Cherry and walnut cake

What do you do when you’re awake at 4am (again…)? Well why not make a cake! Recently I have started following a great blog called Eating with the Ancestors where the writer is gradually unearthing her great grandmothers’ recipe books, researching their lives, and cooking some of the recipes. The latest recipe was for a pound cake. Pound cake was traditionally made with a pound of flour, butter, eggs and sugar – plus any flavourings you like. It’s a versatile recipe and can be used as a blueprint for many different cakes. A couple of weeks ago I made a seed cake which was basically a version of pound cake with caraway seeds. Caraway is quite an old fashioned flavour, and took me right back to childhood, as seed cake was something my grandmother made.

Seed cake – flavoured with caraway seeds

Nowadays a cake made with a pound of flour (about 450g) would be pretty enormous (or perhaps they made two?) and it’s more usual to find a recipe based around half a pound, or 200-220g. Looking in the cupboard I found some glacé cherries and some mixed peel, plus some walnuts. I used this recipe as the inspiration and tweaked it a bit. I added chopped peel, a few more cherries than stated (might as well use up the pot!) and also a couple of tablespoons of ground almonds for texture as well as flavour. And I used butter not margarine – again for flavour.

Top tips: if your eggs are straight from the fridge it’s a good idea to bring them to room temperature – they beat up better. If you don’t have time for that then put them in a bowl of tap hot water (you don’t want to cook them) for a few minutes – while you get everything else ready. The texture of the cake batter should be quite soft but not runny. To see if you have to add a bit more liquid – milk in this recipe – get a good dollop of mixture on your wooden spoon and tap sharply on the side of the bowl. If the mixture plops off nicely then you are good to go. If it’s stubborn then add a little more milk. Just a little or it will turn into pancake batter!

I’ve made cherry cake before – see the post and recipe here – and sometimes just cherries is what you want. Today I thought it would be nice to have some walnuts too. One of the advantages of a pound cake, compared to a sponge, is that they tend to keep moist for longer. They’re also denser than a sponge because they contain more flour proportionally. They’re ‘store cupboard’ cakes, and in my mind a good every day sort of cake. Not that I eat cake every day!

This type of cake is good with a cup of tea or coffee. Madeira cake, which again is based on a pound cake flavoured with lemon, was enjoyed with a glass of Madeira wine and was popular in the nineteenth century.

I think the cherries may have sunk to the bottom.

Once you’ve got the hang of the basic recipe it is easy to make it your own with whatever you like, or whatever is to hand. And it is such an easy recipe there’s no reason not to try it this very weekend!

Cherry-berry pie

Two years ago I wrote about a cherry pie I made with morello cherries from my friend Margaret’s garden. I can’t believe it’s 2 years ago! This week Margaret kindly gave me some cherries again, and I made another pie. What is it about pie? Even the word pie is a good word, it feels warm to say. It conjures images of wholesomeness, of something that is more than just pastry and filling, more than just good to eat. Pie is going to make you happy, always.

Mmm cherries 🍒

I made a bigger pie this time, and augmented the cherries with strawberries and a few blackcurrants. I made the same quick flaky pastry using a mix of vegetarian fats this time – butter, Stork and Cookeen – what I had in the fridge really. No lard! Because I dislike overly sweetened food I didn’t add too much sugar, and the filling was pleasingly tart.

It was a good combination!
The pie says “eat me – and you will be happy!” Believe the pie – what it says is true.

Served with vanilla ice cream pie is one of life’s small joys. Homemade pie is even better. Fresh pie, just still warm, crispy pastry and juicy filling. Anything better?!

Thank you Margaret for the cherries, they always seem to inspire a pie!

Run for a bun!

Yesterday afternoon when I got home from running I decided I fancied a bun..I found a recipe for Norwegian Cinnamon Buns in Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess. Now I usually don’t have any problems with recipes from this book, but although I followed the recipe exactly (unusual for me!) the dough was extremely liquid at the beginning. Not just sticky, I can deal with that, but actually so sloppy I had to resort to adding flour. I noticed today that on the website someone has commented on this, and said they use half the amount of milk.. I think I would try with less milk next time too.

How the ones in the recipe book look…
How mine looked..

However, that said – once I had got the dough to the right consistency they worked brilliantly! They did however take longer to bake fully than the recipe said. Perhaps this was because of the larger quantity of dough, or perhaps my dish was a bit smaller than hers, or perhaps it was because I used a glass dish instead of metal because I was too lazy to delve in the cupboard and the glass one was to hand…

Before..

