Wednesday, 23 December 2020

The Triennial Chocolate, Fig and Ginger Panforte

For some reason, I have made this Panforte, for Christmas, at three year intervals - 2014, 2017 and again this year. Perhaps it's going to be a tradition!

Panforte is a particularly suitable Christmas treat this year, when, if we are meeting friends and family at all, it's on a very restricted schedule with regards to both numbers and time. It keeps for weeks after making, so however few of you there are to eat it, you'll get through it without any waste. 

This year, this panforte will almost be all mine! Apart from a brief visit from both my children on Christmas Day for an exchange of presents and a meal together, the Covid restrictions mean, like many others, I'll be alone most of the time. That doesn't bother me - all I need is a good book to keep me happy, and it will only be a few days before we're all back into the routines of our lives. For me that can be quite hectic, as I volunteer at the local Food Bank, which has been very busy since the start of the pandemic.

I followed my original recipe from 2014, which was a compilation of several other recipes, in a quest for perfection. I could vary the flavours by changing the fruit, or leaving out the ginger, but this particular combination of chocolate, figs and ginger, together with the spices and hint of orange, works so well that I'm reluctant to make changes.

Here's wishing you the best 

for this Festive Season, 

with hopes that 2021 

will be better for all of us!

Sunday, 6 December 2020

The 'Perfect' Malt Loaf?

Ten years ago, I made Dan Lepard's Malt Loaf and although it was tasty, it didn't bear much resemblance to the squidgy, moist Soreen Malt Loaves found in most supermarkets. 

Considering how long it is since I made that loaf, I can't help wondering why I haven't made one since, or why it's been on my mind so much, lately.

Anyway, putting those questions aside, I thought I'd try Felicity Cloake's 'Perfect' recipe this time, as she does a lot of the leg work by comparing, and trying, available recipes from reliable sources, and taking the best elements from each. The only unknown factor is whether her tastes coincide with mine, but in this case, they fortunately did.

I followed the recipe exactly (the suggested size of loaf tin is a standard 2lb tin) and it really couldn't have been simpler - mix the sugar, syrups, liquid (tea) and fruit together, leave to soak a while, then stir in the dry ingredients, transfer to the prepared loaf tin and bake. 

9 tablespoons of malt extract is 135mls, which was conveniently measured out by filling a 1/2 cup (125mls) to the point of overflowing. Lightly coating the measuring cup with oil ensured the malt extract flowed out easily too - no scraping out needed. 

I also followed the suggestion to wrap the cake in baking paper and leave for at least 2 days before cutting it, difficult though that was. Knowing cake is in the house is such a temptation, but it was worth the wait!

The loaf was everything I'd expected - strongly flavoured with malt, moist, sticky and stodgy. It wasn't quite as squidgy as a Soreen loaf, but that was actually a point in it's favour for me. Much as I like Soreen, I don't like how a slice can be squeezed into a gummy ball about half it's size.

So, was it 'perfect'? Very nearly!

My only slight criticism was that the flavours of the prunes and the malt blended so well together that the prunes were only detectable as a change in texture. I think next time I will try making the loaf with a proportion of sultanas too, so that the fruit adds more flavour contrast.

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Apple and Cranberry Cake

I usually make this cake, which is two layers of a scone-like dough sandwiching a layer of fresh and/or dried fruit, as a dessert. I often make it when I haven't got time to fuss around with pastry, as the result is very similar to a pie, but much easier to make. 
This time, I wanted to capture some of the essential flavours of Autumn, which is one of my favourite times of the year for seasonal baking. So I used eating apples, dried cranberries and cinnamon in the filling, and some flaked almonds in the topping.


150g butter
150g caster sugar
1 large egg
300g SR flour
3 eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced* 
80g dried cranberries
1 teaspoon cinnamon
30g flaked almonds
icing sugar to dust
* I usually slice the apples into water to which I've added a little lemon juice or vinegar, to stop the fruit discolouring. When I'm ready to use the slices, I drain them well and pat dry on a clean tea towel. 

