October 30, 2021

AN ULTRA QUICK PUMPKIN CAKE FOR HALLOWE'EN

I was unsure whether to post about this cake or not - because I was in two minds about it.

I spotted the recipe in a lovely blog called "the English kitchen" by Marie Rayner and just had to try it.  It's called "two ingredient pumpkin cake" and my first reaction was "never!".  

Apparently the recipe was turning up all over the internet a few years ago and the two ingredients are just a Dr Oetker carrot cake mix and a tin of pumpkin purée.   (I don't use a cake mix very often but have noticed that they appear frequently in recipes from the other side of the Atlantic.)

I rummaged in my cupboard and dug out the last tin of pumpkin purée from my stash saved for my usual pumpkin spice cake or a pumpkin pie.  (See here and here.)  I picked up a carrot cake mix on my next supermarket shop and on glancing at the instructions was puzzled.  If you are supposed to add eggs, oil and water to the carrot cake mix, how could it work with just a tin of pumpkin purée instead? I even left a comment on Marie's blog to check and she came back to say yes, that's all you do!

Well it did work after a fashion! The mixture was very stiff and it didn't rise much in the tin.  The cake itself was a fabulous colour, lovely and moist with a nice even crumb and a rich, spicy flavour. However…..each mouthful kind of dissolved into something very…..it’s hard to find the right word…..gluey in the mouth.  Very odd.  I'm not sure I would make it again - unless I was very pressed for time as it certainly was a rapid bake and very tasty.  No measuring out and the longest process required was lining the tin!  

As it happened I didn’t get around to icing it with the cider glaze.  I hadn't any cider in the house and had planned to use apple and mango juice instead, but visitors arrived just as I was taking it out of the oven.  Their opinion on the cake was "the ginger saved it!"  You can see the original recipe here.  I would be interested to hear how you got on if you decide to try it!

It did occur to me that it was the ideal cake for Hallowe'en!  Very quick to make, would take all the spooky decorations you could throw at it and that odd texture in the mouth has a decidedly uncanny feel to it!

Ingredients

A 425g tin of pumpkin purée.  I have seen this for sale in Waitrose on the tinned fruit and veg shelf, also in Tesco with the jams and spreads.  Otherwise you can get it online via Waitrose, Ocado or Amazon.

A box of Dr Oetker carrot cake mix.

For the glaze

140g icing sugar, mixed with a pinch of mixed spice and enough cider or apple juice to make it drizzlable.

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan.  Butter and line a 22cm square cake tin.

Beat the ingredients together using an electric whisk until well combined. This will take at least two minutes!  Spoon into the tin and level the top. 

Bake for 25-30 minutes until done.  Cool in the tin for ten minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.  Cool completely before drizzling the icing over.

Cuts into 12-16 squares.

October 25, 2021

TORTA DI RISO (rice pudding cake)


How are you with cold rice pudding?  I can appreciate that it's not everyone's favourite thing to eat but I just love it!  When we were children my mum had a limited repertoire of "afters" for Sunday dinner and rice pud was one of them. She would bake it in the oven until it was thick and creamy with a nice golden skin on top.  My brother and I would fight over who got most of the skin and then over who got the leftovers when the pudding was cold and solid.  Yum!!



I watched this cake being made by Nigella in her last TV series called "cook, eat, repeat" and knew that before long I would have to make it.  It's her version of an Italian cake that I had never heard of before but wish I had known about years ago.  A slice of it is pretty much like eating cold rice pudding but even better!  

I made it for guests early on during our spell in France this summer.  Nick had taken the car to go golfing with a friend and I was chez nous looking forward to a happy day's cooking and titivating the house in peace and quiet all by myself.  That's when I discovered that the packet of arborio rice I could see in the cupboard in my mind's eye was in our UK kitchen, not our French one!  I considered wrestling my old Harley out of the barn to see if it would start so I could go to the shops, but was convinced there was a packet there somewhere. A more determined search in the depths of the cupboards revealed an unopened packet of Sainsbury’s old fashioned pudding rice so I used that instead!  I have no recollection of ever taking such a thing to France (and I confess it was a few years out of date) but it worked fine.