And I forgot to line the dish with baking paper too – although I did grease it thank goodness. I don’t think the buns would have been easy to remove if I hadn’t done at least that bit!

There is something very comforting about the aroma of cinnamon, even more so when intertwined with the amazing smell of baking yeasted dough. Another comment on the website mentions cardamom, which is a very Scandinavian flavour, and would be very good here I think.

And after. Not quite as pretty as the picture in the book… but very tasty and that’s what matters right?

Baking with yeast is very satisfying and is honestly so easy. Yeasted dough is much more forgiving than pastry I think, as you can’t really overwork it. And can there be anything more yummy than a warm, fresh bun and a cup of coffee/tea? No.

Give it a go and let us know how it turns out!

Nigella’s Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake

My rhubarb plant is sprouting crazily as usual. It seems to be an early version as other members of my family are still waiting for their rhubarb to get big enough to pick. Nigella is right when she says that the early ‘forced’ rhubarb makes for a prettier cake, studded with pink chunks. One day I will get round to buying a rhubarb forcer and giving it a go myself. In the meantime I like the ordinary stuff, even it isn’t as pink and sweet!

Nigella’s recipe comes from How to be a Domestic Goddess. I am too lazy I’m afraid to write it out. Here is a photo of the page:

A less lazy blogger than me has written the recipe out here

The cornmeal gives a pleasing texture to this cake, contrasting with the soft and juicy rhubarb chunks. I added a little ginger as well as the cinnamon, and I think I would emphasise this flavour a bit more next time. In fact, while searching for the cake online I found a very nice sounding version at this website. Added almonds and spices such as cardamom, plus little chunks of crystallised ginger sound delicious! Another flavour that goes well with rhubarb is orange – which is also very much in season as the moment. I think I’m going to have try another iteration next weekend!

Even as it stands, plain and simple, this cake is very good. As Nigella points out it is a versatile cake, good for pudding, teatime and all other occasions in between and beyond. Plain and unadorned, or accompanied by cream (muscat-mascarpone cream if you are Nigella) or custard, rhubarb cake is moist and delicious served any way.

My cake took quite a bit longer to cook than recipe stated – I would advise testing regularly so that you don’t take it out of the oven too early.

Do you have a favourite rhubarb recipe? I’d love to know! Or perhaps you can’t stand it?! Give it a chance and try this cake 😊.

New shoes and chocolate magic cake!

So – first. The chocolate magic cake. It seems I was definitely not the only person to have the idea that magic cake would be pretty good in chocolate, because when I searched the internet there were loads of versions! I found a lovely one at this website, with the amazing name of Unicorns in the Kitchen. And let me tell you – it is GOOD! If you haven’t tried a magic cake yet you really must soon. Like this week. Actually I’m really glad I found that website because it turns out that: “Unicorns in the Kitchen is your one-stop source for all of the best Persian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean recipes.” Which is brilliant because I absolutely love this type of food. And now I’ve found another source of great recipes! Like this one for green lentil soup. Did you know that lentils and pulses are great at regulating blood glucose, keeping it balanced and level. Those glucose highs (and subsequent lows and crashes) are kept at bay by eating these complex carbs, which are also really good sources of protein.

Just look at those chocolatey layers. Yum.

Second subject – new shoes! Not too long ago I posted about my many running shoes. Well, I have had a major clear out since then, and got rid of several pairs of old shoes, and a couple of pairs that were actually not that worn out, but just didn’t fit or feel right. They all got recycled so it’s ok. Then I realised that I didn’t buy a single pair of new running shoes in 2020. And then I found out that I could get 30% off Adidas shoes with a code. Nothing to stop me. A few days later: I’m running in the lovely new bouncy shoes that are Adidas Solar Glide, and trying to avoid the muddy puddles because I don’t want to get them dirty! And I have another pair of Adidas Supernovas, but these are more summer shoes because they have mesh uppers which will keep my feet cool in hot weather.

Lovely new shoes!

Although I’ve worn other makes of shoes in the past, and do still have a great pair from Decathlon, I find that generally Adidas seem to fit my feet well. The best advice I ever heard, and what I advise people who ask, is that your shoes (any, not just running) should feel comfortable right from the start. There shouldn’t be any need to ‘wear’ or ‘break’ them in. If they don’t feel good when you first put them on then I would suggest think very carefully whether they’re the right ones before handing over your money.

Here are the Supernovas, ready for some warmer weather.

