Tag Archives: Baking

Gluten Free Cake

Lemon Torte

A Vote of Thanks

Like many people, I am fortunate enough not to have food allergies, so my cooking can revolve around whatever I fancy, and usually does. So, it is not often that you will see foods for restricted diets on these pages. However, I am also very careful to ensure that I cater for friends who are restricted in what they eat either by choice or for health reasons, and that when I do make special food that it has as much flavour as possible. I want people to feel that they have feasted rather than been subjected to bland food made with little imagination.

This cake is great for people who cannot eat gluten, as it is made entirely from ground almonds and egg. I have a couple of friends for whom this cake, or a variation of it, gets made regularly.

I always use whole almonds, and grind them up myself in my food processor. That way, you can make the meal as fine or as rustic as you like. I usually leave the skins on the almonds, because it does add to the flavour, and I like it that way.

Most recently, I made this cake for a friend of my Mum’s. They met in a maternity ward when they were having their eldest offspring (me, in Mum’s case), so I guess that you could say that I have known her for my whole life. She recently did me a huge favour, by taking up a bridesmaid’s dress that I am to wear at my Sister’s forthcoming wedding, and I wanted a way to thank her.

She has a restricted diet, and cannot eat flour, sugar, chocolate, or too much fibre. I know that she loves sweet things, however, and I thought that this would be the ideal cake for her needs. And what better way to say thank you than to show someone that you have thought of them?

In some ways this is a tried and tested recipe, but I needed to use a sweetener, and reduce the amount I used. I also removed the almond skins, by soaking them in boiling water, and popping them out of their skins once the water had cooled enough for me to put a hand in.

I was pleased with the result, and I thought that I would share this recipe with you, in case you want to bake something thoughtful for a friend with similar restrictions. After all dietary restrictions should not mean repetitive and restrictive diets.

Mum even liked this cake, despite not liking almonds. Mum’s friend was delighted with both the thought and the flavour.

Update: My friend tried this cake with ground almonds, and has pointed out that the amount needs adjusting for the much finer variety. I have reflected this in the ingredients list. Thanks to Julie for giving me some valuable feedback on my recipe, and for testing a new amount.

Recipe: Lemon Torte

Ingredients

300 g whole almonds (or 100 g ground almonds, if using them)

4 eggs, separated

100 g sugar substitute. I used Half Spoon by Tate and Lyle, which does contain some glucose, you may need a different one.

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp sugar substitute

Method:

Heat the oven to 160°C.

Line a 20 cm spring form cake tin with baking paper. You don’t need to line the sides if you don’t want to, but make sure you grease them if you don’t choose to line them. You should line the base, or you will have to serve it on the metal tin base, which isn’t a good look

Remove the almond skins, by soaking them in boiling water. Once the water is cool enough to get your hand in, they should pop out of their skins easily if you apply a little squeeze. Or you can buy blanched almonds, and skip this step altogether.

I personally prefer the cake to have a bit of texture, so I grind up the almonds myself by pulsing them in a food processor, until they are a coarse meal. You can also buy ground almonds, which are much finer. Use these if you like.

Beat together the egg yolks, lemon zest and the sugar substitute until pale and creamy. Add the ground up almonds, cinnamon and ginger and mix in well.

In a clean bowl, whisk up the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.

Add a couple of tablespoons of the egg white to the almond and egg mix, and stir in well. This will loosen the nut mix slightly, so that you can add the egg white next, fold it gently in with a metal spoon, and not lose all of the air that you have painstakingly just whipped into it.

As soon as there are no streaks of egg white left, pour the cake batter into the tin, and bake it in the centre of the warm oven for about an hour.

The cake is done when a skewer poked into its centre comes out clean. Leave it to cool in the tin.

While the torte is still warm, make a sugar syrup by dissolving a tablespoon of sugar substitute into the zest and juice of a lemon, over a low heat. Pierce the cake in several places with the same skewer you used to test it, and then pour the syrup over the whole cake. The holes you have just made will help it to soak in.

Serve on its own, or with a little natural yoghurt. And always with a lot of thanks.

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Birthday Brownies

Choc and Orange Brownie

A Birthday Treat

The other day was the Big Guy’s birthday. He loves chocolate, and I had some extraordinarily good chocolate with orange pieces that was given to me by my Foodie Penpal. I had been saving that chocolate for a special occasion, and what better than to make a birthday cake?

