Double Espresso and Brazil Nut Cake

Double espresso and brazil nut cake

Double espresso and brazil nut cake

I seem to be making a lot of cakes lately.  Perhaps it’s making up for lost time in the lead up to my wedding where I barely made any.  Also, making cakes in the summer is a bit of a nightmare, isn’t it?  I made four for a friend’s wedding this year and had to ice them in a marquee on the hottest day of the summer, whilst decorations were put up around me, bands soundchecked and the wine began to arrive, also needing fridge space.  My icing kept melting, which resulted in several dashes to said fridges to try to chill it before the cakes were ruined completely.  If I ever came close to understanding the stress of the contestants on The Great British Bake Off, it was then.  Worth it in the end, though, as the wedding was amazing.

Anyway, last weekend I made this cake for my brother-in-law, his girlfriend and her parents who were busy renovating their flat.  They’re not just painting and doing a bit of moderate DIY, this is the ripping-down-walls-rebuilding-new-ones kind of renovating which, I imagine, is pretty hungry work. 

This cake is one I have made time and time again, and it comes from my favourite baking book, Dan Lepard‘s Short and Sweet.  It is a great alternative to a coffee and walnut cake and uses so much coffee that the flavour is really quite strong.  The finely chopped brazil nuts and spelt flour give it a coarse texture all the way through, rather than a cake studded with nuts, which is often the way. 

It also has coffee water icing.  Which is basically espresso and icing sugar.  What’s not to like about that?

Double Espresso and Brazil Nut Cake

For the cake
100ml whole milk
2 tsp instant espresso powder
1 tbsp fine-ground coffee beans
175g unsalted butter, softened
100g soft light brown sugar
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
100g plain flour
100g wholegrain spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
75g brazil nuts, finely chopped, plus extra for decoration

For the icing
200g icing sugar, sifted
3 tbsp strong espresso

Preheat the oven to 180ºc.  Grease two sandwich tins and baseline with greaseproof paper. 

In a small saucepan, combine the milk, espresso powder and ground coffee and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. 

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated.  Beat in the coffee mixture.

Fold in both flours, the baking powder and the brazil nuts until you have an even smooth batter.  Do not overwork it. Scrape the batter into the two tins and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, mix together the icing sugar and espresso until smooth and thick.  If it is too runny, add more sugar; similarly, if it is too stiff, add more coffee, a little at a time.  Using a palette knife, spread the icing over the top of the cooled cakes.  Place one cake on top of the other and decorate with the remaining brazil nuts.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes for National Cupcake Week

Chocolate orange cupcakes

Chocolate orange cupcakes

There was a time in London where vertiginous cupcakes were everywhere you looked.  I would often see people walking through the city on the way to their offices, carrying boxes with sugar-hued icing swirls, ready to delight their colleagues.  When there was nobody on hand to make them, companies could send boxes of them directly to your desk, decorated with everything from edible glitter to fondant handbags.  The Hummingbird Bakery, arguably the pioneer of London’s cupcake fixation, became a household name and sold thousands of cookbooks.  We were hooked.

It all makes perfect sense really, as the cupcake trend came at roughly the same time as the recession hit London.  It was the perfect environment for small, affordable treats to take hold.  Bakery windows across the city were filled with these brightly coloured treats, ready to lift us out of the gloom of the dire economic climate.  As well as this, people were baking more, inspired by shows such as The Great British Bake Off.  The cupcake seemed unstoppable.

Inspired by this wonder-product, many tried to supersede the cupcake with other baked goods.  I remember the campaign to crown the whoopie pie as the new king of the shelves.  The macaron was hailed as a classier alternative, and the craze for the cronut in New York sent many London bakeries into a spin trying to replicate it.  After a few years of reigning supreme, the cupcake was knocked off its perch, but it never really went away.

This week is National Cupcake Week, which was started by industry magazine British Baker and is “designed to promote the popularity of cupcakes in order to help bakery businesses boost their sales.”  As well as this, they aim to raise money for the charity Wellbeing of Women through encouraging the public to fundraise with bake sales. For the rest of us, it’s an excuse to bake and eat.

I volunteered to bake some cupcakes for the office this week in celebration of National Cupcake Week.  These chocolate orange cupcakes were baked by Jo Wheatley on the second series of The Great British Bake Off.  They are a soft chocolate sponge, brushed with an orange juice and granulated sugar soak whilst warm, and topped with a delicate orange buttercream.  This recipe makes eight if you use normal-sized muffin cases, or will make 12 if you use the smaller cupcake cases.  Don’t be shy with the orange sugar soak, it makes the cupcakes wonderfully moist.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes

For the cakes
120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
50g dark chocolate, melted
1 large egg
120ml whole milk
1 orange, juice only
3 tbsp granulated sugar

For the buttercream
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
300g icing sugar
2 tbsp whole milk
50g white chocolate, melted and cooled
Zest of 1 orange
Dark chocolate, for grating

Preheat the oven to 175ºc and line a 12-hole muffin tin with muffin cases or cupcake cases.

