Monday 31 December 2012

A Ginger Rocky Road

I have been meaning to make Rocky Road for years and years now, and like so many things have only just got round to it. I don't think I've ever even eaten Rocky Road before, it just seems like a jumble of random things melted together and set, but actually, it's pretty tasty! I should really have known that I was going to like it because in essence, it's very similar to these Chocolate Fruit and Nut Cases - a Delia Smith recipe that I've made countless times and enjoy very much indeed.

There are certainly plenty of recipes out there for Rocky Road, it appears to have increased in popularity over recent years. I decided that I would adapt a recipe from a recipe card I received as part of a set called 'The Food Files'. There are quite a few interesting looking recipes in this collection, which is comprised of recipes from a number of famous faces of the celebrity/cooking world (Rose Elliot, Fay Ripley, Richard Corrigan) and a few from food companies (Innocent, Gu, Hummingbird Bakery) and span a range of sweet and savoury cooking. It's not the kind of thing I'd choose to buy, but I ordered some (ahem..) books from The Book People a while ago and they had an offer whereby if you bought two cookery titles you were sent a set of recipe cards free of charge. 

Anyway, enough about where the recipe came from and more about the food. I adapted the recipe slightly to allow for the ingredients I had in my house and my tastes so here I give you

Ginger Rocky Road
400g dark chocolate (70%), broken into small pieces (but see below)
100g milk chocolate (34%), broken into small pieces
75g unsalted butter
30g (1 1/2tbsp) golden syrup
100g ginger biscuits, broken into pieces but not smashed
50g mini marshmallows
50g raisins

- Grease and line an 8"/20cm square baking tin.
- Melt 300g of the dark chocolate and all of the milk chocolate with the butter and golden syrup. The recipe method was to melt the butter and syrup and pour it over the chocolate, stirring until it melted, but this really doesn't work as there is so much chocolate. I did as I was told, but then ended up microwaving it in short blasts until the chocolate had actually melted. I'll leave it up to you how you go about melting it. In a pan over hot water would work too.
- Add the broken biscuits, marshmallows and raisins to the melted chocolate and mix well so everything is coated.
- Pour into the prepared tin, level off and leave to set in the fridge (I left mine overnight). The recipe suggests a couple of hours.
- Melt the remaining chocolate and spread it over the biscuit/chocolate base. Place back in the fridge to harden and then cut into pieces.

- I found that the remaining 100g of chocolate was not enough to cover the whole surface area of the rocky road, and certainly not to cover it and give the depth suggested by the accompanying picture (don't you hate it when the pictures lie to you...). I'd suggest at least 150g extra for the topping, and more if you want a decent layer.
- To cut the hard rocky road into neat squares, boil a kettle full of water (or use hot water from the hot tap) and pour over the blade of your knife. Working quickly, dry the blade and make the first cut. Wipe the melted chocolate off the blade and you may have enough heat to make a second cut. Again, wipe the blade, and then run more water over it to heat it up again and repeat the process until your rocky road is cut up.

Were they yummy? Yes. I think it goes without saying that the end result here is the product of the quality of the ingredients you use and I used Green and Black's Cooking Chocolate for both the milk and dark parts. Obviously, use your favourite, I happen to like G&B! Infinitely customisable - use your preferred biscuits, dried fruit and ratio of dark:milk chocolate to suit your tastes. I liked the different textures - melty chocolate, crunchy biscuits, soft marshmallows and chewy raisins - it all worked really well together. I think cranberries would work well too, or crystallised ginger.

Would I make it again? For myself, probably not - I'm lazy and it's easier to just have a few squares of chocolate, a handful of raisins and a couple of biscuits by my side and graze on them all simultaneously. Or I might make Delia's Fruit and Nut cases again - they're very tasty and less faff (and they are delicious straight out of the freezer). However, these would probably make a good gift and were very tasty!

Since this rocky road is based on ginger biscuits I'm going to enter it as a rather last minute entry for the One Ingredient challenge, which this month is Ginger. Yum, I do love ginger! One Ingredient is hosted by Laura of How to Cook Good Food and Nazima of Franglais Kitchen. Nazima is the host this month.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Christmas Chai Inspired Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream

One of the best things about festive baking is using all of the warming spices that just seem to fit in so beautifully at this time of the year. I love using mixed spice, ginger, cinnamon and allspice to create that heady Christmassy aroma but this time I wanted to combine them in a light cupcake recipe with chocolate .

