Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Mincemeat Loaf Cakes

It seems quite a long time since I tried a new recipe; I have a lot of favourites that I keep returning to at the moment, either because they are reliable (if I'm baking for someone else), or I know they freeze well.

I knew I wanted to make a mincemeat cake to use some of the Christmas excess,  so decided this might be the time to try a new recipe. Mary Berry's recipe appealed because it made two small loaves and she says they freeze well.

It's a straightforward recipe to follow - it's an all-in-one mixture, so you just need to make sure you have well softened butter before you start. I didn't have currants, so used dried cranberries instead, and topped the cakes with flaked almonds rather than split nuts.

The cake batter was very stiff, and with the benefit of hindsight, now that I've cut the cakes, I think I should have added a couple of tablespoons of milk to loosen it a little. The cakes were a little dry and crumbly, and didn't compare favourably, in that respect, to the recipe I usually use. They rose well during cooking, in terms of increased volume, but there was a definite dip in the middle of each one. I think I might have been guilty of not mixing well enough, as the batter was so stiff.

As always with this  sort of cake, the final flavour relies heavily on any added ingredients in the mincemeat. I used a Waitrose brand with their 'Christmas 2019 special' ingredients of plum, honey and ginger. Even after being diluted into the cake mixture, the plum flavour (provided by prunes and plum juice) was still evident.

I think this is a recipe to use again, as it uses mincemeat leftovers, rather than a whole jar, but I'll be more careful next time, and make sure the batter has a 'dropping' consistency, and is well mixed.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Lemon Bread and Butter Pudding

This dessert used up a panettone  bought for Christmas, in case of an unexpected need which didn't arise. I also had fresh lemons and an opened jar of lemon curd to use up, so as the panettone contained mixed peel, a lemon B & B pudding seemed the way to go.

I decided to make 4 individual puddings so that 2 could be frozen. I'm not sure how well they'll freeze, but I thought it was worth a try, rather than eating  a calorific dessert for 4 days running. I'd eaten one portion of the panettone, so I estimate there was about 425-450g left of the loaf.

I halved the loaf from top to bottom and sliced one portion into thin semicircular slices, which I sandwiched in pairs, spread with lemon curd. The rest of the panettone was cut into 4 slices to fit in the bottom of the dishes - I spread these with lemon curd too, and put into thickly buttered dishes curd side uppermost. Any trimmings and leftover pieces of panettone were crumbled and divided between the 4 dishes, then the semicircular sandwiches were cut and arranged neatly on top. I brushed the top of each pudding with more melted butter to help it crisp in the oven.

I hadn't realised until I started comparing recipes the wide range of egg:milk ratios used, as well as various baking times and temperatures, so the rest of the preparation went on a kind of average of the recipes I looked at.

I whisked together 3 large eggs, 50g caster sugar, the zest of 1 lemon and 500mls of semi-skimmed milk, and divided it between the 4 dishes. These were left standing for 30 minutes before baking, to allow the liquid to be absorbed into the bread - I pressed down with a fork occasionally to make sure the top pieces of panettone soaked up the custard mixture.

I added a little grated nutmeg and a sprinkling of demerara sugar to the top of each pudding, before baking at 160C (fan assisted) for 35 minutes. I intended to bake until the puddings were set, but still wobbling a little in the middle, but I think I baked for about 5 minutes too long.

These were lovely little puddings; adding lemon curd boosted the flavour nicely. I think adding some more dried fruit (such as a handful of sultanas) would have been an improvement and using a little more milk - another 100ml, perhaps - would have made the puddings softer and lighter, but I was pleased with them as they were.

As usual, with things that look their best straight from the oven, I didn't manage to get very good photographs of these. Not only were the light conditions far from perfect, they were visibly deflating as I watched them!

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Cider and 5-Spice Bundt Cake

Wow! I wish I'd tried this Nigella Lawson recipe for a Cider and 5-Spice Bundt cake years ago.  It was superb!

I tried a scaled down version of the recipe, one Christmas a few years ago, but used a different spice mix and ginger wine instead of cider. So I knew the recipe worked, but had no idea what the impact of using 5-Spice would be.

Nigella originally called this a Cider and 5-Spice Gingerbread, but changed the name because the ginger element (fresh root ginger) isn't particularly strong. The method of making the cake is essentially that of a gingerbread - combine sugar with the wet ingredients, then mix in the remaining dry ingredients - but because oil is used rather than butter, there's no melting or other heating involved.

Once the ingredients were weighed and measured out, the cake was really quick to put together. The most time consuming operation was grating the lump of root ginger!

Instead of buying cake release spray to use to prepare a bundt tin, I've started using a home-made version. This is partly because the Dr Oetker brand of cake release spray is no longer on the market, and none of the supermarkets stock a replacement product, but partly because it's cheaper.

The recipe I have seems to have originated from the 2014 GBBO winner, Nancy Birtwhistle. However I can't find it on her website, only on a few twitter videos.  There is something about it here, but basically, it's equal parts of Trex (white hard vegetable fat), plain flour and vegetable oil. I made up a small batch, using 50g of each of Trex and flour, and 50mls of sunflower oil, which is going to be enough for several cakes. It keeps in a jar in the fridge until the shortest 'best before' date of the products you've used (or use your nose - fat that has gone rancid won't smell very good).

I allowed it to warm up a little before use, and it was then easy to brush onto the bundt tin with a pastry brush. I think it works better than the commercial spray, probably because you can easily see if you've missed any areas, and can also put on a thicker layer if you've any doubts. My cake just plopped out without any assistance from me, after about 15 minutes cooling in the tin.

Because I was taking the cake to my local Cake Club (a legacy from the now defunct Clandestine Cake Club meetings), and the theme was Festive/New Year, I prettied up the cake with a lemon glacé icing and some sparkly sprinkles on top, but I wouldn't usually bother with anything more than a dusting of icing sugar.

The cake had a lovely close-textured but light crumb and  the 5-spice gave a unique flavour which emphasised the aniseed elements of the mixture - I used Bart brand which contained, in decreasing order, star anise, cassia, fennel,cloves and ginger - and the nutmeg. It was a very tasty alternative to a traditional gingerbread. Although it was an optional extra, the lemon glacé icing was a good contrast to the spice - Nigella says she likes this cake with a salted caramel sauce, but I think that would be too rich, and sweet, for me.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Lemon Curd 'Bakewell' Bars

I've recently started to donate baked goods to a monthly Coffee Morning run by the Friends of my local library. Not only is it giving me a much needed excuse to bake, but it's helping a good cause too. This month I made some date shortbread squares and these lemon and almond bars - similar to a Bakewell tart, but with lemon curd instead of raspberry jam.

Because the tart was going to be cut into individual portions before being put out for sale, I made it in a narrow rectangular tart tin, measuring 36 x 11.5cm. That way it could be cut into bars which would be easier to eat with fingers than a wedge from a round tart. Having a border of pastry on both short edges looked quite attractive too.


After lining the tart tin with sweet shortcrust pastry, I spread about 200g of lemon curd over the base - there's no need to blind-bake the pastry for this recipe. I used this BBC Good Food recipe for the frangipane mixture. It was exactly the right amount to fill the tart! The only changes I made to the recipe was to only use the zest of 1 lemon, and to add a few drops of almond extract, as I wanted the frangipane to taste more of almonds than lemon.

I baked the tart for 15 minutes at 200C, then lowered the temperature to 180C and continued baking until the frangipane was cooked to a golden brown colour - about another 25 minutes. When cool, I cut into bars about 3cm wide, although I discarded the first centimetre at each end, with the extra pastry (cook's treat!).