Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Moroccan-spiced tea loaf

Once a year, in December, I make fruitcake. It's my grandmother's recipe. In my family, it was first made by her, then by my mother, now by me, and mainly for my dad, who's been eating it at Christmas for pretty well all of his life. It requires a truck load of dried fruit, soaking it liberally in booze, and a sleep after eating a slice. Sometimes, in seasons other than summer, I have a craving for fruitcake but just thinking about what making it entails - a trip to the supermarket, an overnight soaking of fruit, an enormous cake that takes weeks to get through - is enough to quell that desire... or at least it was until I came across this recipe in the newspaper last weekend.

Miraculously, this is a fruitcake in loaf form that can be whipped up semi-spontaneously (granted you still need to a trip to the supermarket and to soak the dried fruit but ingeniously, in hot tea rather than alcohol), contains only one egg, and no dairy at all. I was dubious, at first thinking there must have been a typo in the recipe, but no. It works wonderfully. The resultant loaf is rich and fruity, warm with spice, and scrumptious sliced thickly and slathered in butter. My grandmother would certainly approve, even if she might swap the unfamiliar Moroccan spice for something more standard like cinnamon, and write it up in her recipe book as Fast Fruitcake.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Welsh cakes

Once upon a time, I went to Wales. Well, it was May to be precise but the faraway is for its fairytale feel. My memories are of lush green, soft sun and sea mist. There were single lane roads (taken up with travelling tractors), and leeks on toast and Sunday roasts and... Welsh cakes. They were everywhere in Cardiff and the countryside - in specialty shops, in supermarkets, pubs and road side stalls. Eaten equally by builders, children and toffs in tearooms, there's something charmingly democratic about the Welsh cake.

Like a cross between a scone and a pikelet, Welsh cakes are a friendly tea-time treat. The traditional type are studded with sultanas, but you can use whatever you like - chocolate chips, orange zest, or any sort of dried fruit... Easy to whip up at short notice, these will keep in a tin to sustain you through a week of school lunches, a month of middle of the night football matches, or indeed, just morning tea.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018


Sometimes I stray across a recipe that I'm moved to make straight away. Such was the case last week when the ever-reliable Smitten Kitchen published a recipe for an Italian tea cake I'd never heard of called ciambellone. I have no idea really how to pronounce this but in my head it sounds like cymbals being smashed together as in look and taste that's its effect. Further cause for celebration - it's a one bowl affair, oil-based (so no melting or creaming of butter) and I had almost all of the ingredients already, including (as a bonus) eggs from my Dad's chooks he'd brought with him in his carry-on luggage for a weekend visit. We'd planned a drive and no road trip is complete without a thermos and a treat to have with it. We had ours at a point in a park looking out at endless water. And again, back at home, for afternoon tea.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Cardamom crumb cake

When is it acceptable to eat cake for breakfast? 
a) when it's your birthday
b) when in Rome (or more literally, for me, in Stanwell Park, where I frequently stay with friends who strongly believe that cake is a legitimate breakfast food)
c) when the cake in question contains cardamom, walnuts, coffee and orange zest, all of which can be found in pastries traditionally eaten in the morning
d) when you are planning to get up at 4am for the next month to watch the World Cup and need some extra incentive to exit your very warm bed

The answer for me, obviously, is all of the above. But with the World Cup approaching, I've been stashing treats in the freezer like a manic squirrel. Because you really do want something in your stomach to help you wake up when you set your alarm for the early hours - nothing too intensely sweet for first thing, just a little morsel to comfort you in the cold. This fits the brief nicely - cardamom, coffee, and sweet orange cake topped with a nubbly, buttery walnut crumb. It's good eaten warm, whether freshly baked (and studying the form guide) or reheated (straight from the freezer to the oven) for kick off.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Elderflower, lemon and mascarpone cake

