January 7, 2018

BANANA AND CARDAMOM CAKE and my new kitchen.

banana and cardamom cake2

My weight loss diet, a rotten cold/flu over Christmas and our new kitchen nightmare notwithstanding, I was desperate to bake a cake in my new oven, in my new kitchen and could resist no longer.

banana and cardamom cake

I had spotted a recipe in my latest addition to my bookshelf “The Christmas Chronicles” by Nigel Slater, which was my Christmas present.

For the last two Christmases we have been operating a “Secret Santa” method of giving presents and I have to say that it has been a great success.  There are really only five of us on my side of the family that exchange gifts, and by setting a fairly low limit and just giving one thing secretly, we all get something we want and nobody ends up spending loads of money they can’t afford on stuff that nobody needs.  I wished for this book and so it appeared on Christmas Day, from Santa.  I genuinely have no idea which one of my family bought it for me!

I like Nigel Slater.  There is something about him that I find extremely endearing yet ever so slightly odd, but I love his more recent TV programmes.  I love the way he seems to cook ad lib according to what he has in the fridge or garden and it all looks delicious.  It’s an effortless style of cooking that I wish I could emulate, although I dare say that much of it is more carefully planned than it looks, but even so, it comes across as sophisticatedly rustic in a relaxed kind of way.  I also rather like his kitchen.

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Speaking of which, I now have my new kitchen.  Getting it done turned out to be a nightmare but we ended up with the kitchen we wanted so that’s all that matters I suppose.

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It isn’t finished.  There is still some painting to do and a new floor to put down.  A lot of the tiling will have to be redone as it’s absolutely terrible – I could have made a better job of it myself - and the tap dribbles, apparently because that design of tap dribbles – sometimes.  Which is very odd because we have the exactly same style of tap in our French kitchen and it dribbleth not!  (Another battle to fight.)

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But we love the kitchen warts and all and it will be finished before too long.  We didn’t go for fancy gadgets and gizmos, just good quality appliances and lots of cabinets to store all our stuff in such a way as we don’t have to fight to get things out of the cupboards.  The colour is described as grey but in fact it’s a very pale and subtle sage green.

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We have put our most noisy appliances, the washing machine and tumble drier, in the back porch, converting it into a utility room – or “futility room” as I read recently, which amused me no end and I shall refer to it as the FR from now on!  The long awaited dishwasher is one of the built in appliances in the kitchen and it is amazingly quiet – how things have improved since we last bought one – I have to really listen hard to decide if I actually switched it on.

Anyway, I was desperate to make a cake in my brand new AEG oven and could wait no longer!

Nigel Slater’s recipes can be a bit wordy and not always easy to follow but I followed it to the letter and the cake was a great success.  I have rewritten the recipe according to what I used and the way I went about it.

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It had an excellent texture and flavour – except that I’m not entirely convinced about the cardamom.  I’m tempted to think that it would have been even better with a more traditional addition of say ginger or cinnamon.  The cardamom made it florally fragrant which I’m not sure is my cup of Earl Grey, but because it is otherwise so good I will definitely make it again.  The crunchy topping was lovely but I might replace the cardamom with some cinnamon in the batter next time.

(Maybe I was put off by the fact that I can’t get past the thought that the little seeds inside a cardamom pod look alarmingly like mouse droppings!)

You can see the original recipe here.

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Ingredients

3 medium bananas (about 375g when peeled)

1 tblsp lemon juice

200g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

90g golden caster sugar

90g light muscovado sugar

2 eggs

4 tblsp groundnut oil

For the topping

10 cardamom pods

2 tblsp golden caster sugar

Method

Break open the cardamom pods and crush the seeds to a fine powder in a mortar and pestle.  Add the 2 tblsp caster sugar and mix together, set aside.

Break the bananas into chunks into a bowl and mash them with a fork, leaving them fairly lumpy rather than turning them into mush.  Stir in the lemon juice and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 170°C / 150° fan / gas mk 3-4.  Butter and line the base of a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.*

Put the two sugars into a large bowl with the eggs and beat with an electric whisk for 3-4 minutes until light and creamy.  Add half the oil and whisk again, repeat with the other half.

Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and fold in.  Add the mashed bananas and fold in.

Pour into the tin and sprinkle the cardamom mixture on top.  Bake for 35-45 minutes until done.  Cool in the tin before turning out.

*The original recipe states a 20cm square tin and bake for 35 minutes, but I wanted a round cake.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

January 6, 2018

MARMALADE YOGHURT CAKE

marmalade yoghurt cake

My brother made this cake for a CCC event when he was staying with us on holiday in France last year.  I can’t quite remember why he chose this particular recipe, but we were all pleased that he did.  It was easy to make, turned out exactly like the picture on the website and tasted delicious.

