Posts Tagged ‘Leith’s Baking Bible’

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The Anxiety of Birthday Baking

April 23, 2010
I have made several cakes recently for colleagues and friends that have been for birthdays (or on one occasion a leaving do) and I think I may soon stop. Usually, I bake, allow to cool , then cut and portion the cakes at home before leaving on the doorsteps of neighbours or taking into work to share. But when, for a particular person or occasion, I take the cake into work whole, without cutting into it, so I can’t tell how it’s turned out. I’ve had a couple of baking fails where the finished product looks and smells divine – the batter was tasty and enjoyed from the bowl – but when I’ve cut into it the inside has been leaden, dense and uncooked – inedible. The image of these stays with me, as does the disappointment at the waste of the time, effort and ingredients. Then there’s the confusion over what went wrong, or worse the frustration at realising the stupid, and avoidable error.


I made Nigella’s Quadruple Chocolate Cake (although mine technically is only a triple version as I didn’t finish with the chocolate curls, but hey there’s still plenty of chocolate in there) in bundt form for a colleagues birthday a while ago. I’m fairly confident that doubling loaf cake recipes makes for a good large bundt (and the reverse) and have made this cake before, albeit in loaf form and did my usual of substituting the sour cream for buttermilk. I have no idea what I was doing when making this but I did think, as I spooned the batter into the pan, that the recipe direction of ‘pouring’ was a little off but it wasn’t until the cake was in the oven and I was reviewing the recipe to check baking times I realised that I had missed out an entire step; adding the boiling water. 250ml of boiling water, not a tablespoon or a piffling amount, but 250ml.


I stared at the cake in the oven a fair amount whilst it was baking, trying to imagine what this error might mean. The cake came out of the oven fine, it felt a little heavy, but it’s a chocolate bundt, not a chiffon cake, it was hardly going to be a light and airy thing that I held in my hands. I couldn’t work out how this might have affected the finished cake and spent an evening of anxiety, trawling the net for advice, asking the question on the Serious Eats Talk board (a great resource and an enjoyable and compelling read, there are some great threads on there and some very knowledgeable, helpful and amusing people on there). I eventually cored out a small section of cake from the underneath, which whilst dense seemed ok – in fact it tasted great. It was cooked all the way through which was my main fear, so I decided to risk it. Everyone commented on how rich and moist the cake was, and whoever got the slice with the missing section didn’t say anything!


I have also made Smitten Kitchen’s lemon cake twice recently. I’ve had this cake in my ‘Cakes to Make’ folder for months and when you look at the recipe and photo’s you’ll understand why it’s a cake to make. I have yet to come across a recipe from Deb that hasn’t not only been reliable, but also absolutely delicious. She has such a loyal and proactive following that reading the comments below her posts in full is always worth it for the revisions and suggestions. The reason this cake had remained in the folder rather than in my oven was due to the quantity of lemons needed. I usually have a couple of lemons in the fruit bowl ready to lend their zest to a cake (or, of course, to contribute to a Saturday evening G&T) but to have 8 at one time takes planning. I discovered that a colleague, due to leave work, liked lemon cakes so I had time to plan and purchase enough lemons. It was more than worth it.



So much so that I made another later the same week, with the frosting, for a good friends birthday. The syrup should brushed on slowly over a cake pierced multiple times with a toothpick or skewer – it’s worth the effort of taking the time to make sure as much as possible is absorbed as the difference it makes to the taste and moistness of the cake is considerable.


