May 18, 2019

PRUNE AND BRANDY CLAFOUTIS


Talking about Agen prunes in my previous post reminded me of a dessert I made using prunes soaked in brandy a long time ago.  In a snatched half hour between the drying of coats of paint in our newly created bedroom upstairs I did a bit of research and found the photos - as far back as 2010.  Gosh, was it really that long ago that I made this clafoutis?  How time flies!


 
A clafoutis is a very popular dessert in France, most often made using fresh cherries during the cherry season and then apricots and plums a bit later on.  I have also made a caramelised apple clafoutis which was gorgeous (see here) and a banana clafoutis, using as it happens gluten free flour (see here) which was equally delicious for banana fans but by no means traditional. 
 
It's basically a fruit dessert consisting of seasonal fruit baked in a batter.  Sometimes it is served in spoonfuls from the dish, other times it is served sliced like a cake.  Either way, it's lovely and there are zillions of recipes for it out there.  My favourite recipe comes from my friend Susan which you can see here.  Soon after her recipe appeared in her blog I used it to make a cherry clafoutis and wrote about it as a holiday cooking post in another blog. 
 
 
A follower then left a comment that she makes a clafoutis using prunes soaked in brandy and I was intrigued.  It was one of those things that I felt compelled to make as soon as possible so I did - and I have to say that if you are a fan of prunes - it was delicious!  Consequently it is time I wrote about it here.
 
Stoning the prunes proved to be a fiddly, sticky and messy job. At first the stones I removed had most of the flesh of the prunes still attached to them and a lot of the rest of it was all over my hands and stuck to my sleeves. After a bit of practice I found a technique that succeeded in removing the stone and leaving most of the precious prunes intact. Agen prunes are quite expensive so not to be wasted if possible.
The technique is to hold the prune with its flatter sides between finger and thumb then cut into it with a sharp knife down to the stone, run the knife all around the edge of the stone then flip the prune open and if you’re very lucky the stone comes out clean (ish).  Because of this I have given the recipe faff factor ** as fiddling about stoning prunes is not my favourite pastime!
I then soaked them in about two tablespoons of brandy for a couple of hours.

The lady who left the comment about soaking them in brandy then came back with a second one saying that she doesn't bother stoning the prunes, just serves the clafoutis with a health warning and the address of the nearest dentist! 
 
Ingredients
100-150g Agen prunes, stones removed
2 tblsp brandy for soaking the prunes
50g plain flour
50g ground almonds
100g sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
250ml plain yoghurt or a mixture of yoghurt and whole milk
a handful of flaked almonds (optional)
 
Method
2 hours before making the clafoutis, prepare the prunes by stoning them and soaking in the brandy.
 
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan.  Butter a suitable baking dish or pie dish.  Lay the fruit in an even layer in the dish. 
 
Put all the other ingredients except for the flaked almonds into a bowl and whisk with an electric whisk or hand blender until you have a smooth batter.
 
Pour the batter over the fruit, scatter the flaked almonds on top if using them, and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and firm.
 
Serve warm by itself, or with cream or ice cream.
 
Serves 4-6 people. 

May 15, 2019

GINGER PRUNE CAKE

 
Nick made this cake for our most recent cake club meeting and it proved to be very popular.
 
 
 
The brief was one's own personal angle on Easter and as Nick is very much a fan of ginger cake he decided to make one in an angular tin, decorated with a few mini eggs.
 
 
The tin was a purchase from Ikea a few years back and I don't think they have it in stock any more.  It's an excellent tin, makes an ordinary cake look a bit more interesting and I have found that it works for any recipe that uses either a 2lb loaf tin or a 20cm round tin.  Because of the shape it's particularly good for cakes that you don't want to ice or decorate to make them look tempting. 
 
Not that this cake was by any means ordinary - not at all.  The recipe comes from the Whitworths website and uses their crystallised fiery ginger, of which we happened to have a packet in the cupboard.  The prunes are Agen prunes, gloriously sticky things from the south of France and nothing like the dried poor relations often masquerading as prunes elsewhere.  (Other really nice prunes are of course available.)  One of the items where you definitely get what you pay for is prunes.
 
 
 
There are plenty of people who have an aversion to prunes - or see them as a bit of a joke - their medicinal and constitutional properties being the foundation for many a jest about old folks' homes, school dinners and more.  However, I think you would be hard pressed to identify that the deliciously sticky fruitiness of this cake comes from the humble (or holy) prune, it just tastes strongly of ginger with a fruity texture and flavour.  A great hit and one I shall be making again. You can see the original recipe here.
 
