December 29, 2016

CHRISTMAS DINNER PIE

Christmas dinner pie

We shall be thoroughly glad to see the back of 2016.  Just when I was thinking “thank goodness” that it would soon be over, it got even worse.  On 14th December Nick was admitted to hospital having apparently had a heart attack a few days before.

It’s a long story and suffice it to say, we got him back home in good shape on 23rd December.  With all the usual preparations out of the window I managed to scramble together some kind of Christmas, most of the food being bought last minute from Iceland.  I have to say, it was all good, apart from the sprouts.  Frozen sprouts are not great.  If you want to read more about our sorry end to the year, you can read it here.

Anyway, just like for everyone else, l find that leftovers at Christmas can be a challenge.  We love leftovers actually and often find them the best part of any meal and more than ever I hate throwing food away.  Earlier this year my friend Nicole introduced me to the concept of Sunday Dinner Pie.  In actual fact it was Nick that first enjoyed it at their house on one of the occasions when I was in the UK sorting out my dad’s medical problems.  They have a tradition of putting all the leftovers, meat or fish, gravy or sauce, along with all the veg, into a pied dish with a pastry lid on top and voila!  A tasty and very easy meal the next day.

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For the Christmas version, you simply fill your pie dish, whatever the size, with chopped turkey (or other meat), leftover veg, roast potatoes, stuffing balls, and in fact anything you like.  I would have put some pigs in blankets in mine but they had mysteriously vanished by the time I came to look for them!

Cover the filling with leftover gravy, making some more or adding a little water or wine if necessary.  Top with a pastry lid, home made or shop bought, and bake at 180° fan for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the filling bubbling around the edges.

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We love a good pie and this was the best so far this year.  Who wouldn’t enjoy Christmas Dinner in a Pie?!

This one served four people but it all depends on how much leftover food you have and the size of your dish.

November 25, 2016

BARGAIN COOK BOOKS AND OTHER STUFF

I have written before about the cost of recipe books.  I don’t know how many people ever buy them at full price these days but there are bargains to be had if you look for them.

bargain books

These two came from a local charity shop in the UK, £2 for the Rachel Allen book and £3 for the Nigel Slater.  There is a slight watermark on the fabric cover of the book “eat” but other than that they both appear to be brand new with no signs of being used at all.  They are also both fairly recently published.

I am very happy to buy books from charity shops.  I tend to think of the cost as a donation to a good cause and if they turn out not to be very useful I give them back to the shop so they can sell them again.

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These two came from my local branch of “The Works”.  I have hung my nose over the book by Miranda Gore Brown for a while – she was a contestant in the Great British Bake Off a few years ago.  The book looks promising and at £4 I don’t feel guilty about buying it. 

The Olive Magazine book is excellent.  I gave one away in a raffle earlier this year and have been on the lookout for another copy to replace it.

As with the secondhand books, if I find I don’t use them I will take them to the charity shop and feel very virtuous.

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Compared to £4.20 for a magazine, all the books look like good value to me.  I hardly ever buy magazines nowadays, preferring to buy books instead.  I’m unlikely to save more than one or two recipes from a magazine and rarely pay much attention to the other content.

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Another charity shop bargain is this 20cm ceramic pie dish for £1. Perfect for a pie, crumble or clafoutis.  Same rules apply – if I don’t use it I take it back.

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Yet another recent bargain was this cake stand, 5€ (about £4) from a local French brocante.  (The two soap dishes came from the same place, 1€ each.)

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These small side plates were a real bargain and a perfect size for a slice of cake.  I got six of them for a total of €1.04 in a closing down sale at a branch of Casa.  Casa is a chain of shops in France which is similar in style to The Range or Dunelm Mill in the UK.  I just happened to visit the shop in the last hour of the last day of the sale and everything was reduced by at least 90%.  I already have a matching cake stand bought from the same shop in a previous sale so I was very happy to find the plates at a give away price.

I’m a bit choosy when bargain hunting, whether the items are new or second hand.  I don’t do chips or cracks when it comes to crockery and books have to be clean and not scruffy.  One likes to get a bargain but one does have standards!

November 17, 2016

BANANA, DATE AND HONEY DRIZZLE CAKE

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I have made a few different banana cakes over the years but this is one I keep coming back to.  The recipe is in a leaflet that came with a special offer that was in Sainsbury’s about six years ago.  A twin pack of Lurpak butter and a free loaf tin for £3.  I got two of them for myself and three more for colleagues at work.  The tins were of really good quality and understandably they soon sold out.

