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.

Coconut Bread

Morning glory

Morning glory

I have reached the point, as I do every year, when the arrival of spring ceases to be a joy and becomes a damn nuisance.  I am talking, of course, about the scourge of pollen; the enemy of allergy-sufferers.  Hayfever season has bloody arrived.  For a few months we walk around puffy-eyed, drowsy on antihistamine and wondering if we will ever stop sneezing, until mid-summer comes and we are back to normal once again.  For the last few mornings, I have woken up with eyes so swollen it would be reasonable for people to assume that I had been in a fight.

Of course, I have ways to combat this: an antihistamine tablet and the dabbing of a cold flannel will usually bring it down in half an hour or so.  Rather large sunglasses are also a great disguise if they do not, but it does mean getting up that little bit earlier to give it time to work.  Always one to see the positives, I have used this time to rediscover the beauty of taking time over breakfast.

A leisurely breakfast is one of the joys of the weekend.  With ample time, we will either languish in a cafe reading the papers, ordering coffee after coffee; or will cook something enormous and sit at the kitchen table, listening to the radio and gossiping about the night before.  During the week there is no such bliss and breakfast is either a piece of toast eaten whilst trying to wrestle my hair into submission, or whatever delights my office canteen is offering up that day.  Interpret ‘delights’ as you will.  With my new-found time, I have rediscovered my love of perfectly-brewed leaf tea (something definitely not available from the office canteen) and breakfasts so substantial I seldom need much for lunch.

Coconut bread

Coconut bread

A while ago, I was perusing the Caravan breakfast menu online and fixated, perhaps a little too much, on their grilled coconut bread with strawberries and lemon curd cream cheese.  Since then, I have not been able to get the idea of coconut bread out of my head.  I bake rather a lot with coconut as its crunchy graininess gives an extra dimension to many a tried and tested recipe.  My banana bread with rum and coconut is an old family favourite and, recently, I added it on a whim to some chocolate brownies with surprisingly good results.  This recipe for coconut bread originally came from breakfast supremo Bill Grainger, with a few tweaks by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen.  It has also been given an extra tweak by me, swapping the ordinary milk for coconut milk. Yes, coconut milk is bloody expensive these days (the cheapest can still always be found in the World Foods aisle, if you have one), but it heightens the coconut flavour and adds a little extra moistness. 

There is a fair bit of sugar in the bread, but it isn’t actually that sweet.  I used ordinary unsweetened desiccated coconut and unsweetened coconut milk, but if you want a sweeter bread, you could seek out some of the sweetened stuff.  Or add a sprinkle of Demerara sugar to the top of the bread before baking.  Either way, you’re going to love this.

Coconut bread

Coconut bread

Coconut Bread

  • 85g butter
  • 325g plain flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 200g granulated sugar
  • 150g desiccated coconut
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 300ml coconut milk

Preheat the oven to 175°c / 350°f / gas 4.  Grease a medium or large loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper.

In a small saucepan, heat the butter until melted and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, sugar and coconut milk and make a well in the centre.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs vanilla extract and coconut milk until fully combined.  Pour into the dry ingredients and mix together until fully incorporated.  Stir in the melted butter but do not over mix.

Scrape the ingredients into the prepared loaf tin and bake in the oven for around one hour, or until risen and brown and a skewer inserted into the centre of the bread comes out clean.  Cool in the tin for 20 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.  Serve in slices.

A Chocolate Coconut Brownie for Fairtrade Fortnight

A couple of years ago, I took part in a Fairtrade baking challenge with a prize for the bake containing the most Fairtrade ingredients.  I honestly thought that with nine ingredients I would win, however one of my colleagues managed to use twelve and swiped the prize.  What this exercise taught me, as well as not being a sore loser, was how many Fairtrade products there are.  Not so long ago, it was only really the chocolate and coffee that you could buy in Oxfam and various health food shops, but now there is a Fairtrade stamp on everything from tea, beer, fruit and spices to clothes and beauty products.  Many supermarkets, particularly the Co-op, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose are committing to having more and more Fairtrade products in their range, hence helping workers and communities in developing countries across the world.

Yesterday I visited the Divine pop-up shop in Covent Garden.  Divine is a pioneering chocolate company and 45% of its shares is owned by the cocoa farmers.  Its board also comes from a range of forward-thinking charitable organisations across the UK such as ChristianAid and Comic Relief.

