August 14, 2019

A CRAFTY CHOCOLATE CAKE

 
These have to be some of the worst photos of a cake that I have ever put up in this blog but the cake is one of the best.
 
 
Some time ago Phil of "As Strong as Soup" blog posted about Michael Barry's Crafty Chocolate Cake and ever since then I have been meaning to bake it. It's hard to believe that I have waited seven years to make this cake! (So many cakes, so little time.)  You can read Phil's post about it here.
 
Michael Barry had the cooking slot in the old Food and Drink series on the BBC and I remember enjoying his no nonsense style.  Phil gives more information about him in his post and a link to the recipe on the Oxfam website.  Sadly the link no longer works so I googled the cake and came across it posted as a contributor's recipe on Nigella Lawson's website.  Something about this version of the cake somehow didn't quite ring true and at the back of my mind I thought it was not the same as the original.
 
 
 
Luckily, not long ago I acquired a copy of  the book that it comes from, Michael Barry's Food and Drink Cookbook, published in 1991. (From a charity shop for £1, where else?)  There are subtle differences between his recipe and the one on Nigella's website so I decided to go with the original.
 
 
The cake was destined for a birthday get together of just five ladies and I was dismayed when the cream I intended to fill it with would simply not whip up stiffly enough to use it.  Glurpy cream oozing out of the middle of an otherwise acceptable cake just will not do for a birthday so I left it out and just filled it with a good layer of cherry jam instead.  I was equally, if not more dismayed when the second sponge cracked as I placed it on top of the first.  A good dense dusting of icing sugar was not enough to hide the crack but nobody seemed to mind.
 
Cracked top and lack of cream notwithstanding, this was an excellent cake.  Phil waxes lyrical about it and quite rightly so.  In the book Mr Barry boasts that his cake was quicker to make and preferred by the Food and Drink team over a similar recipe by the WI! 
It is a doddle to make, (although it takes longer to bake than other all-in-one sponge cakes) has a lovely light texture and good chocolate flavour.  What more could you want from a recipe?
 
Ingredients
 
175g self raising flour
4 heaped tblsp cocoa powder
1 heaped tsp baking powder
100g caster sugar
1 dessert spoon black treacle
150ml sunflower oil
150ml milk
2 large eggs
 
For the filling
 
4-5 tblsp cherry jam
approx. 200ml double cream
 
Method
 
Grease and line the bases of two 18cm sandwich tins.  Preheat the oven to 160C / 140 Fan.
 
Put all the cake ingredients into a food processor and blend until you have a dark brown creamy batter.
 
Divide between the two tins and bake for 40-45 minutes.
 
Remove from the tins and cool on a wire rack.
 
To serve, sandwich the cakes together with a good layer of jam and some whipped cream.  dust thickly with icing sugar on top.
 
Cuts into 8-10 slices.

August 9, 2019

LEMON MADEIRA CAKE

 
I was asked to make some cakes for a charity cake sale that could be frozen until the day of the sale.  Loaf cakes and traybakes are easy to freeze but can look a bit plain and not sell as well as the more fancy cakes on the stall.
 
Then I stumbled across a blog with a recipe for Madeira cake made in a Bundt tin.  What a great idea thought I - much more appealing.  Just to be on the safe side I decided to make one for home consumption beforehand to check that it would work.  It worked.
 

 
A friend had asked her visitors from America to bring me a Nordic Ware Bundt tin that I coveted which was called a "blossom pan".  They are so much cheaper to buy over there and I thank this mystery person from the bottom of my heart for bringing it in her luggage.  When you look closely at Nordic Ware pans (tins) you just have to admire the design.  All those intricate curves designed so that the cake will come out with a beautiful shape.  Then when you consider the hefty material they're made of and the superb non stick coating, there's no wonder they're so expensive.
 

 
It occurred to me that with this particular tin the cake would still look right if some of the design was missing from the bottom.  Judging from the quantity of flour and other ingredients in the recipe I realised that there would not be enough mixture to fill the tin - or up to two thirds as is usually recommended - so some of the pattern would be missing when the cake was turned out.  This would look odd with some of the Nordic Ware designs I have, but fine with this one.
 
