November 16, 2014

CARROT AND ORANGE CAKE

carrot and orange cake 

My sister in law recently asked me to recommend a recipe for a carrot cake, saying she found many of them too moist and oily.  I had to confess that I had never, ever made a carrot cake.  I have made cakes from parsnips, courgettes, beetroot, pumpkin and butternut squash, all of which were delicious.  But never carrots.

I also once made a kale and apple cake, which was utterly horrible.  I don’t know if it was my dodgy oven or the recipe, but I came to the conclusion that there are some vegetables that really don’t belong in a cake.

I have eaten lots of carrot cake in my time and usually found them to be very moreish.  However, the last slice I had was in a Debenhams café and it was awful – dry with a slightly stale, overly sweet frosting.  Ugh.

Anyway, a request came along for cakes for the Children in Need cake stall at work (although I retired eighteen months ago) and I had all the ingredients in stock, so the excuse was there to have a go at my very first carrot cake.

carrot and orange cake2 

I chose a recipe in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, because it only has carrot and orange flavours, no bananas, sultanas or anything else to detract from the main ingredients, apart from a little mixed spice.  Also, bearing in mind what my sister in law said, it’s made with butter, not oil.

carrot and orange cake3

There was no picture of the cake in the recipe book so I had to use my imagination a bit when decorating the cake.  The idea is that you bake the cake until it’s fairly firm, remove it from the oven and then lay orange slices on top, brush it with runny honey and put it back in the oven for another fifteen minutes or so, until it’s completely done.

I was half pleased, half disappointed with the finished cake.  It was rising beautifully when I took it out of the oven to add the orange slices and honey, but then ended up much shallower with a distinctly dense layer of cake at the bottom.  All presumably because of the removing from the oven.  The flavour was delicious and it was lovely and moist without seeming at all oily.  The orange flavour was subtle and we could also taste the honey.

I shall certainly make it again but next time I won’t bother adding the orange slices as I don’t think they improved the cake at all, will leave it to cook properly in the oven and maybe drizzle some runny honey over it as it cools, as you would with a lemon drizzle cake.  I might even try one with a cream cheese style of frosting, as in so many carrot cake recipes.

Incidentally, I spotted an error in Mary Berry’s recipe, a rare thing I think.  She lists 175g carrots in the ingredients but when it comes to the method they are simply added with the other ingredients – nowhere does it say that you should grate them!  But everyone would know that……….wouldn’t they?

carrot and orange cake4 We only made two cakes for the cake stall this year, my carrot cake and Nick’s usual coffee and walnut cake from the Hairy Bikers recipe.  He has tried several recipes, including Nigella’s but we both think this one is the best.  I wrote about it some time ago here.

So this year I only provided two cakes for the cake stall instead of my previous seven or eight, but every little helps after all.

Carrot and orange cake ingredients

1 orange

150g softened butter (I used Lurpak spreadable)

150g light muscovado sugar

175g carrots, peeled and grated

2 large eggs, beaten

200g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp mixed spice

1 tblsp milk (if needed to give a dropping consistency)

For the topping

2 tblsp runny honey

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease a 2lb loaf tin and line the base with baking paper, or use a liner.

Finely grate the orange rind and add to all the other cake ingredients in a large bowl.  Beat well until thoroughly blended, and transfer to the prepared tin. 

Bake for about an hour until just firm. 

While the cake is baking, prepare the orange slices by removing all the pith from the orange with a sharp knife and then slicing thinly.  Remove the just firm cake from the oven, arrange the orange slices on the top and brush with the runny honey.  Return to the oven for about 15 more minutes until done.

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out, remove the baking paper or liner and cool on a rack.

Cuts into 8-10 thick slices.

November 11, 2014

HAZELNUT, PLUM AND CHOCOLATE CAKE

chocolate, plum and hazelnut cake 

For the October Loire Valley CCC meeting Nick chose this recipe from the BBC Good Food website.  The theme of the meeting was “a taste of autumn” and nuts are very much in abundance in the Loire this autumn as there has been a particularly good nut harvest.  

