time to add them). Cover loosely with a double layer of baking parchment.
  • Bake until firm and skewer comes out clean. Leave cake to cool in tin.
  • When cool, pierce at intervals with a fine skewer and feed with a little brandy. Wrap completely cold cake in double layer of parchment and then again with foil.
  • If you’re icing etc do so a week before serving (like you won’t have enough to do on the 18th December)

*I really don’t like marzipan or icing so even though these are for others I decided not to bother, plus I’m a little bit scared of the process, plus I really couldn’t be bothered!

Bring on the Soups

October 23, 2009
So, the clocks go back this weekend, the evenings are drawing in and if the Today programme are debating us Brits (or perhaps just the English and Welsh, depending on where in the argument you fall) joining European time once again, then it must be time for soup.
I’ve had a nasty bout of gastric flu which is lingering as I’m unable to stop eating and stick to clear fluids (gin doesn’t count, I checked). Today I was a bit better and also bored, so following a bowl of the most amazing minestrone soup at the Glebe Cairn Cafe at the Kilmartin House Museum on my recent trip to Scotland I felt now was the time to try and move into soup season. A search through my recipes and a brief Google led me to this version from the River Cafe. I substituted the onion with a leek, left out the garlic (not a fan) added runner beans and used up a pointed cabbage (in two stages) instead of the chard and cavolo nero. Whatever recipe I found I would leave out any pasta, but this had none. Next time I make it (and there will be a next time) I will add more beans, and maybe some tomato puree to add a little more depth. It also needed more stock than was called for, but I liked it stew-like. I can’t wait until tomorrow to see if the comments are right about it being better on the second day.

Have Courgettes – Will Bake (and make breakfast)

October 22, 2009
I’m not a fan of courgettes, they were a staple of my student years, added to every stir fry, pasta sauce or bake that a limited student budget could conceive. There was also a scrumptuous courgette cake, sweet and moist from sultanas, filled with tart lemon curd and topped with cream cheese this was oft requested for special occaisions, but I’d stopped making it years ago.
A trip to the monthly Moseley Farmer’s Market in late summer coincided with lots of inspiration from other blogs and I bought lots. Unfortunately having them in my fridge exerted some kind of pressure on my psyche and I couldn’t bring myself to bake that weekend. However, I did discover a recipe for Zucchini Bread Oatmeal from Diet Dessert and Dogs and gave that a try the next morning – what a revelation! I have porridge every morning, I make up my own mix using Rude Health fruity date porridge as a base and adding my own mix of seeds, a bit of extra oat bran and germ , a little more cinnamon with a mixture of water and semi-skimmed milk. I didn’t think some grated courgettes would add much to the flavour, but it really is delicious – go on, try it.

The addition of a bit of grated courgette in my breakfast wasn’t going to make much of a dent in the enormous specimens occupying the drawer at the bottom of my fridge so I went through the recipes I’d flagged and came up with two that I thought would put them to good use.
The Chocolate Zucchini cake from Simply Recipes is one Elise adapted from the appropriately named Chocolate and Zucchini and I toggled between the two recipes and mine is an amalgam of the two. It’s not the prettiest and is predominately a chocolate cake but with a lovely moistness that comes from all that veg. No one at work believed that there were courgettes in there, but all enjoyed it.
Chocolate Zucchini Cake
Adapted from Simply Recipes and Chocolate and Zucchini
  • 1 1/2 cups of plain flour
  • 1 cup wholemeal flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 2 1/2 Tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 Tsp bicarbinate of soda
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • 1 Tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup soft butter
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1 cup soft brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 Tsp vanilla extract
  • Grated zest of one orange
  • 2 cups coarsely grated courgettes
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 100g chocolate chips (I used dark chocolate)

I didn’t bother with a glaze but there’s one should you wish to add it.

  • Heat Oven to 350F
  • Mix the flours, cocoa, baking powder, bicarb, salt and cinnamon
  • Beat the butter and sugars until smooth
  • Add eggs to butter and sugar beating well
  • Stir in vanilla, orange zest and courgettes
  • Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk in three batches
  • Spoon into a greased and flour coated bundt pan and bake for 45 minutes until a skewer comes out clean – if you don’t have a bundt tin, firstly get one because they are great, secondly this mixture should make two loaf tins, check after 30 mins.
  • Cool for about 15 mins in the tin before turning out to cool completely on a rack
To contrast the safe, hidden (but delicious) use of the courgettes in chocolate cake recipe enough I also made Special Zucchini Bread from 101 Cookbooks. I adored this, the combination of spices, citrus, nuts and ginger was just delicious, the texture too was so moreish, a little something different in each mouthful. I used soft brown sugar I left out the poppy seeds as I didn’t have any but I did have a jar of Raz el Hanout so used that, as suggested, in place of the curry powder. The smells from the oven while this was baking were amazing, and whilst it was cooling I spent a fair amount of time picking off bits of toasted walnut to eat – just to check you inderstand. Pop over to the site for the recipe – you won’t regret it.

Victoria Sandwich Challenge

October 22, 2009

I am a bad blogger, I have such a backlog of posts and recipes to post on here, I’m going through the jottings in my notebook and pictures on my laptop to try and match them up – this should have been posted months ago.
On one of my recent cake distributions at work I was asked by a colleague if I had any tips for Victoria Sandwiches as he was due to enter a competition at a local horticultural society show and had, after six years of entries, yet to place. I had to confess that I’d never attempted one and after a brief conversation about the merits of double sifting flour and the use of margarine over butter he jotted down the required recipe (6oz each of SR flour, butter and sugar and 3 eggs to be baked in two 7″ or 8″ tins) and off I went to bake. I made several cakes over the following weeks (thanks/apologies to neighbours and colleagues for consuming them all).
The trouble with a Victoria Sandwich is there’s nowhere to hide. The competition rules are clear – only jam inside, SR flour and no additional raising agents – it really all is about the lightness of the crumb.

I experimented with butter (best for taste), margarine, which did give a better rise but resulted in a greasy, paler cake and I also tried a ‘spreadable’ butter which apparently gives the rise of marg with the superior butter taste, but I still felt was greasy. In the end I decided to be a purist and went with butter in a 7″ tin to get a deeper sponge.
There was no rosette for me this year, (you can see my entry, and the competition here) but I’ll share a few tips I picked up along the way:
  • Double sifting flour – it really does make a difference and enables you to reduce the amount you have to work the batter to incorporate the flour, which will help with lightness.
  • Beating the eggs before adding – this also helps if you decide to weigh the eggs and measure the other ingredients this way i.e. if 3 eggs out of their shells weigh 174g then you should add that amount of flour, fat and sugar *
  • If the mixture starts to curdle when adding the eggs add a tbsp of the flour to bring it back together
  • Turn your tins – depending on your oven of course but I found that rotating the cakes with about 7 minutes to go resulted in an even even colour on top.
  • Raspberry jam is easier to spread than strawberry and means a neater finish at the edges (I used Bon Maman).
  • A dusting of caster sugar is supposedly acceptable for the competition.
Finally, a week after the competition it was Miss M’s 14th birthday and of all the cakes she could have requested she went with a VS. So, after weeks of sticking to various rules and regulations I really went for it, behold The Scooby Doo Cake
*sometime after the competition, said colleague reported that beating the egg whites separately might add even more lightness, after swearing off these cakes for at least a year I had to go straight home and give it a go … no difference that I could see.