I have baked other lovely things with prunes so if you're a fan you could look at Chocolate Prune Cake, Prune and Brandy Clafoutis and Prune and Apple Layer Cake.
 
Ingredients
25g crystallised ginger, finely chopped
70g good quality prunes
150g golden syrup
50g black treacle
110g dark brown soft sugar
150g unsalted butter
8g ground ginger
2g ground mixed spice
2 eggs
2 tlsp semi skimmed milk
120g self raising flour
 
Method
Preheat the oven to 160 C / 140 fan / gas mk 3.  Grease and line an 18cm round tin.  (Or grease with cake release paste if using a fancy tin.)
Purée the prunes in a food processor (or chop them very finely) then transfer to a large saucepan.
Add the golden syrup, treacle, sugar and butter to the pan and stir together on low heat until evenly combined.
Remove from the heat.
Stir in the ground ginger, mixed spice and chopped ginger.
Lightly beat the eggs and milk together and stir into the pan to form a smooth batter.
Sift over the flour and fold into the batter.  Transfer to the prepared tin.
Bake for about 1 hour until springy to the touch. 
Remove from the oven and cool in the tin.
Dust with icing sugar before serving.
 
Cuts into 10-12 slices.
 

May 5, 2019

APPLE AND LEMON CAKE and a rather good discovery.


This is one of Mary Berry's most recent recipes, appearing in her latest TV series, the book that goes with it and in several places on the internet, one of which you can see here.  I was dying to have a go at making it but was so busy with other stuff that I had to put it on the back burner, so to speak, until I had the opportunity.

 
That opportunity arose with last month's cake club meeting (which you can read all about here).  It was hosted by a club member who lives in what is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful villages in the region, if not in all of France, a place called Angles-sur-l'Anglin.  The village is steeped in ancient history with an old ruined château, prehistoric cave paintings, a water mill by the river, zillions of gorgeous old houses and oodles of charm.  Yet it is not spoiled in a touristy way.  Certainly in summer at the weekend you can't move for tourists but it still remains a largely unspoilt village.
 
The host's theme revolved around the village, suggesting a château gateau, a cake for a princess and many other options including, for those of us who had no idea what to make of it, our own Angle on Easter.  Hence I chose to fill and top my cake with a lemon buttercream instead of Mary's way which was to fill with whipped cream with lemon curd swirled through it and a simple dusting of icing sugar on top.  Which would have been more classy but did not allow for any decoration as per the brief.  I needed a buttercream top to stick the decorations in!
 
 
I decorated my cake with triangles of a thin chocolate bar and mini Easter eggs that were not chocolate but fruity, thereby complying with the "Angles on Easter" theme.  The rather good discovery referred to in the title of this post was the chocolate.
 
 
As it turned out it tastes absolutely like Caramac.  A Caramac bar was a real treat when I was a little girl and its unique caramel flavour is to die for.  I haven't seen it in the shops for years although to be fair, I haven't been looking - the confectionary aisle of any supermarket is out of bounds, being far too dangerous.  Well now I have found a substitute which I can get my hands on any day I like (in France) so I'm dead chuffed with that.
 
 
I was not too chuffed when I took the cakes out of the oven as they didn't look very enticing.  A good slather with lemon buttercream improved matters (until I decorated the cake) but the cake was actually quite lovely. 
 
 
It had an excellent, even crumb and was nice and moist, as it was bound to be with the grated apple in it.  I shall certainly be making this one again very soon although I think next time just a filling of lemon curd and a dusting of icing sugar might be enough without the cream, just like an apple Victoria sponge, which is what it is really.

April 22, 2019

ASPARAGUS, CHEESE AND CARAMELISED ONION TARTS


 
These gorgeous little tarts came about as a result of reading a post on Dom’s blog, Bellau Kitchen, which you can see here.  He made them from scratch, making his own puff pastry, caramelising the onions and then adding the asparagus.  I cheated, using ready made, ready rolled pastry, a jar of caramelised onion chutney and some cheddar brought from the UK.  I got the asparagus on Loches market.


During the asparagus season in France you can find mountains of white asparagus everywhere.  Green asparagus is more our cup of tea but is less plentiful and more expensive.  Delicious though and well worth the money.
The tarts were of course dead easy to make and very tasty with a bit of salad as a starter or on their own with apéritifs.  You could also make much smaller versions for nibbles by cutting the pastry into more squares and using smaller bits of asparagus.