JD Gross Premium Equador Chocolate

Fit for a Birthday Brownie

I decided that a Brownie would be right up the Big Guy’s street. And that I would use the extraordinarily good chocolate as the chocolate chips inside. I used JD Gross Finest Chocolate Ecuador. It has very good candied orange in it, the pieces are still chewy, and spike the chocolate throughout. I boosted the orangey hit with a tablespoon of marmalade, but you can just use the marmalade if you can’t find the chocolate. Or you could use some chopped candied peel, if you prefer.

The first and last recipe for making brownies that I learned came originally from Nigel Slater. I just adjust the things I add, but always use this method and it has never let me down. If you make this you will understand why I go back to it time after time.

Recipe: Chocolate Orange Brownies

Ingredients

200 g good quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces

300 g golden, unrefined sugar

250 g butter

3 large eggs, beaten

1 tbsp marmalade

60 g plain Flour

60 g cocoa powder

½ tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

100 g JD Gross Finest chocolate, very roughly chopped

100 g almonds, roughly chopped

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C, and line a tin with baking paper. I use my roasting tray for this, and it is the perfect size. A largish square cake tin will also be fine.

Make a bain marie from a saucepan, with a little boiling water in the base (not more than 3 cm deep) and a bowl over the top. Don’t let the water touch the bowl. On a low heat, melt the chocolate in the bain marie. Don’t stir it too much, just let it sit, or you risk it going grainy. If there are floaty lumps of chocolate , just push them under the molten bits, and they’ll soon melt.

While the chocolate melts, start beating the butter and sugar together. I have a hand-held electric whisk. The butter & sugar must be softer than a gentle whisper, so I’d recommend this as a minimum, unless you are Geoff Capes.

What the butter & Sugar should look like for the birthday brownie

Pale and interesting

Keep going until the butter and sugar is almost as pale as consumptive Victorian. Please don’t skimp, because you are incorporating air, and it will help produce the most amazing consistency when you eat it later.

As soon as the chocolate has melted, add the marmalade. Once this has just melted, remove the bowl from the bain marie and leave it aside to cool a little.

If your butter and sugar is not quite ready, go back and whisk it some more. You need it to be almost runny, but not actually runny, there won’t be a lot of air in that, but trust me, you’ll know because it gets very creamy.

Sieve together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. This is also supposed to incorporate air, but I often don’t bother with just flour. I have never tested this, by baking one with and one without sifting, but I also don’t get flat cakes, either. However, when cocoa is involved, I always sift it, because cocoa can get a bit lumpy, and it will make your cake feel gritty, until you bit through a lump and get raw cocoa in your mouth.

Incorporate the beaten egg into the butter and sugar, a little at a time. Make sure that it is well mixed before adding more. You can also increase the speed at which you beat each time you add some egg.

Fold in the melted chocolate, chopped chocolate and nuts, using a metal spoon. You don’t want to knock all the air you took ages adding, so only mix until the moment there is no more pale butter streaks.

Fold in the flour and cocoa, and again, only mix until you see no more flour. Be gentle, this is time spent with your cake batter, not a sprint race.

Pour your batter into the prepared cake tin, and use a spatula to get the sticky bits from the bowl. Or if it is your Big Guy’s birthday, you can also let him take the rest of it with a spoon, or his finger.

Smooth the top of the batter in the tin, and put it in the oven for 30 minutes. The cake will sink slightly in the middle, this is perfectly acceptable (I’m not Mary Berry), and is because of the rich, gooey consistency.

Pierce the centre of the brownies with a skewer. In this recipe, unlike many cakes, you want the skewer to be a bit sticky. It should not have any raw cake mixture on it though. Again, you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that the difference is obvious. If it is not quite done, bung it back in the oven, but beware that the difference between raw cake mix and sticky is small, so it should take less than 5 minutes, check it after 3.

If you are going to eat this warm, and it really is tempting, leave at least an hour after it comes out of the oven, or it will be too liquid. These brownies solidify a bit as they cool. Divide them into 12 brownies after the hour.

Rich Choc & Orange Brownies

Everything a Good Brownie Should Be

The brownies are gooey and rich as a warm dessert, for sure. But they really are very, very good served cold, because they have that perfect combination of the crisp shell and rich, soft centre, studded with the nuts and chunks of that extraordinary chocolate.

Eat them on their own, if you must, but they are better with cream or a good vanilla ice cream.

These brownies also keep well in an airtight container, and remain moist and fudgey.

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Southern Cross Buns

Southern Cross Buns

One a Dollar, Two a Dollar…

I have been searching around for ingredients for an Easter dinner for my friends. These are mostly the same friends who came for the International Christmas Dinner, so I wanted something that would encompass all of our traditions, as well as a nod to the Dutch. Some of these recipes will appear here in the coming days, as they are much less specific to Easter, but this one couldn’t be delayed.