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It’s the honey in this cake that makes it so good I think.  There is some honey in the mixture and you drizzle some more over it when it comes out of the oven and is still warm, much like a lemon drizzle cake.

Mine was a clear honey but still quite thick so in order to make it easy to drizzle I put the spoonful required in a small ramekin and into the oven when the cake came out and the oven was turned off.  After about five minutes the cake was still very warm and the honey was runny enough for drizzling.

As I was in the mood for using up a few storecupboard bits and pieces I used half dates and half sultanas this time, which worked very well.  The walnuts were some of our foraged walnuts from this autumn but pecans would be just as good instead if you had those already.

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I have often pondered when a loaf is not a loaf but a cake.  To my mind a loaf is something you would spread butter on and a cake is something that doesn’t need any butter.  So although this cake is baked in a loaf tin and is described as a loaf, to me it is definitely a cake.  It’s lovely and moist and keeps really well for a few days.

The recipe used to be on the Lurpak website but it no longer is so I have given my version of it here.

Ingredients

2 medium ripe bananas, peeled

200g self raising flour

160g butter at room temperature, or spreadable butter 

80g caster sugar

2 tblsp clear honey

2 eggs

80g chopped dates (or half dates, half sultanas)

40g chopped walnuts (or pecans, possibly even brazil nuts)

1 tblsp extra honey for drizzling, warmed 

Method

Grease the tin and line it with greaseproof paper or baking parchment, or use a paper liner.

Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°fan, Gas mark 3.

Put the bananas into a large bowl and mash them.  Add the other ingredients (except for the dates and nuts) and whisk together with an electric whisk until well combined.

Stir in the dates and nuts.  Pour or spoon the mixture into the tin and bake for 1 hour or until done (mine took 1 hour and 5 minutes).

When the cake is out of the oven, make a few holes in the top with the skewer and drizzle the warmed tablespoon of honey over the cake whilst it is still warm.  

Leave to cool in the tin before turning out.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

November 12, 2016

OAT AND GINGER TRAYBAKE

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It was Nick’s birthday the other day and I was just dying to bake a cake.  Any excuse.  Unfortunately he’s a bit fussy when it comes to cake and has definite likes and dislikes, which can narrow my choice somewhat.  Ginger cake is one of his few favourites.

So I spent ages leafing through my embarrassingly huge collection of recipe books to find the perfect ginger cake but most recipes were either too fussy and complicated for a man that just likes a simple ginger cake, or they were of the gingerbread variety that should have been made days before to enable the stickiness and flavours to develop.

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With an enormous pile of books on the bedside table as I sipped my morning tea (retirement, I can recommend it heartily), I settled on a recipe in the gorgeous book, “Simply baking” by Sybil Kapoor.  This book is stuffed full of well tried and tested recipes from various kitchens of the National Trust and I really can’t understand why I hadn’t noticed this one before.

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It’s described as a fusion of gingerbread, parkin and flapjack and I would say that’s very accurate.  It had the treacly gingeryness of gingerbread, the oatyness of parkin and the chewyness of flapjack.  Truly a match made in heaven and an absolute hit with Nick who thought he’d died and gone to heaven. Highly praised and very highly recommended.

In fact, it beat the Bonfire Night Parkin that I made for a large gathering last weekend well into second place.  The recipe I used for that was traditional but the end result was nowhere near as nice as this.

You can see this recipe and photo as it is in the book on a website here.

Ingredients

150 ml milk (I used semi-skimmed as that’s what we have)

40g black treacle

80g salted butter

55g plain flour

1½ tsp ground ginger (Nick reports that this is plenty)

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp bicarb

115g light muscovado sugar

40g dark muscovado sugar

100g porridge oats

Method

In a small saucepan, put the treacle, butter and milk and heat gently until the butter is melted, stirring every so often.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Grease and line a traybake tin that measures roughly 18 x 28 cm.  Preheat the oven to 150°fan / gas mk 2½.

Sift the flour, bicarb and spices into a large bowl.  Add the oats and sugar and mix well.  Add the treacle mixture and mix again to combine thoroughly.

Pour into the tin and bake for 45 minutes.  Cool in the tin.