From this visit, I was inspired to go back to the idea of baking something using a number of Fairtrade ingredients, this time without the competitive element.  Fairtrade chocolate, cocoa and sugar can be found in most supermarket baking aisles, so the task of buying ingredients for a Fairtrade brownie is an easy one.  Baking the kind of brownie that has a thin crust on top and an almost molten chocolate centre is slightly trickier – you need both a good recipe and the balls to take it out of the oven at the right time, even though it looks completely uncooked.  For the former, I have Felicity Cloake’s failsafe brownie recipe from her Guardian column (works every time), and for the second I have a number of friends who are happy to eat any baked goods, even those that fall apart because they are so underbaked.

To this particular brownie I have added two extras:  milk (not dark, please) chocolate chips that no brownie should ever be without, and some desiccated coconut, which adds a delightful graininess but no real flavour.

(Mostly) Fairtrade Chocolate Coconut Brownies
Adapted from a recipe by Felicity Cloake

  • 250g Fairtrade dark chocolate (I used Divine’s 70% dark chocolate)
  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 150g Fairtrade caster sugar
  • 150g Fairtrade light soft brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 yolk, lightly beaten
  • 60g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 80g desiccated coconut
  • 80g milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Be careful not to let the bottom of the bowl touch the water.  Once melted, remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.

In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy.  With the mixer still running, gradually add the eggs, a little at a time, until fully incorporated.  Turn the speed of the mixer up to high and beat for five minutes until the batter has a sheen and has increased in size.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and carefully fold in the melted chocolate, being careful not to beat too much air out of the eggs.   Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, coconut and chocolate chips in a small bowl before gently stirring them into the mixture.

Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30 minutes.  A knife inserted into the centre of the cake should not come out clean, but a little sticky.  If you feel it is not quite done, return to the oven for a further three minutes, but be careful not to overbake.  Leave to cool for an hour before cutting into squares.

Orange, Stem Ginger and Spelt Cake

Orange, stem ginger and spelt cake

Orange, stem ginger and spelt cake

This weekend, I found myself stranded on the M4 with a broken down car.  As if this is not traumatic enough, we then spent an hour and a half on the hard shoulder in the wind and rain awaiting rescue.  All of this when we were supposed to be at a very fun party in Bristol with drinks, dancing and a street food pop-up.  To add insult to serious injury, I now have a cold and have to write this post from under a blanket, feeling rather sorry for myself.

My only consolation is that there is cake in the kitchen, which is actually something of a rarity as I have only actually made two cakes since the year began, but an extremely well-timed rarity nonetheless.  When we arrived home on Saturday with a broken car and ruined shoes, Ollie and I were so fed up that we ended up consoling ourselves in Hisar in East Dulwich with a couple of bottles of wine and an enormous plate of grilled meat.  In our distressed states, we ate a little more than we ought to have – with particular overindulgence on the pittas and the shockingly pink, but very tasty, taramasalata – and hence abstained from dessert.  The next day, feeling as though something was missing, I got up to see what was in the cupboards with a view of making a cake.

Just out of the oven...

Just out of the oven…

This particular cake is a winter delight, although not especially pretty.  It is a hybrid of two cakes:  the fig, ginger and spelt cake I made for Band of Bakers in October last year, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Orange, Ginger and Allspice cake.  The beauty of the method of the former is that the entire cake is made in one saucepan and then poured into the cake tin to bake in the oven, perfect for those who shirk the washing up.  There are two main flavours that come through in this cake:  the sharp and slightly bitter orange, and the sweet and warming stem ginger.  The spelt contributes little by way of flavour, but the coarser grind of the flour gives it a more robust texture which, when combined with the nuggets of chopped stem ginger and the orange-ginger glaze, make for a cake that is both wholesome and perfectly moist.  Its lack of decoration is unlikely to win it any beauty contests, but when doused with some hot vanilla custard, it is a great tonic for the common cold.