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I thought that now would be a good time to post about it, this being the marmalade making season (although I have never made any myself) and many people being ready to bake something a bit less rich and less Christmassy .  You can see the original here.

Ingredients

125g full fat Greek yoghurt

50ml vegetable oil

zest of 1 lemon

zest of 1 orange

3 eggs

125g caster sugar

200g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

75g marmalade

1 tbsp orange juice

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk4.  Butter and line a 1lb loaf tin or use a paper liner.

Beat together the yoghurt, oil zests and eggs in a large bowl until light and frothy.  Sift in the flour and baking powder, add the sugar and mix until just combined.

Spoon into the tin and bake for about 45 minutes until done.  Remove from the oven.

Whilst the cake is cooling slightly, warm the marmalade and orange juice in a small pan until the marmalade melts.  Pour over the still warm cake and leave to cool completely in the tin.

Remove when cold and cut in thick slices.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

December 26, 2017

PUMPKIN PIE

pumpkin pie

Not everyone likes Christmas pudding (something I find hard to understand myself) so I usually put on an alternative on Christmas Day.  This year it was pumpkin pie.

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Which brings me to a recent bargain purchase, the book “Bake it Great” by Luis Toryano.  He was a Great British Bake Off contestant a few years ago and, like so many of them, consolidated his success on the show by writing a book.

There are a lot of bread recipes in the book and I’m not into bread making, but for the £3 bargain price in the book shop I thought there was enough in it to make it worth buying.  Flipping through the pages I spotted a recipe for pumpkin pie which uses tinned pumpkin purée rather than fresh pumpkin. 

I have been a fan of tinned pumpkin, Libby’s being the only brand I have ever seen for sale in the shops and not many of the shops at that – Waitrose being the only reliable source of it – ever since I started making pumpkin spice cake which is always a hit at events and cake stalls.  You can read about that here. 

As we restocked our new kitchen cupboards with all the stuff that has been stored in boxes for months on end, a couple of tins of pumpkin purée turned up so I decided that pumpkin pie would be our alternative this year – along with the usual apple crumble.  Belt and braces, appealing to all tastes.  (In other words I could just imagine the look on my dad’s face when presented with pumpkin pie.)

The other bargain purchase was a Christmas cake stand found in a local charity shop.  Why anyone should give away something like that amazes me, but luckily for me they did and for £3 I am very pleased with it.

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The pie was delicious.  I have never made pumpkin pie before, although I have been tempted by the recipe on the back of the label on the Libby’s tin.  I haven’t actually eaten it too often either.  It was very quick and easy to make, especially as I used ready rolled, ready made pastry, which it needed to be as I was quite poorly on Christmas Day this year, with a stinker of a cold and although determined to get the pie made I doubt I could have managed a more challenging recipe.  There was slightly too much filling for my flan dish so rather than over-fill it I baked the excess separately to be enjoyed later.

The pastry was crisp and the filling light and almost mousse like, filling the house with the aroma of spices as it baked, just right for Christmas I thought.  Luis suggests using sweet shortcrust pastry but mine was plain as that’s what I had in the freezer.

Ingredients

1 pack of ready made shortcrust pastry

2 large eggs

1 tin of pumpkin purée (425g)

125g soft light brown sugar

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp salt

1 large tin evaporated milk (410g)

Method

Preheat the oven to 220°C / 200°fan / gas mk 7.  Use the pastry to line a suitable tart tin or flan dish (loose bottomed or ceramic) and blind bake for 15 minutes.

Beat the eggs very lightly in a large bowl.  Add the pumpkin purée and all the other ingredients and stir together to combine.

Pour carefully into the blind baked pastry case and bake for 15 minutes.  Then reduce the oven temperature to 200°C / 180° fan and bake for a further 35-40 minutes.  The filling should have a slight wobble to it when baked and will set as it cools.

Leave to cool completely before turning out (if using a metal tin) and serve cold.

Serves 6-8.

December 8, 2017

CHOCOLATE AND CHESTNUT FONDANT

chocolate and chestnut fondant2

You would be entitled to wonder why I have reeled out this picture of a cake decorated with Easter eggs only a few weeks before Christmas.