Cuts into 8-12 slices, depending on how small or large you like your slices.

November 10, 2016

GLUTEN FREE PARTY CAKE

You may be forgiven for thinking that no baking has been going on in our house for the last two months but this is certainly not the case!  I can’t really explain why I’ve let the blog lapse as baking is very much a part of my life and indeed very good therapy in what is turning out to be my own personal “annus horribilis”.  For the most recent disaster to befall us read here.  Anyway, I feel the blog is rested for long enough and it’s time to catch up.  I hate it when blogs just end, as if the writer died or just evaporated.  I like to know if someone has decided to give up.  No such thing here!

gluten free house leaving cake

Friends of ours who lived over near Richelieu for several years have recently sold up, packed up and moved back to the UK.

In my experience there are only a small number of reasons why people do this, that is, after the huge effort of buying a house in France and settling there, then do it all in reverse and go back.  Those reasons are usually to do with family, health, finance, occasionally loneliness or some kind of inability to integrate and problems with learning the language.  Some also find that life here is not all it’s cracked up to be and decide that the UK is not so bad after all, in spite of the weather, the traffic and so on.

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It was family ties that took our friends back to the UK and we’re very sorry to see them go.  A leaving party was arranged once the vans were all packed and the legal formalities complete.  I offered to provide the cake, which needed to be gluten free.

I used an adaptation of a recipe that I’ve used several times before, which is basically a Victoria sponge recipe from Hannah Miles’ book , “the gluten free baker”. This time I baked it in a ring tin, which makes a cake which goes a long way in a crowd and cuts easily into small, manageable slices.  Most people don’t want a huge slab of cake after they’ve filled up on other party food, but everyone is usually pleased to have a little slice to go with the speeches and toasts.  This one worked well as the crumb was not too crumbly and the slices were easy to pass around and hold in the hand.

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Finding something to decorate it with proved too much of a challenge in France. I couldn’t find any appropriate cake decorations as such and house warming cards do not seem to exist here, so I used one I had in stock*, cut it up and glued the pictures onto wooden sticks to decorate the cake, after icing it with simple icing and dotting a few halves of glacé cherries and bits of chopped almond on the top.  The candle holder in the middle was a 1€ bargain from a vide grenier this summer and fits perfectly in the hole in the middle of the cake. 

With the appropriate decoration this large gluten free cake lends itself to any and every party or occasion.

Ingredients

185g softened butter

185g caster sugar

4 eggs

200g ground almonds

125g gluten free self raising flour

150ml crème fraîche

1 tsp almond essence

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°fan/gas mk 4.  Grease and flour a large ring or Bundt tin.

Put the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat or whisk until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time and beat well with each addition.

Add the other cake ingredients and fold in gently until evenly combined.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 40-50 minutes until the cake is firm and golden and passes the skewer test.  Remove from the oven, turn out and cool on a wire rack.

Make an icing using about 150g icing sugar, blended with lemon juice to the consistency of double cream.  Pour over the cake and allow to run down the sides.  Decorate as desired.

Serves 12-15 slices.

*Birthday cards and other greeting cards are incredibly expensive in France so I usually stock up on a random selection of all types of card in the UK and bring them with me.

August 24, 2016

PICNIC PIES

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With the bank holiday weekend coming up and hopefully some good weather I thought it was time that I posted about these lovely little pies.  I first saw the recipe in a blog called “Time to cook online” which comes from one of my favourite former Great British Bake Off contestants, a lady called Mary-Anne Boermans.  It’s a great blog and you can see the details of this recipe here.

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These are simple little pies, made with a shortcrust bottom, a puff pastry lid and a filling of egg and bacon.

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I have made them several times but I have to say that the first attempt was a complete disaster. 

Anne-Marie made hers in mini cake tins.  Having some very similar tins in my pantry and feeling confident I went ahead and made some pies to the recipe with the addition of a few cooked mushrooms in the filling.  They looked good but when I turned them out the bottoms were miserably undercooked and in fact they were actually raw.  The filling is pre-cooked but there is nothing at all pleasant about raw pastry.  Yuk.

Which just goes to show that, as we all knew, size does matter.  I think my tins were just that little bit deeper than the ones she used and therefore the bottoms were not cooked.

So undeterred and not to be defeated, I put my thinking cap on and remembered the brand new Yorkshire pudding tins that I bought to make mini pies and quiches last year.  Bingo!