Strictly speaking the plum season is long gone but French plums were still available in the shops so that was ok.  It was the combination of flavours that intrigued us both – plums with nuts was not too far fetched - but chocolate?

chocolate, plum and hazelnut cake2

The cake was easy to make and Nick did a great job of making it look very glamorous.  There were chopped plums in the cake and plum halves were arranged on the top then just pushed lightly into the batter.  He decided to omit the whole hazelnuts that he was supposed to scatter on the top, and I think this was a good idea.  The cake took nearly 25 minutes longer than stated to cook, by which time those hazelnuts could have been pretty crozzled, making the cake look rather untidy perhaps.  He finished it off with a redcurrant glaze which added to its beauty!

As it turned out the flavour combination worked really well.  It was delicious, the flavour of the hazelnuts and the plums coming through with a nice hit of chocolate in each mouthful.  A stunning cake that looks much more difficult to make than it really is and we shall definitely be making it again.

alphabakes

This month’s Alphabakes Challenge, run by Ros of The more than occasional baker and Caroline of Caroline Makes is conveniently themed on the letter H this month so Nick’s cake fits in perfectly with that.  You can see the details here.

The selection of cakes at the October meeting was absolutely stunning.  When I started the club I had no idea whether or not there would be enough interest but I have to say that it has been a tremendous success.  If you want to read more about it follow this link.  Loire Valley CCC.

Ingredients

17g butter

175g light muscovado sugar

175g self raising flour

17g ground hazelnuts

3 eggs

1 tsp baking powder

50g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)

2  tsp redcurrant jelly

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Butter and line the base of a 20cm deep cake tin.

Set aside four plums for the top of the cake, halve and stone the rest and chop roughly.  Chop the chocolate.  Neither should be chopped too small.

Beat together the butter, sugar, flour, nuts, eggs and baking powder in a large bowl or food mixer until smooth and light.  Stir in the plums and chocolate.

Transfer the mixture to the cake tin and level the top.  Halve and stone the reserved plums and arrange on the top.  Push them down lightly into the batter.

Bake for 40-50 minutes until browned and firm to the touch.  (Our cake took 65 minutes until it no longer wobbled in the middle.)

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

When cool, warm the redcurrant jelly in a small pan until runny and brush over the top of the cake.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

October 26, 2014

APPLE AND WALNUT CAKE WITH TREACLE ICING

apple and walnut cake

For our most recent meeting of Loire Valley Clandestine Cake Club the theme was “the taste of autumn”.  For me that means reluctantly leaving behind the apricots and strawberries of summer and indulging in the warmth of spices, nuts and autumn fruits.  Ginger and treacle remind me of Bonfire Night, cinnamon and cloves bring back lovely memories of making a Christmas cake with my grandmother.  It’s a truly wonderful, aromatic time of year.

In the garden of our new French house we have fruit trees, something that I have never been lucky enough to have before.  Red plums, cherries, golden mirabelles, apples and walnuts are all there.  By the time we moved in the plums and cherries were all done but I was able to harvest a small basket of apples and two huge boxes of walnuts.

apple and walnut cake4

Sadly the walnut tree is doomed.  It is way too close to the little house – the renovation project that seems always come with any old French house.  We have to have a new fosse (septic tank), as the existing one was condemned when we bought the house, and the roots of the walnut tree will interfere with the positioning of the new system and the drains for the little house.

So for this year we have a bumper harvest of walnuts but from next year we will be back to raiding the trees around the village for a few bagfuls.  C’est la vie!

I was keen to bake a cake that used both the apples and the walnuts from our new home so Googled  “apple and walnut cake” and found this recipe on the BBC Good Food website.  The cake was simple to make and turned out really well in our makeshift oven arrangement.  I took notice of some of the comments on the website and decided to reduce the amount of treacle in the icing, just a bit.