I had seen a recipe for chai cupcakes in the BBC Good Food magazine (October 2011) by Edd Kimber that used chai teabags to give the flavour but as I didn't want to use teabags I decided to adapt the recipe. I think I've not really used chai spices at all, simply my own mix using what I know I enjoy (and what was available in my baking stores!) but I'm going to stick with the name anyway. I think you'd need to use cardamom and perhaps a pinch of cloves to make them more authentically chai.

If you look really hard you can just about make out my Christmas tree cupcake cases....

Chai Inspired Spiced Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream
225g butter
225g light muscovado sugar
4 eggs
225g self raising flour
110g buttermilk
1 1/2tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice

Chocolate Buttercream ***makes tonnes, far more than you need - see below***
200g butter
200g icing sugar
150g milk chocolate
50g dark chocolate
1/2tsp vanilla extract

- Preheat the oven to Gas 4/180C. Line at least 18 muffin holes with paper cases - see comment below.
- Melt the chocolate (either in the microwave or over a bowl of hot water) and set aside to cool to room temperature.
- Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs, flour and spices and beat until well combined.
- Add the buttermilk and beat again until the mixture is uniform.
- Divide between the cases. Bake for 20-25 minutes until well risen and golden.
- Allow to cool on a wire rack. 

- Cream the butter until very soft and fluffy. Add the (cooled) chocolate and half of the icing sugar and keep creaming. Add the remaining icing sugar and vanilla extract and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Add a little milk or (boiled) water if necessary to make the frosting softer.
- Pipe or spread onto your cupcakes. Decorate as desired.

- There was too much mixture for 18 cases (I was using cupcake rather than muffin size cases - i.e. bigger than fairy cases but smaller than muffin cases - if you used muffin cases I guess it would have been ok). I ended up using three silicon cases too to take the excess. Which worked fine.
- There was far, far too much buttercream. If I'd been piping it there probably wouldn't have been quite such an excess - making swirls always takes more buttercream than you think - but if you're just spreading them like in my photos I think half the amount of buttercream would be ample.

Rudolph makes a festive appearance...

These were lovely - the spicing was quite delicate and the chocolate buttercream worked well with the cakes. The original recipe specified soured cream but I didn't have that - the buttermilk substitute worked very well in my opinion and gave lovely, soft, moist cakes. A winner, just that the quantities were a little off!

Since this recipe contains both chocolate and cinnamon, I am going to submit it to We Should Cocoa, founded by Choclette of Choc Log Blog (this month's host) and Chele of Chocolate Teapot. The theme for December is, of course, cinnamon. Yum.

As a Christmas-scented recipe I'm also submitting this to Calendar Cakes hosted by Rachel at Dolly Bakes and Laura at Laura Loves Cakes. The theme this month is (unsurprisingly!) Christmas!

Saturday 22 December 2012

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

The theme for this month's Teatime Treats is Chocolate. A pretty wide theme really, so I'm sure there will be lots and lots of delicious submissions to browse when the round up is published. There are lots of chocolate-y things that I've made that I could share for this event, but it seems rather appropriate to share this one. The recipe for the chocolate cake came from Karen at Lavender and Lovage  (one of the co-hosts for TTT which is being hosted this month by Kate at What Kate Baked) and has become one of my favourite chocolate cake recipes. 

It's quick and easy to make and the only ingredient that you might not already have around is the creme fraiche. I've made this cake twice already - once as little cupcakes (quicker than waiting for larger cakes to bake) and once as a two layer cake. Both times were very successful and I think the cakes look very pretty too.

Karen gives the recipe as an all-in-one recipe but I often find that my butter isn't soft enough for an all in one method using a Kitchenaid stand mixer (although it is usually ok with an electric hand mixer) so I have adapted the method slightly. The recipe is reproduced with Karen's permission:

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream
140g creme fraiche (I used a French style one, it's very thick, solid in fact)
125g unsalted butter
200g light muscovado sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
170g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder (I think mine was fairly generous)

- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas4 . If making a large cake, grease and line two 8"/20cm shallow round cake tins. If making cupcakes, place liners in muffin tins (I made 18 using this recipe).
- Cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture has changed colour and is light and fluffy.
- Add the creme fraiche and continue to mix.
- Add the vanilla, eggs, flour, cocoa powder and baking powder and mix, starting slowly to prevent a cloud of flour enveloping your kitchen.
- When fully mixed divide between the prepared tins/muffin cases and bake for 20-25 minutes for small cakes and 30-40 minutes for larger cakes.
- Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Vanilla buttercream
90g butter
200g icing sugar (plus extra to get desired consistency)
1 tsp vanilla extract

- Beat the butter until very soft (using electric mixers unless you particularly feel in need of a work out) and then add half of the sugar. Starting slowly, beat it until well combined. Add the rest of the sugar and the vanilla extract (or more to taste) and continue to beat until very soft and fluffy. You may need to add a little milk or do as I do and add a little warm water from a boiled kettle.
- Spread or pipe your buttercream as desired.