Ingredients

1 pack of ready rolled puff pastry
a few sticks of asparagus, trimmed to remove the woody ends
a few tblsp caramelised onion chutney
a couple of handfuls of grated cheddar cheese, or other suitable hard cheese
1 egg, beaten

Method

Preheat the oven to 190C / 170 fan.  Place a sheet of baking paper on a baking sheet.  Remove the pastry from the fridge to bring up to room temperature (it will crack if you try to unroll it when it’s still cold).

Cook the asparagus in boiling water for about 5 minutes until tender and remove from the pan.
Unroll the pastry and cut into about 9 oblongs of roughly equal size.  With a sharp knife, score all around the edge of each oblong, about 1cm in from the edge, not cutting all the way through.

Spread a teaspoonful of chutney thinly over each oblong of pastry, within the scored margin.  Lay 3 pieces of asparagus, trimmed to the right length, over the chutney and sprinkle some grated cheese on top.

Brush the pastry with beaten egg and bake for 20-30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown, the cheese melted and the chutney bubbling.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4 as a starter (2 each) or 8 with apéritifs.  My maths tells me that that leaves one left over for the chef (or for a snack later).

April 6, 2019

BANANA AND COCONUT CAKE WITH MALIBU DRIZZLE

 
I wrote about this cake not long ago but, having made it again (and again), at last with the drizzle on it, I think it deserves a post of its own.
 
Neither bananas nor coconut are everybody's cup of tea in a cake, I know.  Some dislike cooked banana in any shape or form, others hate coconut.  Banana cakes can be a bit dense and rubbery.  Coconut cakes can be a bit dry.  I know this because I have used recipes that produce both of those things.  This recipe is different.  The cake is light, moist and evenly textured.  Maybe the banana makes the coconut less dry and the coconut makes the banana less soggy, but in any case, it's a winner.
 
Previously I had not got around to putting the icing on top before cutting the cake but it does make a difference.  I deviated from the original recipe by adding it as a drizzle when the cake was warm, not just as a topping and that worked really well.
 
Unfortunately the recipe has been removed from the website that I found it but you can see my original post here.
 
Ingredients
For the cake
170g softened butter or baking spread
170g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
170g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 medium very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
100g desiccated coconut

For the drizzle
100g icing sugar
1-2 tblsp Malibu  (or fresh lime juice)

Method
Preheat the oven to 160°C / 140° fan / gas mk 3.  Butter and line a 900g (2lb) loaf tin, or use a paper liner.

In a large bowl use an electric whisk to beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in.  Add the bananas and coconut and mix well to combine.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top.  Bake for 50-60 minutes until golden brown, firm and springy.  Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, to make the drizzle sift the icing sugar into a small bowl.  Add enough of the Malibu to make a runny icing.

Remove the cake carefully to a wire rack and poke holes in the top using a skewer.  Drizzle about half of the drizzle topping over the cake.  When the cake is almost cool, pour the rest of the icing over the whole of the cake and allow to run down the sides.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

April 4, 2019

BANANA, GINGER AND GOLDEN SYRUP CAKE

 
We have returned to France for a while, and the other day I was looking lazily through some of the cook books that I keep here, each volume holding the promise of untried recipes and baking adventure.  One of them fell open at a recipe that had a lightly written note in pencil in the margin, in my own writing.  A light pencil note or carefully placed post-it is the limit of the vandalism I allow myself to do to my cook books and I recoil in horror at the way some people treat theirs, text crossed out or written over, page corners folded or stuck together with splatterings of cake mixture!
 
 
I looked at this recipe and it suddenly dawned on me that it was one of my "lost bakes".  In the past I would occasionally think to myself  "didn't I once make a golden syrup cake or did I dream it"?  Having found the proof that I probably did I then went hunting for the pictures and here they are, taken in March 2017.  I had made the cake and taken its picture but never got as far as writing about it, which is a shame because it was an excellent cake.  And with a few bananas ripening nicely in the fruit bowl I have a hankering to make it again, very soon.*
 
 
Apologies to all those who don't like cooked banana, but those who do should really make this cake.  The recipe was in one of my Rachel Allen books called "All things sweet" and sweet it certainly was.  Reminiscent of those Jamaican ginger and golden syrup cakes that you can buy in the shops, like a delicious combination of the two, but with banana as well.  What more could you want?!
 
Lately I have got into the habit of taking a photo of the recipe or the book at the same time as the cake, so that they can be paired up.  No more mystery photos and fewer forgotten posts from now on.  Well, probably!
 
 
*I made the cake again, one day after writing this post and it is truly yummy, very gingery, not overly bananary and a glorious golden colour.
 