One of the traditions that I found out about was the Australian one. For friends from the Southern Hemisphere, Easter heralds the start of autumn, and thus is naturally a little less about rebirth and rejuvenation, even though they  do continue to keep many of the same traditions as us in the North (hint: eggs and chocolate feature in all Easter traditions, as far as I can tell).

According to this website, there are a few key differences. Anyone who has seen an episode of Border Security will know that Australians are none too keen on letting in non-native animals, due to the havoc that they wreak. It is no surprise then, that they have replaced the Easter Bunny with the much more native Bilby. However, my chocolate work needs a lot more practice, and it is certainly not up to making small chocolate marsupials without a mould.

So, I was very happy when I saw the fact that the Aussies have taken the hot cross bun, and made their own version. With chocolate.

I had already decided to make traditional Hot Cross Buns for dessert. Strictly speaking, they are served on Good Friday, but as it is my tradition to break the rules for international dinners, I am going to serve them for Easter Sunday itself. And I get to do two kinds. We will serve them toasted, to be smeared with butter moulded in the shape of a lamb, which is a Dutch tradition.

Boterschaap

Aw Look, a Butter Lamb! We Named Him Wonky

I made the British buns using the recipe from the River Cottage Bread Book, by Daniel Stevens. Then, I adapted it to make what I am calling Southern Cross Buns, which I think are good for any occasion, and you can keep the cross, since they are named after the Australian flag.

And I photographed the steps for you.

Recipe: Southern Cross Buns

Ingredients

For the Bun:

250 g strong white bread flour (plus some for dusting)

250 g plain white flour

2 tbsp cocoa powder

125 ml warm water

125 ml warm milk

1 sachet dried yeast (7 g)

10 g salt

50 g caster Sugar

1 egg

70 g plain chocolate chips

30 g candied peel (orange only if possible)

Zest of ½ orange, grated

6 green cardamom pods

For the Cross:

75 g plain white flour

100 ml water

For the Glaze:

1 tbsp apricot jam

1 tbsp water

Method

You may remember that I made my own candied peel. This is not compulsory, but it does make it a lot easier to use only the orange peel for this recipe. If you have (or wish to make) your own candied peel, chop it finely before you start the rest of the steps.

Extracting cardamom seeds from the pods

Remove the Seeds from the Cardamom Pods

Also lightly crush the cardamom pods to release the black seeds inside, and grind these to a coarse powder with a pestle and mortar.

Sieve together the flours and the cocoa. I usually skip the sifting step in a recipe, but this will help prevent the cocoa from forming lumps.Mix together with the sugar, salt and yeast

Make a Well in the Centre of the Dry Ingredients

Make a Well in the Centre of the Dry Ingredients

I found that mixing boiling water from the kettle, and cold milk from the fridge, the resulting liquid was warm, but not too hot for the yeast. You can use a food mixer with a dough hook for this recipe, but I am gadget-averse, so I had to do it with my hands. whichever way you choose, the dough is fairly sticky. Pour the liquid into the well, and mix.

After Mixing in the Milk & Water

After Mixing in the Milk & Water

Once it looks a bit like this, add the butter and the egg. This is when it gets sticky. Mix it well, so that you cannot see lumps of butter in the mixture anymore.

The mixture will get a little smoother

The mixture will get a little smoother

Then add the chocolate, candied peel and the ground cardamom. Knead this in well.

When it loos like this, cover it and leave it to prove

When it looks like this, cover it and leave it to prove

Try and leave it somewhere warm. It should take about an hour. I left it a bit longer, because I was busy with getting a lamb cooked, and other things. It was fine, and still rose nicely. Knock back – by punching the air out of it.

Cut the dough into eight equal(ish) pieces

Cut the dough into eight equal(ish) pieces

I got the proportions mostly right when I cut it. Only one was smaller than the rest. Make it easier on yourself by cutting the dough in half, roughly shaping each half into a thick sausage which you cut in half, then half again. It should be fine, if the sausage doesn’t taper too much.

Shape each piece of dough into a round. The following steps are straight from the River Cottage book, but they work really well, so they are the steps you need. Put the flat side of the dough on a lightly floured counter.