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The pies were lovely.  Nice crisp pastry, a tasty filling, just the right size for one each, can be served on a plate or munched on in the hand without risk of them falling apart.  Perfect for a picnic or a smart lunch with a side salad and a glass of something nicely chilled.

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This is my adaptation but I urge you to refer to the original post and peruse the blog for other recipes.  You would not be disappointed.

Ingredients

1 pack of ready made, ready rolled puff pastry

1 pack of ready made, ready rolled shortcrust pastry

1 pack of lardons

4 large mushrooms, chopped

4 eggs

chopped fresh parsley

Method

Preheat the oven to 200° C / 180° fan / gas mk 6.  Grease a four hole Yorkshire pudding tin.

Fry the lardons and mushrooms until nicely browned, especially the mushrooms which should not be too watery.

Using a suitable sized jam jar, cut circles of the shortcrust pastry to line the tin and slightly smaller ones from the puff pastry for the lids.  Use the shortcrust circles to line the tin.

Arrange the cooked bacon and mushrooms on the pastry, making a well in the centre to take the egg.

Break one egg into a small cup and pour out some of the white.  There is unlikely to be enough room for all of the white in these shallow tins and this avoids overflowing and a bit of a mess.  Drop the egg into the well.  Add chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Place a puff pastry circle on top and pinch the edges together to seal the lid to the bottom.  Brush with beaten egg.  Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

Serves 4.

August 12, 2016

PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY CAKE

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I offered to make a cake for a friend’s birthday party and decided that it needed to be quite a large cake due to the number of people who might be coming to the do.  A Bundt cake was ideal.

It also needed to be a bloke’s cake, nothing too girly or frilly, and the idea of a peanut butter cake sprang to mind.  The absence of any topping that might melt or slide off in transit on a very warm summer’s afternoon in the Loire Valley was also a consideration, so a light dusting of icing sugar was perfect.

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A quick look on Google led me to this cake on the DollyBakes blog – peanut butter and jelly cake.  It was, as I expected from Rachel’s recipes, a great success. 

I forgot to take pictures of the cake when it was cut which would show how the inside looked and how perfectly the jelly was distributed but, if you look at the original blog post, it turned out exactly like that!  The crunchy peanut butter gave just the right amount of crunch and flavour and the jelly was a nice little surprise in every slice.

I followed the recipe precisely, using blackberry jelly as the jam and taking care to keep it away from the edges of the cake as suggested.  I have experienced before the amazing effect that jam has in gluing the cake to the tin if it gets too close to the edge!

My Bundt tin was just the right shape and size for the cake to accommodate a mansize candle in the middle too.  So we all wished Simon a Happy Birthday and after he’d blown out the candle the cake was cut easily into a huge number of generous slices.

Definitely a good one for a crowd.  To see the recipe, click here.

Cuts into at least 15 slices.

July 11, 2016

BLUEBERRY CHEESECAKE

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I don’t make cheesecake very often, once a year if that, but I can’t think why I don’t make more of them.  Except that of course they are not on our diet sheet.  I dread to think how many zillions of calories there are in a single slice.

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I recently went on a blueberry picking trip with some friends and came back with 4½ kilos of the most gorgeous, plump and tasty blueberries, most of which are now in the freezer.  With other friends coming round for a bbq I knew exactly what I should do with the ones I kept back.  Cheesecake.

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It was hardly any effort to make and delicious.  I used a recipe from the Delicious Magazine website that you can see here, except that as usual I adapted it to what I had in stock.  Here in France you can get digestive biscuits, called Sablés Anglais, but I have never seen gingernuts in the shops, and I didn’t have a vanilla pod but used vanilla paste which I brought back from the UK.

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I even made a blueberry compote to serve with it.  You can see the recipe for that here.  As I was making it, it didn’t seem to be thickening much and I wondered when to stop cooking so that I ended up with coulis not jam.  Jam it was.  But with a bit of a stir It still worked when dolloped onto a slice of the cake.

Definitely a recipe I will do again and easily adaptable for other fruits I think.

Ingredients

50g butter, melted

200g ginger biscuits, crushed (or digestives)

1 vanilla pod (or one teaspoon vanilla bean paste)

400g mascarpone

350g cream cheese

125g caster sugar

2 tbsp cornflour

3 large eggs

Grated zest of 1 small orange

300g blueberries

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Preheat oven to 280°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease a 24cm, deep springform tin.

