December 29, 2018

SANDRINGHAM FRUIT CAKE or a tale of two fruit cakes #2

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I don’t make a fruit cake very often, in fact most years I only make one and that’s the Christmas cake.  However, very recently I have made two, to different recipes, and been very pleased with them.  This is actually the second one and although it seems daft to post about #2 before #1 I wanted to get this one out because of the connection with Christmas.

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The reason for making this cake began with a visit to our nearest (in fact very local) National Trust property, Hardwick Hall, to see the Christmas decorations.  This was our second attempt to see them the first being at a weekend when it was incredibly busy.  On that day the car park was completely full and we imagined that the house would be heaving with visitors so we drove straight through the car park, out the other side and back home!  Fortunately our NT membership cards came in handy and it hadn’t therefore cost us a small fortune not to see them!

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We went back in the middle of the following week when it was much quieter and the decorations were gorgeous.  I love having Hardwick Hall on our doorstep and we visit it regularly, just because we can.  We combined the outing with a pub lunch and when we got home we discovered that our puppy had been up to no good in our absence.

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When I say puppy I actually mean our strapping 16 month old standard poodle Hugo.  He’s so big that it’s sometimes hard to remember that strictly speaking he still is a puppy but anyway he had decided to chew to bits the cover and first few pages of my little Good Food cake recipe book that I had left on the coffee table.  Little devil!

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I rapidly ordered a replacement copy from Ebay and it arrived only two days later.  It’s in good condition, secondhand and with some page corners turned over.  I find that slightly annoying but it’s fascinating to see what recipes the previous owner has used.  Even more fascinating was the magazine clipping that fell out of the book!

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This has happened before and on that occasion, as now, I felt compelled to make the recipe.  You can read about Sharon’s Hotpot here.

The recipe was for Sandringham Fruit Cake which obviously has royal connections so I fired up the old laptop to see what it was all about.  I came up with nothing very much except for several references to date and walnut cake being the Queen Mother’s favourite and a light fruit cake being popular for afternoon tea.  I looked in my recipe books and couldn’t find it anywhere there either. 

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So I decided to have a go anyway and I’m really glad I did.  It was lovely.  Dead easy to make, not heavy on the fruit or spice and therefore easy to eat.

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I served it on my lovely new Christmas Robin cake stand, too.

The recipe is written in ounces first with grams in brackets suggesting that it could be quite old but there were no other clues as to where it had come from.  It also gave no size of tin to use.  I guessed an 8” from the quantity of the ingredients but it was cooked half an hour before the time stated. 

Ingredients

4oz / 100g sugar (I used golden caster)

4oz / 100g margarine (I used Stork for Cakes)

8oz / 225g self raising flour

2 eggs

12oz / 350g mixed dried fruit

½ cup (4 fl oz or 125ml) milk

½ tsp mixed spice

Method

“Using a wooden spoon, mix sugar and margarine together until creamy and stir in the rest of the ingredients to make a firm, stodgy mixture.”

(I creamed the sugar and Stork with my hand held mixer, then beat in the eggs and folded in the rest of the ingredients.)

Turn into prepared tin and bake for about two hours at 160C / 315F / gas mk3.

Bake for 2 hours – mine was ready in 1½ hours.

Cool in the tin before turning out.

Cuts into 10 – 12 slices.

December 27, 2018

APPLE AND MINCEMEAT CAKE

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If your house is anything like mine there always seems to be leftover mincemeat lurking at the back of the fridge or the cupboard after Christmas and this is a good way to use it in a delicious cake.  If you’re very lucky there will also be a cooking apple in the veg drawer, although I dare say a couple of small dessert apples (my mum used to call them “eating apples”) would work just as well.

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The recipe comes from this book by Liz Herbert, one of my favourite books for old fashioned, no nonsense cakes and recipes that always work.

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This is very much an everyday cake to go with a cup of tea in the afternoon, no frills or fancy icing and in fact as it says in the book “beautifully moist and needs no icing”.  It’s quick and easy to make and perfect for when you’ve eaten all the Christmas cake and mince pies but fancy a little something not too fancy.

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For another good mincemeat cake recipe (without apples) see this recipe here.

Ingredients

115g spreadable butter or baking spread

115g soft light brown sugar

grated zest of 1 lemon

2 eggs, beaten

200g self raising flour

½ tsp baking powder

175g mincemeat

1 medium Bramley apple, peeled, cored and chopped into small chunks.

Method

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

Cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until fluffy.  Gradually beat in the eggs a little at a time.

Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl.  Add the mincemeat and apple and fold in.

Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the top, then make a slight dip in the middle.  (This helps to make the finished cake flat on top instead of domed.)

Bake for 45 minutes or until done.  Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

December 26, 2018

TIRAMISU

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For our alternative to Christmas pudding this year I made a tiramisu.  To be clear, there was still a Christmas pudding but this was also on offer for those who don’t like it.  In the end most people had a bit of both!

I had my very first taste of this indulgent dessert in the 1980’s, whilst visiting a friend who was living in Germany.  She found a recipe for it in a German woman’s magazine and translated it into English.  I was there in the kitchen when she made it and after just one mouthful I was hooked and asked for a copy of the recipe.  I still have it, written by hand on a page from an exercise book.

