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.