Rice pudding is basically comfort food for children but this cake was much more sophisticated and grown up.  It's rich and lemon scented and absolutely delicious.  If milk puddings are not your thing you might not be fussed but if you fancy serving something a bit different at a dinner party I urge you to give this a try!  The leftover cake was kept in the fridge and was good for several days.

One of the places you can see the original recipe is here.

Because I was making several dishes for the meal at the same time, I got a bit distracted and made a few mistakes but it still worked out and was delicious.  *One thing I wouldn't do again was to leave the mixture cooling for so long that it was absolutely solid before I attempted to fold in the egg whites!  The recipe has a few more steps (and more washing up) than I usually go for but it's not difficult or fiddly.

Ingredients

150g arborio rice (or pudding rice), rinsed

700ml full fat milk

pinch of salt

1 lemon, zest and juice

75g unsalted butter, softened

3 large eggs

75g caster sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

nutmeg, freshly grated (or from a jar as was mine)

Method

Put the rice, milk, salt and lemon zest into a heavy based saucepan.  Over high heat bring it to almost but not quite boiling, stirring all the time.

Reduce the heat and cook gently without boiling for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until the milk has been absorbed.  Remove from the heat and stir in the butter which will melt into the mixture.

Transfer to a large bowl and set aside to cool completely for about an hour.  (*See notes above.)

When the rice is cold, preheat the oven to 160° C / 140° fan.  Butter and line the base of a 20cm round  springform tin.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites into a large bowl and the yolks into another.  Whisk the whites until stiff using an electric whisk and set aside.  Add the sugar to the yolks in the other bowl and whisk (using the same whisk if you like, I did) until pale and mousse-like.

Add the vanilla and just 2 tsp of lemon juice to the egg yolk mixture, stir together then pour gradually into the cooled rice, folding in as you go.

Add a large spoonful of the stiff whites to the mixture and stir to loosen it, then add the rest in three goes, folding in gently but thoroughly with each addition.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, sprinkle some grated nutmeg over the top and bake for 45 minutes until it is golden brown and set with no wobble at all.

Remove from the oven and place the cake, still in its tin, on a wire rack.  Cool until it's still just very slightly warm, run a knife or spatula around the edge of the cake to loosen it then unclip and remove the tin, leaving the cake on its base.

You can serve it on the base or very gently lift it off using a large cake lifter.  I found this quite easy to do because I have a large round cake lifter - the cake is very fragile and a small one or a couple of fish slices would probably result in it breaking up!  Even so, the cake crumpled slightly as I pushed the lifter under it but was easily teased back into shape without any damage.  Phew!

Serve on its own or with a fruit compôte or coulis.  Keep leftovers in the fridge.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

October 13, 2021

COFFEE CAKE


I quite miss the baking marathons that I used to get involved with. There was the "Children in Need" cake stall at work which raised £150 the first time we did it and over £2,000 the last time it was held.  You can read how we we went about raising so much money here.

Then there was the Loire Valley Cake Club that I formed and ran for several years until it evolved into something more like a lunch club.  

I have enjoyed making cakes for various other events in France over the years, but all of these opportunities to indulge in baking seem to have dried up due to the pandemic and other things.  So, when I discovered that my dad's assisted housing unit was holding a coffee morning in aid of the Macmillan cancer charity, (albeit in the afternoon) I thought I would bake them a couple of cakes. 

Thinking that it would probably be mostly the elderly residents themselves attending I decided to go traditional and went for a ginger cake using the Be-Ro book recipe (see here) and a coffee cake.  Also thinking that I didn’t want to be responsible for mishaps with anyone’s dentures I went for a recipe I had had my eye on for a while that contained no hidden chopped nuts!  The only nuts were the pecans decorating the top which were clearly visible!  It comes from the W.I. book "Cakes" by Liz Herbert.