Ingredients
 
110g softened butter
50g soft brown sugar
125g golden syrup
2 eggs
125g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tblsp ground ginger (6 tsp)
2 medium bananas, mashed
 
Method
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk4.  Butter and line a 900g (2lb) loaf tin, or use a paper liner.
 
Cream the butter and sugar until soft then beat in the golden syrup.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time.  It doesn't matter if the mixture looks curdled.  Sift in the flour, baking powder and ginger and fold in. 
 
Add the mashed bananas and mix well together.  Pour into the tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until done.  Cool in the tin for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
 
Cuts into 8-10 slices

March 18, 2019

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING (with ginger but no dates)

 
You may wonder why anyone should bother to post about something as everyday as sticky toffee pudding, especially when the only picture is of a solitary slice.  The reason is simple, that it was wonderful, the best I have ever made (I have only ever made it twice before) and it doesn't contain any dates.  For reasons that I don't understand, Nick hates dates in his STP.
 
I made this for a family gathering on a cold wintry day when comfort food of the non-exotic kind was in order.  In other words, Dad and his lady friend were amongst the guest and at their ages (90 and 83) fancy food that's hard to chew would not have gone down well!
 
The recipe comes from Mary Berry's "Family Sunday Lunches" and is definitely a winner.  It made a huge pudding and even with most people having seconds there was still one piece left for me to photograph later.  It was delicious.  You can find it in several places on the internet, one of which is here. 
Of course, another reason for posting is that I know exactly where to find the recipe when I next need it!  Although it is so unbelievably sweet and bad for you that it won't be very soon.  My other attempts at STP can be seen here but I have to say that this recipe is my favourite so far.
(I dare say that if you don't have stem ginger in syrup in stock, a couple of teaspoons of ground ginger would do the job instead.)
 
Ingredients
 
For the pudding
75g softened butter (I used Lurpak Spreadable)
150g light muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
175g self raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tblsp black treacle
1 tsp vanilla extract
125ml milk
5 pieces of stem ginger, finely chopped
 
For the sauce
110g butter
250g light muscovado sugar
400ml double cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
 
Method
 
Preheat the oven to 180 C / 160 Fan / gas mk 4.  Butter a large 2 litre shallow baking dish.  A lasagne dish is perfect.
 
For the pudding whisk the butter and sugar with an electric whisk in a large bowl until light and creamy.  Add all the other pudding ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Pour into the dish and bake for 50-55 minutes until risen and springy.
 
While the pudding is in the oven, make the sauce by putting all the ingredients into a saucepan.  Heat gently until the butter has melted then boil for 2 minutes, stirring all the time.
 
Pour half of the sauce over the cooked pudding and serve the rest in a jug, possibly with another jug of cream, so that people can help themselves. 
 
Serves 8.

March 17, 2019

SAUSAGE TRAYBAKE

 
There are a couple of posts I want to do before our return to France which is imminent.  To say we're looking forward to it would be the understatement of the decade so far, what with the toxic atmosphere of living in Brexit Britain and the lousy weather we've been having lately. 
 
Having said that, we have enjoyed our months back in the UK.  Knowing that for much of the time the weather back in our part of France is not much better than it is here, and that keeping the two log fires there going all winter is hard work compared with just tweaking the central heating control, has definitely helped.  We have achieved a lot in the house, decorating the hall, stairs and landing, which is a big job (especially when you change your mind about the colour of the paint when half of it is done).
 
Before.

After.
 
We had a new staircase last spring, replacing the bouncy open tread job with the wrought iron banister for a modern, light oak version with chrome spindles.  Having that done was a big job in itself, not to mention moving the whole thing back a couple of feet and moving the radiator.  We started to tackle the decorating as soon as the Christmas decorations were put away and now that it's all finished we can hardly remember how horrible it was before.
 
 
The end of the work coincided with the couple of weeks of really nice weather that we had here in February.  We put the outdoor table up, ate our lunch outdoors and sat in the sunshine for a couple of hours for several days.  It felt so wrong to be doing that in February - in Derbyshire - but we made the most of it, knowing it couldn't last much longer and luxuriating in the warmth in the middle of the afternoon when all around us were out at work.  Sure enough, wintry weather has returned and salad is off the menu again to be replaced by traditional cold weather fare. 
 
With family coming for lunch we decided on something hearty but not too taxing so that we could spend time catching up instead of cooking and I spotted a recipe for a sausage traybake in Mary Berry's book "Absolute Favourites".  I adapted it slightly using different veg but the one thing I did do was to get sausages from the butcher instead of the supermarket.  What a revelation that was!  I had almost forgotten how good real, plump sausages could taste!  I bought a Cumberland and a Lincolnshire sausage for each person.
 