Place the flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl.  Rub in the butter until fully combined.  In a jug, whisk together the eggs and milk, then stir into the dry ingredients.  Mix in the melted chocolate.

Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling them two-thirds full, and bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes.  Mix together the orange juice and granulated sugar and, once the cakes have been removed from the oven, brush the mixture over them whilst still hot.  Set aside to cool in the tin for ten minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Do not throw away the orange juice mixture.

To make the buttercream, beat together the butter and icing sugar in a bowl, or the bowl of a freestanding mixer, until light and fluffy.  Beat in the milk, white chocolate and orange zest.

Brush another layer of the orange juice soak over the cooled cakes, then pipe or spread the buttercream on top.  Finish with some finely grated dark chocolate.

Pastel de Nata

Pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tarts

Pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tarts

The first time I had a Portuguese custard tart, I was hooked.  This was some time ago and, unlike now, they were a rare find.  We use to trek all the way to the Lisboa Patisserie on the Goldborne Road and have one as a treat, and you can imagine how much of a mission that journey was from south-east London in the pre-Overground days.  I would buy one to have there and then, and one to keep me awake on the Hammersmith and City line as it trundled, painfully slowly, towards my connecting station.

Now, of course, times have changed and you can buy them in more or less every London neighbourhood.  The boom in street food markets has made them even more available, and now it seems that all of London is enraptured with the pastel de nata.  Londoners’ love affairs with certain baked goods are well-documented: we went nuts over the cupcake, briefly flirted with the cronut (or whatever you’re allowed to call them without infringing copyright) and now it seemed that this little treat from Lisbon is king.

I have heard that the best example of the pastel de nata can be found in its birthplace, more specifically in a bakery called the Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem.  Apparently, these tarts are so good, people go on pilgrimages for them.  With no trip to Portugal on the horizon, I instead decided to make my own.  I’ll be honest, these are not the easiest thing to make.  Flaky pastry is always a bit temperamental and requires a lot of time and care to get right.  The custard is relatively straightforward, but as with anything that combines hot milk, hot sugar and eggs, there is often a potential for it to go wrong.  You could, of course, use shop-bought pastry to save time and effort if you wish.  I have tried these tarts with both shop-bought puff pastry and the homemade flaky pastry in the recipe below; and, of course, the latter is better, but it also takes a considerable amount longer.

The recipe below is the most straightforward of those I’ve tried.  The key is to chill the pastry overnight, anything less and it will be difficult to work with.  If you have better skills than me, you could replace the pastry below with an all-butter puff.

Pastel de Nata

For the pastry
225g plain flour
¼ tsp sea salt
200ml water
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the custard
3 tbsp plain flour
310g whole milk
265g granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 strip lemon peel
1 strip orange peel
165ml water
½ tsp vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks

Start to make the pastry the night before you want to finish the tarts.  Combine the plain flour, salt and water in the bowl of a freestanding mixer.  Using the dough hook, mix until the dough forms a smooth ball, about 30 seconds.  Place the dough on a floured surface and pat into a six-inch square.  Cover with clingfilm and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Roll out the dough until it forms a large square – it should be about half a centimetre thick.  Take one-third of the butter and spread it across the left two-thirds of the dough, leaving a border of 1inch around the edges.  Neatly fold over the unbuttered part of the dough, then fold over the left third in an envelope fold.  Pinch the edges closed using your fingers.

Turn the dough 90 degrees so that the long edge is facing you.  Repeat the buttering and folding process again.  Pinch the edges closed using your fingers and turn the dough 90 degrees once more.

This time, roll the dough out into a rectangle with the shorter edge facing you.  Spread the butter over the whole surface, again leaving a border at the edges.  This time, roll the dough away from you in a tight log.  Cut the log into two halves, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge overnight.

To make the custard, whisk together the flour and 65ml of the milk in a large bowl and set aside.  Place the sugar, water, cinnamon, lemon peel and orange peel in a small saucepan and bring to the boil without stirring.  At the same time, scald the remaining milk in a separate saucepan.  Keep an eye on both.

Whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture.  Remove the cinnamon, lemon peel and orange peel from the saucepan and slowly pour the sugar syrup into the bowl, whisking constantly.  Add the vanilla and let the mixture cool for a few minutes before whisking in the egg yolks.

Preheat the oven to 250ºc and grease a 12-hole muffin pan.  Remove the chilled pastry from the fridge and roll out to the thickness of a £1 coin.  Using a large cutter, cut out circles of the pastry, removing a small section so that they can be pushed into the muffin tin without any excess.  This should look like a pie with a wedge missing or like ‘pac man’.  Push the pastry into the muffin tin and seal any gaps.  The pastry should reach the top of the hole.