Orange, Stem Ginger and Spelt Cake

For the cake

  • 180g unsalted butter
  • 200g light soft brown sugar
  • Juice of one orange
  • 3 eggs
  • 5 pieces of stem ginger in syrup, chopped
  • 200g spelt flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • Finely grated zest of two oranges
  • Granulated sugar, for dredging

For the glaze

  • Juice of one orange
  • 3 tbsp syrup from the stem ginger jar

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease a 20cm square cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat.  Once melted, stir in the brown sugar and orange juice until fully combined and set aside to cool for a few minutes.  Stir in the eggs, stem ginger, flour, baking powder, ground ginger and orange zest until you have a smooth batter.  Pour into the prepared cake tin and level off.  Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the cake is brown and risen and has started to shrink away from the sides.  At this point, a metal skewer, inserted into the middle of the cake, should come out clean.

Meanwhile, mix together the ingredients for the glaze in a small bowl.  Whilst the cake is still hot from the oven, brush the glaze over the top of the cake, building up several layers.  You should use almost all of the liquid.  Dredge with a generous amount of granulated sugar and allow to cool, first in the tin for 20 minutes and then on a wire cooling rack. Serve warm with cold custard, or cold with warm custard.

Chocolate, Stem Ginger and Milk Skin Mini Loaves

Last year a myriad of articles debating the benefits and risks of drinking unpastuerised milk coincided with my discovery of a raw milk stall, Hook & Sons, at Brockley Market.  A couple of years before that, I had come across some recipes that used solidified milk skin as a substitute for butter in baking and was instantly intrigued.  Now that I had a supply of unpasteurised milk so close to my flat, I started experimenting and wrote a recipe for the Hook & Sons website:

Chocolate, Ginger and Milk Skin Mini Loaves

Chocolate, Ginger and Milk Skin Mini Loaves

Raw milk is a hot topic at the moment.  The Guardian has even hailed it as a revolution, and despite the hordes of foodies clamouring for it at farmers markets, the debate rages on about whether the claimed health benefits and superior taste are worth the risk of drinking something that has a health warning on the side of the bottle.  It seems that whilst many of us are keen to experiment with this newly-available product, the rest are sticking firmly to the blue, green and red-topped bottles available in the supermarket.

After reading the Guardian article, I confess that I was intrigued.  A couple of years ago I came across a blog post about baking with milk skin and was keen to try it out.  The author claimed that unpasteurised milk was the best product to use due to its purer state and higher fat content.  I tried to find unpasteurised milk but was told by my countryside-dwelling friends that it was only really available direct from the farms and, even then, the farmers were reluctant to sell it.  So my search hit a dead end, until now.  On Saturday I met with the seller from Hook & Sons at Brockley Market who told me that more and more people were buying unpastuerised dairy products for use in baking.  The most popular was the unpasteurised buttermilk, which was actual buttermilk, unlike what you buy in the supermarket, which is simply a slightly soured and thickened milk.  Many London restaurants have been using it to make their pancakes.  He had, however, never heard of anybody baking with milk skin.

The idea behind this is that the milk skin recplaces the butter.  The milk is boiled in a pan, the skin gently skimmed off and placed in a bowl to chill in the fridge for a couple of days until it takes on a butter-like consistency and slightly sour taste.  The result is that the milk skin adds a certain amount of acidity to the cake, in the same way that a sourdough starter does to a loaf of bread.

Chocolate, Stem Ginger and Milk Skin Mini Loaves

  • 1 litre of unpastuerised, full-fat milk
  • 250ml double cream
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 160g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 30g stem ginger, finely chopped
  • 30g chocolate chips

48 hours before you wish to bake, prepare the milk skin.  Put the unpasteurised milk and the cream in a large, wide-bottomed pan and heat gently until it comes to a simmer.  Whilst simmering, gently skim off the skin that forms on the top and collect in a clean bowl.  Once you have collected the skin, cover the bowl with clingfilm and chill in the fridge until needed.  The skin will be quite loose at this point, but will come together when chilled.  You will need approximately 180g of chilled milk skin for this recipe.  If you do not quite have this amount, you can make the rest up with softened unsalted butter.

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  In the bowl of a free-standing mixer using the whisk attachment, cream together the milk skin and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until fully incorporated.  If the mixture seems to separate at this point, keep whisking at it will come together.  Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt and fold into the wet ingredients until just combined.  Gently fold in the stem ginger and chocolate chips. 

Spoon the mixture into mini-loaf cases, filling them three-quarters full.  Place on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Makes eight mini loaves.  More recipes with Hook & Sons unpasteurised dairy products can be found on their website here.