I love this cake, and the vanilla buttercream complements is beautifully. It isn't that often that I make one recipe twice in close succession but this is a fab recipe and may become my go-to chocolate cake recipe. Yes, it needs creme fraiche, but it isn't a hardship to have creme fraiche in the fridge - it has a long shelf life and if you don't end up using it for chocolate cake it has a multitude of other uses (or a spoon may suffice, perhaps with a chopped banana to assuage lack-of-fruit-and-vitamins thoughts....). It's moist, light and chocolate-y and is very easy to throw together at the last minute. Thanks for a great recipe Karen!

Saturday 8 December 2012

Little Maple Banana Cakes

Each year at least one of the magazines that I subscribe to (yes, I subscribe because I'd only end up buying them each month, and so it works out much cheaper this way!) has a freebie calendar, which is usually really useful. I don't actually use a calendar on the wall that much any more, preferring an electronic means of keeping track of where I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to be doing, but I still like to have the calendar on the wall. (I think this harks back to my childhood, where all events were meticulously recorded on the calendar lest we forgot something...)

This year, the calendar is from the BBC Good Food magazine, and it's a good one. I have sometimes found that when the calendars are sponsored by certain companies every single recipe contains their ingredient. This is fine if they've got a reasonable range to choose from, but it gets a bit old to have 'X-brand' cheese in every single recipe. Anyway, this year the sponsor is Dr Oetker, but happily almost none of the recipes have a sponsored ingredient in them, they're just good BBC Good Food recipes.

Anyway, this is leading somewhere, I promise. I have spent most of the year walking past this calendar and seeing the recipes each month (January - Frosty yogurt orange cake, February - Passion fruit cupcakes, March - Sultana tea loaf) and haven't made any of them yet. Until now. Turning over the page just over a month ago I was greeted by Little banana cakes with maple pecan frosting. So far so unexciting. Not really a recipe for me as I can't eat pecans. But then I realised that adapting this recipe would be perfect for some of the ingredients I had around needing using up. Maple syrup and a very ripe banana (just the one lonely one - not helpful for the majority of recipes, which require many very ripe bananas; I'm sure I'm not the only one out there to only get one small ripe banana left over...) called my name.

An adapted recipe ensued:

Little Maple Banana Cakes
50g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
80g light muscovado sugar
105g self raising flour
40g maple syrup
1 large egg
1 very overripe banana, mashed (mine weighed 70g after removing the skin)
30g raisins

Usual method for making buttercream, if you want (i.e. about half butter to sugar - I'd be tempted to use about 40-50g butter for six cakes and therefore about 100-140g icing sugar)
Flavourings as desired (orange, lemon, maple syrup etc)

- Preheat the oven to gas 4/180C. Grease a 6 hole muffin tin well with butter (or, obviously, use 6 holes of a 12 hole tin...)
- Cream the butter and muscovado sugar (if you don't want to do this step separately then either use a hand mixer, NOT a stand mixer or make sure your butter is super, super soft - I thought mine was, but clearly not - the butter wouldn't mix into the rest of the ingredients using a stand mixer and I ended up decanting into a different bowl and blitzing with a hand mixer).
- Add the rest of the ingredients except the raisins and beat well until combined.
- Stir in the raisins and divide between the prepared tins.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes.
- Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool.

If topping with buttercream, make up as usual (beat butter until soft, add icing sugar in a couple of batches, beating until well combined, light and fluffy - I usually add a splash of water to make the mixture easier to beat) and add flavourings as desired. Maple syrup might be good here.

I love, love, loved these. They aren't too sweet, they aren't too banana-ry and the flavour of the maple syrup doesn't come through strongly. That makes them sound a failure doesn't it, none of the constituent flavours being readily identifiable. But in fact, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The cakes are moist and deliciously dense, sweet but not overly so, and the maple syrup adds undertones and is subtle. The raisins are plump and juicy and really add to the overall cake by providing a contrasting chewy texture. They develop a delicious sticky top after a day or so and soften slightly around the edges, really, really good. So successful in fact that I have made second and third batches for myself already. In the second batch I added about 50g dark chocolate, and this was one of those occasions were the chocolate was an intrusion, unwarranted and detracted from the deliciousness of the cakes as they were. Needless to say, the third batch didn't contain chocolate and was much the better for it.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Mango and Chocolate Flapjack

Sorry about the silence round here, I've been a bit preoccupied of late. However, a little while ago I volunteered to take part in a blogger ingredients swap, hosted by Ruth of Makey Cakey. Ruth partnered up all of the participants and then we got in touch with each other, discussed likes/dislikes and allergies and then sent off a parcel containing swap ingredients. 