Fill each cup ¾ full with the warm custard.  Bake in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until the pastry has browned and the custard is puffed up and a little coloured on the top.  Allow to cool in the tin for half an hour and then transfer to a wire rack.

Plum Upside Down Cake

Plum Upside Down Cake

Plum Upside Down Cake

There are a few specific things that start happening around the middle of September that signal that autumn has arrived in London.  As we are lucky enough to live in a city with so many beautiful parks, the colour change from green to amber makes the seasons so obvious and distinct.  As the last few of us return from our summer holidays, we start settling into this new routine of putting on warmer clothes, walking the streets hugging paper cups of coffee and going home earlier at night.  Fewer people go to the parks at lunchtime, and almost nobody sits at the once-crowded outside tables of the cafes.  We collectively move inside. 

For me, it is other small things that mark the beginning of autumn:  the arrival of the circus on Peckham Rye Common, the return of schoolchildren to my morning bus journey, the slow drip of Christmas products in to the supermarkets and the complaining about it getting earlier each year.  Most of all, though, it is the change in what we begin to cook.  Beautiful summer salads, bowls of berries and barbecues give way to a more comforting range of foods:  we start to embrace the winter fruits and veg and the stews and soups that protect us from the nip in the air.  Comfort food becomes the order of the day.

Plums are one of the most-used fruits in my kitchen throughout the autumn.  They start to make an appearance in mid-August, and by September they are everywhere.  There are a wide variety of plums available and they lend themselves to being used in a variety of ways.  Two of the winter dishes I love best are a plum and hazelnut crumble and a spiced plum chutney.

I had some plums leftover from a tart I made earlier in the week for some friends, so decided to use them to make a plum upside down cake.  Some friends on Twitter told me that this is very straightforward to do.  I actually feel a little silly writing up a recipe for what is essentially a basic sponge mix poured over some chopped fruit, but it really is an excellent way for using up any fruit you have.  Once baked, cooled and turned out, the plums become incredibly tender and almost melt into the sponge, creating a kind of plum jam topping.  It would be excellent as a pudding with custard.

Plum Upside Down Cake

3 plums, halved, then cut into thirds
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
225g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease a 8-inch loose bottomed cake tin and line the base and sides with greaseproof paper. 

Arrange the plum slices in the base of the tin.  Try and squeeze in as many as you can.

In a bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until combined.  If the mixture looks like it is curdling at this point, add a tablespoon of the flour to bring it back together.  Fold in the flour until just mixed, be careful not to overwork it.

Scrape the batter into the prepared tin, being careful not to dislodge any of the plums underneath.  Bake in the oven for approximately 40 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin.

Once cool, remove the tin but keep the base intact.  If the cake has a dome, cut this off carefully using a serrated knife to create a flat surface.  This will be the bottom of the cake.  Turn upside down on to a plate or cake stand and carefully remove the base of the tin and the greaseproof paper.

Lemon Curd Layer Cake for Band of Bakers

Lemon curd layer cake

Lemon curd layer cake

Last night, after what seemed like an eternity, the bakers of south east London were out in force again, bringing their cake tins to Camberwell, celebrating risen cakes and lamenting soggy bottoms.  Band of Bakers was back from its summer break.  The theme: anything goes.  Literally anything.  Bake what you like.

Much to my surprise, many found the lack of constraint to be a burden rather than a freedom.  I, myself, made several u-turns on what I would bake in the lead up to the event and almost ended up driving myself mad.  It seems that a more specific theme gives a lot more focus.

Now, I know that my blog does not really need another lemon cake.  It has two lemon cakes already, one with poppy seeds and one with prosecco, but this is such an extra special lemon cake that I could not help but make it for the Band of Bakers event.  It comes from the gorgeous Ginger and White cookbook, with recipes from the Hampstead cafe of the same name.  It is one of those books that you leaf through, marking almost every page with a little tab as you want to bake everything.  The idea of delicate lemon cakes squidged together with homemade lemon curd was the perfect treat for the end of summer.

The cakes are incredibly easy to make and use few ingredients.  Similarly, the lemon curd, although time-consuming, is also very simple.  Zesting five lemons may be the death of your wrists for the evening, but it is worth it: after all, who really enjoys a cake with just a hint of lemon?

Lemon Curd Layer Cake

For the cake
225g unsalted butter, softened
280g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
4 large eggs, beaten
220g self-raising flour
Icing sugar, for dusting
Blueberries, for decoration

For the lemon curd
3 egg yolks
115g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
80ml lemon juice
55g unsalted butter, softened

To make the lemon curd, beat together the egg yolks and the sugar in a glass bowl (you can use either a balloon whisk or a wooden spoon – it doesn’t really matter).  Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and beat in the lemon zest, lemon juice and butter.  Continue to stir over the heat until the curd thickens.  This will take about 15 minutes.  Remove the bowl from the heat and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Butter three regular sandwich tins and baseline with greaseproof paper. 