Preheat the oven to 180C, and line the base of a 20cm (8") springform tin with baking parchment; grease the sides with a little butter if your tin needs it.
Melt the butter in a large mixing bowl, in the microwave, or in a saucepan on the hob - if you do this in a large pan you can mix the dough in it too. The butter doesn't need to be really hot - just completely melted.
Stir in the sugar, then beat in the egg.
Add the flour and mix in thoroughly - it should give a soft crumbly dough.

Put 2/3 of the dough into the cake tin, and spread evenly with your fingers, building up a little wall of dough around the edge of the tin, to contain any excess fruit juices.**
Mix the flaked almonds into the remaining dough.
Mix the prepared apples, dried cranberries and cinnamon together and spread over the dough base.
Crumble the rest of the dough over the top, then press down lightly, spreading the dough a little to give good coverage over the top. The dough will spread more during baking, so don't try to fill all the gaps.
Bake for 50-60 minutes until the top is firm and golden. Cool for about 10 minutes, then run a knife between the cake and the edge of the tin, to stop and leakages of fruit juice sticking to the sides.
Dust with icing sugar before serving; I like this at room temperature, and I usually leave it on the springform base as it's quite fragile, but  it can be moved to a serving plate if you have a large cake lifter.
** There's a photograph here which shows how the cake is assembled.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Apricot, Cranberry and Ginger Flapjacks

Up until now, I thought my recipe for flapjacks was perfect. Over the years the ratios of sugar, syrup and butter were tweaked and the quantities adjusted until the flapjacks were thick and chewy.

One thing I have never done is add flour to my flapjacks, so I was intrigued to see that Lynn Hill of Traditional Home Baking is an advocate of doing so, maintaining that it helps to give the flapjacks the desired chewy texture. Although I like the texture of the flapjacks produced by my recipe, I'm not too proud to see if this suggestion is an improvement.

I followed Lynn's recipe for Fruity Flapjack, but rather than the fruits suggested in the recipe, I used 100g of chopped dried apricots, 50g of cranberries and 30g of chopped glacé ginger, which had been rinsed and dried to remove the syrup coating. I also added 2 teaspoons of ground ginger to make sure there was enough ginger to taste. The mix of apricots and cranberries is one of my favourite combinations in baking.

Our recipes are very similar in the quantities of ingredients used (apart from the flour), although Lynn's bakes in a slightly larger tin, so I was interested to see how much difference adding the flour would make. 

It was huge! 

The texture was completely different - much softer as well as chewy. I think adding the flour also helped absorb the butter mixture more completely too - my flourless flapjacks are usually a bit stickier.

Both recipes have their merits so I'll probably use both in future, depending on the result I want. Mine are chewy and sticky, Lynn's are softer and chewy. However, when I do use flour, I think that I will go back to baking in a slightly smaller tin, as I prefer a thicker flapjack.

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Chai Swirl Loaf Cake

I've made this cake a couple of times before, with no problems, but this time the cake sank towards the end of the baking time - the only explanation I can give is that I may have been a touch heavy-handed with the baking powder. It did mean that the whole cake didn't make a very good photograph.

This time I was making the cake for a Halloween celebration virtual Cake Club meeting, so used a couple of props in the photograph. As I would be freezing most of the cake, I didn't want to use frostings or icing to give a Halloween look.

This Chai Swirl Loaf Cake is a Ruby Tandoh recipe, and the mix of spices used is delicious - none of them stand out individually, although the pepper gives quite a warming sensation!

The only thing I do differently to what's stated in the recipe is to layer the two different batters and allow them to marble naturally during baking, due to the convection currents within the heating cake batter. I think this gives a much smarter appearance than random dollops, and it looks as if the cake in the photograph with the newspaper article was made that way too.

Thursday, 15 October 2020

'Hodge Podge' Shortbread Squares......

 ...... or, clearing the store cupboard!

One of the reasons I keep returning to this recipe, besides how delicious it is, is that it is so quick to make, and doesn't require any fresh ingredients such as eggs or milk. The filling is very adaptable, as witnessed by the filling I used this time, in an attempt to use some of the remnants of my baking supplies, lingering in jars and packets. 