I've been away from my oven for the last month and haven't been baking but one sunny Saturday in Glasgow, staying with a friend, we went all out for the Royal Wedding. Neither of us are monarchists by any means (though my Princess Diana scrapbook from childhood would tell a different story) but it was impossible not to get caught up in a cultural moment that really did capture the public imagination, even in anti-England Scotland. My contribution to our high tea - in addition to scones - was a stab at the bride and groom's chosen cake - lemon and elderflower. While I couldn't compete with elderflowers harvested at the Queen's estate in Sandringham or the 200 Sicilian lemons reportedly flown in for the occasion, I made do with the very best M&S had to offer, cake tins that didn't fit the brief (see recipe note below), a lack of kitchen scales and an unfamiliar oven and it was still spectacular. For all of you who've purchased a bottle of elderflower cordial from IKEA and haven't got around to using it yet, here's your excuse. Other than that particular ingredient, the cake itself is very simple. All the usual suspects - butter, sugar, flour and eggs - beaten into a batter, baked in two tins, each cake cut in half to form four layers, each layer drizzled with sweet syrup, then the whole lot sandwiched together with elderflower-infused icing. The end result is light and summery, and altogether elegant. The two flavours - the delicate floral and the bright citrus blend together beautifully. Not your traditional wedding cake but then this was not your traditional royal wedding. And all the more delicious because of it. Long live elderflower and lemon.

Elderflower, lemon and mascarpone cake
Adapted from a recipe by Cygnet Kitchen

The original recipe recommends wrapping the cakes in clingfilm (once cooled) and freezing for ten minutes to make them easier to cut. I skipped this step as I was less concerned with perfection (read: lazy) and it turned out just fine but if you want to do things more professionally, then this seems like a good tip. Ideally, two six inch cake tins are what you want for this but I only had access to eight inch ones. The layers were slightly thinner but the cooking time was the same.

220g unsalted butter, softened, plus a little extra to grease the tins
220g caster (superfine) sugar
zest of 1 lemon
4 eggs (weighing a total of 220g in their shells), lightly beaten
220g self raising four, sifted
pinch of salt
3-4 tablespoons undiluted elderflower cordial

Lemon & elderflower syrup
freshly squeezed juice of ½ lemon
100ml undiluted elderflower cordial
2 tablespoons caster (superfine) sugar 

500g mascarpone
200ml double cream
3 tablespoons undiluted elderflower cordial
250g icing sugar, sifted to remove any lumps

Pre-heat the oven to 160 deg C. 

Grease and line two cake tins (see recipe note above).

Beat butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten egg, a little at a time, beating well in between each addition.

Gently fold in the sifted flour and salt, adding enough undiluted cordial (3-4 tablespoons) to create a dropping consistency ( the mixture should drop off a spoon when lightly tapped). Divide the batter between the two tins.

Put in both tins on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven and bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cakes comes out clean.

Leave in the tins to cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the syrup by combining the 100ml undiluted elderflower cordial, lemon juice and sugar in a bowl.

Then make the icing by whisking the mascarpone, 3 tablespoons undiluted elderflower cordial, double cream and icing sugar together until thick and smooth.  

Once cakes are cooled completely, use a bread knife level the tops of the cakes if necessary and cut each cake in half evenly. With a pastry brush, brush the syrup on the cut side of each layer (or just drizzle it on with a spoon). 

Place the base of one of the cakes on a plate or cake stand and spread with mascarpone icing. Add the next layer cut side down. Repeat with remaining layers, ensuring that the top layer is placed cut side down. For a 'naked' look, thinly spread the rest of the icing thinly around the sides of the cake and then add on the top a thicker layer.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Spice cake

As I get older I have a greater appreciation for simple cakes - the sort that wouldn't turn a head in a display case beside chocolate extravaganzas, towering layers of cream, or pretty pastel citrus showstoppers. These runners-up in the great beauty contest of the cake world are homely to say the least but what they lack in looks they more than make up for in flavour. This simple spice cake from Sweet is case in point, its boring brown exterior belying its complexity. Each bite contains so many different tastes - caramel from the brown sugar, tang from the sour cream, zing from the orange zest and peppery punch of mixed spice to round things off. Plain is perfect.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Spelt orange cake

I've had my head down with a deadline and haven't been baking, but last Thursday I felt an irresistible pull towards my KitchenAid mixer. For my birthday recently, some good friends gifted me not one, not two, but three Scandinavian cookbooks. In the interests of hygge, it seemed necessary to step away from the laptop and make a cake. I couldn't take too much time off so this recipe jumped out immediately as both simple and comforting.

I have a soft spot for orange cakes. This one adds a wholesome element by cutting the pale sweetness of the citrus with the grainy goodness of spelt flour. All the things you love about orange cake. And more. Highly recommended for anyone with a baking itch that needs to be scratched - hygge in a hurry.