Another, more recent citrusy, request was for a Tart au Citron. For the recipe I reverted to the trusty Leith’s Baking Bible as I’m anxious about the technicalities of pastry and despite the success of December’s Gin Mince Pies was still hesitant. The recipe for the Pate Sucree was for one to be made by hand and there were no tips on converting to be made in a food processor, an essential adaptation as these hands were not for pastry making made. Once more Serious Eats helped me out and I ended up with pastry that came together well. I suspect I didn’t quite leave it to chill for long enough before trying to work with it, or perhaps it was because I was trying to bake in the evening rather than the morning, so unbalancing the natural order of things, but I didn’t have the time to leave it for that long and the recipe was vague, with only the direction to ‘chill’. When I came to roll it out it cracked and split and was an absolute disaster. I tried to rescue it by putting it back in the fridge but was too tired and frustrated too leave it long enough. I toyed with the idea of using to make little mini jam tarts but to be honest I had lost the will to bake and just gave up. I went to bed intending to nip to the local French Patisserie to buy one of their spectacular tarts to give along with the story of my disastrous effort. However, I woke at 5, and decided to have a go at another lemon recipe from Smitten. Not something I would usually make, but when searching the site for a lemon cake it had come up. Oh the anxiety! It’s been a while since I made shortbread, I’ve not made lemon curd before and to top it all off the pictures of the finished recipe weren’t displaying properly so I couldn’t see how it should turn out. And of course I had to take the bars in the tin they were baked in as they would not have travelled well so I had no opportunity to taste to see what they look like. In my anxiety to get this ready in time to take to work I didn’t manage to take a photo, but I have a plan to make them again in the near future and will make sure there are pics. Oh, and it was enjoyed.



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It’s a Date

February 24, 2010
Despite early mornings being the best time for me to bake, they’re not necessarily the best time to pick recipes. A certain amount of attention is needed for the basics, like checking you’ve got enough flour and sugar (and of the right type) that the berries you thought you had in the freezer are still in their packet; rather than spilling out and impossibly mixed in the drawer with the ever present escapee frozen peas. All this needs a relatively clear head lest you discover half way through that you’re out of some vital ingredient. It’s also not a good time to decide you’re going to take that loaf recipe and double it to fit a bundt tin and it’s most definitely not the best time to convert those doubled quantities from American cups to metric. Even if I manage all of the above at 5am the chances are something else will slip – like remembering to turn the oven on, or dusting that greased pan with flour.


In order to avoid moments of frustration part way through the baking process I’ve tried recently to plan just a little bit more, spend some time on a Saturday evening looking through my cupboards to check to see what I could bake. Seeing what I actually have in stock and then pick recipes from there, write out all my conversions and notes ready to go when I wake. I don’t go as far as to weigh out the ingredients ready – what if tomorrow morning was the one morning when I actually get to lie in? But I have a plan.


This past Saturday’s peruse of my cupboards revealed several packets of dates and a fruit bowl overstocked with oranges. Leiths offered up a Date and Orange Loaf, I doubled the quantities from those suggested for a 1 1/2 lb tin so I could fill three of my 1lb ones. It’s an easy recipe as everything is added to the date mixture after they’ve been simmered in water. Use a large pan and you can just whack it all in and save on the washing up.


Date and Orange Loaf

Leiths’ Baking Bible


Makes three 1lb loaves


450g chopped dates

250ml water

340g soft dark brown sugar

340g butter

Grated zest of two oranges

2 tbsp orange juice

2 large eggs

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp all spice


Preheat the oven to 170C.

Grease the tins and line the base with baking parchment.

Place dates and water in a large pan and bring to the boil, cover the pan and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add sugar, butter, orange zest and juice and beat well.
Once the butter has melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Add the eggs, beat well and then sift on remaining ingredients.
Bake for 60 – 90 minutes and then allow to cool in the tins for 15 minutes before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely.



This is a tasty cake, the moistness from the dates and citrus zing make it perfect to eat as it is. It will improve for being wrapped well for 24 hours, and should it last long enough to dry out, I can imagine that a little spread of butter, perhaps to a toasted slice, would be lovely too.


As I’m not capable of buying just one of anything, of not having a back-up or spare, there were still more dates in the cupboard and having not made muffins for awhile I chose the recipe below, swapping walnuts for chocolate chips in order to make mocha muffins.



Mocha Date Muffins

Adapted from Leiths’ Coffee and Date Muffin Recipe


Ingredients for 12 Muffins


140g chopped dates (tip – snip into pieces with kitchen scissors rather than chopping, far easier)

1/2 Tsp bicarbinate of soda

1 tsp instant coffee

150ml boiling water

225g soft light brown sugar

115g melted butter

2 beaten eggs

250g self-raising flour

100g dark chocolate chips


Line your muffin tins with cases, or grease and dust with flour.

Preheat the oven to 190C.

Place dates in a large bowl with coffee and bicarb, pour over the boiling water, stir and leave to soak for 10 minutes.

Add the butter, sugar and eggs into the date mixture, fold in the four until just combined (do not over mix, for light muffins you want it just mixed) and fold in the chocolate chips.