I am a little late posting this, as Ruth asked us to blog about our makes by the 30th November but hopefully it'll be worth waiting for.

I was paired up with Jono, Ruth's husband, who blogs about his adventures with four ingredient cookery here. Check out his inventive recipes and find out what he made with my parcel to him. My swap ingredients were fab - some lovely fudge and a packet of dried fairtrade mango. I have to confess that it seemed a crime to bake with such special fudge so I took it in to work and we all shared it - it was very well received, and utterly delicious.

For the mango I decided to make mango and chocolate flapjacks:

Mango and Chocolate Flapjack
175g butter
120g light muscovado sugar
200g golden syrup
350g rolled oats
150g dark chocolate, chopped into fairly big pieces
60g dried mango, chopped

- Preheat the oven to gas 4/180C. Grease and line an 8x12" (20x30cm) rectangular tin with parchment paper. 
- Melt the butter, sugar and syrup and when all gooey and melted, add the oats and mix well. 
- Add the chocolate and mango, mixing as quickly as possible because the warm oats will melt the chocolate, spoon into the tin, spread out and bake for around 30 minutes until golden.
- Allow to cool slightly then mark into pieces.


The chocolate melted as I was mixing the flapjack before baking it, so there weren't any chocolate chunks, but the taste was still there, and still good. This went down very well indeed - I received many compliments on it, so thank you Jono for the delicious ingredients you sent, they were very much enjoyed.

Saturday 24 November 2012

Parsnip, Maple Syrup and Pear Cake

Well, this month is the first birthday of the Tea Time Treats challenge, hosted by Karen of Lavender and Lovage and Kate of What Kate Baked. So to celebrate, Karen is hosting this month with the theme of Cake. What could be more appropriate for a birthday celebration than cake? I knew when she announced it exactly which cake I was going to make... 

A few years ago BBC Good Food magazine was celebrating its 20th birthday and ran a competition to create a recipe for a suitably celebratory cake. There were lots of entries and the winners and runners up in various categories were chosen (and all look delicious). This Parsnip and Maple Syrup Cake was in the magazine (November 2009) as a finalist but ended up as the winner, and deservedly so. The other two finalist's cakes were a Coffee Crunch Cake and a Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake. Yum!

I've actually made this cake before, a couple of years ago and never got round to blogging it, so this was a great excuse to make it again and remind myself of just how delicious it really is. My colleagues are generally open minded when it comes to trying the various different cakes that land on the tea-room table (they don't get a say - I bake what I want and they can choose to eat it if they want, or ignore it if they want) but I did wonder whether they would draw the line at parsnip in a cake. So it went on the tea-room table as 'Mystery Cake - can you guess the ingredients?'. It was good fun - all through the day I had people coming up to me with random suggestions of what was in the cake - some correct answers and some slightly wild suggestions which amused me greatly. 

I did change the recipe slightly. I can't use pecans so I omitted those, I used a small pear rather than an eating apple and I omitted the zest and juice of the orange specified. I'm struggling to remember whether I replaced it with lemon, but I don't think I did. This is a cake that is more than the sum of its parts - perfectly balanced in flavours. There isn't a parsnip taste at all (in the same way that carrot cake doesn't taste of carrot) but oddly, there isn't a maple syrup flavour either. Quite a bit of syrup is used in the cake, and I'm sure that it contributes to the overall effect but it is the one ingredient that none of my colleagues picked up (quite a few said cinnamon - which is in the mixed spice) and a number suggested citrus - lemon or lime (which I don't think I used) but perhaps they were foxed by the strips of grated pear skin which was green and after suggesting various vegetables (the texture gives it away) some people said parsnip. I used a vanilla buttercream for the centre of the cake (50g butter, about 150g icing sugar and a tsp vanilla extract, made in the usual way). The texture of the cake is outstanding though - really moist and quite close, yet light too. I think this is quite a common feature of vegetable cakes - the moistness but without accompanying heaviness. The cakes are quite delicate when baked, so be careful when turning them out.

Great minds think alike though, as Suelle at Mainly Baking has already blogged this cake as her entry to TTT. However, because I think it's such a lovely cake and definitely deserves to be promoted and made by more people I'm blogging it as my entry too. So I guess I could sum up this entire post in one short sentence: Make and eat this cake, you won't regret it!

