Sunday, 29 June 2014

Strawberry and almond cheesecake sponge

It’s Wimbledon time so my thoughts have turned towards strawberries - I am a predictable creature!  This cake was the cover star of Good Food magazine a month or so back and I stored it away for when the strawberry season was at its best.

You will often hear people complaining that strawberries don’t taste like they used to…and that is true for many strawberries but I think that, if you’re choosy about the variety of strawberry you buy, there are some crackers still available.  If you cannot grow your own, and don’t have a pick-your-own nearby, here are my tips for buying strawberries:
  1. Avoid any imported strawberries – I don’t want to eat a strawberry that’s seen more of the world than I have!
  2. Buy strawberries grown as locally to where you live as possible – it surely means they’ve not been sitting around for long?
  3. Take note of the variety of strawberry you like – I would rather go without than buy the tasteless Sonata variety, but a Jubilee strawberry is pretty much a guarantee of flavour.
  4. Smell them.  A strawberry with no smell is a strawberry with no taste.

This recipe pretty much ticks all my boxes for what I like in a cake: it’s made with yoghurt, it contains almonds, it uses cheesecake, and it has big chunks of fruit.  It would work with many different fruits.  The CCD’s damson tree is looking like it’s going to have a bumper harvest so I might make the cake again using damson plums.

The soft almond sponge provides a lovely texture for holding the pockets of cheesecake and strawberries.  This really was one of the best cakes I’ve tasted in a long time...and I’ve tasted a lot of cakes!


For the cheesecake:
200g cream cheese – I used Philadelphia
25g caster sugar
1 egg

For the cake:
175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
250g caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
200g self raising flour
50g ground almonds
75g natural yoghurt
250g strawberries – washed, hulled and chopped
Handful of flaked almonds


Start by making the cheesecake: beat together the cream cheese, caster sugar and egg until combined.  Don’t overbeat or it will turn runny – I would actually recommend doing this stage with a bowl and a spoon to control the texture of the mix better.  (Mine did turn runny so I popped it into the freezer for an hour before making the cake – this turned it back to a more spoonable consistency).

If – unlike me – you haven’t turned the cheesecake mix runny, spoon into a bowl and refrigerate until needed.

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

Line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.

Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and whippy.  Don’t skimp on this stage – it should look almost like whipped cream.

Beat in the vanilla.

Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding some of the flour if it looks like the mixture will curdle.

Stir in the flour, almonds and yoghurt.

Spoon half of the cake batter into the prepared tin and level the surface.

Spoon blobs of the chilled cheesecake mixture onto the cake.  Use about half at this stage.

Scatter over half the strawberries.

Spoon the remaining cake batter over the top and level the surface.  Be gentle so the strawberries stay in place.

Use your finger or the end of a wooden spoon handle to make divots in the sponge.  Blob the remaining cheesecake into these spaces.

Scatter over the remaining strawberries.

Scatter over the flaked almonds.

Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.  It is best to check after 45 minutes to see if the cake is browning too quickly; if it is cover loosely with foil and continue baking.  Don’t worry if your cake takes longer – mine took almost 1 hour 30 minutes, and I did need to cover it with foil.

Leave to cool in the tin for at least 20 minutes before de-tinning and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.

Refrigerate the cake until 20-30 minutes before serving.

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


Sunday, 22 June 2014

Speculaas biscuits

Anyone who has been to the Netherlands is bound to have either eaten, or brought back and eaten, or brought back as gifts (and then hopefully eaten when visiting) Speculaas biscuits.  I have enjoyed them thin and crispy, and also thicker and more gingerbread-like in texture.  The warming combination of spice is lovely and, while they are traditionally a Christmas biscuit, I see no harm in enjoying them all year round.