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy.  Whilst beating, or with the motor of the mixer still running, add the beaten eggs a little at a time.  If it looks like the mixture is curdling, add a tablespoon of the flour to bring it back together.  Finally, fold in the flour, being careful not to overmix.  The batter will be quite thick, but this is OK.

Scrape into the prepared tins and bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 15 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  The cakes are very pale anyway, so do not be tempted to overcook to make them darker in colour.  Cool in the tins for 10 minutes and then turn out on to wire racks, removing the greaseproof paper from the bottoms.

Once cool, spread one layer with half of the lemon curd, going right up to the edges, and place a second cake on top.  Spread this with the other half of the lemon curd, and then top with the final layer.  Decorate with blueberries and icing sugar and serve.

Adapted from a recipe from the Ginger and White Cookbook

Lavender Biscuits

Lavender Biscuits

Lavender Biscuits

Try as I may, I will never be one of those people who is good at growing things.  When I first read Nigel Slater’s Tender, I became consumed with the idea of how wonderful it would be to grow your own vegetables, live off the land and eat organically.  I saw myself in a pair of gardening gloves, proudly carrying my multicoloured bounty back to the kitchen and making beautiful lunches, but obviously this fantasy ended rather abruptly when I remembered that my only outside space is a 8ft x 5ft steel balcony, and that I am just not very good at keeping things alive.  Hence my reliance on the veg box schemes of East Dulwich.

Ollie, on the other hand, has, at various times, utilised our pitiful amount of outdoor space to grow basil, mint and even tomatoes.  I think he must have inherited his green fingers from his mother, whose enviable vegetable patch yields enough produce to make several family lunches throughout the summer.  Whilst visiting this weekend, she gave me a lovely edible bouquet of lavender, marjoram flowers, onion flowers, chives, fennel fronds, rosemary and bay leaves.  It made the car smell so good on the journey home, I almost felt sad to use it.

Feeling the need for something sweet, I realised that I had enough in the storecupboard to make some little shortbread biscuits with the lavender.  For what, really, is more summery than a garden of English lavender?  As my Instagram feed attests, there is plenty of it out there at the moment to be used.  It is quite a divisive ingredient, as adding too much to a recipe can give a pungency that boarders on unpleasant.  So much so, that many bakers err on the side of caution and use lavender sugar to perfume a recipe, rather than the leaves themselves.  By the way, lavender sugar can be made by simply adding a few sprigs of the plant to a jar of caster sugar and allowing the flavours to infuse.

These biscuits use the leaves of the plant, so only use it if you really like lavender, as the flavour is quite strong.  For a more subtle version, you can swap the caster sugar in the recipe for lavender sugar.

Lavender Biscuits

175g unsalted butter, softened
2 tbsp fresh lavender leaves
100g caster sugar (or lavender sugar if you are leaving out the lavender leaves)
225g plain flour

In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, using the paddle attachment, churn the butter and lavender together for a few seconds until well mixed.  Add the sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy.

Add the flour and work into a smooth dough.  Transfer the dough to a work surface, divide in half and mould into two ‘sausage’ shapes.  Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 160ºc / 320ºf / gas 3.  Grease and line four baking trays (these will need to go in the oven in two batches).

Remove the dough from the fridge and cut each piece into 12 slices.  Arrange on the baking trays, with enough room for them to spread, and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, turning the trays half way through to ensure they brown evenly.

Remove  from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Adapted from a recipe by Mary Berry.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Brownies

Chocolate and salted caramel brownies

Chocolate and salted caramel brownies

This is the third salted caramel recipe I have written for this blog, which is far more than anybody needs.  I am so 2012.

Whilst offering my apologies for the repetition, this one was, in fact, the brainchild of Ollie.  We were heading to the new house of some friends for dinner and I had offered to bring dessert.  Whilst I walked around the kitchen with two bars of chocolate in my hands, opening and closing the cupboards and looking for inspiration, he said could you make those really squidgy brownies again, but maybe with salted caramel?

I know that everybody thinks they have the best brownie recipe, or knows where to get the best brownie in town, it’s one of those things that people are incredibly proud of, like their roast dinners.  I have been making brownies for a long time, but never found a recipe that gave a perfect result until I discovered Felicity Cloake’s recipe in her How to Cook the Perfect… column for The Guardian.  If you’re a baker and love a good brownie, I cannot recommend it enough.  There are a few more processes than your standard recipe, but they create a brownie with the perfect crispy top and molten interior.

And for the record, the best brownie in London, in my opinion, is from Paul A. Young.