I followed the recipe here, including adding chopped toasted hazelnuts to the topping. This time the filling was:

the last of a jar of mincemeat - 200g
the scrapings from a jar of ginger curd* - 50g
currants - 50g
two balls of stem ginger, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of syrup from the stem ginger jar

*the ginger curd was lemon curd with added fresh ginger, but it didn't taste strongly of either lemon or ginger, although it was tart. It was a disappointment, flavourwise, but I wasn't going to waste it if I could find a use for it.

Adding the other ingredients to the mincemeat toned down it's spiciness and sweetness, but I still didn't get as much of the ginger flavour as I'd hoped for. That didn't stop the shortbread squares being as good as usual though! The crumbly shortbread, subtly spiced filling and crunchy hazelnuts in the topping all blended together well. 

Friday, 2 October 2020

Garibaldi Biscuits, with a flavour twist

I don't often fiddle about with biscuits, although I have become a fan of tray-bake cookies, where the dough is baked in a tray and cut into bars after baking. However, this recipe,  for Garibaldi biscuits, from last year's GBBO winner, David Atherton, intrigued me because of the flavours used - barberries, hazelnuts and fennel seeds, in addition to the usual currants.

I followed the recipe exactly, but as I didn't need any extra milk for the dough, I brushed the biscuits with water before sprinkling on the final dusting of caster sugar. Saved me opening a carton of milk just to use a splash of it.

Overall the recipe, and the results, were disappointing. I found it really difficult to handle the dough once it had been rolled to a rectangle of the correct size - it was almost paper thin at that point. Once the filling ingredients had been added, it was impossible to roll out the rectangle to the correct size a second time, because the amount of the filling just wouldn't allow the dough to be rolled out far enough. I managed to get it large enough to cut out 12 biscuits, but they didn't look anywhere near as neat as in the photo accompanying the recipe, as I couldn't cut through the filling layer cleanly.

After baking, the biscuits proved a huge let down, apart from the flavour - I really loved the combination of the tart barberries, the crunchy hazelnuts and the aniseed warmth from the fennel seeds. However, the biscuit dough was brittle, and again, the amount of filling created a problem in that, in places, the layers separated because there was too much filling for the top and bottom layers of dough to make contact when rolled out. This was necessary to hold everything together.

After this disappointment I checked other recipes online. The ever reliable Delia Smith uses a very similar dough - a bit more sugar and more milk instead of egg - but less than half the filling. I think this would enable all the currants/filling ingredients to become properly embedded in the dough. 

David Atherton seems to specialise in 'healthy' recipes, judging by those published in The Guardian newspaper, so I can see why he reduced the sugar in the dough, added the egg and increased the amount of filling, but for me the change in proportions between the filling and the biscuit dough spoiled the recipe instead of enhancing it.

I won't be trying this recipe again, but now that I've tried barberries for the first time, I'll be using them again in my baking. I think they'd make a lovely addition to Christmas mincemeat.

Monday, 21 September 2020

Salted Caramel Brownies

 My children and I made good use of the unexpectedly good weather in the middle of the month, and had tea and cakes together in my garden. It was the day before the guidelines changed to the 'Rule of Six', after which we could have mingled our three households indoors, but we'd made the arrangement with the good weather in mind, so didn't change it. It makes Covid hygiene and cleaning simpler if no-one comes into the house too.

I made these salted caramel brownies, using a tin of caramelised condensed milk and a pinch or two of sea-salt crystals - some directly on the caramel layer, then just a little more sprinkled sparsely over the top. They weren't as successful as the original recipe, as the caramel didn't stay oozingly soft after baking, but they were still very good.

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Ginger, Oat and White Chocolate Cookie Squares

I think I've found a new favourite recipe for cookie bars or squares. It's another recipe from Lynn Hill at Traditional Home Baking. Lynn has published several recipes using this basic cookie dough, but the only one for which I had the 'add-in' ingredients already available was this one for Ginger and White Chocolate.

The recipe was simple to follow and easy to make. The only worrying moment was when it looked as if the beaten sugar and butter mix wouldn't take all the dry ingredients, but a little perseverance soon put that right!