 
I got it ready to go in the oven well in advance, prepared some greens to go with it and set the table.  When the guests arrived all I had to do was turn on the oven and enjoy a glass of wine!
You can see the original recipe here and you could easily adapt it for more people by increasing the amount of veg and number of sausages, using a bigger dish.
 
Ingredients
 
2 tblsp olive oil
1kg baby potatoes, or small potatoes halved
1 large leek, washed and cut into thick slices
1 large red and 1 large white onion, peeled and cut into wedges
1 red pepper, seeds removed, cut into thick chunks
1 stick celery, washed and thickly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
8 large butcher's sausages, pricked with a fork (I used two different flavours)
200ml white wine
1 tblsp fresh thyme leaves (optional)
 
Method
 
Preheat the oven to 220 C / 200 Fan / gas mk 7. 
 
Put all of the veg into a large bowl with the oil, season with salt and pepper and swish around until they are all coated with oil.  Tip them into a large roasting tin or baking dish and arrange evenly.
 
Put the sausages into the same bowl and roll around so that they are also coated with the oil and arrange on top of the veg. 
 
Roast for 30 minutes until the sausages are browned on top, turn them over and toss the veg around, making sure the sausages are back on top.  Add the wine and roast again for 20 minutes or until the sausages and potatoes are completely cooked.
 
Serve immediately with more veg of your choice.
 
Serves 4.

March 14, 2019

CURD TART


This is another of those bakes that doesn't look much - definitely no glamour here - but in the eating the pudding is proved to be absolutely delicious !!

The recipe turned up in my email inbox as a post from Lynn Hill of the organisation formerly known as the Clandestine Cake Club.  Being a Yorkshire lass and therefore fond of Yorkshire curd tart, Lynn has found a way of making the tart using cottage cheese. 

I have very fond memories of Yorkshire curd tart myself.  When my mum went on her weekly bus trip to Matlock to do the shopping she would return with a selection of delicious goodies from the baker's shop, usually a custard tart, a vanilla slice, an iced bakewell tart with a cherry on top and, if we were very, very lucky, a Yorkshire curd tart. 
As an aside, I have to say that Mum's shopping trips were not as onerous as you might at first think.  The idea of bringing several bags of shopping, enough for a family of four, home on the bus is silly.  That would have been impossible, even in those days (the 1950's and 60's).  The reality is that the butcher, baker, greengrocer and ironmonger would turn up in their van at least once a week and park near the house so that we could get most of the shopping we needed literally on the doorstep.  I have wonderful memories of the baker bringing a huge basket containing a selection of bread and cakes to the back door for us to choose from.  Being only a nipper the goodies were at just the right height for me to dip in and pick one out before anyone could stop me!  Between the home deliveries, the village post office and the few shops in the next village which was just two stops away on the bus, we got everything we needed to live on without having to go very far at all and certainly not as far as Matlock!
However, my mum enjoyed her Saturday morning shopping trips to buy the few things that you could only get in town, such as her favourite boiled ham or cheddar cheese.  I enjoyed going with her and looked forward to the little cake or bun that would be for tea later in the day.   A Yorkshire curd tart was one of my favourites.

 
My Be-Ro book has a recipe for curd tart using curd cheese but I have never, ever seen it for sale in any supermarket.  You can make curd cheese yourself of course and in actual fact it doesn't look too difficult so if you google curd tart you will find instructions in several places.  I might try that one day when I have the time but on this occasion, I found myself looking at a pack of cottage cheese in the fridge that was just past it's best before date.  Lynn's recipe had turned up just a couple of days before that and I also remembered that I had a pack of ready made pastry in the freezer, unused over Christmas.  So yet again, with all the stars aligned, fate seemed to be telling me to make a curd tart.
 
Of course, as usual, I didn't quite make it exactly right.  The pack of pastry turned out to be puff pastry, which is not ideal and the cottage cheese was a fat free variety which I thought probably wouldn't work - but it did!
 
 
As Nick tucked into his slice he looked up at me with a twinkle in his eye and said "this one's a keeper!".  And he was absolutely right, it was truly delicious.  Very reminiscent of the Yorkshire curd tarts of my childhood and definitely one I'll be making again.
You can see the recipe here.
 
 
 
As another aside, I made it in my very ancient Pyrex pie dish, the one that came in a set of Pyrex bakeware that I bought when I first got a home of my own in the 1970's.  My mum made an apple pie for Sunday lunch in hers every other week.  She also used it for cheese pie, baked eggs and many other things.  It's the perfect size for a family of four and after forty years mine is still going strong and in regular use.  You can't buy them any more - except of course in our local charity shops!  I recently acquired this one for my friend Susan and for just £1 it's an absolute bargain!  I'm sure she will love it.
 