Divide the mixture between the muffin cases and bake 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Remove muffins from the tins and leave to cool on a wire rack (the original recipe suggests covering them with a clean tea towel as they cool to keep the tops soft).


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Fruit Cakes

February 2, 2010




I love the request for a cake – a guide to help me whittle down the recipes I obsessively bookmark from other blogs and flag in my recipe books. Choice paralyses me, I want to use the tin of pumpkin I have in the cupboard; I have buttermilk nearing its use by date. The half full pack of wholemeal self-raising flour at the back of the cupboard nags at me. How fresh are the lemons in the fruit bowl?

So, when someone simply says in passing ‘I just love ginger cakes’ or ‘have you ever made a coffee cake?’ then I have a starting point, a purpose from which a plan can be formed, and I do love a plan.

My father specifically requesting ‘a cake’ provided the impetus for this particular Sundays early morning – into mid afternoon – bakathon. He is a frequent recipient of the fruits of my kitchen labours, but he asked and I baked. My dad loves fruitcakes and with the post Christmas overstock of dried fruit languishing in my cupboard, I set about choosing one. It felt good to reacquaint myself with the British books in my collection and the bags of blanched almonds left over from decorating the Christmas Cakes meant a Dundee Cake was an obvious choice. I waivered between a recipe from Leith’s Baking Bible and a Delia but in the end settle on Delia’s and you can see the recipe here (although the instructions for lining a tin from Leith’s were most useful).

Of course I can’t make just one cake, can’t be that decisive, but I didn’t anticipate the five that came out of the oven on this day. I added ‘Jane’s Fruit Cake’ and ‘Cherry Cake’ both from Marry Berry’s Baking Bible. I also baked two Marmalade Loaves but because of my lax blogging and the delay between baking and writing this I now can’t find the recipe. I know I made it and I know it was tasty (sorry to taunt) I know the recipe is there somewhere and will update soon (ish).

I’m not sure what my father made of the stack of foil wrapped cakes that I presented him with that evening but I have to say I enjoyed the Marmalade Loaf and Dundee Cake enormously. I’m not a fan of candied peel so would probably reduce this in the Dundee and up the citrus zest to compensate. The fruitcake initially tasted a little bland to me, perhaps the memory of the extraordinarily rich Christmas Cake is still fresh and spicy in my mind, but I found that after a day or two the flavours had matured and it was quite lovely. The Cherry Cake was hit with lots of people, which surprised me, I had many comments saying it was a favourite out of them all.


Jane’s Fruit Cake

May Berry’s Baking Bible

200g softened Butter

350g light muscovado Sugar

3 large eggs

450g wholemeal self raising flour

150ml Buttermilk

350g sultanas

350g currants

50g flaked almonds for sprinking

Preheat oven 140C, grease a 23cm/9” deep round tin and line the base and sides with parchment.

The directions in Mary’s books sometimes seem a little brief; often just mix all the ingredients till combined. As I use my Kitchenaid (but the principle is the same with a handheld electric whisk) I follow the sequence dictated in many US recipes, although admittedly these tend to be for pound cakes rather than fruitcakes. Anyway, my method of mixing below:

Beat the sugar and butter until creamed – approx 3 mins on high speed

Add flour and buttermilk in alternate batches, ending on the flour and mix until incorporated

Fold in the fruit and mix well

Spoon into the prepared pans and sprinkle with the flaked almonds

Bake for 3 – 3 ½ hours or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

Wrap in more parchment and foil to keep moist.



English Cherry Cake

Mary Berry’s Baking Bible

200g glace cherries

275g self raising flour (I used wholemeal)

75g ground almonds

2 tsp baking powder

225g softened butter

225g caster sugar

4 large eggs

Oven 160C/Fan 140/GM3

Grease and line 8” deep round cake tin

Quarter the berries and wash and dry thoroughly

Beat sugar and butter until light and creamy, add the eggs one at a time scraping the bowl after each addition.

Add in the flour and mix well

Fold cherries into the mixture and spoon batter into the tin, leveling the top with the back of a spoon.

Bake for 1 ½ -1 ¾ hours

Leave to cool for 10 mins in the tin then turn out, peel off the parchment and allow to cool completely on a rack.