A salted caramel brownie is hardly groundbreaking, there are a number of recipes online, but these were so good I just had to share.  This recipe is a combination of Cloake’s perfect brownie recipe (which I also used as the basis for my coconut brownies) and a method for adding the salted caramel taken from the wonderful Smitten Kitchen blog.  This involves making a tray of set salted caramels, stirring some into the brownie batter before it goes into the tin, and pressing the others into the top just before it goes into the oven.  This has the double-edged effect of creating pockets of molten caramel throughout the brownie, and nuggets of set, crispy caramel on the top.

At first I thought that the caramel could have done with a little more salt, but everybody else who tried them disagreed.  The little touch of salt stops them from being too sweet, despite the combination of chocolate and caramel.  If you’re a salty sea dog, you could add a little more to the caramel if you wish, but be careful not to overload it as there is also salt in the brownie batter.

Ollie has already asked me to make a tray of these for his birthday dinner next month, instead of a birthday cake.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Brownies

For the caramel:

  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 60g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 50ml double cream

For the brownie batter:

  • 200g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 yolk
  • 100g chocolate chips
  • 60g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 60g cocoa powder

Lightly butter a square of greaseproof paper and set over a dinner plate.  Set aside.

To make the caramel, melt the sugar in a dry pan over a medium-high heat.  This should take about five minutes and should give a mixture of a copper colour.  Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until melted.  Stir in the cream and salt and return to a medium-high heat to bring to a simmer.  Cook for another minute, until the mixture has darkened slightly, then pour onto the prepared plate.  Transfer the plate to the freezer for approximately 30 minutes until the caramel has solidified.

Preheat the oven to 180°c / 350°f / gas 5.  Butter a 20cm square cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Whilst the caramel is setting, make the brownie batter.  Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water, then set aside to cool slightly.  In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides and add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until just incorporated.  Once all the eggs have been added, turn the mixer speed up to high and best the mixture for around five minutes until the batter has increased in size slightly.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and beat in the chocolate and chocolate chips.  Fold in the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder.

Once the caramel has set, cut it into 1 inch squares using a sharp knife.  Fold three-quarters of the squares into the batter, then scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin.  Scatter the remaining squares across the top of the batter and press in slightly,  Bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes until risen, but still very wobbly.  Although the mixture seems uncooked, it needs to be taken out of the oven at this point to get the squidgy texture, cooking for any longer will give it the consistency of a cake.  Leave to cool completely in the tin, then remove and slice into squares.

From the Band of Bakers Archive: Pecan, Chocolate and Rum Pie

Chocolate, pecan and rum pie from the Band of Bakers 'Baking with Beverages' event, April 2013

Chocolate, pecan and rum pie from the Band of Bakers ‘Baking with Beverages’ event, April 2013

This week marks the second birthday of our little south east London baking club, Band of Bakers.  Our first event was held on 2nd May 2012 in the wonderful little Nunhead cafe and deli Bambuni.  About 25 or so bakers had pledged their interest, although despite this we were worried that nobody would show up.  We breathed a bit more easily as a steady stream of bakers walked in off the street with their cake boxes, got themselves a glass of wine and began chatting to each other.  Band of Bakers was born.  Two years on we have grown beyond anything we could have expected – we have an enormous waiting list, a number of popular and oversubscribed events and have had the opportunity to work with some great people including Dan Lepard, Paul Hollywood and the excellent team from delicious. Magazine.  Most importantly, we have created a community in our little corner of London that reached beyond baking and into people’s everyday lives, forming friendships and support networks, both online and in real life.

I talk about Band of Bakers an awful lot as I am so proud of what Naomi and I have achieved.  Nobody has told me to shut up about it yet, although I expect one day they will.

I started thinking back over our many events and the enormous number of bakes I have had the opportunity to try, and what I liked the most.  It is really difficult to narrow it down from the many, many that have graced the Band of Bakers tables, but here are a few I particularly loved:

Rhubarb and Ginger Cake from the Band of Bakers 'Your Favourite Bake' event, May 2012

Rhubarb and Ginger Cake from the Band of Bakers ‘Your Favourite Bake’ event, May 2012

Rhubarb and Ginger Cake by Charlie.  This caused quite a stir at our first event, not least because it turned up warm from the oven.  It is, quite literally, the most perfect cake on earth.  A gingery cake with a slightly coarse texture due to the use of spelt flour, topped with stems of tart rhubarb.  I have made it at least 100 times, and based both my fig, ginger and spelt cake and my orange, stem ginger and spelt cake on it. SO good.

Little Sticky Toffee Pudding Cakes by Chloe.  My reaction to the first bite was “what f***ing genius made these?!”  Chloe brought these along to our Winter Warmers event back in November 2012 and I immediately wanted to eat a hundred of them.  Beautifully sticky spiced caked with a decadent toffee frosting.  No recipe to share, sadly, as the baker herself says that “it will be a miracle the day I write a recipe down, let alone a blog!