March 9, 2019

RHUBARB AND GINGER SCONES

 
I have a bit of a thing about scones.  They usually turn out like rocks.  Not rock cakes, which are edible, but rocks, which are not.  Consequently I have had so many disasters with baking scones in the past that I have more or less given up and haven't made any since my Victoria scones in 2012.  That's seven scone-free years.
 
 
However, the CCC Facebook group seem to have gone bonkers over scones, ever since someone spotted the National Trust Book of Scones appearing for sale at a bargain price on some website or other.  The offer was too good to miss and for only £2.99 including postage I decided to risk a punt.  With the gauntlet thrown and feeling there was a fair wind around the corner I decided to have another go.
 
The thing that spurred me on to actually baking some scones (as opposed to just reading about them) is that the book, written by someone initially as a scone-eating tour of National Trust properties, has a page for Hardwick Hall, a NT property that is just down the road from where we live.  The Hardwick Hall page is opposite a recipe for rhubarb and ginger scones, which I thought was an amazing coincidence.  When we visited the hall last summer and had tea and scones in the tea room, we had rhubarb and ginger scones which were delicious.  And here I was with some lovely Yorkshire pink rhubarb in stock and a new book in front of me.  With all the stars aligned I decided that this was the best sign ever that I might actually be able to conquer my scone nemesis.
 
 
I took more care than usual in gathering together the ingredients.  I rather complicated matters by deciding to halve the recipe quantities as it was for ten huge scones.  In actual fact, having made the upside down cake, I only had enough rhubarb left for a half measure - and there was always the outside chance that they would turn out like granite again and a waste of all the ingredients.  Consequently I actually found myself feeling nervous as I checked and double checked the recipe.  I even rubbed the butter into the flour by hand instead of blitzing it in my food processor, and bought whole milk instead of semi-skimmed.
 
 
I have to say that for me they were a great success.  Probably not the best scones ever baked on the planet but they were light and fluffy, and very tasty.  Delicious slightly warm with butter and rhubarb jam.  I am dead chuffed and although I don't see my scone phobia as banished completely, I'm definitely on the road to recovery.
 
Ingredients (half of the quantities in the original recipe)
375g self raising flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
93g caster sugar
93g butter, cubed
100g rhubarb, peeled, and cut into small dice
1/2 a piece of stem ginger from a jar, chopped into very small dice
150ml whole milk
 
Method
Preheat the oven to 190 C and line a baking sheet with baking paper.
 
Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a bowl and rub in the butter until you get fine breadcrumbs.  Add the fruit and ginger and about 2/3 of the milk until you get a soft, slightly wet dough,  adding a little more milk as needed.
 
Turn out onto a floured surface and roll out to 3-4 cm thick.  Cut into rounds using a 6cm cutter, place spaced well apart on the baking sheet and brush the tops with milk.
 
Put the scones in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 180C.  Bake for about 20 minutes until risen and golden.  Serve warm with butter or clotted cream and jam.
 
Makes 12 scones.

March 5, 2019

RHUBARB UPSIDE DOWN CAKE


A couple of years ago I heard of a liqueur made from rhubarb, called Rhucello.  Being a huge fan of rhubarb I was keen to find some but this isn't easy.  It's made by a Yorkshire family from the beautiful pink rhubarb that is raised lovingly in the Rhubarb Triangle in Wakefield.  It is sold at food fairs up and down the country but until the other week I had never been in the UK at the right time to go and buy some.

 
When I heard that there was a Rhubarb Fair taking place in Wakefield and that the makers of Rhucello were having a stall there, only wild horses and six foot snow drifts would have kept me away!  After years of only dreaming about Rhucello I was at last able to get my hands on a bottle (or two) and, as the name implies, it tastes of rhubarb in the same way that Limoncello tastes of lemons. 
 
 
Not only does it taste delicious, it is also a gorgeous pink colour!
 
The Rhubarb Festival was great fun, lots of food and drink stalls selling anything and everything you could possibly make out of rhubarb from gin to chutney.  Also bars, a music tent and cookery demonstration tent.  We spotted Gordon Ramsay posting for selfies as we breezed between the stalls.  Naturally there was plenty of the beautiful pink rhubarb itself for sale and I bought a bundle.  That was just before we treated ourselves to a bowl each of delicious home made rhubarb crumble in the cathedral café - at £1.50 each a real bargain.
 