Mix the biscuit crumbs with the melted butter and spoon into the tin. Pat down evenly and firmly and chill for 10 mins or while you prepare the filling.

Put the vanilla seeds (or vanilla bean paste) into a large bowl with the mascarpone, cream cheese, sugar, cornflour, eggs and orange zest. Beat with an electric whisk until well blended.

Put a handful of blueberries aside and stir the rest into the mixture. Pour into the tin. Place the tin on a baking sheet then scatter the remaining berries on top of the mixture, pushing them in slightly.

Bake for 45-60 mins until golden brown and almost set. (Mine was done after 45.)  Open the oven door and leave the cheesecake inside to cool.

Chill in the fridge for several hours or overnight, run a knife around the tin to release and dust with icing sugar before serving.

For the blueberry compote  (optional)

Put 250g blueberries into a pan with 100g caster sugar and cook until thickened.  Serve cool, spooned over each slice of cake.

Cuts into at least 12 servings.

July 1, 2016

SOLACE IN BAKING. BANANA AND COCONUT CAKE.

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This year seems to be turning into our own personal “annus horribilis”.  Life is full of ups and  downs but the downs seem to be winning so far.  I won’t bore you with the list but the latest tragedy to befall us is the loss of our dog Lulu.

She has featured occasionally in this blog, ever present in the kitchen to see what titbits might come her way and even had her own biscuits in a post.  She was our “best girl”, a beautiful, well behaved and delightful dog who deserved to live longer than barely eight years.  It would have been her birthday in the middle of this month.

Getting used to life without Lulu will take some doing and with her passing being so recent, we are all at sixes and sevens.  All the dog lovers out there will know what I mean and how we feel.  Nick has been out riding his bicycle and shoveling mountains of gravel as a distraction.  I have been doing housework, in a chaotic and disorganised fashion, with a constant feeling that I have forgotten to do something.

Baking is as good a distraction as any, very therapeutic, and I could resist the urge no longer this afternoon.  I wasn’t up to tackling a challenging recipe but looking at two bananas way past their best, chose a very simple, chuck it all in the food processor recipe on the Good Food website, simply called “Banana Cake”.  You can see it here.

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I added some desiccated coconut and a handful of halved strawberries and it was remarkably good.  Not fantastic and not as good as other banana cakes, but very good for such a quick and simple recipe.

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It was nice and moist, had that slightly boingy texture that banana cakes often have, you could taste the coconut but it could have done with more strawberries to taste those properly.  I shall add it to my repertoire of very quick and easy cakes, handy for when getting a home made cake on the table fast is more important than how memorable it is.

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The baking helped.  Words cannot describe how much we miss our best girl and time will heal, I know.  For the moment it hurts.  You can read more about Lulu in her own blog here.

Banana and Coconut Cake

2 overripe smallish bananas

170g golden caster sugar

170g self raising flour

170g Flora Buttery

3 eggs

a few drops vanilla extract

50g desiccated coconut

a handful of small strawberries, halved

Method

Preheat the oven to 160° C / 140° fan / gas mk 3.  Put a paper liner into a 2lb loaf tin, or grease well.

Put all the ingredients except the coconut and strawberries into a food process and blend until well combined.  Add the coconut and strawberries and blend briefly to mix in.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.  Bake for 1 hour or until done. 

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

Cuts into 10-12 thick slices.

June 12, 2016

MINI FRAISIERS

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I spotted some lovely looking strawberries in the supermarket recently – sadly we don’t grow any of our own, one day perhaps.  Wondering what to do with them I had an urge to bake a  Fraisier Cake.  Or possibly even mini ones.

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I began looking at recipes and remembered that some of the contestants on Great British Bake Off had an awful lot of trouble with this cake one year.  If my memory serves me right, it was a technical challenge set by Mary.  When I looked at her recipe online it said “tricky to achieve, but certain to impress”.  Alarm bells started ringing in my head.

You can see the recipe here.  It requires home made sponge, crème patissière and a layer of marzipan.

Now I have to say that making crème patissière is not one of my strong points.  In fact I have only ever made it twice before and on both occasions it didn’t thicken.  Most disappointing when everyone and their grandmother seems to be able to whisk up a crème pat with effortless ease and it turns out perfect every time.  (I have the same trouble with scones.  Everyone seems to be able to make perfect scones but not me.  You could build houses with mine.)