I was slightly annoyed that I didn't have a baking tray anywhere near the right size for this recipe - I had to use my deep adjustable cake tin to make one which was nearly correct, but the deep sides made it a little more difficult to spread the dough easily. 

The texture of these cookie squares was very short, but made a little more substantial by the addition of the oats. It was this combination of 'melt in the mouth' but chewy which I liked so much!

As both white chocolate and glacé ginger are very sweet, I found these bars a little too sweet, but I'm looking forward to trying a version with dried fruits and/or nuts. Lynn has a recipe using apricots and almonds but there are many other variations that I can think of.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

'Bounty Bar' Shortbread Squares

Yet another version of one of my favourite recipes! 

We've been trying to carry on our local Cake Club online, and although it's nice to see what other people have been baking, it's not the same as meeting up and tasting each others' offerings!

This time the theme (or perhaps that should be 'challenge') was to use a maximum of 5 ingredients. As no-one else would be sharing my bake, I wanted to make something that would either keep well, or that I could freeze in portions. As I have a designated 'cake drawer' in the freezer, and it was rather full at the time, I decided to make something that would keep well enough for me to eat over several days.

These layered shortbread squares were the obvious choice - I really like them, they are quick to make and the filling seems to be infinitely variable. I've made them with jam, purée made from reconstituted dried fruit, mincemeat, chocolate spread and caramel. The only thing I've yet to try is fresh fruit compote, which I fear may be too wet.

This time, I could only add 1 ingredient to the 4 which make up the shortbread - flour, semolina, sugar and butter. 

I decided to take a leaf out of my '4-Ingredient Cookbook', which is occasionally somewhat elastic when it comes to defining an ingredient. Marzipan, for example, is one ingredient, even though you need at least three ingredients to make it, and a cup of mixed fresh herbs only counts as 1 ingredient too!

I decided to use chopped Bounty Bars as the filling layer,  to give the flavour of both coconut and chocolate! The idea worked really well, although if I make them again, I'd add 100g more chocolate, or get hold of some dark chocolate Bounty Bars, to maximise the chocolate flavour.

170g SR flour
170g semolina
170g butter
85g caster sugar
200g Bounty Bars - 8 treat sized bars - finely chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 190C/170C fan, and lie a 20cm square shallow baking tin with parchment.
Place the flour and semolina in a large bowl. Warm the butter and sugar together in a small pan, just until the butter has melted and sugar dissolved. Pour this onto the flour mix and stir well until evenly combined.
Put 2/3 of the shortbread dough into the baking tin, spread evenly and press down firmly.
Sprinkle the chopped Bounty Bars evenly over the dough.
Crumble the rest of the shortbread mixture evenly over the surface and pat down lightly - it won't give complete coverage but will spread while baking.
Bake for 25 minutes, until surface is golden brown. Leave to rest for only 3-5 minutes, then cut into squares or bars. Do not remove from the tin until completely cold, or the bars will crumble.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Spiced Chocolate Bundt Cake

I last made this cake, from Sainsbury's website at the end of 2014, as a pre-Christmas treat. This time I made it for a birthday tea for myself and my two children, held in the garden to comply with Covid-19 guidelines. Both my son and I have July birthdays, close together, so usually share a cake. The three of us enjoyed the cake, and the warm sunny afternoon - until the flying ants came out! 

As before, I didn't top with the ganache from the recipe, but with Mary Berry's fudgy chocolate frosting. You can see the details here - nothing has changed. The cake was a little crumblier than I remembered, but that might have been because not all of my eggs were large. The flavour was still very good.

Friday, 10 July 2020

Flapjacks with Blueberries and Cranberries

A friend gave me a box of 8 sachets of  'Super Goodness' Porridge, with ingredients designed to boost the immune system. As the freeze-dried fruit was only 10% of the porridge, I'm not sure how much effect it would have (3.5g of fruit in each serving), but I suppose if you ate porridge for breakfast every day you're not going to do any harm, and might gain some benefits! There were some added vitamins too, which never hurts!