In France I can’t find golden caster sugar so I just used white, and the soft brown sugar available here looks something like a cross between the light and dark varieties you can get in the UK.  It’s tempting to bring ingredients to France from the UK but sooner or later I’m going to have to make do with what’s in the shops here – it will be interesting to see if there’s a huge difference in the flavour if I make it again with the exact ingredients in the recipe.

apple and walnut cake5

On the table it could be mistaken for a coffee and walnut cake, but looks can be deceiving!  The apple and walnut flavours were clearly distinct and the icing was delicious.  Definitely a cake I shall be making again and the icing could be used on many other cakes I think.

I am also offering this cake as my entry for this month’s Random Recipe Challenge from Dom at Bellau Kitchen, whose theme for October is an internet search.  You can read the details here.

apple and walnut cake3

Ingredients

300g plain flour

1tsp ground cinnamon

½tsp bicarb

140g soft dark brown sugar

50g golden caster sugar

250ml sunflower oil

4 eggs

4 small dessert apples, unpeeled and grated

100g walnuts, roughly chopped

For the icing

100g softened butter

50g soft dark brown sugar

1 dessert spoon black treacle

200g full fat cream cheese

Method

Preheat the oven to 150C / 130 fan / gas mk 2.  Butter and line the base of two 20cm cake tins.

Put the flour, spice and bicarb into a large bowl.  Stir in the two sugars, making sure there are no lumps.  Add the eggs, apple and oil and beat well together until combined.  Fold in the walnuts and divide between the two baking tins.

Bake for 45 minutes or until done.  Cool in the tins for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, put all the ingredients together in a food processor and process until smooth and creamy.  Use half to sandwich the two cakes together and spread the other half on top of the cake.  Decorate with walnut halves if you like.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

October 6, 2014

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST AND AN APRICOT BRIOCHE PUDDING.

We have now moved house in France and are settling in, which means getting to grips with an old house and all its little surprises, not to mention the previous owner’s appliances, most of which are more than ten years old.

monster1

The cooker is a monster of a thing, with gas hob and gas oven.  If my new hob and oven on the English side of the channel can be called “Beauty”, this is definitely The Beast!  Curiously, in France this type of cooker is known as a “piano”.

On one of our last visits to the house before we took possession, the owner showed me the “knack” of firing up the oven and opening the door.  This involved opening it by about a quarter of the way, yanking it outwards and then shoving it down completely.

Something told me that yanking an oven door was not the normal way to open it and I sensed disaster looming.  This added to my initial reservation about the practicality of heating an industrial sized oven to cook a small two person lasagne or a sponge cake.  We like entertaining but this oven was meant for Big Cooking Indeed!

monster2

It didn’t take long for the disaster to occur and the oven door hinge broke, leaving the door permanently ajar at a jaunty angle.

monster3

So that was that.

Luckily we had a spare cooker.  The original from our previous little holiday home had been donated to friends for use in their gites and was currently in retirement in their barn.  So we fetched it back and it now stands perfectly comfortably under the stairs in the new kitchen.  We use the gas hob of the monster and the electric oven of the old cooker and this arrangement works fine.  Eventually we will go in search of a new “piano”.

brioche pudding

Before the monster oven died we only managed to cook a lasagne and a casserole in it.  As soon as my old cooker was safely installed I felt much happier and the first thing I made was an apricot brioche pudding.

This is basically a bread and butter pudding using brioche instead, with some fresh apricots (or plums) tucked in between the brioche slices.

The idea is an adaptation combining ideas from a recipe for plum bread and butter pudding which you can see here, and a panettone b&b pudding which you can see here.  I made it a while ago using a mixture of fresh plums and apricots but for this one I used a tin of apricot halves which also worked well and of course required much less preparation.

 brioche pudding2 brioche pudding3

It was delicious and even Nick, who doesn’t really like bread and butter pudding, enjoyed it, which is why I made it the second time!