Then I found a James Martin recipe online for a Fraisier, called “cheat’s strawberry gâteau”, where he uses shop bought sponge flan for the top and bottom layers.  You can see that recipe here and it gave me an idea.

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Mary’s recipe included a home made fatless sponge for the base and top.  I’m good at making fat free sponges but time was an issue so I decided to go with James’ bought cake version.  I really wanted to make individual cakes for a special evening with guests but I could imagine myself getting into a terrible mess trying to construct them and turn them out so that they looked half decent.  So instead, I decided to make them as desserts, in little glasses.

They were a huge success.  I even made crème pat and it set perfectly.  I used this recipe here.  I used shop bought cake which in France is called “quatre quarts” and its nearest equivalent in the UK would be a madeira cake.  I used French cream, beaten and thickened with something called “Chantifix”, which is guaranteed to always thicken your cream and is good as long as you don’t mind the added sugar – which in this case I didn’t as I was aiming for a chantilly effect.  In the UK double or whipping cream, sweetened with a little icing sugar would do the same job.

The ones without any alcohol for the children were marked using cocktail sticks, so that there could be no uncertainty.

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This month’s Love Cake theme is “no bake”, which, because I (couldn’t be bothered) didn’t have time to make my own sponge means that the mini Fraisiers fit perfectly.  You can see the details here.

Ingredients

I shop bought madeira cake or quatre quarts

1 punnet of strawberries

8 tsp Cointreau

250ml double or whipping cream, or crème entière and a sachet of Chantifix

For the crème pat

4 egg yolks*

65g caster sugar

15g plain flour

15g cornflour

350ml whole milk (I used semi skimmed and it was fine)

½tsp vanilla extract

icing sugar for dusting.

Method

You will need 8 glasses, tumblers or dishes of a suitable size.

First, make the crème pat.  Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl using an electric whisk, until they turn pale and thick.  Whisk in the cornflour and flour.

Put the milk and vanilla into a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 30 seconds.

Very slowly pour half of the hot milk onto the egg yolks, whisking all the time.  Pour the mixture back into the pan onto the remaining milk.  Bring gently back to the boil and simmer for one minute, whisking all the time, until smooth and thickened.

Pour the finished crème pat into a clean bowl and dust with icing sugar to prevent a skin forming.  Sit the bowl on top of another containing iced or very cold water to cool.

Slice the cake into thin slices about 1cm thick then, using suitable pastry cutters, wine glass rims or jam jar rims, cut 8 large and 8 small circles of the right size to fit the base of your chosen glasses.  Put a smaller circle in the bottom of each dish and splash over a teaspoon of Cointreau. (Omit this step for children.)   Add a layer of crème pat about 2cm thick.

Rinse the strawberries and slice them into thick slices vertically.  Push slices into the crème pat against the sides of the glass.  Just slice a few at a time as it’s not easy to say exactly how many you will need.

Whisk the cream until thick (follow the instructions on the Chantifix packet if using) and fill each glass up to the top of the strawberries, making them all even in fullness.

Place a larger disc of cake on top of the layer of cream and dust with icing sugar.  Add half a strawberry for decoration.  Put slices of strawberry on a cocktail stick to identify any alcohol free portions.  Chill in the fridge until needed.

*I have anguished many a time over what to do with unused egg whites.  Meringues are another of my not very strong points.  I have occasionally resorted to throwing them away after they have lurked in the fridge and haunted me for a few days.  I now discover that if you simply cook them in a saucepan like you would make scrambled egg with a whole egg, the dog loves them with her breakfast.  One conscience eased and one very happy dog!

Serves 8.

June 10, 2016

PRUNE AND APPLE LAYER CAKE

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A few weeks ago, I was reading this post in one of my favourite blogs over breakfast and an idea for the forthcoming Loire Valley CCC meeting sprang to mind.

Karen used cooked apple and home made lemon curd as the filling for her cake but whilst I was reading the post I was busy spreading something called “crème de pruneaux” on my toast.  Anyone who is not a fan of prunes should stop reading now! 

We love prunes in our house, possibly due to having been fed so many of them as a child in the 50’s.  In fact I love any kind of prunes, even the much derided tinned ones that we got for “afters” for school dinner, or at home served up cold with warm custard or rice pudding (delicious).  Apart from this cake, other baking triumphs using prunes include chocolate prune cake, a clafoutis of prunes soaked in rum and a prune and apple crumble, all delicious. 