I also learned a new trick from the recipe.  To make a channel in the top of the mixture would produce a flatter top to the cake which was very handy when the cake was turned out.  I have often had to remove a bulge from the top in order to get the cake to be level when inverted and this solves that problem.  It's such a simple solution that I feel rather silly that I never thought of it myself before. 
 

 
Anyway, the cake looked gorgeous and tasted lovely.  This will be my go-to lemon cake recipe in future I think.  Nice and moist and just lemony enough, with an excellent crumb.  It kept really well in an airtight tin for several days.  A keeper in more ways than one.  Even in a loaf tin.  You can see the recipe here.
 
Ingredients
 
175g softened butter (I used Lurpak Spreadable)
175g caster sugar
finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
3 large eggs
1 tsp almond extract
1.5 tsp baking powder
150g plain flour
75g ground almonds
splash of milk
icing sugar to dust (optional)
 
Method
 
Prepare the Bundt tin (or use a 1kg loaf tin) by brushing with melted butter and dusting with flour, or using home made cake release paste.  (See sidebar.)  Preheat the oven to 170C / 150 Fan.
 
Using a stand mixer, beat the butter until pale and creamy then beat in the sugar.  Beat in the lemon zest. 
 
Whisk the eggs with the almond essence in a jug and pour into the mix a dribble at a time, thoroughly mixing between additions.  Add a spoonful of the flour if it begins to curdle.
 
Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and sift in half of the flour and baking powder.  Fold in carefully and repeat with the other half then the ground almonds.  Add enough milk to get a soft dropping consistency.
 
Transfer to the tin, level the top and run the spoon around the centre to make a shallow channel.  Tap the tin a few times on the worktop to help remove any trapped air bubbles.
 
Bake for 40-50 minutes (mine was done in 40) until golden brown and coming away from the sides of the tin.  Cool for 10-15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
 
Dust with icing sugar if you like.  Cuts into 10-12 slices.

July 25, 2019

BLUEBERRY, MINT AND LEMON CAKE


We have friends who are completely baffled why we live (half of the year) in France.  They have the impression that, away from the towns, the place is deserted.  Dead as a dodo.  They recall holidays where they have driven round from village to village for hours and barely seen a soul.  All houses appear shut up and empty, almost like in a ghost town.

Well, dear readers, trust me when I say, you could not be further from the truth.  Behind those shuttered windows and doors lie the real France, the goings on are way beyond your imagination and experience.....read on...…...

 
 
We are at the tail end of a heat wave.  Yesterday we were in the middle of three days of "canicule" (the French word for heatwave) and believe me, it is flippin' hot.  Yesterday the temperature was expected to reach 40C by teatime and it was hardly the ideal weather to hold a cake club meeting!
 
And sure enough, if you had driven around the village of Boussay in Touraine yesterday afternoon, you would have found the place deserted, all windows and doors shuttered against the heat and yet......an awful lot of cars parked along a certain street outside a certain house opposite the château and the sound of laughter and the clinking of glasses coming from within.  Yes, it was a cake club meeting.  Undaunted by the weather the members rose to the occasion and baked an amazing selection of cakes and bakes to the theme of "herbs".
 
 
And so I come to my blueberry, lemon and mint cake.  I saw the recipe as a loaf cake on the Delicious Magazine website and also on a blog where the writer had baked it as a Bundt cake instead of a loaf.  That was more my kind of thing so I decided to go for it.
 
It was lovely.  A nice texture which held up well (with no buttercream to melt in the heat).  I thought it had the right amount of mint but if I make it again (which I probably will) I would use double the lemons (use two instead of one) and use halve the quantity of blueberries.  In spite of adding the fruit in thirds most of the blueberries sank to the bottom of the tin which meant they were bizarrely at the top of my Bundt cake.
 
I thought it looked much better without the drizzle which was rather like mint sauce and put a kind of green sludgy finish on it but....I doubt that anyone expects glamour from this kind of cake and it did have the effect of giving the cake just the right mintyness.  I decorated mine with mint leaves, viola flowers and the rather weird looking flowers from our garden mint.  Definitely one to be made again.  You can see the recipe I used here and here for the Bundt version.
 