A Weekend in Chocolate

Dan Lepard's Chocolate Custard Muffins

Dan Lepard’s Chocolate Custard Muffins

I had many reasons to celebrate this weekend, which was the perfect way to lift the gloom of a difficult and exhausting week. 

First up was my friend Jonny‘s birthday at Jack’s Bar on Friday night.  A few double Americanos had given me the boost I needed to power myself through the final Friday afternoon at work and get myself out for a drink.  Despite being tired, I was rather in need of gin and company.  Plus, I had made a cake for the occasion.

Inspired by a lone can of Guinness I found in a box of beer out on my balcony, I decided to make Jonny one of my favourite cakes: a chocolate Guinness cake.  Adding Guinness to a cake, at first, seems a little strange but the two work perfectly together.  In fact, I cannot stand the taste of Guinness as a drink, but I love the effect it has when it is added to food.  The first few times I made this cake, the Guinness merely added a subtle tang in the background – strong enough to know that there was something added to the cake, but not strong enough to give it a positive ID.  This time, I upped the amount of Guinness and the flavour was much more pronounced.  The texture is much like that of a flourless chocolate cake, although it does contain flour, and is quite dense and heavy.  You could eat it on its own, but I rather like it topped with a simple cream cheese frosting, particularly as it makes the cake look like a pint of Guinness with its white top.  A small helping will definitely suffice.

I was also lucky enough to visit some friends who recently had a gorgeous baby girl.  Many parents have told me that often the best gift for a new family is food – in the first few chaotic weeks there is never enough time to prepare or cook dinner.  Ideally, I would have liked to have made them a meal that could be frozen and heated up at a later date, but the journey from my flat in East Dulwich to their home in north-west London is a bit much for even the sturdiest of lasagnes, so instead I made them some muffins. Much easier to transport.  The recipe I used was Dan Lepard’s Chocolate Custard Muffins which, unsurprisingly, is one of the best chocolate muffin recipes I have ever found.  The name is ever so slightly deceiving as on first glance I thought this would be a muffin with an oozing custard centre, alas it merely describes the method with which the batter is made: starting with a custard and gradually turning it into a cake mix.  You could fill these with custard, I suppose, but that would be a project for another day.  The linked recipe makes 12 muffins: I took six to the new parents and six to Will and Claire‘s new flat as a housewarming present.

Who doesn’t like a gift of chocolate?

Chocolate Guinness Cake

Chocolate Guinness Cake

Chocolate Guinness Cake

For the cake:

  • 300ml Guinness
  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 85g cocoa powder
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 90g natural yoghurt
  • 50ml whole milk
  • 280g plain flour
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder

For the frosting:

  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 350g icing sugar, sifted
  • 150g full-fat cream cheese
  • Cocoa powder, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 175ºc / 350º f / gas 4.  Grease a 9-inch springform cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Place a saucepan over a medium heat and add the Guinness and butter, stir together until the butter has melted.  Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes.  Stir in the cocoa powder and sugars until fully incorporated.

In a separate bowl, gently whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract, yoghurt and milk and add this to the mix.

Transfer the mixture into the bowl of a freestanding mixer and sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder.  Using the paddle attachment, mix on a medium speed until all of the ingredients have been incorporated.  Scrape into the prepared cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 45 minutes, until risen and the sides have shrunk away from the cake tin.  Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, whisk the butter, with a handheld mixer or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer with the whisk attachment, until light and fluffy.  Add the icing sugar and continue to mix until there are no lumps.  Finally, add the cream cheese and whisk until the frosting is light and fluffy.  Using a palette knife, cover the top of the cooled cake with the frosting.  Dust with cocoa powder.

Adapted from a recipe by The Hummingbird Bakery

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

The more eagle-eyed among you will recognise this as a bit of a flashback from last year.  Some time in the summer of 2012, Band of Bakers was approached by delicious. magazine to provide some recipes for their Christmas issue. The nature of publication schedules being as it is, I spent two weeks of the summer developing this recipe and then a blisteringly hot early September day in a studio, wearing winter clothes and pretending to drink mulled wine.  As you can imagine, it was very difficult to get into the spirit of Christmas when your photographer is wearing shorts and you can see people sunbathing in a car park through a window.  The magazine came out that November and we were very excited to see our recipes in print.  Naomi made the mince pies; a delicious cranberry and orange version on an almond pastry, Charlie made an excellent rum and raisin Galette des Rois, Juliet made beautiful little Italian riciarelli biscuits (see also my post on some favourite Christmas recipes) and Jassy made an unusual and scrumptious Christmas cake made with walnuts and an obscenely generous amount of sloe gin (her blog is called Gin and Crumpets, so it is hardly surprising).  My recipe was the dessert for people who hate Christmas pudding (and there are many!), a chocolate and salted caramel yule log.