However, I don't like porridge, but could see the potential for the mixture to be used for flapjacks. The oats in the porridge were wholegrain rolled oats, not instant oats, so I figured they would work as a direct substitute for plain oats. The only adjustment I made to my usual recipe was to reduce the added sugar to compensate for the sugar already in the porridge mix (16%).

160g butter
70g golden syrup
50g caster sugar
280g Quaker Oats 'Super Goodness' Porridge with Blueberries, Cranberries and Guava.

Preheat oven to 180C/160C fan and line a 20cm square shallow cake tin with baking parchment.
Melt the butter, golden syrup and sugar together  - I do it in the microwave, but a saucepan on the hob is fine too. Don't boil the mixture, just heat enough for the butter to completely melt.
Stir in the porridge mixture and mix thoroughly. 
Transfer the mixture to the baking tin, spread evenly and press down firmly.
Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes then mark into bars or squares, but allow to cool completely before removing from the tin.

Despite the fruit content of the porridge being only 10% (and 2% of that was guava powder), there was enough to give the flapjacks a strong fruit flavour. I think being freeze-dried makes the fruit lighter than ordinary dried fruit, so there's more volume of fruit in the 28g in the recipe - it certainly looked a lot!  These flapjacks were a little crisper than those made following my basic recipe, but they were still chewy enough!

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Date and Coffee Loaf

This post should really be called Date and Coffee Loaves, as the recipe makes 2 x 1lb loaves. One loaf was sliced and frozen for future use, the other eaten over the course of a few days.

The recipe comes from Lynn Hill, the founder of the Clandestine Cake Club, who has recently renamed her website Traditional Home Baking. I've been a member of CCC and a follower of Lynn's work for several years, but this is the first time I've made one of her recipes.

The recipe was straightforward to follow, although the instructions regarding the dates are a little confusing. I didn't have Medjool dates so used Deglet Nour dates instead. These were already quite soft and didn't absorb all the coffee when the two were heated together. I added the dates and the residual liquid to the cake mix, but later found out from Lynn that all the liquid should have been absorbed, so I either should have simmered the dates for longer to evaporate excess liquid, or discarded the excess. 

As it didn't spoil the cake (although too much liquid might have done so) it wasn't a problem in this case, but the written instructions might have mentioned that there shouldn't have been any residual liquid after cooking the dates, rather than just say the liquid should be reduced (by how much?).

This cake was delicious; both the dates and the coffee could be tasted and the flavour combination was very good. The loaf was quite light too; I had expected something like a tea loaf in texture but this was more like a sponge cake.

Sunday, 7 June 2020


Regular readers will know that yeast and I don't get on together well, which makes it all the more surprising that I haven't come across this simple flatbread recipe before.

I guess it's popping up a lot online because strong bread flour and yeast are difficult to get hold of at the moment, although you're lucky if you can find any sort of flour in the supermarkets. Fortunately, I still have half a bag of SR flour, which is the type of flour needed for this recipe.

All you do is mix equal weights of SR flour and Greek-style yogurt (I always have full-fat yogurt in stock) and knead lightly; if the dough is too dry at this stage add more yogurt a teaspoon at a time, if it's too wet sprinkle over a little more flour and knead in.

Then divide into portions (I got 4 individual breads from 200g of flour and 200g yogurt), roll out as thin as you like, brush very lightly with oil (optional), then cook on a hot griddle pan (or in a heavy non-stick frying pan) until golden brown.

I added some flavourings, as I was serving the bread with a curry, and wanted it to taste like a Nan bread. The first time I made the bread, I added salt, pepper and a teaspoon of nigella seeds to 200g of flour. The second time, I added more nigella seeds (a teaspoon to 100g flour) and a 1/4 teaspoon of each of ground cumin and ground coriander, as well as the salt and pepper.

My first attempt tasted fine, but I didn't roll the breads thinly enough. The second attempt, rolling the dough out to around 0.5cm thickness, worked much better, both in terms of flavour and texture. I think it would be difficult to tell that you weren't eating a yeasted bread.

The great thing about this recipe is that it can be made in small quantities, which means I can make just enough for 1 meal, and not be tempted to eat too much. The dough can be mixed and cooked as quickly as you'd cook rice or potatoes, so doesn't mean extra time in the kitchen either.

