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It’s been too long since my last post but, I have not stopped cooking.  Life has enveloped me tightly and carried me in a huge wave out to sea.  I am not in calmer waters and have the time to settle back into my previous life.  Well, for the moment.
After so long I would have never have guessed the recipe that would bring me back to writing would be a recipe based on a simple Madeira cake.
I know I am not alone when I tell you I have shelves full of cookery books. Mine have been collected over the decades. A bookcase was built for me that stretches across the entire wall in the sitting room and in return I promised that I would only keep books that fitted on the shelves, with the rule that if a new book came into the house then one had to go. The one in one out rule hasn’t worked, but what has appeared is little mountains of books directly in front of the bookcase.
I am not completely selfish; I do feel pangs of guilt when I add another book to the mountain. My antidote to this guilt has been to take a book each week and use a recipe. This way I felt I was demonstrating how useful all these books could be! I have been experimenting, eating new things, and trying different flavours.
I decided to try a baking book (I am naming no names here) in which the photographs were beautiful, the cakes look delicious, and they tempted me in. I wanted to try the recipes. Note the ‘s’ on recipes. I decided on a hat-trick of baked wonderfulness. All three cakes were very similar, in that they were loaf cakes. I started to make a shopping list of ingredients. That was when the first doubt crept into my head. Did I really need all these different ingredients? I brushed the doubt aside.
As I started to weigh out the ingredients for the first cake it dawned on me that a quarter of the ingredients were unnecessary as the quantities were so small. I ploughed on, making sure I followed the recipe to a tee. When the time was up in the oven and I went to check the cake, I didn’t need to use a skewer to see it was not cooked. Was it me? I went online and did some research – I was not alone with my cake results.
I am disappointed in the recipes and in the book. I feel a little duped. All too often I see recipes that have a fancy name when in fact they are another traditional recipe but instead of actually improving the technique or adding something that would change the recipe for the good, a whole long list of meaningless ingredients have been added just so the writer can claim it as theirs.
My disappointment wasn’t all negative I did take from the cake is that I liked the orange zest flavour and, that the ground almonds gave it a heavier more moist texture. It also made me think about how I could improve it and pushed me to research and create my own recipe, which I wouldn’t have done had it been a good cake. My new recipe is based on a Madeira cake. The orange zest can easily be swapped for lemon zest if you wanted.

N.B:  When making cakes soften butter makes all the difference.

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Orange and Almond Loaf Cake

Ingredients

160g self raising flour

70g ground almonds

pinch of salt

zest from 1 orange

140g butter (soften)

140g caster sugar

3 large eggs

25g milk

15g flaked almonds for decoration

Method

Turn oven on to Gas mark 4/ 350F/180C
Grease and line with baking paper a 3 ½ inch x 7 inch loaf tin.
In a bowl beat with an electric mixer the butter, orange zest and caster sugar.
Beat in each egg separately until well combined.
Add the ground almonds, self raising flour and salt. Using a large spoon fold the dry ingredients in until combined.
Add the milk and mix until combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Sprinkle the top with the flaked almonds.
Place in the middle of the oven and bake for about 1 ¼ hours. The cake is baked when a skewer inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. If it doesn’t, just give it another five minutes and check again.
Allow to cool on a wire rack in the tin. When cold enough to handle, turn the cake out onto the rack and leave to cool completely.
This cake is best eaten on the day, but will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

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madel SL-1

When I was a child it seemed that every mother was baking for all she was worth, turning out all sorts of fancies and iced novelties.  A lot of them are just distant memories now, but I can remember my mother getting very frustrated  in the kitchen when she couldn’t find a recipe she had been given for some fancy cake or other.  Always asking me if I had seen it?  As if!  My interests were limited to what Cindy was wearing, not worrying where my mother kept her recipe collection.  My involvement was in the finished product not how it got there.

Now I am all grown up, I too get frustrated in trying to recreate those same recipes, either by trial and error or by asking around.  Someone usually has a recipe handed down or can still remember how their mother made them. The same can be said for my Great Aunt Beatie’s recipe for clotted cream.  I wish now that I had taken notes.

It was in a telephone conversation recently that we discussed how fantastic everything was when we were children, days of ever lasting sunshine and school holidays that stretched on for ever, that the memory of Madeleines came up.  I don’t think I have seen them around for many decades so perhaps they are ready for a comeback!   The English Madeleines are very different to the French ones which are baked in shallow shell shaped moulds.  These are baked in dariole moulds covered in jam and then rolled in coconut.  The only major tip I would pass on, if you decide to make these, is to make sure you grease, grease again with butter and then flour the moulds, because the sponge has a tendency to stick.