Blueberry and Almond Tart from the Band of Bakers 'Inherited Bakes' event, January 2014. Photo by Naomi Knill

Blueberry and Almond Tart from the Band of Bakers ‘Inherited Bakes’ event, January 2014. Photo by Naomi Knill

Blueberry and Almond Tart by Naomi.  This is Naomi’s mum’s recipe and one of my favourite things that she has ever baked (and I can tell you that there is stiff competition!)  A gorgeous tart of pastry with a frangipane filling, dotted with little jammy blueberries.  I took a slice home for Ollie and he was enamoured.

Black Pudding Scotch Eggs by Jon.  Jon can always be relied upon to bring something utterly decadent to the table and, luckily for me and sadly for the vegetarians, it is often of the carnivorous variety.  These black pudding scotch eggs were among the best scotch eggs I had ever tried. I’m pretty sure Ollie even managed two. Extra kudos for the yolk being soft. Amazing.

Pumpkin and chipotle bread from the Band of Bakers 'Autumn Harvest' event, October 2013

Pumpkin and chipotle bread from the Band of Bakers ‘Autumn Harvest’ event, October 2013

Pumpkin and Chipotle Bread by Lauren.  There are few bakers that do bread better than Lauren, especially bread of the sourdough variety, which she writes about frequently on her blog.  She also has a fascination with chilli, and the combination of the two always produce something delicious.  This bread was made for our Autumn Harvest event back in October 2013 and didn’t last long on the table.

There are so many more, but I fear that I would write the longest blog post on earth if I listed them all.

Having attended every event, I have baked many things for the Band of Bakers table, with varying degrees of success.  One of my favourite creations was a chocolate, pecan and rum pie that I made for the Baking with Beverages event back in April 2013.  This event was originally supposed to be called ‘Baking with Booze’, but we decided to widen it to include other beverages as we were expecting around 35 bakers in attendance.

The pie is based on a recipe by the excellent David Lebovitz and went down really well at the event.  It is basically your average pecan pie, perked up a little with some dark chocolate chips and a few shots of spiced dark rum, which turn it from a standard American dessert to a very grown-up treat indeed.  Of course, the rum is interchangeable with other alcohol, David Lebovitz’s version used bourbon, and I always thought Amaretto would work well – or you could leave it out altogether.  The most interesting thing about this recipe is that the pastry is not blind baked prior to the addition of the filling.  When I first read this, I was like Say Whaaaaa, but then I realised that the idea was to for the pastry and the filling to merge a little, rather than have separate textures as in the case with most other tarts.  I did try it with a blind baked case once, and it was nowhere near as good.

Sweet, nutty and boozy – what more could you want? Much better too if you make your own pastry, obvs.

Chocolate, Pecan and Rum Pie

For the pastry:

  • 175g plain flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tsp icing sugar
  • 115g cold unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 1 egg yolk

For the filling:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 150g dark soft brown sugar
  • 200g golden syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 30g melted butter
  • 2 shots (50ml) dark spiced rum
  • 200g pecans, roughly chopped
  • 150g dark chocolate chips

Start by making the pastry.  Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor, add the butter and pulse until the texture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  With the motor running, add the egg and blitz until the mixture comes together in a smooth dough.  If the mixture is too dry, carefully add some cold water, a couple of drops at a time, until it comes together.  Press the dough into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes, or until needed.

Once the pastry has chilled, remove it from the fridge, roll it out and use it to lie the inside of a pie dish or tart tin.  Crimp the edges if necessary and return to the fridge until ready to fill.

Preheat the oven to 190°c / 375°f / gas 5.

To make the filling, place the eggs, brown sugar, golden syrup, vanilla, salt, melted butter and rum in a large bowl and whisk by hand until smooth.  Stir in the pecans and chocolate chips and scrape the filling into the pie dish.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 35-40 minutes, until the tart has risen and has a slight wobble in the centre.  Let the pie cool completely before slicing.

Adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz.

Two Lemon Cakes

Spring has sprung?

Spring has sprung?

If there’s one thing I like to keep a constant supply of in my kitchen, it’s lemons.  I just bloody love their versatility – a slice is equally at home in a cup of hot water to start the day and in a large gin and tonic to end the day, and their juice livens up everything from cakes to curries.  Honestly, without lemons the world would be a very dull place.

Despite the fact that I love baking and run a baking club, I’ve been trying not to make too many sweet treats of late in an attempt to control my weight prior to my wedding in June.  I kid you not, I have actually been having anxiety dreams where my beautiful wedding dress, that is currently hanging in the shop storeroom, does not fit on the day.  So you may notice that there haven’t been as many cake recipes as there were last year, which makes it all the more strange that there are two today.