Bring a piece of the dough into the centre and press lightly

Bring a piece of the dough into the centre and press lightly

Each time that you do this, turn the dough a little, then repeat. Do this until all the dough is folded into the middle, and press firmly. Flip it over onto the other side. If you are not that confident in working sticky dough, like me, then you will probably want to flour the work surface again a little bit. More confident bakers work focaccia, which is a much wetter dough, so you will probably be fine. I found that I didn’t need to flour the buns later, because they were fine after I floured the surface.

The next bit is difficult to describe. You need to stretch the top of the bun, while tightening the pinch at the bottom. To do this, you need to flatten your hands, place the heel of one hand against one side of the roll, and the fingers of your other hand on the other side.

Step one of turning the bun

Step 1: flatten your hands at either side of the bun

Next you need to move your hands in opposite directions, and bring them together under the bun, so that it spins. This will stretch the top of the dough.

Step Two: Spin the bun, by moving hands in opposite directions

Step 2: Spin the bun, by moving hands in opposite directions

You will end up with your hands in the opposite configuration to that in which you started.

Step Three: how your hands end up

Step 3: how your hands end up

Do this little move three times per bun. Then put it on a board, and dust it lightly with flour, if you didn’t do it on the work surface.

Place them on a lightly floured board and leave to prove for another half an hour

Place them on a lightly floured board and leave to prove for another half an hour

Preheat the oven to 200°C

While the  buns are proving, mix up the flour and water, with a whisk. This will form your cross. I think the paste needs to be fairly thick. If you get the thickness right, I don’t think you need the amount of flour I have given here. I think mine was too thin, because the contrast on the ordinary bun was not good enough, so I didn’t get a cross. The contrast between the chocolate buns was much better, due to their brown colour. However, for you I have upped the ratio of flour to water. My advice would be to start with 50 g flour, and very slowly add the water, until you get a thick batter. it should leave ribbons when you pour it from a spoon, not run off.

Once you have a good consistency for the paste, and the buns have proved, then you need to make the cross. Transfer the buns to a baking sheet. Put the flour paste into a sandwich bag (or piping bag, if you have all the fancy equipment) and snip off a really small corner – be careful, the piped line is much bigger than the hole appears. Pipe the paste over the bun in a straight line, then again, at right angles to the first.

The piping bit is tricky, and needs a fairly steady hand

The piping bit is tricky, and needs a fairly steady hand.

I have to admit to a few drips where there should be none. They wiped off easily enough, but I had a thin paste. It is best to be as careful as you can.

Put the baking tray in the oven, and bake for between 15 and 25 minutes. Mine took nearer 25 minutes, so keep an eye on them. Like most bread-based products, they sound a little hollow when tapped on the bottom, when they are done.

While the buns are in the oven, melt the apricot jam and the water to make a glaze. Glaze them by painting the jammy liquid  over the top of each bun as they come out of the oven.

Leave them to cool on a wire rack.

Toasted Hot Cross Buns

Toasty!

Toasted is the correct way to serve these. Possibly slathered with butter from a wonky sheep.

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Taking the Biscuit

Speculoos Refrigerator Biscuits

Speculoos Refrigerator Biscuits – Meant for Taking

Yesterday I hosted a meeting for a group of proto-freelancers that I have joined. As is customary, I was going to serve biscuits and tea. Since I prefer to make things from scratch (a tendency that has only got worse since it also gives me something to blog about!) I decided that I was going to make the biscuits. I have not actually attempted to make biscuits for a number of years, since they aren’t really something that I have around the house. In fact, the only time that I really ever think to buy them is if I am going to make a cheesecake, or another dessert with the requisite buttery biscuit base.

The last time I was really into making biscuits was as a fairly young kid (maybe 8ish?). Once the Sunday Dinner had been cleared away, and the washing up done, I would bake things, some sponges cakes and the like, but mostly biscuits, while my parents were either out on the garden, or dozing in front of the Eastenders Omnibus. These baking sessions were always using recipes from the tried and trusted Dairy Book of Home Cookery.

I had been given some Lotus speculoos paste by a good friend who was returning to Australia, and had one too many items from Europe in her case. I have always known that I will make biscuits with it, since these are traditionally served with coffee and tea in every cafe in Holland. And what better opportunity to have a go than for a meeting? So it was to these things that I turned when looking for inspiration.

The Dairy Book has a basic recipe for refrigerator biscuits, which seemed easy enough to adapt, so I used this as a starting point for my treats. They are called refrigerator biscuits because you wrap them up like a sausage, then let them rest in the fridge for at least an hour. I actually made these a while ago, when we were originally going to have the meeting, but we had to postpone due to a particularly nasty flu that several of our people had. You can keep the dough in the fridge for a week. The mixture also freezes well, and the amounts given here will make a lot of biscuits (up to 60 depending on how wide you roll the sausage), so I divided it in two and still have a sausage of dough in my freezer. You can defrost them on the counter, or (if you can cut them) cook them from frozen, allowing a minute or two longer cooking time, but you will need to watch them.