The ladies in the office seemed thrilled when I presented them with the cakes.  As I breezed through the lobby later in the afternoon the place was joyfully ringing with the sound of chattering and tinkling teacups. My two cakes seemed to be the only home made ones on display and Jo from the office beamed as she showed me that they were almost sold out already.  Hmmmmm…..put a home made cake next to a pack of shop bought offerings and there's no contest!

I was disappointed that my dad didn't want to attend.  When I went upstairs to his flat to get him he said "do I have to?" and that was that.  Looking after the needs of a very old person is the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life I think.  All that fun going on downstairs and he prefers to doze in front of yet another repeat of Dad's Army all by himself.  Tragic.  Oh well, whatever makes him happy.

I didn’t get to try the cake myself but it did look good so I made it again for visitors at home the next week, this time decorating it with some of last year’s crop of windfall walnuts brought with us from France.  It was a delicious cake!  Very simple to make and the coffee glacé icing looked very chic as an alternative to my usual slathering of buttercream!

Just out of interest.........for ages I wondered why so many American recipes for coffee cake contained no coffee at all.  Well, it seems that "coffee cake" is the American term for any sort of cake that you would have with your coffee.  Simple !!

Ingredients

For the cake

175g soft margarine or baking spread

175g soft light brown sugar

175g self raising flour

½ tsp baking powder

3 eggs

2tsp instant coffee granules or powder dissolved in 1 tbslp boiling water

For the buttercream*

40g softened butter (I used Sainsbury's Buttersoft)

80g icing sugar, sifted

1 tsp instant coffee granules or powder dissolved in 1 tsp boiling water

For the glacé icing*

115g icing sugar, sifted

1½ tsp instant coffee granules or powder, dissolved in 1½ tblsp hot water

walnut or pecan halves to decorate (optional)

Method

Butter and line two 20cm sandwich tins.  Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 160° fan / gas mk 4.

Put all the cake ingredients except for the coffee liquid into a large bowl and whisk or beat together until smooth and well combined.  Add the coffee and mix well until incorporated.

Divide the mixture between the two tins, level the top and bake for 25 minutes until done.  Cool in the tins then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter until light and smooth, gradually beat in the icing sugar then the coffee liquid.

To make the glacé icing, place the icing sugar in a small bowl, make a well in the centre and gradually beat in enough of the coffee liquid to give a smooth, spreadable consistency.

When the cakes are cool, place one on a plate or stand and spread the top with the buttercream.  Place the other cake on top, spoon the glacé icing into the middle and, using a spatula, knife or back of a spoon, gently spread outwards almost to the edge.  Decorate with the halved walnuts or pecans.

*I amended the amount of water used to dissolve the coffee granules compared to that in Liz Herbert's original recipe.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

October 11, 2021

SMOKED MACKEREL SOUP (soup maker recipe)



I stumbled across a copy of the Covent Garden soup recipe book in a charity shop the other day.  We like their soups, a favourite of ours being their smoked haddock chowder.

Almost any hot soup recipe can be adapted for the soup maker and as I hungrily devoured the pages of the book looking for ideas for I spotted the recipe for our favourite soup.  That's when I remembered the pack of smoked mackerel fillets in the fridge.  I had bought them while we were in France, intending to make some paté (which you can read about here) for my birthday bash (which you can read about here) but ran out of time.  (Who knew that putting up bunting could take so long?!)  We brought them back to the UK with us and by now they were heading for the wrong side of their use by date so I thought "why not?".

By jove it was tasty!  I considered using the chunky setting to get the real chowder effect but instead settled on smooth, reserving some of the flaked fish to add in once cooked.*  That turned out to be a mistake because of the annoying little bones, so next time I think I would put all the fish in the machine, cook on smooth and add a few bits of diced cooked potato at the end instead. 

Anyway, if you're a fan of smoked fish you would love this soup!  I have to say that the flavour was quite intense.  It would probably have been flavourful enough with only one of the fillets, not both, which I will also try next time.  Apart from the fish stock pot I didn't add any extra seasoning as the fish itself was peppered and is quite salty.