What has stopped me making speculaas thus far is the absence of an authentic spice mix, or recipe to make one.  Therefore when Steven Dotsch, of the Speculaas Spice Company kindly offered to send me a sample of their speculaas spice mix I typed, ‘yes please’ as fast as my biscuit-loving hands could manage!  Opening the sachet released a heavenly waft of warming spices and I sat there sniffing, turning away to let the smell disappear, and then turning back and inhaling again.  I would have carried on doing this a lot longer had I not become aware of Mr CC watching me with a puzzled expression.

There seems to be a wide variety of speculaas biscuit recipes out there; I did some window shopping and then chose which elements to include in my version.  I opted for ground almonds and orange zest because I planned to make the thicker, more gingerbread-like textured biscuit and both ingredients released oils that would stop the dough from being too dry or bready.  The orange was the first flavor to hit followed by the warming spices; I particularly liked the texture of these biscuits as they were light and crisp.  Here they are ready for the oven:

Freshly baked:

I love this photo – you can see the dark flecks of spice in the biscuit:

The smell of these baking was the smell of Christmas!  I was tempted to break out my Michael Buble Christmas CD until I remembered it was June and I didn’t need to give Mr CC any more reasons to doubt my sanity. (As a side note, I suspect the mere fact that I own Michael Buble CDs is enough to make Mr CC doubt my sanity…let’s just say he’s not a fan! Of Mr Buble, that is.  I know he likes me!)


For the biscuit dough:
250g self raising flour
125g soft brown sugar
3 teaspoons speculaas spice mix
50g ground almonds
1 orange – zest only
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk

For the glaze:
1 egg white, beaten
3 teaspoons soft brown sugar
Handful of flaked almonds 


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

Line two baking sheets with baking paper or non stick foil.

Place all the biscuit dough ingredients in a mixer or food processor and blitz together until you have a ball of dough. 

Shape into a fat disc and wrap in clingfilm.

Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Roll the dough out between two sheets of clingfilm – this stops you needing to add extra flour to the dough.  Aim for just under 0.5cm thickness. 

Using the cutter of your choice cut your biscuits out and place on the baking sheet – they spread a little but not much.  I used a 7cm round cutter and got 22 biscuits.

Reroll the dough to ensure it is all used – it rerolls very well so you should be able to use every last scrap.

Brush with the egg white and then sprinkle on the soft brown sugar.

Arrange the flaked almonds on the top of each biscuit.

Bake for approximately 14 – 18 minutes or until the biscuits are turning brown.  I like to rotate my baking sheets halfway through the cooking time to encourage even browning.

Leave to cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before removing and placing on a wire rack to cool completely.

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


Sunday, 15 June 2014

Rum and coffee cake

Father’s day always forces me to bake altruistically as one of the CCD’s (Caked Crusader’s Da) favourite cake flavours is coffee, which I cannot abide in any shape or form.  This cake also uses one of his other favourite things: rum.

Sticking with my theme of altruism, I jettisoned any ideas for buttercreams or whipped cream because that is not at all the CCD’s style.  Serve him a wedge of sponge he can just pick up and eat and he’s happy.  Serve him something he needs a pastry fork to navigate around and he sees it as unnecessary fuss.

Given that the cake needed to absorb a lot of liquid without turning to mush I opted for a firmer, closer crumbed sponge and it held up well.  The inclusion of sour cream balances the sugar; I always think the inclusion of buttermilk/sour cream/yoghurt gives a velvety softness to a sponge.  Definitely plan ahead with this bake as it is best made the day before and left to absorb the coffee overnight. 

The liquid does make the sponge depress a little, so don’t worry.  I’m finding it hard to know what to say about this cake because I am so not the target audience for it!  Sometimes, though, the right cake doesn’t need to be flash nor a showstopper - all I can say is that the CCD enjoyed it so, job done!

Happy father's day!


For the cake:
190g unsalted butter, at room temperature
270g caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs
270g plain flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
225g sour cream

For the rum coffee syrup:
3 tablespoons caster sugar
4 tablespoons rum
100ml hot, strong black coffee


Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C/400°F/gas mark 6.