Ingredients

8-10 apricots, 6-8 large plums, or a mixture of apricots and plums, halved and stoned, or a tin of apricot halves, drained.

2-3 tblsp caster sugar if using fresh fruit

1 brioche loaf

softened butter for buttering the sliced brioche

2 eggs

140ml double cream

250ml milk

1tsp vanilla extract

2tblsp caster sugar

Method

If  using fresh fruit preheat the oven to 200°C / 180° fan / gas mk 6.  Butter a suitable baking dish.

Put the halved, stoned fruit cut side up in the dish and sprinkle ½tsp caster sugar into each one.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until they are cooked and tender.  Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. 

Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C / 140° fan / gas mk 3.

While the plums are cooking prepare the brioche by cutting it into enough thick slices to fill the dish.  Cut each slice in half as a triangle and butter one side of each triangle.

Whisk the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla and sugar together in a bowl or jug.

Remove the cooked plums and any juice from the dish and arrange the triangles of brioche flat side down, point and buttered side upwards.  Tuck the fruit in between the triangles, distributing evenly.  Any cooking juices from the plums can be poured over the pudding.

Pour the egg mixture over the pudding and press the triangles down slightly with the back of a spoon or fish slice.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until the custard is set and the brioche is browned at the tips.

Serve warm with cream or ice cream.  Dust with icing sugar before serving if you like.

Serves 6.

September 11, 2014

BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER – AND A COTTAGE PIE

cottage pie

Right in the middle of our house hunting adventures in France we had to dash back to the UK to take delivery of our beautiful new hob and oven.  Beautiful they are indeed.

John Lewis had a price match and trade in offer in August that we couldn’t resist.  The only thing I wasn’t entirely comfortable about was that we would be “trading in” virtually brand new, hardly used appliances and John Lewis told us they would definitely be going to the tip.  Something in my upbringing told me that wasn’t right so we did a bit of asking around and found new homes for both of them. 

The oven went to Nick’s sister, whose own oven was originally a better one but had stopped working properly – so even a basic model was better than that.  The hob will be replacing an old worn out model in a friend’s gite in France.  As trade-ins we provided the broken oven and the old hob, so everyone was happy.

The oven is the same as the ones currently being used in the Bake Off tent and the hob is an induction model.  We were thinking of having a gas hob, which  is what we have always been used to, but although the gas supply is fairly near to the oven end of the kitchen getting it fitted would have meant a lot of disruption and expense, not to mention the destruction of part of my lovely new kitchen, so we opted for induction.  We are very pleased with it so far, having had it for a total of one day!

cottage pie2

I was thinking there would be no time for baking again this month, the final stage of our two-nation house moving exercise being very near to its conclusion, then I picked up the little recipe book that came with the new oven and flipped the pages.  The book opened at a recipe for cottage pie – as if anyone needs a recipe for cottage pie – and with my dad coming round for his dinner on the middle evening of our brief three-day stay in the UK, I thought “why not?”.  I realise of course that the purpose of the recipe book is more about getting the owner of a new oven used to using all its knobs and buttons than actually presenting original recipes, so I dutifully followed the recipe to the letter.  This included adding some tomato purée, something which I have never put into a cottage pie before.

cottage pie3 cottage pie4 

The main difference between a cottage pie and a shepherd’s pie is that the first is made with beef and the second with lamb.  I didn’t know that until fairly recently and have been making both for decades thinking they were both a shepherd’s pie and wondering why some people called it a cottage pie! 

Either way, they’re simple to make and quite adaptable and the good thing is that you can wash up the pans while it’s in the oven so that by the time it comes to the table the kitchen is looking less like a war zone – something I’m trying to be conscious of now that we have a dining kitchen – eating dinner while staring at the washing up is something I don’t love about our new house.

cottage pie5

The casualties.