 
And so with visitors coming for lunch last weekend I decided to use some of my precious rhubarb to make an upside down cake using and adapting a recipe on the Guardian website that you can see here.
 
 
 
You arrange the rhubarb on a layer of sugar and butter in the bottom of a tin, cover with a sponge mixture and bake.
 
 
It was lovely, had a nice texture and just the right balance of sweetness from the caramel and tartness from the rhubarb.  Naturally we served it with a glass of our new rhubarb liqueur alongside!
 
Ingredients
For the topping
80g unsalted butter, diced
140g light soft brown sugar
250g (2-3 stalks) rhubarb, trimmed, washed and cut into 5cm pieces
For the cake
150g caster sugar
175g plain flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
150ml sunflower oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
 
Method
Place a circle of baking paper in the bottom of a 23-24 cm round tin with a fixed base.  Alternatively us a springform or loose bottomed tin but line it with foil that comes well up the sides to prevent any leakage.
 
Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk 4.  Scatter the butter and brown sugar evenly over the bottom of the tin and put in the oven for 5 minutes to melt the butter.
 
Remove from the oven and arrange the pieces of rhubarb over the melted butter mixture, pressing them in carefully.
 
Put the dry cake ingredients into a large bowl and mix together.  Beat in the oil and eggs, adding a little milk if the mixture seems very stiff.  Spoon the mixture carefully over the rhubarb and level the top.  Bake for 45-55 minutes until done (mine took 50 mins).
 
Cool in the tin for 5 minutes before inverting onto a plate to release the cake.  Remove the baking paper or foil carefully. 
 
Serve warm or cold with cream or ice cream.  Cuts into 8-10 slices.

February 22, 2019

CARROT UPSIDE DOWN CAKE


Nick is rarely fazed by a recipe and abides by the theory that as long as you can read you can do anything.  Consequently he frequently tackles cakes that I would have ruled out as too complicated or fiddly.  This one, which he baked for a CCC meeting last year, required caramelised carrots.

 

I like a good carrot cake but never thought I would be married to someone who was prepared to slave over a hot stove for ages in order to caramelise carrots for a cake.
 
 
It was worth the effort, although I'm glad it was his effort, not mine.  As a carrot cake it was delicious and the sweetness of the carrots on top made it even more so.  It looked amazing, too.  You can see the recipe on the BBC website here.

Ingredients
For the cake
200g light soft brown sugar, plus 3 tblsp
150ml light rapeseed oil (or vegetable oil)
100g natural yoghurt
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 oranges
300g self raising flour
1 tblsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
250g coarsely grated carrot

For the caramelised carrots
225-250g small or baby carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
juice of 1 of the oranges above
25g butter
4 tblsp light soft brown sugar

Method
First make the caramelised carrots.  Put them in a single layer in a large saucepan or frying pan.  Add the juice of 1 orange, the butter, sugar and enough water to cover them by just 1 cm.

Bring to the boil and cook until the water has almost evaporated and the carrots are left in a sticky syrup.  Keep an eye on the pan so that the carrots don't catch.

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 160 C / 140 fan / gas mk 3.  Grease a 23cm round cake tin.  Gently lift the carrots out of the pan and arrange cut side down in the base of the tin.  Reserve the pan and syrup for later.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, oil, yoghurt, eggs, vanilla and the zest from 2 of the oranges.  In a large bowl, sift in the flour and spices, then add the grated carrot and mix together.  Stir in the liquid ingredients and mix until smooth.  Spoon carefully over the carrots in the tin, being careful not to disturb their arrangement. 

Bake for 45-50 minutes until done.  Leave in the tin to cool for 20 minutes before turning out onto a plate or stand. 

While the cake is cooling in the tin, add the juice of 2 of the oranges to the pan containing the reserved syrup with the 3 tblsp brown sugar.  Simmer until slightly reduced then stir in the zest of the third orange.  Spoon the syrup over the cake once it has been turned out. 

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

February 18, 2019

BANANA, COCONUT AND RASPBERRY CAKE


I enjoyed the recent Tom Kerridge "Fresh Start" programmes on TV and was mega delighted to receive a copy of the book that goes with the series as a gift.  I was equally delighted to find a recipe for a rather yummy looking cake towards the back of the book, one that had not featured on the telly.  I couldn't wait to make it.

 
The other day, I did make it and...…….it was horrible.
 
 
He calls it coconut and raspberry loaf cake and tells how popular it is in his restaurant. 
 