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I have eaten many a tiramisu since but always use this recipe when making it myself.  (Except of course when I made the lemon or strawberry versions which I have written about before.)

Some I find too solid and cake-like, some too floppy or runny.  This one seems to have just the right proportion of cake to cream cheese, definitely best made the day before you want to serve it so that the cake absorbs the lovely flavours and the whole thing sets so that you can serve it in slices instead of spoonfuls.

I have tinkered with the recipe a bit over the years and find that the size of the dish is important for it to turn out just right.  Mine is a Pyrex dish measuring 22 x 17 x 6cm and this particular one is probably meant to be a small lasagne dish (found in a charity shop).   I have tried making it in round trifle bowls and in individual glasses for a more sophisticated look, but for this recipe, the lasagne dish may not look the most glamorous but seems to work the best.  All eyes light up when it appears on the table!

There are zillions of tiramisu recipes out there and I’ve tried a few but always come back to this one.  And forget the low fat cheese.  Full fat gives the best results!

Ingredients

175g (1 pack) sponge fingers, also known as Boudoir fingers

1 standard espresso cup of espresso coffee, cooled 

4 egg yolks

3 egg whites

250g mascarpone cheese

3 heaped tblsp caster sugar

2 tblsp Amaretto liqueur

cocoa powder

Method

Whisk the egg whites until stiff and set aside.

In a larger bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar using an electric whisk for several minutes until light and creamy.  Add the mascarpone and whisk in.  Fold in the egg whites gently until well combined.

In a spare dish, tray or plate, lay half of the sponge fingers in a single layer.  Mix together the coffee and Amaretto and pour half of it over the fingers so that it soaks in.

Put roughly one third of the egg mixture in an even layer in the bottom of your serving dish.  Transfer the soaked sponge fingers, arranging evenly in a single layer on top of the egg mixture and sift over cocoa powder generously.

Spread a second layer of egg mixture evenly over the top, making sure you leave a good half of it behind in the bowl for the final, top layer.

Soak the other half of the sponge fingers with the remaining coffee mixture and lay on top of the second layer of egg mixture, dusting with cocoa as before.

Spoon the remaining egg mixture over the top and level carefully.  Chill in the fridge for several hours, preferably overnight or for a whole day, and dust with more cocoa before serving.

Serves 6-8.  Small portions are best as the dessert is very rich.

December 2, 2018

PUMPKIN, BANANA AND WALNUT BUNDT CAKE

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A little while ago I popped into our local T K Max discount store to see if they had anything interesting in the kitchen ware section.  They often have real bargains, quality stuff at half price or less.

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It was my lucky day and I swooped on a genuine Nordic Ware Bavaria Bundt tin which was priced at less than £20 – well below half price. 

When I bought my first Nordic Ware tin I christened it by making a pumpkin spice cake. With a tin of Libby’s pumpkin purée lurking in the kitchen cupboard I decided to do the same again but then, as I breezed past the fruit bowl, I spotted the lovely ripe bananas and thought “ I wonder…….”.

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It also occurred to me that it would look rather good on my new cake stand. 

I know, I know, I already have more cake stands than you can shake a stick at, but I have been hankering after a black one for a while.  I have never seen one for sale in the shops and there is always something I don’t like about the ones I’ve seen online, so I decided to make one for myself out of a black plate and a candlestick.   A good dollop of No Nails in the middle and some Gorilla Glue around the edge seemed to do the job of fixing the two securely together.

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If you like banana cakes you will love this one.

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I used the same basic recipe as before which you can see here.  I just reduced the amount of pumpkin purée to allow for the addition of the bananas and added a few chopped walnuts instead of the brazils.  It had a nice, even crumb and one of the good things about Bundt cakes is that they are easy to cut into nice tidy slices that are as thick or thin as you like.  In fact for large gatherings (or cake stalls) you can get a lot of slices from one cake.  However, if you don’t have a Bundt tin you can use a 23cm round tin.

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Definitely a cake I shall be making again.

Ingredients

200g plain flour

4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

a good pinch of salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground nutmeg

250g light muscovado sugar

3 eggs, lightly beaten

190ml vegetable oil (I used rapeseed oil)

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 medium bananas, peeled and mashed

300g pumpkin purée (from a tin or home made)

50g chopped walnuts

Method

Butter and flour the Bundt tin or butter and base line a 23cm round cake tin.  Preheat the oven to 175°C / 155° fan / gas mk 3-4.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, bicarb, bp, salt and spices. 

In a larger bowl, beat the eggs with the pumpkin, oil, vanilla and sugar.  Add the bananas and nuts and stir through.

Fold in the flour mixture and mix well to ensure there are no pockets of dry flour. 

Spoon the mixture into the tin, filling to a maximum of three quarters full.  Tap the tin sharply a couple of times on the worktop to remove any air pockets and bake for 40-50 minutes until done.  There should be no wobble in the middle of the cake and it should be just coming away from the tin at the edges.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes.  Turn out carefully (with fingers and toes crossed) to finish cooling on a wire rack.  Dust with icing sugar before serving if you like.

Cuts into 12-15 slices.