The answer is simple.  This is most definitely a Christmassy recipe and I had it bookmarked to try for the festive season a couple of years ago.  But, as so often happens, I was overtaken by events and the idea to make the cake was put on the back burner and ultimately forgotten.  Then, I remembered it when I was hunting for a recipe for a chocolate dessert cake the following Easter.  Chocolate and Easter are best friends and as I already had the tin of chestnut cream – so why not!

chocolate and chestnut fondant1chocolate and chestnut fondant1aThe recipe comes from one of my favourite blogs called “Life’s a Feast” and you can see the original here.  It made one of those intensely rich, squidgy chocolate dessert cakes, extra delicious due to the inclusion of chestnut purée, a very traditional ingredient in France at this time of year.

chocolate and chestnut fondant

It tasted glorious.  Imagine it covered in a snowy blanket of icing sugar and decorated with a sprig of holly instead of Easter eggs and it would be perfect for a Christmas or New Year dinner!  As suggested in the original recipe, it might also be even more delicious if a little orange liqueur or even rum was added.

(And yes, those are Daisy’s little paws getting dangerously close to it in the picture!  She suddenly appeared on the table from nowhere and her paws landed just as I snapped.  In case you’re wondering about that as well….no, she didn’t!)

Ingredients

200g dark chocolate, I used Green and Black’s 70%

160g unsalted butter

3 large eggs

1 500g tin of chestnut spread or crème de marrons

1 heaped tbsp plain flour

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan.  Butter and line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.

Melt the butter and sugar together, either in a microwave or a bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Set aside to cool.

Put the eggs in a large bowl and whisk with an electric whisk.  Add the chestnut cream and whisk in. 

Next whisk in the cooled chocolate mixture until well blended, then the flour.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 30 minutes.  The surface will be cracked and the cake puffed up and just set.

Cool in the tin and serve dusted liberally with icing sugar.  Decorate with seasonal decorations!  You can serve with cream or ice cream, red berries, or just as it is.

Serves 8.

November 27, 2017

TURKEY, LEEK AND MUSHROOM HOTPOT FOR ONE

chicken, leek and mushroom hotpot

Nick returned to France recently, to close up the house for the winter.  That sounds awfully grand, I think, but in reality it means to tidy the garden, put the geraniums in the barn, turn off the water, cover the furniture with dust sheets and set the heating to come on if it gets below a certain temperature over the winter.  This all takes time, especially the gardening bit, and we had no time to do it before we did our dash back to the UK to move house.  We ummed and ahhed about whether we needed to make the trip and could manage without – trust the house to look after itself over the winter – but in the end we decided that one of us should go and we’re glad that we did.  We now have peace of mind that we have done as much as we can to help the house survive the worst of the winter without us.

So with Nick in France I found myself cooking for one, dog and cat sitting, for nearly a week.  Also trying to lose weight.  Cooking for one is something I have always found a real challenge.  In my younger days I went through a “Guinness and cornflakes” phase where I simply could not be bothered to cook at all.  I survived and got away with it, presumably because I was younger and more active.  These days I no longer play squash and dread to think what a couple of bottles of Guinness could do for my waistline.  So, with healthy eating in mind I wondered what I could make with the turkey mini breast fillets I had bought and the veg in my fridge.

chicken, leek and mushroom hotpot2

I had some leeks and mushrooms and part of a bag of spinach.  With a bit of internet research I turned up this recipe on the Sainsbury’s website and adapted it for just one person.  I used a method from my Philadelphia Cheese cookbook to make a sauce instead of using packet white sauce as per the recipe.

chicken, leek and mushroom hotpot3chicken, leek and mushroom hotpot4

It was very tasty, quick and easy to do and I would do it again for myself or for two or more people.  I had mine with some positively virtuous green veg.

Ingredients

two or three turkey (or chicken) mini fillets, depending on size and appetite.

1 small leek, washed, trimmed and thickly sliced

4-5 chestnut mushrooms, washed and thickly sliced

a small handful of spinach leaves

4-5 small potatoes, washed or scrubbed

2 tbsp low fat cream cheese

2 tbsp milk

Calorie controlled butter or oil cooking spray

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180° fan.

Put the potatoes into a pan of boiling water and cook until tender.

Meanwhile, cut the turkey into bite sized pieces and brown in a frying pan which has been sprayed with a few squirts of cooking spray.  Remove from the pan and put into an individual sized pie dish or other deep baking dish.

Brown the mushroom pieces in the pan, then remove and put into the dish along with the leeks and the washed spinach.  Season with salt and pepper.

Mix the cream cheese and milk together to make a small quantity of sauce and spoon over the meat and veg.

Thickly slice the potatoes and arrange over the top of the filling.  Spray with a few squirts of the cooking spray and bake for 15-20 minutes until browned and bubbling at the edges.