Madeleines

Ingredients

100g/ 4 oz butter

100g/ 4 oz caster sugar

2 eggs (beaten)

100g/ 4 oz self raising flour

60 ml (4tbs) strawberry jam (or any red jam that is mainly jelly not whole fruits)

75g/ 3 oz desiccated coconut

glace cherries halved to decorate and a few mint leaves.

8 Dariole moulds

Method

Turn oven to Gas mark 4 (180C/350F).

Grease and flour 8 dariole moulds – this is one of the most vital parts of the recipe, if the moulds are not greased enough the cakes will not come out in one.  Put these onto a baking tray.

Beat together the butter and sugar until the mixture is pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs a little at a time.  Then using a metal spoon gently fold in the flour.

Fill each of the dariole moulds 2/3 full with the butter mixture.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes (depending on your cooker) the cakes should be risen and when gently touched should spring back.

Cool slightly in their moulds.  You want them to have cooled enough to handle. If you remove them from the moulds straight from the oven they will break.

To turn these out I run a knife around the edge to loosen them and then gentle shake – they should come out in one.  Leave them to cool on a wire rack.

When the cakes are cool slice any excess from the bottom so that they can stand flat – I put mine back into the moulds and used the bottom edge as a guide.

Melt the jam in a pan and pour onto a plate.  On another plate spread the coconut out.  Either brush the cakes with the jam or roll the cakes gently in it, be generous making sure that the surface is covered otherwise the coconut won’t stick.  Then roll in the coconut.  The idea is to cover the tops and sides leaving the base clean.

Top with the glace cherry and serve.  To store keep in an airtight container.

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Gâteau Breton

Gâteau Breton

Having an exceptional cook as a friend, who is also generous with her recipes is a rare thing.  I did have an Italian friend whose mother produced the most wonderful food but getting a particular recipe however hard I tried came to nothing.  Even my own mother in law was furious when once at a Burns evening, I complimented her on her swedes and asked what she had put in them, my father in law, quick as a flash replied a spoonful of sugar, ignoring her cry of protest.  An icy presence over the meal followed, but I didn’t care – I had the secret ingredient!   Recipes are tricky things, so many times I have come home and made ‘the recipe’ only to find it didn’t quite turn out as it should.  The mock surprise look at the recipe owner usually tells me what I need to know – their ingredient ‘x’ is missing from the recipe.

Still, it hasn’t put me off – I still ask.  Luckily for me I met someone several years ago who came from Brittany, France.  She was very proud of her heritage and the food of Brittany and very generous in passing on her recipes, her attitude was that by passing them on they continue to live.   I have several of her recipes, which have turned out just as she had made them and how I had remembered enjoying them.

Gâteau Breton is difficult to describe, as it is a cake and not a cake.  It is a cross between buttery shortbread and Madeira cake.  One of the joys of baking this gâteau is that it fills the house with the most wonderful buttery smell whilst it is in the oven.

Gâteau Breton

Ingredients

225g/8 oz plain flour  (I use 00 flour)

225g/8 oz caster sugar

225g/8 oz unsalted butter softened

6 egg yolks

Oven 350/180/Gas 4

IGâteau Breton mixture

Add the softened butter and caster sugar together in a bowl and mix until light and fluffy.

Add the 5 egg yolks, a yolk at the time (I break the sixth egg yolk and put half in the gâteau at this stage and save half for the glazing as a whole yolk is far too much)  Mixing until combined.

Add the flour but not all at once. Keep adding flour until all have been combined. The mixture at this stage will be quite stiff.

Put the mixture into a loose 8” bottom cake tin or spring form tin.  With a knife evenly distribute the mixture and put into the fridge for 30 minutes.  This will allow the mixture to stiffen further.

After 30 minutes remove from the fridge and again with a palate knife smooth the top of the gâteau and coat with the remaining egg yolk.  Taking a fork, drag across the gâteau to create the criss cross lines decoration.

Bake in the oven and carefully check after 30 minutes that the top has not browned too much, if it is browning too quickly, cover for the rest of the cooking time.  To check that the gâteau is cooked press your finger gently in the centre, it should be firm with a slight bounce.

Leave the gâteau in the tin until it is cool.

Once cool it should be kept in a airtight container.

It is perfect cut up into triangles and served with coffee.

gateau breton 2

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walnut and coffee spong cake

In my house we tend to go through cooking phases of loving a particular recipe, be it cake, a pasta dish or a way I cook the vegetables.  Then all of a sudden I will not want to eat it again.  This can last for months if not years.  The poor coffee and walnut sponge cake has been victim to one of these phases.  It was when I was trying to build up some inspiration by looking at my larder shelves of what to bake when I saw a packet of walnuts.  I realised I haven’t baked a coffee and walnut cake for ages.