I have yet to sit down to a Christmas dinner where there are not two desserts:  the traditional Christmas pudding and an alternative option for those that refuse to eat it.  In my house, it is the men that have an aversion to it.  The women, myself included, adore Christmas pudding and eagerly anticipate the time of year when it is acceptable to eat one.  My favourite recipe is Dan Lepard’s Simple Christmas Pudding from Short and Sweet, served hot with an enormous dollop of extra-thick double cream (the kind you have to extract from the tub with a spoon).  When a dessert is required to please the naysayers, it is difficult to go wrong with chocolate.  This chocolate and salted caramel yule log can be sliced up and served on its own, with cream or with some hot custard.  The leftovers are robust enough to be kept and sliced up with tea for any afternoon guests.  It does keep for a few days longer than a regular yule log as the filling is a meringue buttercream, rather than fresh cream which has an extremely short shelf-life.

The recipe has a lot of processes and can look daunting on first glance, but it need not take too long to make.  When you consider the length of time it takes to prepare, bake, ice and decorate a traditional Christmas cake, you are scarcely worse off.  Last year, not counting the ones I made when developing the recipes, I managed to churn out four of these: one for my colleagues, one for my family, one for Ollie’s family and one for some pre-Christmas visitors who scarfed a whole yule log in an afternoon.  Salted caramel was the big flavour that everybody was going gaga over in 2012, so that was the inspiration for the filling, but any other flavoured buttercream would work just as well – you could add booze or even make a chocolate buttercream for ultimate decadence.  Or, if you’re feeling lazy, just fill it up with fresh cream and a jar of Nutella.  If you’re really pushed for time, you could even omit the ganache and finish off the log with a mere sprinkling of icing sugar.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

For the sponge

  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • 30g plain flour
  • ¼tsp fine salt
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

For the salted caramel meringue buttercream

  • 120g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 120ml double cream
  • 1 tsp Maldon sea salt
  • 2 large egg whites (about 75g)
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • 200g unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the chocolate ganache frosting

  •  200g good-quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 100ml double cream

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease and line a swiss roll tin (approx. 25cm x 35cm) with baking paper.  To make the sponge, whisk together the three egg whites in a clean bowl until soft peaks form.  Add the cream of tartar and whisk until stiff.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the caster sugar and egg yolks until thickened and pale yellow.  Add the milk and whisk again until just combined.  Sift the cocoa powder, plain flour and salt on to the egg yolk mixture and, using a metal spoon, fold together until just combined.  Gently fold in a third of the egg whites, being careful not to knock too much of the air from them as you fold.  Once fully combined with no streaks of egg white, repeat with the other two-thirds of the mixture. 

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 15 minutes until the top is springy and the sides have shrunk away from the edge of the tin.  Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.  Whilst still warm, roll up the sponge from the short end with the baking paper still on.  Leave to cool completely then carefully unroll.  This will help when rolling the cake.

To make the buttercream, combine the caster sugar, golden syrup and 120ml cold water in a heavy based saucepan.  Stir with a wooden spoon over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 3-5 minutes until it becomes a dark caramel (watch it closely to make sure it doesn’t burn.)  Immediately remove from the heat and carefully add the cream and salt, stirring until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the two egg whites with the granulated sugar.  When soft peaks form, place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the water touch the bowl) and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture begins to resemble a runny marshmallow.  Remove from the heat and whisk with an electric mixer until the bottom of the bowl feels cool.  Add the butter, about 25g at a time, whisking continuously until thick.  Add the cooled caramel to the buttercream and whisk until just combined.  Transfer to the fridge and chill until needed.

For the frosting, break the dark chocolate into a heatproof bowl.  Heat the cream in a saucepan until it is just about to boil and pour over the chocolate.  Stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is thick enough to spread.  Allow to cool completely.