Recipe: Speculoos Refrigerator Biscuits

Ingredients

200 g plain flour

100 g butter

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp speculaas spice

2 tbsp Lotus speculoos paste

150 g caster Sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

vanilla sugar for sprinkling

Method

Rub together the flour, baking powder, butter and speculoos paste, like you would for making pastry. Once you have the breadcrumb texture, mix in the sugar.

Add the egg, and bring together to form a dough. I did all of this with my hands, but you can do it with a spoon if you prefer.

At this point, I tasted the dough, and decided that the speculoos didn’t give quite the spicy punch I wanted, so I decided to add some speculaas spice that I still had from making Kruidnoten. I also gave the recipe for the spice mix on that post, if you want to have a go at making these, and you are not in the Low Countries, where it is readily available.

At this juncture I should point out that raw cookie dough has been linked to outbreaks of e. coli infections, and should not be eaten if you are in a vulnerable group, or if you are worried about this sort of thing. In this case, I took the risk for you, so if you choose to make these biscuits, you can also skip the testing, and simply add the spice when you mix in the flour, as I suggest above. If you can’t find any speculoos paste, then you can also just use the spices.

Once the dough has formed, it should be pretty dry, and workable. I found I needed to use a tiny bit of water, to help the dough form, because the only egg I had was on the small side, but I added it splash by splash, because I wanted to get the texture right.

Roll the dough into a sausage. You may need to cut it into two here. I did. Once the sausage is the sort of width you imagine your biscuits to be, wrap it tightly in foil or cling film, making sure the ends are sealed well. It is worth noting that these biscuits will spread a little, during cooking, so you will need to roll the sausage a bit thinner than you want.

Once wrapped, bung the dough in the fridge for at least 3 hours, or overnight if you can. Or you can freeze it immediately.

When you are ready to bake, heat your oven to 190°C.

Meanwhile, grease your baking sheets with some old butter paper, which should have enough butter on it to cover your trays with a thin layer of butter. If not, rub it over a pat of butter before rubbing the tray. Butter paper is also something that I never throw out, until I have got maximum use from it. You can substitute it for tin foil to wrap food (but not for cooking with), you can using for greasing baking utensils, and you can use it as a cartouche to retain moisture or prevent a skin from forming on a liquid. My mum has always done this, and I have also always done this, it was just a habit really.

I have two baking sheets, so I used both in the oven at the same time, to reduce energy consumption. If you do this, be aware that the top biscuits will be ready slightly earlier than those lower down in the oven. They catch really quickly, so take these out first.

Slicing Biscuits from the Dough Log

Slice ’em Up. If you use a sharper knife, then you can get thinner biscuits than I did here

Then, thinly slice your biscuit dough along the length of your dough sausage. Probably thinner than I have here, if you like. One tip is that the sharper the knife you use, the less you will compress your roll, and thus will not have to constantly reshape or have odd-shaped biscuits.

Arrange the biscuits onto the trays, allowing space for them to spread out a little as they cook. I sprinkled mine with a little vanilla sugar, because I always have it to hand as a by-product from custard making. Caster sugar will be just as good. You can also dust it lightly or a little heavier if you would like more of a crisp.

Speculoos refrigerator Biscuits Sprinkled with Sugar

A Sprinkle of Sugar

Stick them in the oven, and check them after 10 minutes. Mine were done then, but you can leave them in for up to 12 minutes.

Allow them to cool a little on the tray before removing, and serving. If you do have any left, put them in an airtight container, where they will keep for a day or two.

The actual time you spend on these biscuits is minimal. I probably spent about 10 minutes in total on preparation. But, I can guarantee that your guests will appreciate the effort that they will think that you have gone to. Unless you have hundreds of guests, you will also have enough for a couple of batches, and what could be handier to have on standby in your fridge or freezer, for meetings, drop in guests, or a visit from the WI?

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Making the Most of a Marmalade Mistake

Breakfast  Flapjacks

What a Comeback

The clementine marmalade I made caught slightly on the bottom of the pan. This is what comes of trying to cook and blog at the same time! I only took my eye off the ball for a couple of seconds, while I had a spoonful of the golden, orangey preserve waiting for the fridge test.