Ingredients
 
115g very soft butter
25g freshly picked mint leaves
250g blueberries (try 150g next time)
finely grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon (try 2 lemons next time)
250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 large eggs, beaten
120ml whole milk
25g desiccated coconut
 
For the glaze
 
100g granulated sugar
 
Method
 
 
Rinse and dry the blueberries and put into a bowl.  Finely chop about a quarter of the mint leaves to yield roughly 1 tblsp.  Add to the blueberries with one tsp of the lemon juice.  Stir together and set aside.
 
Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk4.  Butter a 900g loaf tin or a Bundt tin.
 
Using an electric hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (this will take longer than usual due to the high proportion of sugar).  Beat in the lemon zest then the eggs, one at a time, adding a little flour with the second egg.
 
Beat in the milk then fold in the flour. baking powder and coconut.
 
Spoon one third of the mixture into the tin followed by one third of the blueberries.  Repeat twice, ending with a layer of blueberries.  Bake for 60-70 minutes until done.
 
While the cake is cooking make the glaze by putting the rest of the mint leaves and 2 tblsp of the granulated sugar into a mini processor or pestle and mortar and process until a paste is formed.  Stir in the lemon juice and set aside.
 
When the cake is cooked leave in the tin for ten minutes then turn out if using a Bundt tin, leave in the tin if using a loaf tin.
 
Press the mint mixture through a fine sieve or tea strainer into a bowl or jug and stir in the remaining granulated sugar.  Pour the liquid over the cake and leave to cool completely.
 
If you like you can add a further drizzle of icing made with icing sugar and lemon juice.  Decorate as desired.
 
Cuts into 10-12 slices. 
 

July 20, 2019

APRICOT AND BLUEBERRY SLICE


Earlier this week a friend gave me a whole box of apricots from her tree.  There were several kilos of beautiful fruit, all ready to eat or use very soon, so I had to put my thinking cap on.  The first thought that sprung to mind was to make jam.
However, I'm not really a jam making person in the sense that whilst I enjoy the process of making jam and find it very satisfying and therapeutic (there's something so homely and wholesome about it), we don't actually eat a lot of jam.  Consequently the pleasure from the making is short lived when trying to find somewhere to store the jars of jam or someone to give them to.  It seems most of our family and friends don't use a lot of jam either and more tends to come our way than we can give away.  The result is a net gain of home made jam every year, delicious and tempting stuff.  We have home made jam dating back to 2014 or even earlier, unopened and crying out for a good scone...….

One of the benefits of being a recipe addict is that I recall a lot of recipes.  By that I mean that I can recall that I saw somewhere a recipe for something or other - remembering where I actually saw it is more of a challenge.  In this case I remembered that I had seen a recipe by Bill Grainger for a cake that might just do for my apricots.  I have no idea who Bill Grainger is other than that he is Australian and I have seen his books for sale here and there.  As it happens, after I had seen this recipe on the internet some time ago I then spotted the book that it comes from in a charity shop for £1 so I bought it.  It is in fact full of interesting and useful recipes.



 
The method is unusual in that you make a rubbed-in mixture, put half of it in the tin, put the fruit on top, add more ingredients to the other half of the mixture to make a batter and pour over the fruit.  It produces a very moist cake with a firmer layer on the bottom which makes it work as either a cake or a dessert.  I made mine using a food processor so it was very quick and easy to make.  The original recipe is for a peach and raspberry slice so it occurred to me that my apricots and a handful of blueberries would be an ideal alternative. 
 
 
 
It was absolutely delicious.  Just as delicious as the peach and raspberry combination would also be I'm sure.  I had to guess how much fruit to use - how many apricots of various sizes are the same as three peaches?  It made very moist cake so I wondered if less fruit would be better next time but several comments where the recipe appears on the internet suggest using less liquid in the batter so I might try that.  One of the places you can see it is here.
In any case, it is definitely one I shall be making again.  This is how I adapted the recipe: 
 
Ingredients
 
185g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder plus an extra ½ tsp
125g butter, chilled and diced
115g **soft brown sugar 
115g **caster sugar
9 apricots, halved and stoned
a handful of blueberries
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten
185 ml ** milk
 
Method
 
Grease and line the base of a 24cm square baking tin.  Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk4. 
 