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Anyway, the French must eat a lot of apple compôte as there is a huge amount of supermarket shelf space dedicated to it in France, whilst you would be hard pressed to find more than a jar or two in the UK.  We love it.  I especially like the one that has lumps or “morceau” of apple in it which is very handy for rustling up a quick cheat’s apple crumble. 

As for the “crème de pruneaux”, I can’t say I have ever seen anything like it for sale in the UK.  It’s almost like a cross between a compôte and a confiture, more runny than a jam but stickier than a compôte.

prune and apple cake3

prune and apple cake4

The theme for the cake club was “Saints or Sinners”.  In other words, a cake that would be vaguely good for you or one that was no holds barred, don’t give a damn, sinful in every slice.  This cake is essentially a Victoria sponge sandwiched together with the prune jam and apple compôte, with a little lemon icing drizzled over the top.

Thinking that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and we all know how good for you prunes are, I felt my cake qualified unquestionably as a saintly cake!

I even polished my halo and made the sponge properly, using the “weigh the eggs” and creaming method – as opposed to my usual chuck it all in and cross fingers all-in-one method.  Double brownie points in saintly terms for that I think!

prune and apple cake5

Anyhow, it was very nice and I will definitely be making it again.

Ingredients

4 eggs, weighed in their shells

The same weight in:

Softened butter, Flora Buttery, Lurpak Spreadable, or baking spread

Caster sugar

Self raising flour

A tablespoon of milk (if needed)

For the filling and icing:

1 jar of Crème de Pruneau

1 jar of apple compôte “avec morceau”

4 tbsp. icing sugar

Juice of ½ lemon

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4. Butter two 20cm sponge tins and line the bases with circles of baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (using a stand mixer, hand held mixer or by hand). Beat the eggs and add them gradually to the mixture, beating well with each addition. Sift the flour into the bowl and fold in by hand. Add the milk if the mixture seems too stiff.

Divide the mixture evenly between the cake tins and level the top. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown and springy. Cool in the tins for a couple of minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. When cool, slice each cake into two horizontally using a bread knife so you now have four layers.

Taking the bottom half of one sponge, spoon about 4 dessertspoons of crème de pruneaux onto the cake and spread out evenly. Do the same with 2-3 spoons of apple compôte, spreading out carefully in an even layer. Put the top half of that sponge on top and spread with prune and apple in the same way. Then add the bottom layer of the second sponge and do the same.

Finally, put the remaining top layer of the second sponge on top. Make a thin icing using the sifted icing sugar and lemon juice mixed to a paste. Drizzle over the cake, encouraging it to drip down the sides. Decorate with your choice of decoration or fresh flowers.

Serves 8-12.

May 26, 2016

PINEAPPLE UPSIDE DOWN CAKE

pineapple upside down cake

My brother has been staying with us in France for a holiday and while he was here he said he would like to do some baking and get more confident with making cakes from scratch instead of using packet mixes.  I was delighted to show him the ropes but surprised that he said he would really like to bake a pineapple upside down cake.

I had never made one before myself!  I know they were popular in the 70’s but would have been far too posh or complicated for my mum to consider baking.  Her ideas naturally rubbed off on me so I never made one either.  Then they went totally out of fashion.

pineapple upside down cake.3JPG

Lately they have become popular again but somehow I still never got round to baking one, so I was pleased to have an excuse to give it a try.

Curiously, as I started to browse through my collection of recipe books only two recipes for this cake turned up and both had something a bit quirky about them.  I really wanted a dead easy recipe to start my brother off, something simple and uncomplicated that was likely to turn out perfect and boost his confidence, having a few basic techniques.  I then resorted to Google and instantly came up with this recipe on the BBC Good Food website and decided to go with that.