This week has been a bit of an exception; although I managed to get through the oft-calorific Easter weekend succumbing only to half a Lindt chocolate bunny and a slice of the chocolate and raspberry tart I made to follow the Easter lunch (more on that later); I did have too occasions on which I had to dig out the cake tins. 

Lemon and poppy seed cake.  Photo by Naomi Knill.

Lemon and poppy seed cake. Photo by Naomi Knill.

The first was a mercy mission and entirely necessary:  delivering cake to my friend Naomi, housebound after having a gorgeous new baby boy.  Going right to the back of my baking cupboard, I found an unopened bag of poppy seeds that had slipped down the back, so decided to make the lemon and poppy seed loaf from Skye Gyngell’s excellent cookbook, How I Cook.  It is a gorgeously robust loaf, made lighter with the addition of some whisked egg whites and made decadent with a syrupy glaze.  Quite a snack for a sleepless night. 

Lemon and prosecco cake.  Straight from the oven, pre-glaze.

Lemon and prosecco cake. Straight from the oven, pre-glaze.

The second was simply that we are having another Band of Bakers event this evening, this time with a ‘springtime’ theme.  I haven’t made an actual cake for Band of Bakers for a while – so far this year I have made a tart (chocolate and salted caramel), scones (cheese, chive and mustard) and miscellaneous puffs (caramelised onion, Gruyère and London Pride) – so it is long overdue.  This cake is from a recipe by Gennaro Contaldo and caught my eye a while ago due to the inclusion of some booze:  a lemon and prosecco cake.  What I love about it is that it contains a mere 150g of flour but six whole eggs, with the yolks and the whisked whites added at separate stages, which means that the texture is more akin to a flourless cake than to a traditional sponge.  The dominant flavour is definitely lemon, with the prosecco providing something of a fuzzy backnote, but it is totally delicious.  As a pudding with a drizzle of fruit coulis (and a glass of bubbles, obvs) it would be perfect for any springtime lunch table.

Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake

For the cake: 

  • 115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 175g caster sugar
  • Zest of three large lemons
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 35g poppy seeds
  • 275g plain flour
  • 2½ tsp baking powder
  • 230ml whole milk
  • 4 egg whites (from large eggs)

For the syrup:

  • Juice of two lemons
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 170°c / 340°f / gas 4.  Grease a medium loaf tin and line with baking parchment.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Stir in the lemon zest, vanilla and poppy seeds.  Sift together the flour and baking powder and beat this into the mixture.  Pour in the milk and stir again.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form.  Gently fold a third of the egg whites into the batter using a metal spoon, then repeat with the remaining egg whites.

Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake in the centre of the oven for around one hour, until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes.

In a small bowl, mix together the lemon juice and icing sugar until you have a smooth syrup.  Whilst the cake is still in the tin, spoon the syrup over the top.  Leave to soak in for 20 minutes or so and then turn out on to a wire rack.  Using a pastry brush, brush any remaining syrup on the top and sides of the cake.

From Skye Gyngells’s ‘How to Cook’.

 

Lemon and Prosecco Cake

For the cake:

  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 100g caster sugar
  • Zest of 3 large lemons
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 150ml prosecco
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder

For the glaze:

  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°c / 350°f / gas 4.  Grease a 24cm springform cake tin and line with baking parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until they are light and creamy.  Beat in the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and vanilla extract.  Gently beat in the flour and baking powder.

In a separate bowl, or in a freestanding mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff.  Gently fold a third of the egg whites into the batter using a metal spoon, then repeat with the remaining egg whites.  The batter will be quite loose.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 150°c / 300°f / gas 2 and bake for a further 20 minutes.  You will be able to tell that the cake is ready as it will have risen and the edge of the cake will have shrunk away from the sides of the tin.  Leave to cool in the oven with the door slightly open.

The cake will collapse and condense a little, but this is fine.

Once cooled, mix together the ingredients for the glaze (it will make a very small amount) and brush lightly over the top of the cake.

Adapted from a recipe by Gennaro Contaldo.

Peshwari Naan

Peshwari naan

Peshwari naan

I am not, nor will I ever be, one of those wondrous people who get up early on a Saturday and go running in the park.  I sometimes see them, heading down towards Peckham Rye in their lycra whilst I am walking, bleary-eyed, to the local cafe for coffee and bread (which will be taken straight back to bed) and wonder whether I should make my weekends more energetic.  This weekend, my main energies were focused upon drinking martinis in the wonderful Peckham Refreshment Rooms on Friday evening, then sitting outside the French Cafe in East Dulwich on Saturday afternoon with the Grand National on Radio 5 Live, shrieking as my 18-1 horse was first, and then second. Fortunately I had the good sense to bet each way.