To assemble the cake, peel the baking paper from the sponge and place, smooth side down, on a fresh piece of baking paper dusted with icing sugar.  Spread the buttercream across the sponge and gently roll up from the short end, as before. Place on a serving plate and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Spread the ganache on to the cake, leaving the ends bare, and use a fork to create a bark-like texture.  Dust with more icing sugar and serve.

Mexican Spiced Flourless Chocolate Cake

Mexican spiced flourless chocolate cake

Mexican spiced flourless chocolate cake

Last night we had some friends over for dinner and Ollie made his pulled pork.  With both of us being massive fans of southern American and Mexican food, he has worked very hard to perfect this porcine treat and has finally reached a stage he is happy with.  After several hours of slow cooking and a final blast in the oven to crisp up the ends, he served it up with black beans in ham hock stock and cumin, guacamole, rice, cheese, sour cream and a pile of soft tortillas for us to wrap up this bounty in.  He has promised to write up the recipe for a future blog post as it is really is too good to keep to himself.

I wanted to find a suitable dessert to finish up this delicious feast and my mind turned to spiced chocolate.  I have a flourless chocolate recipe that I have used as the basis for many desserts over the years.  I find that it is the perfect thing to pull out of the bag for a variety of occasions – it is quick to make, contains only three ingredients (chocolate, eggs, butter) and is both gluten-free and nut-free. Plus, more or less everybody loves chocolate.  I have adapted it in various ways over the years – adding some toasted pecans for a little crunch or some rum-soaked raisins for a little booziness, but never before with spices.  I had a Mexican chocolate cupcake a few years ago at a bakery in Crystal Palace and wanted to replicate the flavour of that, which called for two things:  cinnamon and cayenne pepper.

There are two very important things to bear in mind when making a flourless chocolate cake:  use the highest quality chocolate you can afford with 75% cocoa solids as an absolute minimum.  You can, of course, use any chocolate, but you will not get the same depth of flavour as a very high cocoa solid.  I love Green & Blacks 85% Dark Chocolate for this purpose, although I find it too dark to use for anything else.  Also, and you’ve probably heard this a million times, make sure you do not knock the air out of the beaten egg whites.  Due to the lack of flour, this air is the only rising agent the cake has, and vigorous beating will result in fewer bubbles and a flat cake.  Lesson over.

image

You may find that when the cake comes out of the oven it will start to sink.  This is completely normal and is actually what creates the dense and gooey texture that you get in a flourless chocolate cake.  Sometimes the cake will sink evenly and sometimes it will dip in the middle – there seems to be no science behind how it sinks – but if you find the latter occurring, gently patting down the edges with a clean tea towel will make the cake sink more evenly.  Failing that, just fill the dip with a load of whipped cream or fruit and pretend it was supposed to look like that.

Mexican Spiced Flourless Chocolate Cake

  • 350g dark chocolate, I used Green & Blacks 85%
  • 170g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¾ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 6 eggs, separated

Preheat the oven to 170ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Butter a 9-inch springform cake pan and dust with cocoa powder.  Shake off the excess.

Melt the chocolate and butter together, along with the spices, in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Leave to cool for a few minutes then add the egg yolks to the mixture, one at a time, stirring after each addition.

In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, whip the egg whites until stiff but not too firm.  They should keep their shape when the whisk is lifted out.  Carefully fold one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, taking care not to knock the air out of them.  Once incorporated, gently fold in the remaining egg whites until no streaks of white remain.  Again, do not overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake in the centre of the oven for 40-45 minutes.  After this time it will look as though the cake needs further baking, but it should not.  Remove it from the oven and allow to cool.  Serve in slices.

Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes

Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes

Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes

I have been trying to blog about this for a couple of days but, typically of the past week, life has gotten in the way. Yesterday was my last day in my job so as well as tying up loose ends and handing over unfinished work, I was taken off to The Mitre in Holland Park and bought many G&Ts by my colleagues. I lost count of how many I had but, needless to say, this morning I had the kind of hangover that only a couple of strong painkillers and a Mike & Ollie lamb shoulder wrap could cure.

Prior to the carnage, Thursday was my final turn on the office baking rota. The baking rota has been a long-standing tradition in my office – each Thursday, different colleagues bring in home-baked goodies for the team. This is looked forward to and enormously well-received. In fact, I have never baked for more excitable recipients than my (now former) team.