There are of course, casualties with my new hob and oven.  Well not so much the oven, but most of my pans will not work with the induction hob so I have had to get a new set.  The old ones will go to France to supplement or replace the mismatched selection of mainly cheap ones we have there – bought when we thought all we wanted was a holiday home and we wouldn’t be doing very much cooking……..how things have changed!

cottage pie6 cottage pie7

I dislike pictures of leftovers but I completely forgot to take a picture of the finished cottage pie.  So I put in another of the oven as well – much more attractive!

The pie was delicious and because the recipe was sort of chosen at random I’m being cheeky and submitting it to this month’s Random Recipe Challenge, organised by the lovely Dom at Bellau Kitchen.  You can read all about it here.

If you want to catch up on the final stage of our house hunting adventures in France and take a peek at the new house – and its lovely kitchen – you can do that here.

Cottage pie – the ingredients

450g potatoes, peeled and quartered

225g carrots, peeled and diced

1 tbslp oil for frying

450g minced beef

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tbslp plain flour

250ml beef stock

1 tblsp tomato purée

2 tblsp Worcestershire sauce

250g pack of mushrooms, sliced

1 tblsp grated cheddar cheese

Method

Boil the potatoes and carrots until cooked.  Drain and mash them together.

Fry the onions, garlic and mince in a large frying pan until the meat is browned.  Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the stock, tomato and Worcestershire sauce and stir well.  Mix in the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 170°fan.

Spoon the meat mixture into a suitable baking dish.  Spoon the potato and carrot mash on top of that and spread out evenly with a fork.  Sprinkle with the grated cheese and dot with butter if you like.

Put the dish on a baking sheet if you want to be sure the pie will not boil over onto your lovely brand new oven floor!  Bake for 25-30 minutes until browned and bubbling.

Serves 4.  Serve with greens of some kind.

August 31, 2014

PLUM AND BLACKBERRY DRIZZLE CAKE (or a tale of two cakes and a mishap because of The Archers)

plum and blackberry drizzle cake

I made this cake using some of those gorgeous little yellow plums called mirabelles that are so common in France but seen so rarely in the UK.  In fact I can’t recall ever seeing them in English shops at all yet in France they fall off trees by the roadside and are just left.  Not long ago we drove along a stretch of road that was a sea of squashed plums in places, which seems such a terrible shame.

plum and blackberry drizzle cake2

I used a recipe for a cake I first saw on the cover of Good Food Magazine two or three years ago and have been meaning to make ever since.  I did a bit of research and found it on the Good Food website here.  

However, backpedalling slightly, before I used my precious mirabelles, I decided to make a “practice” cake with some apricots and plums that were slightly past their best and needed eating up.

The cake is definitely a bit fiddly to make.  You put pieces of fruit on top of the cake mixture then cover it with more mixture and because it’s so stiff, it’s quite difficult to spread the mixture evenly. 

You end up with a cake something like the texture of a Madeira cake with a very convenient crack on the top to hold the fruit topping.  Having looked at some of the reviews on the website I decided to reduce the amount of sugar in the drizzle as per many of the comments.

plum and blackberry drizzle cake7 plum and blackberry drizzle cake8

plum and blackberry drizzle cake6

This is one of those cakes I will no doubt make again and again, not because it’s quick and easy, which it isn’t, but because it looks great and is quite delicious.  In fact we had visitors the evening that I made the apricot version and it all disappeared in one sitting!

The sugar content was perfect I thought, but there was a bit too much of a vanilla flavour, so I decided that when I made the cake again I would reduce the amount in the mixture.

Now we come to my plum and blackberry cake, using my precious mirabelles!

plum and blackberry drizzle cake3

While I was making this cake I decided to catch up with my podcasts of The Archers.  We don’t have a TV or radio in our little French house but we do now have internet so I no longer have to cope with Archers withdrawal symptoms as I can get the programme as a podcast.  I had several episodes to catch up on and got thoroughly engrossed as I baked.  I remembered that I had decided to put half of the vanilla extract in the mixture but………

plum and blackberry drizzle cake4  

When it came to making the drizzle I got to the part where Elizabeth Archer was having an affair with Roy Tucker and I completely forgot about reducing the sugar as per the previous cake!  So I ended up with a very sugary drizzle which, like all the people who left comments about it, was not as good as on the apricot cake.