I keep meaning to write up my several visits to the Peckham Refreshment Rooms, but I have left most of them in a bit of a gin-soaked haze, so have not yet got around to it.  It is quickly becoming one of my favourite places to go in the East Dulwich/Peckham/Camberwell locale.  Yes, the seating arrangements are not the most comfortable, especially if you have little legs like me (the stools are very high and very hard), but it really is a small price to pay.  The wine list is excellent and very reasonably priced, they have a small but perfectly formed cocktail menu, including a rather good martini, and the food is great.  Several trips to San Sebastian has made me fall in love with the Basque way of casual eating: lots of small plates ordered as-and-when you want them, rather than a whole meal.  With little morsels of speck with celeriac remoulade and plates of chunky toast ready to be spread with nduja, the Peckham Refreshment Rooms accommodates this beautifully.

Sunday was a day of writing and television catch-up, made all the better when I realised that there was a portion of Ollie’s slow cooked lamb shoulder curry in the freezer.  A quick defrost turned this into a majestic dinner indeed, needing an accompaniment a little more special than a supermarket microwave poppadom, so I decided to make some naan.  It would be lazy of me to say that naan bread is quick to make, as no breadstuff ever is, but once you have endured the kneading and proving process, they needs another ten minutes tops as they are simply cooked in a hot frying pan until they bubble and char.  The real beauty of naan bread is that it can be made in advance and then revived in the oven for a few minutes with a little brushing of ghee or sprinkling of water.  They also freeze well, so a batch can be slipped into a ziplock freezer bag and simply defrosted when needed.  Batch-baking at its very best (and quick, in a sense).

I have a very sweet tooth, so almost always opt for the peshwari naan.  I am partial to a hot curry and I find the sweetness of the coconut and almond inside the bread adds a different dimension that none of the other sides can.  The Indian restaurant that we usually order from sends pillowy naans that, when ripped open, spill out a huge amount of filling, which I later scoop up and sprinkle across the top of my curry.  This is the kind I want to make at home.

This recipe for peshwari naan is an amalgamation of two recipes.  The dough is Dan Lepard‘s Frying Pan Naan recipe from the brilliant Short and Sweet cookbook.  I have used this naan recipe several times before and it makes a really nice, sticky dough and, like everything I have made from that particular book, never fails.  The filling is taken from the British Indian Restaurant-style Peshwari Naan recipe by The Curry Guy.  If you haven’t visited his website before, it is an excellent resource for Indian cooking. 

The filling of coconut, almonds, sultanas and sugar is made into a stiff paste with a little single cream that can easily be rolled into a ball.  Once the dough has risen and has been separated into smaller pieces, it is wrapped around the balls of filling and then rolled flat with a rolling pin.  This creates a ‘pocket’ of filling within the bread and distributes it equally throughout.  The naans are then cooked in a frying pan over a hot heat until they bubble up, just a few minutes on each side.  They turn out so well, it is unlikely that I will be buying pre-packed naans for my home curries any longer.

Peshwari Naan

For the dough:

  • 100ml cold milk
  • 125g low-fat plain yoghurt
  • 50ml boiling water
  • 1 tsp fast action yeast
  • 300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 50g wholemeal flour
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar

For the filling:

  • 2 tbsp desiccated coconut
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 175g flaked almonds
  • 4 tbsp sultanas
  • 45ml single cream

Start by making the dough.  In a large bowl stir together the milk, yoghurt and boiling water until smooth before stirring in the yeast.  Add the flours, bicarbonate of soda, salt and sugar and mix until a sticky dough forms.  Cover the bowl and leave for half an hour.

Flour a work surface and lightly knead the dough before returning to the bowl, covering and leaving to prove for one hour.

In the meantime, make the filling by combining all of the ingredients in a food processor and processing until a smooth paste forms, this may take a couple of minutes.  Press the paste into a ball (it should be the texture of a firm putty) wrap in clingfilm and set aside.  If you cannot get the texture right, you can adjust the ingredients, adding more almonds if the mixture is too wet, or more cream if it is too dry and does not come together.

Lightly flour the work surface and pat the dough into an oval, using your fingers to knock out any air bubbles that may have formed during proving.  Cut the dough into six equal pieces, these will be roughly the size of tennis balls.

Unwrap the filling and divide this also into six equal-sized spheres.  To fill the dough, flatten out a piece of dough in your hand and place a piece of filling on top.  Wrap the edges of the dough around the filling until completely enclosed.  Press any edges together to seal the filling in completely.  Carefully roll out the dough on a floured surface until it is the shape and size that you want.

Place a large frying pan over a high heat – do not add oil – then dry fry the naan bread until bubbles start to form on the surface, about 3-4 minutes.  Flip the naan bread over with a spatula and cook on the other side.  Transfer to a plate to cool.  Repeat this process with the other five pieces of dough and filling.