Serves one person.  Can be multiplied up easily for two or more people.

November 14, 2017

APPLE CAKE and the case of the wrong tin.

Apple cake

A bit of an ugly duckling.

I would have to agree that this is not the most good looking cake I have included in the blog, but I plead mitigating circumstances.

In early September we moved house and only three days later fled back to France to enjoy what was left of the nice weather.  Three weeks after that we returned to the UK to begin organising the process of doing up our new house, which is a 1960’s bungalow in dire need of modernisation and a bit of TLC.  The kitchen is probably not very old and although it looked good in the agent’s photos in reality it most definitely is not, being cheap and badly fitted.

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The boiler was so old that the plumber laughed and took pictures to show his mates.  The first job was to replace it and all the radiators, which ended up being a major upheaval and the plumbing equivalent of a re-wiring.  This has left us with a workable but not very pretty kitchen which is difficult to keep clean.

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Apple cake7

It does at least function, although I miss my dishwasher and have renewed respect for my mum who cooked for four of us and washed up by hand every single day.  I now have the sandpaper hands that she had at my age.  A new dishwasher will come with a new kitchen in late November – not a moment too soon!

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The top oven, untouched and not as clean as it looks.  Ugh.

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The oven, bright and sparkling without its layers of grease.

The double oven/grill was filthy.  I don’t mind too much cleaning layers of my own muck off an oven, given the right products, but cleaning other people’s is a step too far.  Yes, that is a layer of grease in the bottom of the grill compartment.  I was all for leaving it exactly as it was and using just the hob and our camping stove until our new kitchen was installed, but after a week or so I realised that I could not survive without an oven for at least two months so decided to tackle it.

I used a product called “Oven Mate” which is a fairly evil and vicious gel that you paint on the cold oven surfaces and shelves and wipe off three hours later.  It did a fantastic job of cleaning the oven but I’m afraid I chickened out of doing the top oven/grill.  Whilst it pains me to leave it like that – it’s like having an ogre lurking in the kitchen, waiting to bite me if I accidentally open the wrong door – I simply can’t bear the prospect of cleaning it. 

Apple cake8Apple cake9

Because we are waiting for a new kitchen most of our kitchen stuff is still in boxes piled up in the dining room.  There seems little point in unpacking it all and putting it away only to have to empty the cupboards again in a few weeks’ time.

Just to digress slightly, I am thrilled to have a dining room, having not had one since living in the old Edwardian flat I rented in Headingley, Leeds, in 1971.  That had a proper dining room, with parquet floor, picture rails and a fine fireplace.  After that I had either a “through lounge” arrangement or a dining kitchen.  This new dining room would originally have been the front bedroom until the upstairs was added to the bungalow, but it’s a good size and we have great plans for it.

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And so I come to the reason for having a rather untidy looking cake.  It was my dad’s and Nick’s birthdays on consecutive days and a cake of some sort was called for.  After weeks of rummaging through packing boxes to find essential items, I was fed up with the chaos and on opening a box marked “cake tins”  picked up the first tin I found inside and thought it would do fine for the apple cake recipe.  If I had used a regular tin it would have been fine, as you can see, but with this tin the cake is meant to be turned upside down to reveal the fancy shape on top and that’s where things went pear shaped.

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I possibly could have turned it back the other way up but thought there was a risk that it might fall apart completely so decided to slather it in a good sprinkling of icing sugar instead.

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As well as not using the right tin, I also didn’t use the right ingredients.  The recipe called for almond essence but I had no idea where mine might be.  In rummaging I spotted the jar of mixed spice so used that instead along with the zest of an orange, which I had seen in another recipe and sounded like a nice idea.

It was delicious.  Definitely my favourite apple cake so far.  The original recipe comes from Jo Wheatley, a GBBO winner of a few years ago and is called “Auntie Helen’s Apple Cake”.  You can see it here.

Apple cake4

It was packed full of apples and I thought the spice and orange variation worked really well.  Next time I might use one less apple (maybe mine were a little too big) to make the cake more stable but it was lovely.  Definitely one to do again – but using the right tin next time!

Apple cake9f

Digressing ever so slightly again, I served it on my new cake stand which was a bargain purchase recently from Tesco.  I have a huge collection of cake stands (I simply dare not confess exactly how many but suffice it to say more than any person can ever need) and really didn’t need another.  However, I liked the slogan on this one, things in the world being so wrong at the moment, so when they were reduced eventually to £3, I swooped.