The top photo shows the four flatbreads made  in the first batch, which were too thick. They were cooked on a cast-iron ridged griddle for about 3 minutes each side. The bottom photo shows the two I made on my second attempt, when the 100g portions of dough were rolled out to twice the size as the first time. These were cooked on a smooth griddle and took less than two minutes on each side.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Malty Prune Flapjacks

In line with government recommendations, I'm trying to shop as infrequently as possible. Where I live, supermarket shopping is the least safe activity - I have plenty of open spaces and wide pavements when I go out for exercise, but I can't avoid needing food.

I'm fit and healthy, and don't yet fit any of the categories of people who should be taking extra precautions, so haven't tried to get any supermarket delivery slots, preferring to leave those for the more vulnerable members of the community. It's taken a while, but I've now figured out the quietest times to shop, so I take a list and shop as quickly as possible.

This is a big change for me, as I loved to browse the shelves, looking for bargains, new products or just what looked good that day. I used to go out almost every day and just buy a few bits and pieces, as I needed them. As I don't drive and have to carry my shopping a mile back home, what it also means is that, for the moment, I'm only buying the basic essentials, as fruit and vegetables and other necessary fresh foods are quite heavy when you're buying everything at once instead of spreading it out over several trips.

This is starting to impact on my baking (even though I'm not baking very frequently) - aside from what seems like a permanent lack of flour, there aren't always eggs or sugar available, and I'm running low on things like dried fruits and nuts. So wanting to bake means looking through the cupboard and seeing what's there before making decisions.

This time I found some 'out of date' prunes which still tasted OK and the scrapings from a jar of malt extract which could replace golden syrup if I made flapjacks. I'd been looking at malt loaf recipes but didn't have enough malt extract, so the idea of something malt-flavoured was still niggling away at me.

I followed my usual recipe, just substituting 50g of the golden syrup with malt extract, although I'd hoped to have enough malt extract to replace all the golden syrup.

First, melt together 160g butter, 50g malt extract, 20g golden syrup, and 100g caster sugar. This can be done in a saucepan, or in a large bowl in the microwave. Try not to let the mixture boil - it just needs to melt the butter completely. Then stir in 240g of porridge oats, 50g sultanas, 70g soft prunes (cut into pieces the same size as the sultanas) and 1 teaspoon of mixed spice. Mix thoroughly.

Tip this mixture into a 20cm square cake tin, lined with baking parchment. Level the mixture and press down firmly, then bake at 180C for 25 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes then mark into squares or bars while still hot. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.

I like flapjacks to be chewy, and these were gloriously chewy! More so than when I make the recipe with golden syrup. Additionally, the slight bitter edge to the malt extract cuts the sweetness a bit - you're not reducing the sugar you consume, but it tastes as if you are! The prunes worked well here too - they have a strong enough flavour to be tasted over the maltiness.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Dairy-free Gingerbread

The only time I get to make a large cake these days is if I can bake for someone else. At the end of last year I joined the Friends of my local Library, and had been baking for their monthly coffee mornings. That's all on hold for the moment, of course, with Libraries closed and no mass gatherings taking place because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Because so little is known about this particular virus, or what are the most effective ways of staying safe, I've been sewing face-masks for me and my two children, in case they are eventually needed (even though I don't really think much of the efficiency of home made ones). I decided that when I delivered their masks to them, I could include some cake, to cheer them up a bit in their isolation.

It was hard to decide what to make, as the three of us have very different tastes, but eventually I decided on gingerbread.

I used this oil-based gingerbread recipe, rather than the best traditional recipe I have, because I didn't want to open a litre of milk just for the small amount that was needed for the cake. The oil-based recipe is very similar to the traditional recipe - it gets a nice sticky top after a few days - but isn't quite as rich as it has less fat and fewer eggs. Using oil, and water instead of milk, has the added advantage of making the cake dairy-free too.