Line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.

Start by beating together the butter and sugar.  Take time over this and beat until it is pale, light and fluffy.

Beat in the vanilla.

Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding some of the flour if it looks like it might curdle.

Beat in half the flour.

Beat in half the sour cream.

Beat in the remaining flour, along with the baking powder and salt.

Beat in the remaining sour cream.

Spoon the mix into the prepared tin and bake for approximately 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean; check after 40 minutes to ensure the cake isn’t browning too quickly – if it is, loosely cover the top with foil and continue baking.

Leave in the tin and wrap the base and sides of the outside of the tin in foil- this will stop any leakage from the syrup and prevents a sticky cleaning up job!  N.B if you’ve used a liner for the tin there’s no need to do this.

Now make the syrup: mix together the sugar, rum and hot coffee until you can feel that the sugar has dissolved.  If you do this in a glass bowl you will be able to see when this has happened; I usually rely on dragging the spoon along the bottom of the dish – if it seems smooth everything has dissolved!

Poke some holes in the top of the cake and brush the hot syrup onto the warm cake – I find this gives the best absorption.  You can pour but I prefer the control over distribution that a brush gives.

If you feel that the cake is getting too wet, let it rest for 10 minutes then resume brushing on the liquid.

Leave to cool completely in the tin on a wire rack.

It is best to make the cake a day in advance to let the coffee and cake settle down overnight.

Serve in generous slices with some whipped cream.

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


Sunday, 8 June 2014

Courgette and sultana cupcakes

I love carrot cake but, other than my never to be repeated attempt at brussel sprout cake (attempt at your peril – you have been warned!), I haven’t dabbled with other vegetables in cakes.  This courgette cake appeared in the Sainsbury’s magazine as a sandwich cake, but I instantly thought of it in terms of cupcakes as I had a very limited window for baking this weekend and knew that cupcakes would cool much faster than a larger cake.

Whereas a carrot cake tends to be spiced with cinnamon, this cake uses vanilla.  Vanilla remains my absolute favourite ingredient in baking so I added some to the frosting too.  It is one of the great joys of baking to open a bottle of vanilla extract and inhale…my name is the Caked Crusader and I am a vanillaholic.

As with carrot cake, the sponge was incredibly light and moist.  It was unusual to bite into a cake and see flecks of green but this was easy to overcome given the deliciousness of the cupcakes (plus, most people would probably just think it was lime zest).  The frosting was particularly popular – much creamier than a buttercream – and felt light and whippy in your mouth; more ice cream than buttercream.  It was very difficult to stop at one cake!

Mr CC really took against the concept of courgette cakes – every time I mentioned I was making this recipe he would produce a repulsed shudder of Oscar worthy proportions.  I asked him why and his objection was that courgette, unlike carrot, was a wetter vegetable and he hated the thought of vegetable juice in a cake.  I’m sure you can predict how the story ends....guess who really liked them?


For the cupcake sponge:
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g golden caster sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
125g self raising flour
60g courgette, coarsely grated – this is about half a medium courgette
60g sultanas
20g walnuts, roughly chopped

For the frosting:
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g icing sugar
125g mascarpone
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

NB: if you double all these quantities you can make a 20cm round sandwich cake instead – make sure you increase the baking time to about 30 minutes.


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

Line a cupcake pan with 12 paper cases.

Start by making the sponge: beat the butter until pale and whippy.

Beat in the sugar and beat until it looks fluffy – don’t skimp on this stage; the mix should look almost like whipped cream.

Beat in the eggs and vanilla, adding some of the flour if it looks like it might curdle.

Stir in the flour.

Fold in the courgette, sultanas and walnuts.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases.

Bake for approximately 15-18 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean.