In actual fact the recipe is rather confusingly written on the website so I have rewritten it in a better order for myself and that’s what I have given below.  Here is my version, with the amendment for the vanilla and drizzle that I think works best.

Ingredients

For the cake

175g softened butter

175g golden caster sugar

250g self-raising flour

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the drizzle

100g granulated sugar

1-2 tblsp citrus juice (lemon, lime or orange)

Fruit content

175g of a mixture of blackberries and stoned, diced plums, or apricots*

Method

Prepare the fruit and divide into two bowls – 100g in one for the cake and 75g in the other for the drizzle.

Butter a 900g/2lb loaf tin and line the bottom with a long strip of baking parchment that runs up and over the short sides. 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°fan/gas 4.

Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer, or by hand, until pale and creamy.  The resulting mixture will be very stiff.

Spread roughly one third of the mixture in the bottom of the tin and scatter roughly 50g of fruit on top.

Dot another third of the cake mixture on top of the fruit and spread out as evenly as you can. 

Repeat with the other 50g of fruit and the last third of cake mixture.

Bake for about an hour until the cake is browned and risen and passes the skewer test.

While the cake is baking, make the drizzle by mixing together the granulated sugar, citrus juice and remaining 75g of fruit in a small bowl.

When the cake comes out of the oven, leave in the tin and prick all over with the skewer.  Spoon the drizzle over the cake, and leave to cool in the tin.  As it cools, gently push any runaway fruit back up to the top of the cake, where it most of it will ultimately stay.  The topping will become crisp as it sets.

When cold, remove gently from the tin using the baking paper overhang as handles.

Serves 8-10.

*You can make this cake with various fruits, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, apricots, plums, nectarines and all the currants – and any combination you like.  Fruit should be stoned and diced or chopped to roughly 1cm pieces.

August 22, 2014

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING CAKE

sticky toffee pudding cake 

Whilst briefly back in the UK in between French house-hunting adventures a local Clandestine Cake Club meeting cropped up.  After my limited success with the new oven, even though I didn’t trust it, I decided to have another go at baking a cake and Nick decided he would too.

Then we decided to do something radical with the oven.

sticky toffee pudding cake2

We took it out!

We have not been thrilled with the oven or hob in our new house, both are much more basic than the ones we left behind.  Setting the oven temperature is guesswork, there is no timer programme, just a minute minder and the grill is half the size of my previous one.  It had to go!

sticky toffee pudding cake3

I was looking online to get an idea of how much it might cost to replace it with something more sophisticated and spotted a great offer in John Lewis which included a large trade-in discount.  The offer finishes at the end of August so we decided to go for it. 

sticky toffee pudding cake4 

The timing of the oven removal was such that if I was going to make a cake, it had to be one that could be baked a couple of days before it was needed.  I looked through my recipe books and found one by Delia Smith for a cake that sounded very much like a sticky toffee pudding that she said would improve over a couple of days.  Perfect!

sticky toffee pudding cake5

I followed the recipe precisely and it turned out perfectly.  It was however absolutely done in the minimum amount of time given in the recipe, something I am not used to.  This may be due to the characteristics of the oven or the fact that it’s almost impossible to set the temperature accurately on the dial.  Nick made a lovely ginger and orange cake and that was also done in less than the time stated.

You can see the recipe for my cake here.  The only change I made was to decorate it with some pecan nuts.  The fudgy icing tasted like butterscotch and was a total revelation – I have never made anything like it before.  The cake itself was moist and with the dates and pecan nuts was very much like a sticky toffee pudding.  It was lovely and I would definitely make it again.

We take delivery of the new oven – of our own choosing – at the beginning of September, when we next go back to the UK.  I’m really looking forward to it!