Most of the marmalade was fine, so I bottled it up. But there was about half a jar on the bottom which had gone too far. As you know, I cannot bear to waste food, and this is no exception. I won’t inflict this on my friends, but there is no reason why I can’t still use it.

Marmalade makes a great glaze for both sweet and savoury food. I did bake a yoghurt cake, and then melted 2 tbsp of the marmalade with a tbsp of water to make a glaze. I poured the glaze over the cake while both were still warm, and then left the lot to cool in the tin. Unfortunately, I have never made a yoghurt cake before, and clearly didn’t beat the egg, yoghurt and oil together enough, so it was too dense, so I haven’t photographed it. It was fine, when splashed with a little Cointreau (or orange juice would also be fine), and served with fresh Greek yoghurt.

I have also kept a little marmalade in reserve, because I have another glaze in mind, but this time for a nice duck, a wild one if I can get hold of it. I shall add shallots and thyme, and make sure I baste the bird as it cooks. I guess you can expect to see it here, if it is a success.

However, I left the lion’s share of the leftover marmalade for the recipe I am about to share with you now. The first thing that came to my mind when it was clear I would have some marmalade was flapjacks. I’m not really sure why, but I knew that I had to try it. I had a feeling that the thick cut, sticky marmalade would be the perfect foil for the oats. Both of them are traditionally associated with breakfast, and I really thought this could fly. I thought about it some more over the next few days, and it became clear that I could substitute the marmalade for the usual golden syrup.

There is a golden ratio for the usual kind of flapjack. As long as you stick with this ratio, then you can’t go far wrong. It also works for metric, imperial, volume, or if you prefer to measure your ingredients by a more eccentric means. The ratio is as follows:

  • 2 Golden Syrup
  • 4 Butter
  • 6 Brown Sugar
  • 8 Oats (or oats & other dry ingredients, such as seeds)

This is the ratio that I was taught as a small kid, and it has never yet done me wrong. You can then add more stuff, like dried or fresh fruits, candied peel or crystallised ginger, spices, chocolate, and so on. I always use a mix of whole rolled oats, and the finer, chopped sort that is best for porridge, because I find this gives it a better texture without falling apart. You can add seeds and other grains as well if you like, but you should adjust the amount of oats, so that you maintain the ratio.

These were unconventional flapjacks, not just in the sense of substituting syrup for marmalade, but I have to admit in this case, I also decided to adjust the proportions of the ratio as well. I wanted the orange to really shine in the mix, and the marmalade has a lot of sugar in it anyway. It may not please your grandmother, but it worked for me in this instance.

After a bit of fiddling, I settled on a 4:4:4:8 ratio, and the results worked really well. The bars are chewy, albeit in a slightly different, stickier way than regular golden syrup ones, but I like it.

I prefer my flapjacks on the chewier side, but if you are one of those people who like crunchier flapjacks, you may need to add some golden syrup, or possibly more butter to prevent the marmalade making the bar too hard in the  (slightly) longer cooking process. It is not something that I experimented with this time, but I would be happy to if others are interested. You don’t have to use up marmalade mistakes – ordinary marmalade from a jar will do just as well here.

The amounts I am going to give were enough for a 20 x 25 cm tin. I tend to line my tins with baking paper, because it makes the finished flapjacks a lot easier to remove from the tin, but you can just grease the tin really well, it is up to you. If I were a more dedicated baker, I would invest in that reuseable silicon parchment stuff, to reduce waste. I have got a birthday coming up, so who knows?

Recipe: Breakfast Flapjacks

Ingredients

160 g marmalade

160 g butter

160 g brown sugar (I used light muscovado and demerara, because it is what I had)

300 g mix of whole and chopped rolled oats

30 g pumpkin seeds

30 g dried cranberries

Method

Put your oven on at 180 °C.

Melt the marmalade, butter, and sugar over a medium heat, stirring so they don’t catch on the bottom of the pan.

Mix the oats, pumpkin seeds, and cranberries in a large bowl.

When the sweet goods and the butter have all melted and combined together well, pour onto the dried ingredients, and mix well to ensure that they are all well coated and no streaks of white oats remain.

Press the flapjack mix into the baking tray. You want to press it in fairly well, to help the mixture set into lovely bars. Then smooth it over with the back of a metal spoon, making the top smooth, and the flapjack layer as even as you can.

Bake it for about 25-30 minutes, depending on how chewy or crunchy you want it. Flapjacks are really forgiving, so they are easy to cook with other things, to maximise your energy use from the oven. They won’t collapse if you open your oven at the wrong time, and don’t really absorb other flavours. I haven’t tried cooking them at the same time as smoked fish, for example, but they are fine t go in with stews, other cakes, roasting meat etc.