As soon as you can safely handle them, remove the cupcakes from the cupcake pan – the metal of the tray will retain heat and continue to cook them – get them out the tin and let cool on a wire rack. NB.  Don’t worry as they cool, particularly if you store them overnight, the case will come away from the sponge.  Often it can be a sign that the cake is overcooked, but it isn’t always – these are incredibly moist cakes and will peel away from the paper.

Now make the frosting: beat the butter until it is pale and whippy looking.

Add the icing sugar and beat until you have a smooth mix.

Beat in the mascarpone and vanilla.

Spoon in generous dollops on top of each cupcake – this is not a topping for fancy piping!

The cakes will keep for a couple of days but must be refrigerated because of the mascarpone in the frosting.

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


Sunday, 1 June 2014

Blueberry sandwich cake

It seemed like too long since I’d made a good old fashioned sandwich cake.  Likewise anything with blueberries.  Likewise anything with curd.  Therefore I decided to incorporate all three and make a blueberry sponge cake sandwiched with blueberry curd and buttercream. 

Most of the components of this cake are adapted from other recipes I’ve featured on my site before – the new element is the addition of the natural yoghurt in the buttercream.  It adds a nice tang and helps to cut through the sweetness of the buttercream.  I was very pleased also with the blueberry curd; I’ve yet to meet a fruit curd I didn’t like (other than lemon, obviously!)

Adding some of the curd to the buttercream made it a wonderful colour whilst keeping it natural.  Regular readers will know that I’m not mad on adding colour for the sake of it (I will occasionally do so but it has to be natural), but here the curd adds flavour too; it was a particularly fruity buttercream!

I state in the recipe to have some extra blueberries for decoration.  I put some aside but then, barely ten minutes later, ate them having completely forgotten what they were saved for.  Luckily I had some wafer daisies in the cupboard!


For the blueberry curd:
225g blueberries
2 tablespoons water
140g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
35g unsalted butter

For the blueberry sponge:
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g caster sugar
4 eggs
200g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons milk
150g blueberries

For the buttercream:
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
400g icing sugar
3 tablespoons natural yoghurt
2 tablespoons blueberry curd

To spread on the cake: virtually all of the blueberry curd
To decorate the cake: handful of blueberries (I forgot why I’d saved some and ate them, hence no blueberries on my cake)


Start by making the blueberry curd: place the blueberries in a saucepan with the water, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the fruit has collapsed to a mush.

Pass through a sieve using a spoon (or sieving mushroom) to push through as much puree as possible.

Discard the pulp and put the puree either in a bain marie saucepan or in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (the bowl mustn’t touch the water or you’ll get scrambled eggs).

Add the caster sugar, eggs and butter and stir until all the ingredients are melted and combined.

Continue to stir until the curd thickens – this can take a while so don’t panic and think it’s gone wrong; I usually find it takes about 15 minutes.

Once you can leave a trail on the surface of the curd it is ready.  It will firm up more as it cools.

Remove from the heat.

Spoon into a bowl or jar – I sieve it at this point just to make sure there are no lumps - and leave to cool completely before refrigerating.

Now make the sponge: preheat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C/375°F/gas mark 5.

Line two loose bottomed 20cm round sandwich pans with baking paper.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy – do not skimp on this stage.

Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding some of the flour if the mixture looks like it is curdling.

Fold in the flour and baking powder.

Stir in the milk.

Spoon the batter into the two pans and level the surface.

Scatter the blueberries over the top of both batters and press down gently.

Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the sponge comes out cleanly.

Cool in the tins for 10 minutes before turning out the sponges and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.

Store in an airtight container until you are ready to ‘build’ the cake.

Now make the buttercream: beat the butter until it is soft and whippy.

Add the icing sugar, yoghurt and blueberry curd and beat until well combined and smooth.

You are now ready to ‘build’ the cake: place one of the sponges on the serving plate.

Spread the blueberry curd onto the sponge and top with some buttercream.

Place the other sponge on top.

Cover the cake with the remaining buttercream.

Refrigerate until 45 minutes before serving.

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