Ingredients

A twin pack of peppered smoked mackerel fillets

2 medium/largeish potatoes

2 large carrots

1 fish stock pot (I used Tesco own brand)

1 large knob of butter,

Milk to thin the soup when cooked

Method

Remove the skin from the fish, break into large flakes, reserving a few for later. *

Peel and roughly chop the veg, preparing enough to fill the machine to the lower line when added with the flakes of fish.  Add the stock pot, butter and enough water to fill to the upper line.  Process on smooth.

When cooked, thin with milk to get the thickness you prefer, stir in a few small flakes of the reserved fish and serve.

*See notes in text.

Makes four generous portions.

October 1, 2021

APRICOT CLAFOUTIS - things to do with apricots part two and a real bargain.


A clafoutis is a very popular dessert in France.  It's basically fruit baked in a batter and can be served warm or cold, spooned out of the dish or served in slices.  I decided to make one using some more of my gorgeous apricots.

For this clafoutis I used my new dish.  It's a Le Creuset gratin dish that I bought at a "vide maison" for 2€.  A real bargain.  A vide maison is a house sale, where people set out tables of unwanted items in the garden or courtyard, sometimes with prices on but mostly open to negotiation. 

There are fewer charity shops in France than in the UK (where every town now seems to have several different ones).  In France it seems that people hang on to their old stuff and store it in the hope of selling it at a "vide grenier" or a "brocante" - the French equivalent of the car boot sale, or antique fair.  I am constantly amazed at the optimism of the sellers as they painstakingly arrange stuff on the tables that frankly I would have taken to the tip long ago!  Some of it clearly comes out year after year in the hope that eventually someone will pay a euro or two for it.  Empty perfume bottles for example.  And old shoes, still with their original boxes.  French houses obviously have plenty of storage space -  outbuildings, cellars or attics where boxes of old junk can be stored - along with empty boxes for shoes and electrical items, in the expectation that one day box and discarded item will be reunited to be put for sale at a vide grenier or a brocante. 




In France many villages host one or two of these events each year.  Usually the roads through the village are closed to traffic and tables are set up along the streets for people to display their unwanted stuff.  Sometimes it's on the village playing field or in the village hall.  During the pandemic last year there were virtually none.  This year there have been a few but with all the uncertainty many villages have not got around to organising anything.  Consequently  householders have been holding their own "vide maison" instead.  We came across several on our travels and spotted a small hand written notice for one at a house in our nearest village, which is where I swooped upon my bargain Le Creuset dish.

My new dish is in that classic bright orange colour that Le Creuset have been doing for years called "volcanic" - which is pretty much the same as the colour of my apricots.  It's in immaculate condition and the seller actually had three of them.  I can't for the life of me now think why I didn't buy all three, as at 2€ each I could have then given the other two to friends who also would have loved to have one.  Once again I can hear René Artois saying "you stupid wooman!".


I used my favourite clafoutis recipe which you can see on Susan's blog here.  Having tried several other recipes which have all worked fine, I find I mostly come back to this one.


You can use virtually any fruit to make a clafoutis.  Cherries would be traditional but apricots are very good.  I have recipes for banana, prunes soaked in brandy and caramelised apple clafoutis in this blog (see the index).  You can dust it with icing sugar before serving if you like.



We had ours warm with cream.  Leftovers are lovely served cold or warmed through, with cream, ice cream, or even, as has been known in our UK house, custard - usually the instant variety!

Ingredients

5-7 apricots, depending on the size of your dish
50g plain flour
50g ground almonds
100g caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
250ml plain yoghurt, buttermilk or a mixture of youghurt and whole milk

Method

Preheat the oven to 180° C / 160° fan.  Butter the dish.

Wash the fruit.  Cut each apricot in half, remove the stone then cut each half in half.  Arrange the quarters in the dish.

Put all the other ingredients into a bowl and whisk together with an electric whisk or hand blender until you have a smooth batter.

Pour the batter carefully over the fruit and bake for 30-40 minutes until firm and golden brown.

Serve warm or cool, dusted with icing sugar if you like, in slices or spoonfuls, with cream, ice cream, or just on its own.

Serves 4-6 people.