Sunday, 31 July 2011

Cider crumble slice

To some people, apples conjure up an Autumnal feeling.
However, I saw on the BBC news this week that English apples are being picked now, in July, and it’s the earliest they’ve been harvestable for decades. It’s probably something to do with the odd sunshine-and-showers (ok, downpours) summer we’re having but I got distracted by images of lovely apples and forgot to listen to “the science bit”!

In tribute to English apples, I decided to make this traybake; however, there’s a small confession that I couldn’t find any for sale yet (I guess picking takes a while!) so have used imported Granny Smiths.
I make no secret that apple is my favourite fruit to bake with – I love the flavour, the texture, and the look of it.

Cider works so well in cakes – it adds a warm, well rounded, fruitiness to any cake and doesn’t have a harsh alcoholic flavour. I used an oak matured still cider made by H. Weston & Sons
based in Much Marcle, Herefordshire. They’ve been making cider since 1880 so – as you’d imagine – it was pretty good stuff! Much Marcle is a brilliant name; it sounds like it would be a kind hearted character in a Dickens novel.

Buy good cider, it really is worth the extra money, particularly when it will flavour the whole cake. Plus, this recipe only uses 150ml whereas bottles tend to be want something decent to polish off!

I’ve used sultanas and walnuts, but you could substitute raisins, or even dates if you wished, and I’m sure any nut would work!
Apple’s so versatile that there are few other fruits or nuts it won’t compliment.


For the cake:

20g unsalted butter
1 ½ tablespoons golden syrup
150ml cider
250g self raising flour
½ teaspoon ground ginger
45g soft brown sugar
75g sultanas
75g walnuts, chopped
1 egg

For the topping:

1 large Granny Smith apple – or any other tart eating apple
40g unsalted butter
2 ½ tablespoons caster sugar
60g plain flour
75g walnuts, chopped

Optional: a dusting of icing sugar before serving
Thick cream


Preheat the oven to 170˚C/fan oven 150˚C/325˚F/Gas mark 3.

Line a 20cm x 30cm baking tin with baking paper. I used a disposable tin traybake cases and used spray on cake release.

Start by making the cake: place the butter and golden syrup into a saucepan and melt together over a gentle heat.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cider – put to one side.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, ginger, sugar, sultanas and walnuts.

Add the golden syrup mixture along with the egg and stir until well combined.

Spoon into the prepared tin and level the surface.

Now make the topping: peel, core and chop the apple into rough chunks about 1.5 cm big.

In a saucepan (use one larger than you need just for the butter as the other ingredients will be added) melt the butter then stir in the sugar, flour, chopped apple and walnuts. It will be a dry mix.

Spread this topping over the cake batter already in the baking tin – I found this easiest to do by hand.

Level the surface then bake for approximately 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. Mine took exactly 30 minutes.

Leave to cool in the baking tin, on a wire rack.

A dusting of icing sugar just before serving really “pretties them up”!

Serve in generous squares with thick cream.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have made.


Sunday, 24 July 2011

Strawberry and clotted cream whirls

OK, so summer’s forgotten that it’s meant to be here at the moment but I will still, resolutely, pursue summer baking.
So what if these delightfully summery whirls are eaten under grey skies with the rain lashing against the window? Actually, today was rather lovely – warm and sunny, so maybe baking summer-themed items makes the weather realise how it’s meant to behave!

My first comment about these little biscuits is to save yourself some time and make a double batch.
You’ll thank me for it later! Also remember, that while the quantity below makes 22 individual biscuits, you need 2 for the finished whirl – so that’s only 11 whirls and, let’s be honest, when was 11 ever enough of such a lovely thing?

Buttery, crumbly, shortbread style biscuits with a hint of fragrant vanilla are sandwiched with thick, golden, clotted cream and strawberries.
I’m drooling just typing it! The recipe said to add the cream and strawberries separately but I found they didn’t sandwich well, so I chopped the strawberries smaller and swirled them through the cream.

To keep the biscuits crumbly and not soggy, only sandwich them when you’re ready to eat.
It’s not a problem as they are quick to complete if you have the components ready – plus, everyone really enjoyed building their own!

The biscuits would work so many different ways – I’m already thinking about dipping them in molten chocolate, or sandwiching with nutella. Or, if you can’t be bothered with anything fancy, just eat them as they are.....


For the biscuits:

250g unsalted butter, softened
200g plain flour
50g cornflour
50g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling:

300g clotted cream (or whipped cream if you prefer)
250g strawberries, sliced


Preheat the oven to 180˚C/fan oven 160˚C/350˚F/Gas mark 4

Line two large baking sheets with baking paper

Beat together the butter, flour, cornflour, icing sugar and vanilla until a smooth dough forms.