Tuesday 20 November 2012

White Chocolate Chocolate Cookies

These are the result of me picking up the Waitrose recipe cards instore on a recent shopping trip. Yes, I could do my shopping online, but then I'd miss out on this kind of thing. Some might say this would be good for both my bank balance and waistline and I'd be inclined to agree on both counts, but then my life is more fun with cookies in it than without, so I'm prepared to make sacrifices...

This recipe was originally for Chocolate and Macadamia Cookies and is in association with Green and Black's. You can find the original recipe here, but as I can't have macadamia nuts I have adapted it slightly by adding more chocolate.

White Chocolate Chocolate Cookies
115g butter, softened
60g icing sugar
100g plain flour
20g Green and Black's Cocoa powder
1/2tsp vanilla extract
100g white chocolate, chopped (I didn't use G&B here)

- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.
- Cream the butter and sugar together until pale. Add the flour and cocoa powder to the butter mixture and beat in with the vanilla extract.
- Stir in the chopped white chocolate.
- Roll the mixture into 16 walnut sized balls and place on two parchment lined baking sheets.
- Bake for about 12 minutes (the recipe specifies 15 but mine were overdone by then) but check at 10.
- Allow to cool on a wire rack, or devour whilst still warm and full of melty chocolate.

* Definitely don't leave them for 15 minutes. My first tray were definitely overdone and bordering on bitter and burnt which is such a pity (I ate them anyway...). The second batch, left in for less time, and with the door opened a couple of times to check on progress were much better.
* Green and Black's Cocoa is the way to go here - it's so much darker in colour than (for example) Cadbury's that although I have never actually dipped my finger into both of them to do a taste test comparison, I'm sure that the G&B has a better depth of flavour for this kind of recipe.

Slightly crumbly round the edges and softer and chewier in the middle I did enjoy these. They aren't a 'Millie's Cookie'/American Cookie style with a very chewy centre (I guess because this recipe is eggless) but they are delicious all the same and very quick and easy to make, bake and importantly, eat!

If you visit the Waitrose website you can find more than 5000 recipes - I think I am required to say this in order to be able to publish their recipe, but actually it's entirely not a problem because I really would recommend their website anyway - full of delicious recipes.

Friday 16 November 2012

Chocolate Sliders

I made sliders, based on Dan Lepard's recipe quite a long time ago now (in fact, just over a year... how time flies). They have been on my mind again recently. The lovely soft, moist texture was what appealed to me both then and now so I thought I'd make them again. This time however, I wanted to add my own twist - chocolate!

Soft and moist texture

Not for any particular reason, just because adding chocolate to things generally makes them better. I have been meaning to make a chocolate loaf (yeasted bread rather than cake) for many years now and thought that this recipe would lend itself well to the addition of chocolate. See below for my thoughts and musings after tasting them....

Before prooving

Chocolate Sliders
25g cornflour (cornstarch in the US)
275ml milk (I used semi-skimmed)
1tsp sugar (5g)
12g butter
50g cocoa powder
325g strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried (instant) yeast

Makes 14

I followed Dan's instructions for these again with minor modifications:
- Slake the cornflour with a little of the milk to form a smooth paste (slaking is just the term used to refer to the process of mixing a small amount of the liquid with the cornflour - it prevents lumps forming when the mixture is heated) and then add the rest of the milk, mixing until smooth. You will find that the mixture does not have any lumps in it because the lumps are removed before the majority of the milk is added. Heat until boiling, stirring all the time - the mixture will remain quite runny for ages and then suddenly thicken up. Remove from the heat at this point, stir in the sugar and butter and allow to cool a little.
- Add the flour, cocoa powder, salt and yeast and mix well to form a dough. I had to add a little water here as my dough was too dry to come together. Leave for 10 minutes or so, and then knead briefly until smooth. I then kneaded my dough again after about 20 minutes and then left it to increase in size.
- Leave until significantly increased in size. I didn't time this as I was busy with various other things, but I think it was left for longer than Dan's specified 90 minutes.
- I wanted mini slider size rolls so weighed out 50g pieces of dough (yes, using a scale to make sure they were all the same) and shaped them into balls. I placed these relatively close together on a lined baking tray and left them to rise again. I place them close together to get a slight 'batching' effect, where the edges of the buns met rather than staying separate.
- Preheat the oven to Gas 6/200C in sufficient time before you think you'll need it (yes, that's vague - your oven might take 30 minutes to heat up, it might take 5. Mine probably takes about 10 but it was on anyway). 
- Dust lightly with flour and then bake for 20-25 minutes. I have no idea how I decided when they were done - they went into the oven dark brown and came out dark brown.... The time is based on Dan's recommendations but with a little added to allow for using a lower temperature.