I confess that I didn't put the raspberry coulis and coconut flakes on top as I didn't have any - I just had enough raspberries to go in the cake.  As I was making it I realised that there were no butter or eggs required and so it made me wonder if this was actually a vegan recipe.  It  required less sugar than I expected but there was a good amount of banana instead which I thought would add some sweetness.  There was too much mixture for my loaf tin so I made a small cake with the excess to give to my neighbours - I added a few blackberries in that one as most of the raspberries had gone into the other cake. 
 
When it came out of the oven it hadn't risen much and looked very pale although it was definitely cooked.  I finished it with a glaze of raspberry jam and sprinkled coconut so it looked fine.  All I can say is thank goodness the neighbours were out when I knocked on the door to give them the little cake!  I hadn't cut into it at that point and would have been hugely embarrassed if they had actually tried it!
 
It was dense, claggy and extremely unpleasant.  In my whole adult life I have only ever thrown two cakes in the bin and this was one of them.  Nick thought it was disgusting and I decided that it wouldn't even do as a pudding with a good dollop of custard - in fact it would have been a waste of the custard! 
 

It was beyond disappointing.  I checked and double checked that I had followed the recipe properly and I had (apart from the topping).  I came to the conclusion that you put butter and eggs in a cake for a good reason.

Should we really blog about our baking disasters as well as our successes?  I don't know but I had a couple of disappointing results last year.  I suppose that's what happens when constantly trying new recipes but those were at least edible, they just didn't live up to expectations.  This one was beyond rescue in any shape or form.
The only other cake I actually binned a few years ago was even worse - a recipe for a kale and apple cake that I found in the internet.  That was the day when I decided that cabbage has no place in a cake!

So, if you have this book and decide to try the recipe I'd love to see what you think!

February 13, 2019

GINGER VALENTINE CAKE


It was my sister-in-law's wedding anniversary yesterday and she phoned to say that she and her husband were going out for lunch and would like to pop in and see us on their way home.  As it is also Valentine's Day tomorrow it seemed appropriate to bake a Valentine cake.  When I asked my own Valentine, Nick, what kind of cake he would like he asked for a ginger cake.  No surprise there.

 
I needed to bake a cake that would be ready to eat in just a few hours' time.  This made choosing the recipe a challenge as many of them say that the cake improves with keeping, being at its best a few days after baking.  I found one that didn't, the recipe by Delia Smith for her preserved ginger cake, which you can see here.  In her recipe the cake is baked in a square tin and decorated with fondant icing and chopped preserved ginger.  I have made it before which you can see here but this time I wanted to bake mine in my heart shaped ring tin instead.  The quantities seemed about right so I decided to risk it.
 
 
The tin is actually a silicone mould that I bought in a sale a few years ago and only comes out of storage once a year for Valentine's Day.  I have had mixed success with silicone moulds in the past in that the cake doesn't always come out in one piece.  However, by using my own homemade cake release paste it slipped out clean as a whistle with just a little shake.  Marvellous!
 
I obviously omitted the fondant icing and drizzled a simple lemon water icing over the cake instead, which worked really well.  Mind you, I had to put the cake outside to cool so that I could ice it and it was done in the nick of time.  It landed on the cake stand as the happy couple rang the doorbell!
 
 
This was an excellent cake!  I have given it two stars in terms of faff factor as personally I find chopping stem ginger really fiddly and time consuming.  However, it was well worth it.  It's a truly gorgeous ginger cake, very gingery with a lovely texture.  You can't really go wrong with a Delia Smith recipe, can you?!
 
Ingredients
225g self raising flour
1 slightly rounded tsp baking powder
175g spreadable butter
175g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
1 tblsp black treacle
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tblsp milk
1 heaped tblsp ground almonds
5 pieces preserved stem ginger
2 tblsp ginger syrup from the jar
50g icing sugar
juice of half a lemon
 
Method
Grease a ring tin with cake release paste, or melted butter.  Or butter and line a 20cm square tin.
 
Put your tin of treacle into a dish or pan of boiling water.  This makes it runnier and easier and less messy to measure out. 
Chop the pieces of stem ginger fairly small.
 
Preheat the oven to 170C / 150 fan / gas mk 3. 
 
Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl.  Add the butter, sugar, eggs, treacle and ground ginger and beat with an electric whisk for about a minute until light and creamy.
 
Add the milk, ground almonds and ginger syrup and mix to combine.  Finally mix in the chopped stem ginger.
 
Spoon into the prepared tin and level the surface.  Bake for 40-50 minutes until done. 
 
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. 
 
Make a runny icing by mixing the sifted icing sugar with enough lemon juice until it's roughly the thickness of single cream.  Drizzle over the cake in whatever pattern you like.
 
Cuts into 10-12 slices.