Spoon it into a piping bag (it’s nicest to use a star shaped nozzle so you get definition to your biscuits).

Pipe ovals onto the prepared baking trays. About the size of an egg is what you should aim for. Leave a little space for expansion during baking.

At first the paste will feel thick and piping will be hard work but, as it warms in your hands, it will get easier.

You should get approx 22 biscuits – don’t forget that each finished whirl will use two biscuits.

Bake for 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Mine took a little longer at 18 minutes, but check them before then.

Leave to cool, on the tray, on a wire rack – the biscuits will be soft and crumbly so don’t try to take them off the tray before they are cold.

When ready to serve (don’t do it too far in advance or the biscuits will soften) take one biscuit and spoon clotted cream onto the flat side.

Lay some sliced strawberry on top and then sandwich with a second biscuit. I actually found it a lot easy to chop the strawberries and swirl them through the cream – that meant both biscuits stuck better!

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 17 July 2011

Light fruit cake

I was on the horns of a dilemma whether to include this recipe on my site. On the one hand, fruit cake seems to be the most universally loathed category of cake, on the other hand I know that lots of people come to my site or email me asking whether I have a recipe for a Manor House style cake. Now I am as scathing about SBCs (that’s shop bought cakes – it’s bad luck to say it in full) as the next cake connoisseur but I have to admit that Manor House cake is a king amongst paupers.

A light fruit cake is quite a different proposition to the heavy, rich dark cake that surfaces at Christmas. There are times when nothing in the world could be more tasty or comforting than a nice wedge of cake brimming with raisins and sultanas.

I would pitch this particular cake as the midpoint between the full-on Christmas cake and a sponge containing dried fruit.

The fruit is cooked in tea, sugar and butter and ends up looking like a treasure trove of lovely things:


340g mixed dried fruit (I used raisins, sultanas and currants)

100g Demerara sugar, plus 2 tablespoons extra to sprinkle on top

150ml black tea (I used PG tips)

110g unsalted butter

170g self raising flour

½ teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 eggs, beaten

How to make:

Place the fruit, sugar, tea and butter in a large saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Stir until the butter has melted.

Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/fan oven 150°C/325°F/Gas mark 3.

Line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.

Place the flour and spices into a large bowl and then stir in the cooled fruit (including the liquid) and the eggs. Work quickly.

Spoon into the prepared tin and level the surface.

Sprinkle the additional Demerara sugar over the surface, if desired.

Bake for 30 minutes then reduce the heat to 150°C/fan oven 130°C/300°F/Gas mark 2.

Cook for a further 1 ¼ - 1 ½ hours or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tin for approximately 15 minutes before removing and allowing to cool completely on a wire rack.

Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.


Sunday, 10 July 2011

Famous Faces’ Favourite Fancies – Classic Victoria sponge…with buttercream

Time for another episode of "Famous Faces' Favourite Fancies". I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to receive a reply from Julie Walters, and I was even more thrilled that she chose the queen of cakes, a Victoria sponge.

Julie Walters – a bona fide National Treasure – needs no introduction from me. If you need any reminder of her work she is (depending on your age, geographic location etc):
  • Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques (I can still never say the word “macaroons” without turning it into a Mrs O impression);
  • Pauline Mole aka Adrian Mole’s mum;
  • Rita in Educating Rita (one of my all time favourite films);
  • Ron Weasley’s mum in the Harry Potter films;
  • Annie, one of the naughty WI ladies in Calendar Girls (I can’t advocate using cakes that way!);
  • Billy Elliot’s dance teacher in…er…Billy Elliot;
  • Rosie in Mamma Mia.

A classic victoria sponge has two key elements. Firstly, the weight of the ingredients is determined by the weight of the eggs in their shells. Secondly, it must be sandwiched only with jam – no cream or buttercream. It was with the second point that I hit a snag; when I told Mr CC I was making a classic victoria sponge thus could only use jam he said quietly, in a wounded puppy kind of way, “but I like buttercream”. To cut a long story short (if it isn’t already too late) – my classic victoria sponge now has added buttercream. I know this means it can’t be deemed a classic victoria sponge…so feel free to omit it if you’re more of a purist than me.

It did feel weird weighing the eggs in their shells and then using this measurement for all the other ingredients, but if it’s good enough for Mrs Beeton it’s good enough for me!

The sponge was different to the more modern sponge recipes with prescribed quantities; it was richer, more buttery, yellower and had a moist rather than crumbly texture.