After prooving

Texture wise, these were perfect - just how I remember the sliders from last year. So soft and moist - almost cake like (in a bread-y sort of way). Taste-wise I have to confess to being slightly underwhelmed. I had remembered enjoying the sliders so much last year and thought that these would be just as good. Although I said at the beginning that adding chocolate to most things makes them better, the substitution of such a large proportion of the flour for cocoa powder actually ended up making a slightly bitter roll. Not inedibly bitter, but it took me by surprise. I think that adding chopped chocolate to the basic dough would have been a better way to add chocolate flavour to the sliders. Either that, or to add more sugar to the dough to counteract the bitterness.

However, nothing ventured, nothing gained and although the bitterness of the bread took me by surprise the first time I ate them, they have very much grown on me and I'm glad I tried the experiment. I have been eating them for breakfast (what?! bread is definitely a breakfast item, even if it is chocolate bread...) and although they aren't the best spread simply with butter I think they'd be divine with Nutella (for those who can). I can definitely recommend them with choccy Philly or spread with butter and a square of 70% chocolate (I used Lindt because a 10g square is just the right size for these rolls). I think the chocolate is quite a French thing - I am given to understand that a few squares of chocolate in a pain-de-mie (sweetish soft white bread) roll is a common snack for children in France (though I could be mistaken - they probably eat Mars Bars like the rest of the world!)

Choccy Philly - really not silly...

I am submitting these to We Should Cocoa this month, where the theme is 'Bread'. Founded by Choclette of Choc Log Blog and Chele of Chocolate Teapot, the host this month is Nazima of Franglais Kitchen.

I am also submitting them to Breakfast Club, founded by Helen of Fuss Free Flavours and hosted this month by Choclette of Choc Log Blog.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Traditional Christmas Cake

Yes, it's the 'C' word - Christmas. I haven't even started to think about anything else related to Christmas other than the cake. This is simply because this cake needs to be made in advance to mature for Christmas and be at it's best. It does seem early, but just trust me on this!

This recipe is our family recipe for Christmas cakes, used by my mum since before I was born I think. It originally came from one of the booklets that my mum collected in the 1970's as part of the Cordon Bleu cookery course. There were quite a few of these booklets hanging around the house when I was younger, but my mum being the tidy person she is (and not a hoarder like me, I got that from my dad) chucked most of them out. However, the booklet with the Christmas Cake recipe was always earmarked to stay safe. The cake is made every year for varying numbers of family members - grandparents, aunties and uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces and is also make in mini tins (200g baked bean size, in case you were wondering...) for cake sales at church. Not a cheap cake sale cake, but my mum has requests for these every year from many members of the congregation and they are always massively popular. I think perhaps I'd better start saving my baked bean tins for her again...

There have been a number of minor amendments over the years and so I thought I would record my version of this cake here. As you will see, this is destined to be a Christmas gift (for my dad - I don't think he reads this blog, but if he does... Hi Dad!... then he'll be rather relieved that the cake is made and it's the right one this time) so there are no inside shots.

Last year I completely ran out of time and didn't make this cake, reasoning that I would be better to make a cake that was intended to be eaten soon after making. I found Delia's Last-Minute Sherry Mincemeat Cake and made that instead. It was a disaster. In fact, I was so ashamed of it that I wouldn't even let myself take a photograph of it. I used fruit and nuts for the topping as shown, but they all sank into the middle of the cake, the edges ballooned up and I was embarrassed that I would have to give such a monstrosity as a gift. But having run out of time, I gave it anyway. Hence the need to get ahead on this year's effort.

The year before last I used this same recipe but for some reason (and what with being nearly two years ago I really can't remember what times/temperatures etc I used) the fruit and nuts darkened far too much. I guess I must have misread my recipe. I'm happy to report a better outcome this year.

NB When baking the cake I noted that quite a bit of fat came out of the cake. I was using a lined loose-based tin and having spoken to my mum since making it, she says that this happens to her too, so she doesn't use a loose-based tin. It's up to you, but I'd recommend something under the cake tin to catch the escaping butter if necessary. Hopefully the cake won't be dry....

Traditional Christmas Cake
115g plain flour
pinch salt
1/4 nutmeg, grated
1/2 tsp mixed spice
225g sultanas
175g raisins
115g glace cherries, halved
85g slivered almonds (or blanched almonds, chopped lengthways)
85g butter
grated rind 1/2 lemon (or orange)
85g dark brown soft sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp brandy/rum/sherry or 1 tbsp orange juice

To decorate
Your choice of nuts and fruits - I used brazil nuts, almonds and glace cherries, but my mum always includes walnuts. You could also use hazelnuts, or whatever takes your fancy.

- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Grease and line a 6"/15cm round, deep (it needs to be deep) tin with a double layer of parchment paper round the sides and on the base - this helps to protect the cake as it bakes.

Preparation stage (can be done the night before):

Put butter, sugar and zest into a large bowl. This needs to be large enough to hold all of the mixture towards the end of mixing.
Put flour, salt, spices into a small bowl.
Put all dried fruit into a medium bowl with the nuts and toss with a tbsp or so of flour.

- Cream the butter, sugar and grated zest until soft and light.
- Add the eggs one at a time, with a spoonful of flour after each to help prevent the mixture curdling.
- Fold in half of the flour.
- Fold in the fruit and nuts until well mixed and then add the remaining flour mixture and alcohol/fruit juice and continue to mix until all amalgamated.
- Smooth the top of the cake (if baking without nut decoration, smooth with wet fingers to protect the surface of the cake) and arrange the fruit and nuts as you wish. Our family have always gone for concentric circles.
- Bake for 45 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 160C/Gas 3 (or just under, Gas 3 is apparently 170C), cover the cake with a double thickness of parchment weighed down with an old wooden spoon (or a silicon one like I used) - this is just to protect the surface from over-browning. Continue to bake for a further 45 minutes - 1 hour. Test with a skewer/cake tester. If it comes out clean the cake is done. I ended up leaving mine in for two hours in total.

A note on decoration: The cake is perfectly suitable for making as a plain cake to be covered in marzipan and royal (more traditional) or fondant (newfangled) icing. However, in our family it is always, always covered with a fruit and nut topping. This dates back to the 1970's when there was a shortage of icing sugar and so royal icing couldn't be made. (Yes, I know this sounds odd, but it was 1974, the year of the 3 day week, and many things were in shortage, sugar included! There's an article here.)

To store: When completely cold, wrap the cake in greaseproof paper and over-wrap it with foil. Keep in a cool(ish) place (i.e. not next to a radiator...) until needed.

I don't actually know how long this cake keeps, but a good while if properly wrapped. One year, my mum (making the cakes in September...) was either super-organised and thought to make two for the household, or miscalculated how many relatives needed one and there ended up being two cakes. One was consumed over Christmas and into January and then the other one stayed on top of a tall cupboard, hidden with kitchen rolls or some such kitchen related item. It was eventually rescued in about July, cut into, pronounced 'mature' and 'rather delicious'. So I reckon it'll keep for a while.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Raymond Blanc's Lemon Cake

Well, almost. I remember watching this cake being made, and shortly after saw that Suelle had baked it and made a note of her observations on the recipe. For some reason this recipe popped rather randomly into my mind a few days ago. The combination of a couple of lemons, a pot of double cream and rather a lot of eggs to use meant that this recipe was the perfect solution.

You can find the recipe here on the BBC Food website. I made some small changes to the recipe to reflect my ingredient availability and Suelle's comments about the recipe.

I only used two lemons (that's all I had) and added the zest of both to the cake mixture, along with the juice of one of them. I missed out the rum (sorry Raymond, I don't have rum kicking around my house) and used salted butter (thereby missing out the pinch of salt). Actually, given how much I usually change recipes that's pretty good going for me! After reading Suelle's comments I decided to put the whole lot into the tin (which is very counterintuitive given how much batter there is) and all was well.

I also wanted to try a little trick I'd heard (not sure whether I heard it via twitter/in one of his books/on his blog) from Edd Kimber about getting the crack on a loaf cake. You put a little line of butter down the centre of the cake before putting it in the oven and then it melts and forms a weak point in the batter where a crack will form (my understanding of it). I wasn't sure if it'd work but thought it worth a go and I did indeed get a very attractive crack along the length of my loaf. A good tip, and one I'll be using again. Thanks Edd. I found my cake too longer to bake than the 50-60 minutes specified. Mine was more like 1hr 15-20 (I sort of lost track). I covered it up after about 55 minutes to stop it over-browning.

For the icing I decided not to go the apricot jam and glaze route, but just to revert to the kind of drizzle I know I like - I dissolved the 150g icing sugar in the juice of the remaining lemon, allowed it to boil over, creating sticky chaos on my hob (yeah, I don't really recommend that step) and then when the cake was baked, stabbed it all over with a long cake tester (the cake is too deep for a wooden cocktail stick, which is my usual cake-testing-implement-of-choice) and poured the syrup over. I left it until cold in the tin to absorb the syrup. Yum, sticky (actually - very, very sticky....)