When they are nice and golden all over, then remove them from the oven. You will need to mark them into the squares or rectangles that you intend to serve them in fairly soon after coming out of the oven. I got 12 bars from this amount of  mixture. Then they should be allowed to cool completely in the baking tray.

These flapjacks are really tasty, and the pieces of orange and cranberry really do add an interesting texture, as well as the marmalade, giving them a bit more kick than your average flapjack. Marmalade – it’s not just for toast, you know!

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Cold Comfort Cake

Coffee & Walnut Cake

Comfort and Cure

I used to eschew sponge cakes. I have never been particularly interested in making a classic Victoria sponge; the iced party versions take too much time and artistic talent; and I don’t have a lot of patience for the imbalance of cupcakes. If I am to offer a dessert, I prefer to go for a nice tart, or something that requires custard.

I know a lot of my friends would disagree with me. And I recognise that the popularity of the cake is on the rise, judging by the plethora of baking shows, those about outlandishly decorated 6 feet tall cakes, and cupcakes there seems to be on the TV, these days. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Great British Bake Off almost as much as Mel Geidroyc, but there is an awful lot of baking going on our screens, of varying quality and value.

However, last weekend, the weather took a real turn for the colder. This is the time of year when I long to curl up in the living room with a cup of tea, and a nice slice of cake. The fact that I had a little bit of a hangover after catching up with a few friends on Friday had nothing at all to do with it…

So, after a little indecision, and a rootle around the cupboard to see what I could make without actually having to go to the shops (and a little discussion with the Big Guy to see if he would be prepared to go, which ended in a compromise – not a massive shop, but he would go out for some mascarpone!), I came up trumps with a bag of walnuts. That pretty much settled it – coffee and walnut cake it was then. With a mascarpone glaze; given that I am not too keen on buttercream, and felt it would have been too much for me that day (which had everything to do with my Friday night).

The cake that I made (as pictured) was a little bigger than I had anticipated, because I totally forgot that the amount of cake mixture that I give in the recipe is supposed to be split between two cake tins, and I didn’t want to cut it in half when it came out of the oven, fearing that my hand was not the steadiest. So I made another cake of the same size. I have 25 cm cake tins, this baby was huge! It also meant that the mascarpone glaze was not as generous as it should have been, so don’t do this. The base also got a little bit more coffee in it than the top, so they are sightly different shades.

Don’t worry though, the amount given below is for one normal-sized cake, not a giant one like this one.

Despite all this, what you get is a lovely moist cake, but with all the lightness of a sponge. Brilliant comfort when the weather draws in, and also a great hangover cure. Take one slice in the evening with a big mug of tea.

Recipe: Coffee and Walnut Cake

Ingredients

For the cake:

175 g caster sugar – I used raw cane sugar, to give it a depth of colour and flavour

175 g softened butter (i.e. not from straight out of the fridge, bring it up to room temperature

175 g self raising flour

3 eggs

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp coffee granules  in 1 tbsp warm water  (or 1 tbsp warm, strong espresso if you don’t have instant)

2 x 20 cm cake tins – you’ll need a removable base on each. I have spring-form tins, which is better, but use what you have

60 g chopped walnuts

For the glaze:

250 g Mascarpone

70 g icing sugar

1 tsp coffee granules in 1 tbsp warm water (or another tbsp warm, strong espresso)

Some more chopped walnuts. Or you can keep them whole and decorate the cake with them, but I am not hugely keen on big lumps of walnuts. I had about 8 walnuts left, so I used them, but the amount is up to your individual taste

Method

Firstly, line the base of your cake tins with some greaseproof paper. Cut it to size, unless you like the wrinkled cake look. I also then greased and floured the sides of my tins. I do this because my mum always did, and it is ingrained in my psyche, although I think that it is probably unnecessary in this non-stick age. You will be really glad of the greaseproof when it comes time to turn the cake out, however.

Heat your oven to 180°C

Beat the sugar and butter together until it has gone a very pale colour. Don’t scrimp on this stage, it helps with the final lightness of the cake. It is best done  with a food mixer, or an electric hand blender if you have one. It is possible with a wooden spoon, but you will end up looking like Brian Shaw, which is a good look if you like very muscular men. It will also take you ages. I had neither the time nor the patience for this on Saturday.

Once you have a nice pale butter and sugar mixture, add the eggs. I usually add a little of the flour with each egg and make sure that I have mixed it in well before adding the next egg. Don’t add all the eggs at once, or the batter may split. They always say this in cookbooks and on the TV. I am not sure what you should do if the batter does split, because it has never happened to me, but I assume that it will affect the rise and texture. I also have no idea if you can salvage it.