As it was my last turn on the rota, I took in a few things: the sausage rolls with apricots and caramelised onions, the classic old rhubarb and ginger cake and a batch of coffee and walnut cupcakes. I had initially intended only to make the first two, however on finding I had all of the ingredients in the house, and two cupcake boxes taking up valuable space in the cupboard, I decided to add these to the list.

Coffee and walnut is one of those retro favourites, loved by tearooms everywhere. I have made countless coffee cakes over the years – it is my Dad’s favourite, so I make one for his birthday every year, although he hates walnuts, so I always leave them out. I also love Dan Lepard’s recipe for Double Espresso and Brazil Nut Cake  and James Martin’s Coffee and Cardamom Cake. Whatever your preferred variationof this old classic, the golden rule is not to skimp on the coffee. I like a strong coffee flavour so will make a strong espresso with the coffee machine or use powdered instant espresso, a recent discovery. A good coffee and walnut recipe is a great addition to any baking repertoire, and can easily be converted to cupcakes.

Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes

For the cakes:

  • 125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 40ml espresso
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 50g walnuts, finely chopped

For the icing:

  • 100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 30ml espresso
  • Walnuts, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 175ºc / 350ºf / gas 4. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cupcake cases.

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 well after each addition. If the mixture begins to look curdled at this point, beat in a tablespoon of the flour until it comes together. Beat in the espresso.

Fold in the flour and baking powder until just combined. Gently fold in the walnuts.

Divide the mixture between the cupcake cases and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 20 minute until risen and golden. A skewer inserted into the centre of a cake should come out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, beat the butter in the bowl of a freestanding mixer until light and fluffy.  Add the icing sugar and beat until a smooth icing is formed.  Add the coffee and beat until fully mixed.  Pipe on to the top of the cooled cupcakes and top with some walnut pieces.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Gingerbread Cake

The problem with shopping for ingredients on the way home from work is that I often forget what I have in the cupboard.  The better-safe-than-sorry approach has led me to duplicate a number of items, sometimes even more than once, taking up precious cupboard and fridge space.  I know I should be more organised and check before going shopping, but who can honestly say that they have time to do all of the things they should do? Anyway, such was the case with stem ginger when I bought an unnecessary extra jar for last week’s fig, ginger and spelt cake and yesterday I ended up making a gingerbread cake just to clear some room in the fridge before the Ocado order arrived.  I hope you aren’t rolling your eyes at the prospect of yet another cake recipe – this was never actually meant to become a cake blog but it’s all I seem to write about these days.

I had actually intended to make a batch of Jack o’ Lantern sugar cookies for my colleagues both in an attempt to get into the spirit of Hallowe’en and to get some use out of the pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter I impulse bought in Waitrose last week, before it was relegated to the back of the cupboard for a year.  My plan was scuppered upon discovering that shopping for orange food colouring the night before Hallowe’en is the real Nightmare Before Christmas – completely sold out everywhere.  The suggestions on Twitter to combine red and yellow would have been an inspired idea had everybody else not thought of that too and bought up all of those colours.  Left on the shelves was nothing but a few solitary bottles of pink, purple and almond flavouring; not very useful to anybody.  My Jack o’ Lanterns will have to wait until next year.

In contrast, ginger cake is something that can be enjoyed all year round.  It is both universally loved and, thanks to the McVities Jamaica Ginger Cake we all enjoyed as children, tinged with nostalgia.  As is probably the case with many people, this particular variety was the only ginger cake I had tried until well into adulthood and it is still a treat I find hard to resist when I walk past one on a supermarket shelf.  Every family had their own way of eating it: a friend of mine spreads butter on a slice, whereas in our house we used to pour over hot custard and eat it from a bowl.  As I began to try other ginger cakes, I found myself disappointed as many of them had a real ‘cake’ texture, which just didn’t seem quite right.  I made a few of my own and had the same problem, until somebody suggested that I was looking in the wrong place and should try ‘ginger bread’ recipes instead.  This is not bread in the traditional yeasted form, nor is it the hard kind that you make into people-shaped biscuits – it is, in fact, a cake recipe that gives a different texture of cake.  The difference is similar to that between banana cake and banana bread – something I have never really been able to explain so won’t dwell on.  Needless to say that a ginger cake recipe gives you a proper cake flavoured with ginger, and a ginger bread recipe gives you a beautifully moist and sticky texture, akin to the McVities kind we all know and love.