When I was a child and taken out for afternoon tea the coffee and walnut cake was an indulgence, the height of sophistication and the only way I was ever going to get a taste of coffee.  There were some very strict and strange rules when I was growing up and one of them was that I was not allowed to drink coffee, not until I reached the age of 18.  I don’t know the reason, and I never asked but the thought of having the forbidden coffee and walnut cake every now and then was enough to keep me quiet.

Coffee & Walnut Sponge Cake with Coffee Butter Icing

Ingredients

150g/ 6 oz butter softened

150g/ 6 oz caster sugar

3 eggs beaten

150g/ 6 oz self raising flour

40g/ 1 ½ oz walnuts finely chopped

  1. Turn oven to 350F/180C or Gas Mark 4.
  2. Whisk the butter and sugar until pale in colour.  Add the eggs a little at a time.  If the mixture begins to curdle add a tablespoon of the weighed flour.
  3. Fold the chopped walnuts into the mixture.
  4. Gently fold in the remaining flour.
  5. Transfer into three cake tins (or two tins if you want just a two layer sponge cake) and bake in the centre of the oven for 25/30 mins until risen and sponge has just left the sides of the cake tin.  A final test would be to gently push your finger into the middle of the cake, if it springs back it’s done.  Leave in the tin for a few minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool with the top of the cake facing upwards.  Otherwise as the cake cools the wire rack will leave an impression on the sponges.

Coffee Butter Icing

Ingredients

100g/ 4 oz butter softened

225g/ 8 oz icing sugar

3 tbsp cold milk

4 tsp coffee granules

  1. Mix the coffee with the milk and stir until it has dissolved.
  2. In a bowl add all the ingredients and blend with a food mixer on the slowest speed to begin with otherwise there will be icing sugar everywhere.  As the mixture starts to blend turn the speed up and continue mixing until you have a smooth thick cream.

To make up the cake

Make a decision as to which sponge has the best looking top, save this for the top layer.   If one of the cakes has broken, don’t worry use it for the bottom layer.  Divide the butter cream in half, spreading the bottom sponge layer with one half and then placing second sponge on top.  Spread the remaining buttercream and top with last layer and dust with icing sugar and store in an airtight tin.

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Every year I use the same recipe for my Christmas cake.  This is a well tried and tested recipe perfected over many years.  One year I tried five different recipes.  After much debating and tasting we whittled it down to one and then improved on it.  The family like it and that’s good enough for me.

When I was a little girl my mother had high hopes for her Christmas cake.  Cake icing was not a skill she possessed but each year she approached the task of icing the Christmas cake with new hope and vigor, thinking that this year she would create the perfect iced cake.  Each year the cake would be presented with an iced snow scene adorned with small fir trees, an overfed robin, and several patchy reindeer, topped off with the piece de resistance – the shop bought frayed red ribbon.

Achieving the snow scene was a torturous journey for both my mother and me.  It would start with the mixing of the royal icing. I would sit silently at the kitchen table watching.   This phase usually passed in a fairly upbeat mood, then the palette knife would make an appearance and my mother would attempt her foray into cake icing nirvana, kidding herself that the icing would just glide on and be perfect.   As each layer went on, the more uneven the cake became.  My initial encouragement of how good it was looking would soon dry up and a murderous tension could be felt in the air, at this stage I readied myself to flee.

In a last ditch attempt of redeeming things my mother would then move onto the icing syringe which was filled to the brim with royal icing, again she would struggle and labour over trying to squeeze out perfect shapes as demonstrated on the cover of the box but to no avail.  When eventually my mother realised she had been beaten, the palate knife re-appeared and with a few swift hand movements we were back to plan B; the snow scene.    Having stuck by my mother during her icing ordeal I would be rewarded with the task of pushing the aged but much loved cake ornaments into the deep waves of royal icing before it was finished off with a red ruff and, put on a raised dish and placed in the dining room, ready for Christmas.

My mother’s Christmas snow scene may not have been perfect but it has become a fond memory I hold with great affection along with those worn Christmas cake ornaments.

I have said it before and I will say it again recipes evolve because people change them.  If I don’t like currants, I leave them out and add the same weight in raisins.  If I don’t like cinnamon I don’t add it.  I am a big fan of cherries but I sometimes swap them for more apricots.  There are no hard and fast rules.

Christmas Cake

or

Rich Fruit Cake Recipe

Ingredients

Stage One

Ingredients

225g/8 oz currants

225g/8 0z raisins

225g/8 oz sultanas

50g/2 oz dried apricots chopped small

175g/6 oz glace cherries cut into quarters or halves depending on how I am feeling.

100ml/4 floz brandy

Method

Pick over the fruit for any stalks this might not seem important at this stage but I hate eating a piece of cake and getting a bit of stalk stuck in my teeth. 

Put all the fruit into an airtight dish and add the brandy.  Stir well to blend, seal and leave. 