The bottom photo shows the 20cm square cake divided for sharing. As you can see, the three of us vary in how much cake we can eat over a few days; the biggest portion was for my son and the smallest (missing) portion was for my daughter. I was left with the long narrow piece - it  made a delicious dessert when reheated and served with rhubarb roasted with ginger, and natural yogurt.

Monday, 6 April 2020

Fruited Banana Loaf (2)

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a refrain often heard, and this time I decided to take heed. Through some unexpected changes in plans (mostly involving social distancing) I once again found myself with too many bananas. Up until recently this has happened about once every 5 years, but this year, twice so far!

So I used Mary Berry's tasty, quick recipe again; this time I added the scrapings from a jar of mincemeat (roughly 70g) and 50g sultanas. Using the mincemeat meant that I didn't need to use the 2 tablespoons of milk in the recipe - there was enough moisture in the mincemeat - but otherwise I followed the recipe and made the whole batter, including the extra additions, as an all-in-one mix.

Once again, this was delicious. The mincemeat added a little spiciness to the show, but the banana still came  across as the dominant flavour.

This time I didn't freeze any of the loaf, and I was really surprised at how well it kept - the last slice was almost a week old, and as good as the first.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Chocolate Chip and Orange Loaves

I baked two loaves to take one to each of my children, just before the Covid-19 lockdown measures became more stringent. At the time the food panic buying was at it's height and the supermarket shelves were empty of almost all baking ingredients, so I was relying on my store cupboard.

I wasn't sure when supplies would get back to normal so although I would usually use 4 eggs in this amount of cake batter, I decided to cut down to 3 and use the juice of the orange that I was zesting, in place of the 4th egg. That way none of the orange was left over either.

200g caster sugar
200g butter, softened
3 large eggs
250g SR flour
zest and juice of 1 orange
100 - 150g chocolate chips (I used about 30g milk chocolate chips and 100g of chopped plain chocolate)

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C, fan) and line 2 x 450g (1lb) loaf tins (I use the pre-formed liners for loaves).
This cake is made by the all-in-one method, so put everything, except the orange juice and chocolate, into a bowl and beat with a hand-held mixer until smooth, adding enough orange juice to give a dropping consistency. (I needed all the juice from the small orange I was using, but if more liquid is needed a little milk or water can be used too.)
Use a large spoon to fold in the chocolate, then divide the batter equally between the two tins and level the surface.
Bake for 60 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean.
Cool in tin for about 10 minutes, then move to a wire rack.

I didn't get to see the insides of these cakes, or to taste them to see if the lack of egg was detrimental to the texture, but there were no complaints from the recipients. I asked my daughter if the cake was dry and she said that it wasn't, so I'm pleased about that.

Unfortunately I didn't get any good photos either, although you can see the bulging top!

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Fruited Banana Loaf

After deciding to leave two bananas to ripen enough to use in a cake, I realised that I've never made a basic simple banana bread/cake in the 10 years I've been writing this blog. It was definitely time to remedy that situation, even though I don't regularly have bananas available.

Of the two simplest recipes I could find, I decided to go with Mary Berry's, as she appeared to be cutting down on the fat and sugar content to compensate for adding the bananas rather than just putting bananas into a standard sponge cake recipe, as here. The other advantages of Mary Berry's recipe were that it was an all-in-one mixture, so really quick to put together and get into the oven, and would freeze well. Being able to freeze slices of cake is always a bonus for me!

After saying I wanted simple, I then changed my mind a little and decided that I would like some extra flavour, so I added the zest of a small orange, 70g of a mixture of sultanas and dried cranberries, and I used 2 tablespoons of orange juice instead of the milk in the recipe.

I folded the fruit into the batter after it had been mixed, rather than include it at the all-in-one mixing stage.

None of these changes affected the baking time - the cake was still cooked in the time suggested in the recipe.

The cake had a lovely texture, moist but not too heavy, and the extra ingredients boosted the flavour without masking the taste of the banana.

This is definitely a cake to remember when I'm baking for coffee mornings, and I can imagine other additions that would work well - chopped dates, for instance, or nuts and a little mixed spice.

I'd even go so far as to say it's a cake worth buying bananas for, if you can plan far enough ahead to let them ripen!

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!).