Sift the flour and 1½ tsp baking powder into a food processor with the butter.  Blitz for a few seconds to make crumbs.  Add the sugars and blitz again to mix.
 
Tip half of the crumbs (I did actually weigh mine) into the prepared tin and press over the base.  Scatter the fruit evenly over the top. 
 
Add the vanilla, egg, milk and the other ½ tsp baking powder to the food processor and process to make a batter.  Pour this over the fruit and bake for about an hour until golden brown.  Cool in the tin.
 
Cuts into about 15 slices. 
 
** I made second cake using less sugar and less milk. 
100g each of the sugars, 150ml milk.  It was better I think.
  

July 10, 2019

SUMMER BERRY PAVLOVA

 
With guests coming for dinner on a lovely summer evening I thought I should make something....summery.  What could be more summery than a Pavlova?
 

 
I can literally count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have made a Pavlova.  It might just be five times.  The reason is that I find meringues terrifying to make.
Bonkers I know, especially when the whole world and her grandmother can rustle up a Pavlova at the drop of a hat, probably at the same time as a batch of delicious scones, my other nemesis.
 
 
The last Pavlova I made was huge.  Looking for a recipe that would turn out smaller I found a Mary Berry recipe in her book "Absolute Favourites"  and the only reason for writing this post is so that I can positively remember which recipe to use next time.  This one is amply big enough and will cut into 8 servings.
 
Ingredients
3 egg whites*
175g caster sugar
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp cornflour
250ml double cream
a good handful each of mixed summer fruits, strawberries (halved if large), raspberries and blueberries.  Blackberries and redcurrants would also be good.
 
Method
Preheat the oven to 160C / 140 fan / gas mk 3.   Lay a piece of baking paper on a baking sheet and draw a 20cm circle on it, using a cake tin or plate as a guide.
 
Whisk the egg whites until stiff using an electric whisk.  Gradually add spoonfuls of sugar and whisk in.  The mixture should be stiff and shiny and standing in peaks.  (This is the terrifying part - is it stiff and shiny enough.....?)
 
Blend the vinegar and cornflour together into a smooth paste and stir in.
 
First secure the paper to the baking sheet with a dab of meringue mixture at each corner.  This stops it from sliding around and makes life a lot easier.  Dot large spoonfuls of the meringue onto the baking paper and spread them out to fill in the circle as evenly as possible, making the middle slightly shallower than the sides.
 
Slide into the middle of the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 150C / 130 fan / gas mk 2.  Bake for about an hour until the meringue is crisp and a pale creamy colour.  Turn off the oven but leave the meringue inside to become cold for several hours or overnight.  Mine had about 8 hours and was fine.
 
Slide the Pavlova off the baking sheet onto a flat cake stand or plate.  Whip the cream and pile into the hollow.  Scatter the fruit on top and dust with icing sugar before serving.
 
Serves 8.
 
*You can use the egg yolks to make real custard.  1 pint milk, 3 egg yolks, 1 tblsp caster sugar, 1 tblsp cornflour.

July 6, 2019

FRESH OR FROZEN FRUIT CAKE

 
 
The theme of our recent cake and bake club meeting was "on trend or vintage" and when I was wondering what to make I remembered this recipe for "frozen fruit cake".  It appeared some time ago in the blog written by Mary-Anne Boermans, a previous GBBO contestant, called "Time to cook online".
Mary-Anne has a passion for old recipes and this one apparently dates back to the 1930's.  The beauty of it is that you can use virtually any fruit at all, fresh, tinned or frozen, making it very versatile and friendly and exactly my cup of tea.
 
 
The cake mixture is made using the rubbed in method.  Half of it is spread over the bottom of the tin, then the fruit is mixed into the other half before spreading the mixture on top.  The idea is that this prevents all of the fruit from sinking to the bottom during cooking and it worked!
 