Here’s my top tip for transporting a sandwich cake; I have found that – in transit – the top layer can slide off the buttercream filling making a bit of a mess. By wrapping the cake in a collar of baking paper it holds everything in place. I think I might start wearing a collar of baking paper...

My nephew, The Boy Wonder, has a lovely dog called Monty. He’s in late puppyhood and is about to celebrate his first birthday. We offered him some sponge (the first cake he’s ever had) to see what he thought; here he is inspecting it...

...before deciding that it really was pretty tasty stuff:

Finally, if you want to see a masterclass in comic timing from Julie Walters then please watch this classic sketch from “Victoria Wood as Seen on TV”. It has entered our family language as a description of when it’s difficult to walk i.e. “my back was so sore and stiff I was walking like Two Soups.”


For the sponge:
4 eggs - the weight of which will determine your quantity of butter, sugar and flour
Unsalted butter, at room temperature
Caster sugar
Self-raising flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
A little milk, if necessary

For the buttercream, if using:
75g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To assemble the cake:
Raspberry jam
Icing sugar or caster sugar, for dusting


Preheat the oven to 180˚C/fan oven 160˚C/350˚F/gas mark 4.

Line two 20cm sandwich cake tins with baking paper; just to be sure, I line the base and sides of the tin.

Weigh the eggs in their shells – this will tell you the weight for the butter, sugar and flour. Mine weighed 267 grams.

Whatever the weight of your eggs (in their shells) weigh out the same amount of butter, sugar and flour.

Beat the butter until it is light and whippy, then beat in the sugar until light and fluffy. Don’t skimp on this stage as it’s the key way of getting air into your sponge.

Beat in the eggs one at a time; if you whipped the butter and sugar enough there shouldn’t be any curdling, but if there is add some of the flour to correct it.

Beat in the vanilla extract.

Fold in the flour.

If the batter is thick and won’t easily drop from the mixing spoon, fold in a tablespoon of milk. It may need a further tablespoon. Add enough milk to reach “dropping consistency”.

Spoon the batter into the prepared sandwich tins and gently smooth the tops with a knife.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the sponge comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tin for a couple of minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

Now make the buttercream: beat the butter until it is light and whippy. It will start to look almost like whipped cream.

Add the icing sugar and beat until soft, light and airy looking.

Add the vanilla and beat again.

To assemble the cake turn one of the sponges upside down on the serving plate, so the flat surface is uppermost.

Spread the buttercream over the sponge.

Take the other layer of sponge and generously spread the flat side with jam.

Place the jammy sponge, flat side down on top of the buttercream and press gently to ensure the layers have stuck.

Dust the surface with icing sugar or caster sugar before serving.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have made.


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The cakes of Bruges - a love story

Mr CC and I have just returned from Bruges and whereas some people – let’s call them weird people – would be looking through photos of their day trips and adventures, I am looking through my photos of cakes; some of which were eaten by me, others just admired from afar.

Bruges is a very beautiful city in the Flemish region of Belgium; so beautiful that the entire city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While there are so many stunning buildings in Bruges you almost stop noticing them, one in particular caught my eye. I have a new patisserie-crush and its name is Prestige:

This is the counter that greets you on entry:

Every tea or coffee cup arrives with a little delight in the saucer; it differed every time (we went there once or the end of our stay the staff recognised us! I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed by that?):

The cakes were – of course – awesome and all made on the premises. This looks like a simple strawberry tart, but no. The sable pastry base was biscuity and light, the crème patisserie filling was like eating a creamy cloud and the strawberries were sweet and fruity. I could eat one every day for the rest of my life.

Mr CC chose a “Javannais”.
I expected this to taste of coffee i.e. java but it didn’t. I would call this a japonaise as it was many layers of nutty meringue with creamy buttercream separating them.

The giant raspberry macaron was a purchase made from sheer greed, as the cakes are generously sized...but just look at could I possibly walk away from the counter and leave it there?

We did actually sample other patisseries/cafes and found some delights. This beauty was a Delice:

It was a chocolate sponge and mousse outer, with a thick custard filling. My excuse for gobbling it down in about 3 seconds flat was that I was worried that it would melt in the sun:

The apple tart was simple and elegant and Mr CC liked that it wasn’t overly sweet:

This custard slice had an element I’ve never seen before. Each layer of puff pastry had a crisp coating of the kind you get on the top of a crème brulee. I would imagine that they scattered sugar on the cooked puff pastry then took a blow torch to it. The result was lovely as each mouthful of pastry also had a crisp, sticky caramel layer too.

Bruges – you may be a small city but you excelled yourself with your cakey offerings!