Once all of the egg is added, fold in the rest of the flour, and the baking powder. Be careful not to overwork it, or the cake won’t rise as much, but also make sure that there are no seams of flour that haven’t been mixed in.

Add the coffee solution and continue to fold until the batter has an even coffee colour, then stir in the walnuts. This should take about 15 minutes in total, unless you are going for the bodybuilder look. Divide the cake between the two tins, and put them into the oven for about 25 minutes, but check them after 20. If a thin item like a small-bladed knife comes out of the centre clean, then they are done. If it looks sticky, they need a few more minutes.

Tip them out of their tins, remove the greaseproof paper, and leave them to cool on a cooling rack, flat side down.

Make up the glaze by mixing all of the ingredients together until they are all thoroughly combined. You will need to chop the walnuts fairly fine before you add them. Don’t refrigerate this, because it will be too hard to spread later.

When the cake has cooled down completely, you can ice it. If you do it while the cake is still warm, it will melt, and will be difficult to work with.

If you are using a flat surface to serve the cake, you will need to cut the arc of one of the cakes off, to allow it to lie flat on the board, and for the other cake to lie flat on it. I was being lazy, and I have plates that have roughly the same curve as one of my cakes in any case. I just flipped it over, laid the arc side down on the plate, and worked with the flat side for my icing. If the bottom cake wobbles, cut it flat anyway.

Use about a third of the glaze to spread over your bottom cake. Get it in as even a layer as you can. Place the second cake on top of this, flat side down. Then glaze the top and as much of the sides of the cake as you can with the rest of the mascarpone mixture.You can decorate it with walnuts if you are that way inclined.

Then you will need to get the kettle on for that tea!

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Charming Cherries

Cherry Clafoutis

Clafoutis

We are back from the lovely land of Australia. We had a fabulous time, and lots of great foodie experiences, leaving me with quite a few posts to catch up on, which will appear here in the next few days.

I have always wanted to have a go at making a clafoutis, and what better opportunity than when you can find large, plump and a deep, deep red cherries? Again, this is a summer dish at it’s best, and the riper you can get the cherries the better.

Clafoutis can also be made with any ripe fresh fruits, although apparently the proper name for those without cherries should be flaugnarde.

Whatever your fruit, and whatever you call it, this is a great way to use up a glut of fruit, as long as they are really ripe.

Traditionally, the clafoutis is served lukewarm, which makes sense when it is the height of summer, as you don’t want a hot pudding for a warm, sticky evening. However, if you want to use winter fruits, like apples or pears, I see no reason that you can’t serve this warm, possibly with a nice custard.

I made this for a friend who is lactose intolerant, so I used soy milk, but you can use whatever you like here.

I hope that you have a go at this dish, it really is so easy, but looks very impressive. Your friends and loved ones will appreciate you for it.

Recipe: Cherry Clafoutis

Ingredients

50 g plain flour

2 eggs

150 ml milk

Pinch of salt

Seeds of half a vanilla pod

Cherries – enough to cover an ovenproof dish or cake tin in a single layer

Method

Heat the oven to 220 °C.

Mix all of the ingredients, except the cherries, into a thinnish batter. Some recipes also call for a little sugar (in the region of a couple of tablespoons). You can add this too, if you want, but I thought that the cherries I was using were quite sweet enough for the whole dish, so I didn’t use any. Leave the batter aside to rest while you prepare the cherries.

The original Limousin dish left the stones in the cherries, which, it is said, impart an almond flavour. I didn’t try this way, because it is a little unseemly to be spitting out cherry pips when you are in company. Instead, I halved and stoned the cherries, then laid them out, flat side down in a baking dish, until the bottom was covered in one layer of cherries.

My friend only had a spring-form cake tin, which I lined with baking parchment as a precaution against spills, which was entirely unnecessary, as it turned out, so just use a cake tin, or any largish baking dish you have to hand.

Tip the batter in and around the cherries. At this stage, it should not cover the cherries over completely, but will almost do so. Don’t worry, they will rise to the top again as the dish cooks.

Put in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the batter looks cooked across the pudding. You want it light and airy, though, not crispy, although slightly crispy edges are almost inevitable.

Dust with a little icing sugar while still warm, and leave to cool before serving. The Big Guy and I had a little natural yoghurt with ours, but my friend eschewed the yoghurt, and ate it au naturel. It is very good either way.

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