This was such a good cake. I don't quite know how to describe it, because if I say it was dense, that doesn't sound complimentary and it's actually meant to. It was the perfect balance of denseness and solidity yet when eaten it was delicate and soft. My method of soaking the syrup into the cake worked as well as I had hoped and created delicious moist, lemony edges to the cake, and at the base of the cake there was a lovely moist bit too. I will certainly make this again the next time the correct ingredients align in my baking life.... I can't say that it was a cheap cake due to the number of eggs and the cream, but oh boy was it ever worth making. Next time I think I'll try and ramp up the lemon flavour by adding more zest, or perhaps a teaspoon of lemon extract (oil) and using more lemon juice in the glaze, to get that real lemon zing that was perhaps missing (as also noted by Suelle).

As I have been meaning to make this for ages and ages (and have merely been waiting for the correct constellation of ingredients-needing-to-be-used-up to occur) I am going to submit it to Bookmarked Recipes, hosted by Jac of Tinned Tomatoes. (Or I will if I can find the linky, I don't think it's up yet... Edited to add link 14/11/12)

Saturday 3 November 2012

Apple and Pear Parkin

It seems appropriately cold to be thinking about warming autumnal flavours and for me, that's ginger, mixed spice and treacle. I particularly love the traditional northern cake known as Parkin. I have made a couple of other versions in previous years - click to find my traditional parkin recipe and a recipe I used from Dan Lepard. Both of these are delicious, but as ever, tastes change and my fickle taste buds wanted something new and different. This year I was browsing a little magazine which I think came as part of Waitrose Kitchen - Waitrose's own cookery magazine. This was a little booklet focusing on autumn flavours and contained a recipe for a fruity parkin. I had never really thought to add fruit to a parkin before but then thought 'why not!'.

The recipe didn't quite appeal in the form it was in, so this is more of an 'inspired by' rather than an adaptation - I've changed quite a few bits of it! I can't see it on their website at the moment, but I have changed it quite considerably so give my version below.

Apple and Pear Parkin
65g butter
165g self raising flour
1 heaped tsp ground ginger
scant tsp bicarbonate of soda
65g medium oatmeal
1 small conference pear
1 small apple (I used an Egremont Russet)
100g black treacle
100g golden syrup
3 pieces stem ginger in syrup, chopped
75ml milk

- Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3. Grease and line an 8"/20cm square tin.
- Mix together the flour, ginger, oatmeal and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl.
- Heat the butter, treacle, golden syrup and chopped ginger together in a pan until the butter has melted but the mixture isn't boiling.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the milk.
- Add to the flour mixture. I added a little at a time - this allows you to stir it in gradually and prevents lumps and pockets of flour forming.
- Pour into the prepared tin. Slice the apple and pear finely and lay on the top of the mixture, scattering in a random-ish fashion (I placed mine to get a good mixture of the different fruits across the top).
- Bake for about 45 minutes until the centre feels firm to the touch (I can't remember quite how long mine took).
- Serve warm as a dessert with icecream or creme fraiche or cold as a cake.

Normally, parkin benefits from having a few days for the treacle and golden syrup to draw in moisture and make the top sticky and moist - this is certainly the case for my traditional parkin recipe - it just carries on getting better and better. Here, however, the fruit on the top of the parkin means that it needs to be eaten the same day or the next day. You'll be relieved to find (as was I) that the top of the parkin is already delectably sticky and moist after only a day of waiting. In fact, I would venture to say that it is stickier and moister than either of my previous parkins. Just delicious. And this means that if you want to bake a quick batch of this for Bonfire Night this year, there's still ample time to do so!

This is fabulous - sticky, moist and full of gingery flavour. I would possibly add more ground ginger next time, and more chopped ginger, because really, can there ever be such a thing as too-much-ginger. I don't think so! I loved the ginger in the cake and the sticky top but to be honest the fruit didn't really add anything other than aesthetics (which is important, but not as important as flavour) and a good, chewy textural contrast but I think I'd leave them off next time so that the keeping qualities are improved (and I can keep more of it for myself rather than giving it away - selfish ulterior motive ;-)). Definitely a make again.

Since both apples and pears are in season right now and this makes good use of them, and as the season in a broader sense is calling to me for ginger and spice, I am submitting these to Ren at Fabulicious Food for her Simple and in Season linky, hosted this month by Ren herself.

I am also submitting them to Bookmarked Recipes hosted by Jac of Tinned Tomatoes, as I first saw these when I was in the depths of revision and even though I knew I didn't have time to make them straightaway I knew without a doubt that they would be on my plate this season and recommend you add them to yours too.


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