Ingredients

125g caster sugar

125g soft margarine or spreadable butter

185g self raising flour

4 small eating apples, peeled and sliced (I would use three next time)

3 eggs, beaten

40ml double cream

1 tsp mixed spice

zest of 1 orange

Method

Preheat the oven to 170°C / 150°fan.  Grease and line the bottom of a 23cm round springform tin.

Cream together the fat and sugar using an electric whisk, until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Sift and fold in the flour and spice, along with the orange zest and cream.

Stir through the apple slices until well coated in the batter.  Transfer to the tin and bake for 40-50 minutes until golden brown and done.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.  Sprinkle liberally with icing sugar and serve warm with cream or ice cream, or cold.

Cuts into 8 – 10 delicious slices.

October 29, 2017

STICKY TOFFEE LOAF CAKE and a good reason for not baking.

sticky toffee pudding cake

There will not be as much baking going on in this house over the next few weeks, or even months.  The reason being – I am on a diet.  A quest to lose the more than two stone I have gained since I retired, preferably by the time we return to France next spring.

The excess weight did not arrive overnight, it was a gradual thing, the result of the constant availability of food, eating a meal instead of just a sandwich at lunchtime, and possibly an overly enthusiastic interest in all things cake.  The last half stone has appeared since we lost our dog Lulu last summer and, with 2016 being my personal annus horribilis, no doubt a bit of comfort eating as well.

I have lost weight successfully before on various eating plans, the most successful being a calorie counting regime.  I accept that an increased activity level would help matters, but it would be hard to fit in any visits to the gym at the moment, what with doing up our new UK house and – keeping an eye on our new puppy, Hugo.  We have a lot of plates spinning and are only just keeping ourselves sane – you can read more about it here if you like.  We can hardly be described as inactive, compared to those who might sit in front of a computer or a TV all day, and it’s good to see that the first half stone has already disappeared.

However, I still have plenty of cakes and other bakes to write about, in fact a backlog of baking posts that should keep me going for quite a while.  It will actually be nice to bring the blog up to date so that all those bakes don’t just disappear forever into the mists of time.

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Nick made this cake for the last CCC meeting.  I had made it myself (and blogged about it) a while ago and when I looked it up it turns out that that was three years ago – how time flies!  I remembered that it was a delicious cake, full of spice and just right for early autumn, with its dates and pecans.  You can read about it here.

sticky toffee pudding cake3sticky toffee pudding cake2

Autumn arrived unusually early in our little corner of France.  Considering that the cake club meeting was on 27th September, looking at the photos you would think that it was a month later.  September is usually a glorious month in the Loire Valley, warm and sunny, with all the joys of summery days without the baking heat of say July and August.  This year September was disappointing, cool and showery.  (Apparently October has been better – but we were not there to enjoy it, sadly.)

It was definitely a “mists and mellow fruitfulness” kind of day when Nick baked his cake and I had to take the cake outside to get enough light to take its picture.

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The cake is made to a Delia Smith recipe – Nick is very much a fan of Delia – and rightly so.  I can’t recall having too many failures with any of her recipes.

This time we decided that we liked the rustic look of the cake without its icing so decided not to ice it.  That was a good decision I think.  Sometimes an icing is called for but on this occasion the cake was perfectly delicious without it.  (For those who like the intense sweetness of a sticky toffee pudding, the icing would satisfy the need.)

It kept really well for several days.  Chunks of it sustained us on our long, twelve hour journey back to Derbyshire from the Loire.  The last few pieces kept us going and our spirits up when we faced the first tranche of building work on our new house in the UK.

You can see the original recipe with the iced version here.

Ingredients

1 tsp mixed spice

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

110g chopped dates

50g pecan nuts, chopped

110g Flora Buttery (or similar, such as Lurpak Spreadable)

50g black treacle

175g golden syrup

150ml milk

2 eggs, beaten

225g plain flour

Method

Preheat the oven to 150˚ C / 130˚ fan / gas mk 2.  Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment or use a paper liner.

Put the butter, treacle and syrup in a large saucepan over a low heat and melt them together.  (Warming the tin of treacle in a saucepan of hot water will help to make it easier to measure out.)

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, mix in the milk then the beaten eggs.  Sift in the flour, spices and bicarb, whisking in gradually until smooth.  Add the nuts and about two thirds of the dates, mix well and pour into the tin.  Drop the remaining dates onto the top of the cake and push them in a bit with a skewer.

Bake on a low shelf for 1½ hours to 1 hour 50 minutes until done, risen and cracked on the top.  Cool in the tin for 30 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Cuts into 10-12 slices, depending on how thick you like you slices of cake.