 
The cake had a firmish texture, ideal as a traybake for picnics etc.  I put fresh fruit in mine, using up what I had in the fridge, so it was a mixture of strawberries, cherries and blueberries.  It's not a show stopper or a great party cake but a good way of using up mixed fruit from the fruit bowl or freezer.  Nice with a cup of tea in the afternoon.   Thinking about it, there were not really "showstopper cakes" around in the 1930's.  Between the wars most people would have been thrilled and grateful to have any kind of cake on the tea table and you certainly would not have seen the glamorous cakes we get nowadays, not in ordinary households anyway.  You can see the recipe here. and it cuts into about 12 pieces.
 
 Cake and Bake club meeting June 2019.
 
CCC club meeting February 2016.  
 
The cake club has evolved into something I'm not too sure about.  We used to have a very successful branch of the Clandestine Cake Club in the Loire Valley, attracting lots of people and beautiful cakes at every meeting.  When the CCC folded the members decided they would like to continue with meetings but change to a "cake and bake" club (although most people still refer to it as "cake club"). 
At the last meeting there were only four cakes on the table, three of which were baked by us - me, Nick and my brother who was staying with us on holiday. 
Amongst other things on the table there were three almost identical quiches, rock buns, biscuits and a chilled dessert.  All well made and very tasty but......for me there is nothing quite like the sight of a table full of gorgeous cakes.  The two pictures above serve to illustrate what I mean.
Cakes are special, a treat, a challenge to bake and beautiful to look at.  There is a sense of joy and achievement when you have baked a gorgeous cake and bring it out for everyone to feast their eyes on and taste a slice.  I'm not sure you can say the same about a quiche, even a very nice quiche.  In my mind the club was not started so that people could bring the everyday things they bake for tea.
Hey ho.  You can read more about it here.
 

July 3, 2019

APPLE, BANANA AND GINGER CAKE

 
Almost a whole month has gone by since my last post - how did that happen?  There has been some baking chez nous, but not as much as usual.
 
 
 
This cake was baked in a kind of desperation a few weeks ago, when our remodelling of the upstairs was nearly at an end but there was still a shed load of decorating, tidying and other stuff to do.  When I feel that life is all work and no play it's baking a cake that cheers me up.
 
Nick's favourite cake is a ginger cake.  However, there were two very ripe bananas in the fruit bowl and I decided to not waste them by adapting a well used recipe and putting enough ginger in it to hopefully disguise the banana.  Well almost!
 

 
I was also chomping at the bit to use a new acquisition - a cake tin brought from the UK to France earlier in the year and as yet unused.  I had spotted it in Wilko where it is actually sold as a "small roasting tin".  It was not expensive and it occurred to me that it might come in handy for loaf tin recipes.  I'm not always thrilled with loaf cakes, or at least not the shape of them.  They can sometimes turn out quite tall and a slice of cake can be a bit unwieldy, so this seemed to me that it would produce something more like an oblong cake than a loaf.  I was right.  The other good thing about it is that standard loaf tin liners also fit it, which is very handy.
 
 
I was very pleased with the cake too.  This is a slight variation on a recipe for apple and banana cake which you can see here. I love recipes that can be adapted to fit the occasion but always turn out well.  I have made versions of it many times and it never fails to work.  The cake was moist, bananary and gingery - what's not to love?
 
Ingredients
 
150g light muscovado sugar
 
85g softened butter or spreadable butter
 
2 large eggs, beaten
 
4 medium ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
 
1 dessert apple, unpeeled and grated
 
250g self raising flour
 
4 tsp ground ginger
 
pinch of salt
 
Method
 
Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk 4.  Grease and line a 900g / 2lb loaf tin, 20cm round springform tin or small roasting tin
.
Cream the butter and sugar and gradually beat in the eggs.
 
Sift in the flour and spices, add the banana, salt and apple and mix well together.
 
Transfer to the prepared tin and bake for about an hour.  Check after 45 minutes and cover loosely with foil if the top is browning too much.
 
When done, remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 20 minutes.  Turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling and dust with icing sugar before serving.
 
Cuts into 8-10 slices.

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.  It is basically a 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. 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. 
 
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