I tend to leave mine in a dark cupboard for two weeks or more, stirring the fruit every week or so.  The smell is fantastic and after two weeks the fruit has plumped up beautifully.

Ingredients

Stage Two

50g/2 oz blanched almonds chopped roughly but small

50g/2 oz brazil nuts chopped roughly but small

225g/8 oz butter

225g/8 oz soft dark brown sugar

4 eggs

225g/8 oz white plain flour

5ml/1 level tsp ground mixed spice

 ½ level tsp ground cinnamon

Greaseproof paper

string

brown paper or an old large envelope

Method

Draw around the bottom of your 8″ cake tin on top of a double layer of greaseproof paper, cut out the circles and line the bottom of the cake tin with these.

Cut a length of greaseproof paper this is going to line the inside of the tin, this needs to be folded in half and placed inside the tin it should be raised above the height of the tin.  Then cut a length of brown paper folded over to go around the outside of the tin again raised above the height of the tin.  This is to help the cake from burning.  A little like a sun shield.

The oven needs to be set at 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2.

Soften the butter and beat until soft and pale, now add the sugar and beat well until it is all blended.

In a measuring jug beat the four eggs and begin to pour them into the mixture a little at a time, beating constantly.  If the mixture begins to curdle add a tablespoon of flour and keep beating until it goes back to a smooth consistency.

Add the flour, mixed spice and cinnamon, and using a metal spoon gently fold into the mixture.  Add the fruit and the chopped nuts.  Using the metal spoon continue to fold in gently.  If the mixture for some reason seems dry or heavy, add 2 tbsp milk.

Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and smooth the top with the back of the spoon making a slight dome in the centre.  This will help the cake to bake level.

Bake in the centre of the oven 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2 for 3 ½  hours.  I either write down the time I put the cake in or use the timer.  It’s important to get the timing right.  After 3 1/2 hours check the cake with a skewer.  If it comes out clean then it’s done, there is a lot of brandy-laden fruit in the cake so I look closely that it’s not fruit sticking to the skewer.

When the cake is done do not remove from the tin but allow it to sit until it is completely cold and then unwrap.  The cake will keep for three months but it needs to be wrapped in greaseproof paper and then foil and tightly sealed.  I then place the cake in a plastic bag, which is tied, and then into an airtight container.

I prefer to bake my cake in the middle of November to give it some time to mature.  I do not feed the cake with brandy after I have baked it.  I prefer to use the brandy to pump up the fruit.   I then cover the cake with marzipan and fondant icing.

I have also made this without marzipan and icing and instead have decorated the top with whole almonds and cherries, which I put on just before putting the cake in the oven.

If covered in the marzipan and icing it will stand being left on display which I do once it has had it final decoration but once its been cut I store it in an airtight container.  It will keep for ages like this.

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Sometimes a simple sponge cake is just not enough.  Not grown up enough.  A good old Victoria sponge doesn’t quite go with an espresso but this is a cake that does.  Its rich, moist, decadent and indulgent, and if that’s not enough it’s flourless.

Everytime I make this cake I just can’t quite believe that it will work.  A cake without flour seems odd.  It never to let me down.  Once it goes into the oven that’s about it, there is no filling, nothing more to add save a dusting of icing sugar and its ready to serve.

When I first started making a version of this recipe years ago I kept thinking I was not getting the recipe right or rather there was a flaw in the recipe because each time I removed the cake from the oven the top was cracked and the middle gooey.  I came to realise that either it was a happy mistake or it was meant to be like that.

This has to be my favourite of chocolate cake recipes.  It is pure chocolate cake heaven.    Can be served on its own with a dusting of icing sugar over the top, or as we like it, with a large spoon of clotted cream.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

200gms Dark Chocolate

100gms/3 ½ oz butter cut into small cubes

4 large eggs

185gms/ 6 ½ oz icing sugar

19 cm non stick cake tin

Method

Put the oven on to Gas Mark 4/180C/350F.

Break the chocolate into a bowl.  Add to this the butter.  Place the bowl over a saucepan of hot water without the bottom of the bowl touching the water.  Leave this on a low heat, making sure the chocolate melts gently.  As soon as the chocolate and butter have completely melted remove from the heat.

Separate the eggs.  Set aside the whites.

Whisk the egg yolks and all the icing sugar until pale and creamy.

Fold the melted chocolate and butter into the egg and icing sugar mixture.

Now whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form and then gently fold them into the chocolate mixture, making sure you have completely combined the whites with the chocolate mixture.

Carefully pour mixture into cake tin and place in the oven for 30 minutes.  All ovens are different, I tend to allow an extra 5 minutes if using my old gas cooker.

When cooked the cake will have a cracked top and be still gooey in the middle.  Dust with icing sugar and serve.

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