He went shopping for a tin of pineapple rings but couldn’t find any and came back with pineapple chunks instead.  They worked fine and looked great, arranged on the cake in an irregular fashion with a few glacé cherries randomly dotted in between.

pineapple upside down cake2

It was a good cake for a baking lesson, principally an all-in-one method but with creaming of the butter and sugar for the topping as well.  I showed him how to grease and line the tin, weigh ingredients accurately – “what, as accurately as that – crumbs!” - check for doneness, release the cake and so on.  I also explained the difference between the creaming and all-in-one methods of cake making as there was a bit of both in this cake.

pineapple upside down cake4

The cake was a great success.  I liked the random effect of the pineapple instead of the traditional rings.  The flavour and texture were excellent and we were all very pleased.  In fact my brother was extremely chuffed and is planning to make it again for his daughter this weekend.  I wrote out the recipe for him in my own words so that he could take it home with him.

I will certainly make it again myself. 

Ingredients

For the topping

50g softened butter, Lurpak Spreadable or Flora Buttery

50g light soft brown sugar

1 small can of pineapple chunks in syrup

A few glacé cherries

For the cake

100g softened butter, Lurpak Spreadable or Flora Buttery

100g golden caster sugar

100g self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

2 tbslp of the pineapple syrup from the can

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease the base and sides of a 20cm springform or ordinary round cake tin and line the base with a circle of baking paper.

Using an electric whisk (or by hand), beat together the butter and sugar for the topping until smooth and spread over the base of the cake tin and a quarter of the way up the sides. 

Drain the pineapple chunks using a sieve or colander over a bowl so that you reserve the syrup.  Arrange the pineapple pieces over the butter and sugar topping and dot a few cherries in between.

To make the cake, put all the cake ingredients including 2 tblsp of the pineapple syrup from the can.  Beat with an electric whisk or by hand until well combined.

Spoon the mixture carefully over the pineapple chunks so as not to disturb the arrangement and level the top.

Bake for 35 minutes or until done.  Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before carefully turning out, upside down, onto a wire rack to finish cooling. 

Cuts into 8 slices.

May 19, 2016

RHUBARB, ORANGE AND ALMOND CAKE

rhubarb cake

This is the cake that features on the front page of the current issue of Delicious Magazine.  It looked delicious and, having some rhubarb in stock, I couldn’t wait to make it.

It’s official title is “rhubarb and amaretti cake with orange and rosemary syrup”.  Whilst I had plenty of rhubarb I had no amaretti biscuits and couldn’t find any very easily in the shops.  I dare say I might have been successful if I had been determined but, here in rural France, all shops are a long way from where we live (apart from the little village store) and they mostly close for lunch, making it difficult to get to more than two of them in a day.  Life is too short for that so I used an alternative that I did have in the cupboard – some boudoir or Savoyard biscuits.

rhubarb cake2

There wasn’t enough rhubarb in it to make it the dominant flavour and although I used a large sprig of rosemary I couldn’t detect any flavour of that at all.  The flavour was strongly of almonds and orange. 

Having said that, this was a fabulous cake.  I would make it again without the rosemary in the glaze and might try to squeeze a few more bits of rhubarb on the top.  It was easy to make, came out looking just like the picture (always a relief) and went down really well with a spoonful of cream as a dessert. 

Highly recommended!

There is also a story behind the cake stand.  You can read all about it here.

For the cake

225g unsalted butter, softened ( I used Flora Buttery. Lurpak spreadable would work well)

200g golden caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

Zest of 1 large or two medium oranges

200g ground almonds

50g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

8 amaretti biscuits, broken into chunks ( I used 4 boudoir/Savoyard biscuits and ½tsp almond extract)

1-2 thin sticks rhubarb

For the glaze

Juice of the orange

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 tblsp granulated sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4. Grease and line the base of a 23cm springform cake tin, or loose bottomed fluted tart tin (the cake is quite shallow).

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

Add the vanilla extract (and almond extract if using) and the eggs, one at a time, beating well until incorporated. Ignore any curdling as the mixture will come back together as it bakes.

Fold in the flour, ground almonds, amoretti chunks and orange zest.

Spoon into the prepared tin and level the top.

Wipe the rhubarb and slice each stick into half lengthways. Cut into 12 or so pieces, roughly 6 cm long, and arrange over the surface of the cake. Push lightly into the mixture leaving them 2/3 uncovered.

Bake for 35-40 minutes until done. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, make the syrup by putting all the ingredients into a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 4-5 minutes to reduce slightly. Taste and add a little lemon juice if you prefer it to be slightly sharper. Pour over the cooled cake.

To serve, dust the cake with icing sugar or sprinkle with granulated sugar. Serve warm or cold with cream, whipped cream or crème fraîche.

Cuts into 12 slices.