The Gingerbread Cake as a Loaf Cake with Lemon Water Icing

The Gingerbread Cake as a Loaf Cake with Lemon Water Icing

Although the texture of the original recipe is perfect, I have tweaked the ingredients over the years to try and get the right flavour.  Being a spice fiend, I find the flavour of some ginger products disappointing.  I like my ginger to be potent, but not so that it overwhelms the other flavours.  I have found that the best combination is ground ginger and stem ginger – ground ginger gives the much-needed heat and stem ginger a little sweetness.  I also like to brush a layer of the syrup from the stem ginger jar over the top of the warm cake – it adds a level of concentrated ginger flavour and helps to create a nice sticky top.  The cake mix is versatile and, subject to the adjustment of cooking times, can be used to make any kind of cake.  In the recipe below, I have added preparation and cooking times for four different options:  a loaf cake, a round cake, a layer cake and cupcakes, and a range of icings that work well with each of the options.  Of course, it is always worth experimenting, but in my experience the most complimentary flavours are lemon and chocolate.  Of course, you could just make the cake plain and pour over a load of hot custard.  Just sayin’.

The Gingerbread Cake as Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting for the Stylist Magazine Cupcake Competition, 2013

The Gingerbread Cake as Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting for the Stylist Magazine Cupcake Competition, 2013

Gingerbread Cake

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 115g butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes
  • 125g black treacle
  • 125g golden syrup
  • 115g dark soft brown sugar
  • 250ml buttermilk
  • 100g stem ginger
  • 1egg

Preheat the oven to 170ºc / 340ºf / gas 4.  To make the loaf cake:  grease a 1kg loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper.  To make the round cake:  grease a 8cm round cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.  To make the layer cake:  grease two 9cm sandwich tins and baseline with greaseproof paper.  To make the cupcakes:  line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.

Using a food processor, pulse together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon, mixed spice and cubed butter until it forms the texture of breadcrumbs.  Transfer to a large bowl.

In a large saucepan over a medium heat, heat together the treacle, golden syrup and sugar until the sugar has dissolved.  Beat in the buttermilk and increase the heat slightly.  Bring to boiling point and quickly remove from the heat – try not to boil the mixture.

While the treacle mixture is cooling slightly, grate the stem ginger pieces into the flour using a microplane grater.  Stir into the mixture.

Pour the treacle mixture over the dry ingredients and stir until fully combined.  Use a silicone spatula to ensure that no flour is sticking to the bottom of the bowl.  Crack the egg into the batter and mix to combine.

Scrape the batter into your prepared tin or cases and bake in the middle shelf of the oven.  For the loaf cake:  bake for around 45-50 minutes.  For the round cake: bake for around 55-60 minutes.  For the layer cake:  bake for around 25-30 minutes.  For the cupcakes:  bake for around 20-25 minutes.  The cake will not rise enormously and will probably have a flat, rather than a peaked top.  When the cake is baked, a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean.

Below are some toppings that work well with this cake.  The addition of a little sharp lemon water icing cuts through the richness of the loaf cake and round cake – it is best drizzled across the top.  A little lemon buttercream spread sandwiched between two sandwich cakes can make a very pretty layer cake, and a white chocolate cream cheese frosting makes a very decadent topping for a simple ginger cupcake.

Lemon Water Icing

  • 50g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon juice

Slowly pour the lemon juice into the sifted icing sugar, constantly stirring, until a smooth icing is formed.  It should be the right consistency to be easily drizzled across a cake – not too firm and not too watery.

Lemon Buttercream

  • 250g icing sugar, sifted
  • 60g unsalted butter, softened
  • 30ml lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp whole milk

In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, with a whisk attachment, beat together the icing sugar, butter and lemon juice until smooth.  Gradually beat in the milk until fully combined.

This recipe makes enough buttercream to spread between two cakes.  If you wish to cover the cake as well or use to pipe on to cupcakes, double the quantities.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 50g white chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 225g cream cheese, softened
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 500g icing sugar

In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, with a whisk attachment, beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth.  Mix in the cooled white chocolate and vanilla extract and mix until combined.  With the motor on a low speed, add the icing sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time, mixing until all of the icing sugar has been used up and the frosting is light and fluffy.