My new shoes took me on a 14km (8.6 miles) run this morning down to the River Thames and back. I have been trying to increase the distance on my long runs, because in a couple of months I have an actual real life run in Suffolk that was postponed last year. It looks as though it may be able to happen (fingers crossed) at the end of April. I entered for the long route which is 24km – yikes! It is possible however to change your mind before the day, or even on the day, so I may end up doing a shorter distance.

Half way at the river. It was quite cold today and a bit grey, as you can see.

I have also entered the Queen of the Suburbs challenge again! You may remember that this was a definite highlight of 2020, and I wrote about it here. This time there are 13 different parks to visit, in April. I can’t wait, and have already printed off the map and begun to think about how I’ll get to them all.

The days are getting noticeably longer now which is great. It’s nice to be able to run after work before it gets dark. Just a little warmer would be nice too! Although we’re not quite out of the woods yet it feels like a positive step having a real race in the diary.

Have a great week, and let me know if you try the magic cake!

Magic Custard Cake

One day recently I was pottering around the internet, as you do, clicking semi randomly and following links from place to place, when this recipe from Anne McDonald in Australia caught my eye. Unusual, and yet also familiar as it reminded me of an old school pudding from Delia Smith: Lemon surprise pudding. Delia’s recipe is in her Complete Cookery Course, originally published in 1978. I found a similar one (same name too) on the BBC site by Jane Grigson here. It’s not quite the same as the Delia one and I haven’t tried it. Anyway the idea of a cake mixture that separates while cooking into a sauce or a custard is not totally new to me. I’ve never thought of it as a cake before though, just as a hot pudding. It’s really good as a hot pudding by the way!

So the magic of the cake is that the mixture separates itself into layers – sponge on top and custard below. Since cake and custard is a classic combo (think of all those school dinners with their delicious puddings!) I just had to give it a go. You need 500ml (or a pint) of milk, and since there was a bit of a milk lake in the fridge it seemed the time was right.

It’s a straightforward process making the batter, although I would recommend an electric whisk for the egg yolks and sugar, and the egg whites. Don’t be put off by the very liquid state of the cake batter – it does literally pour into the tin. It is supposed to do that and it will bake into a proper cake.

Gentle whisking of the egg whites into the mixture helps keep it fluffy.
Before trimming
Edges trimmed off (yes I ate the other edge 😂)
You can see the 3 layers here; sponge, soft custard and a slightly firmer layer at the bottom.

While I was mixing I thought about making a version based on that other school dinner classic – chocolate sponge and chocolate custard… Do you think it would work? I think it probably would, so I might have a go at trying that and see what happens!

Magic custard cake – I’m pretty pleased with the results!

Chocolate babka – mmm yum!

Babka is a rich yeasted cross between a cake and a pastry and a sweet bread traditionally filled with sweet fillings such as cinnamon and sugar, fruit, nuts, or more lately chocolate. It originated in the Jewish communities of Poland and the Ukraine, and was often made and baked along with challah, which was the base dough. Originally made in tall fluted round pans, it is now commonly shaped in a loaf tin.

There are recipes all over everywhere for babka, with every kind of filling you can possibly imagine from traditional dried fruit to savoury. When I looked up ‘traditional Polish babka’ I found a very different recipe from those of more UK and USA traditions. This one from A Family Feast is more of a sweet dough with a fruit filling. It looks very different, but equally as delicious, as Paul Hollywood’s version of chocolate babka which I found here on the Great British Bake Off website.

Although it says ‘needs skill’ under the difficulty rating I honestly feel that anyone who has made even a basic yeasted loaf, and can read a recipe carefully could do this. The recipe is very well written so no guesswork is required, and I even managed it without a stand mixer! I used the dough hooks on my hand mixer until they couldn’t cope, and then I mixed and kneaded the old fashioned way – with my hands!

Making the chocolate filling- butter, sugar and chocolate with cocoa powder mixed in once it’s all melted.
A shiny ball of dough. It’s quite sticky at the beginning but don’t get disheartened and add more flour – as you knead the dough pulls itself together.
Chocolate mixture and nuts spread on the rolled out dough before rolling up. I didn’t have any hazelnuts so I used toasted chopped walnuts.
Rolled up and cut lengthways ready to twist together.
In the tin ready to rise.
Waste not want not – these are the cut off ends of the rolls!
Cook’s perks

The hardest part of making yeasted dough things is the waiting – for the dough to rise. Especially as it can take longer then you think because the eggs and butter slow down the process. But hey. It’s a very cold Sunday and there is nothing much else to do. I’ve even finished watching The Serpent, which was excellent. Luckily and handily there was a 6 month old baby to play with! That makes the time go quickly.

My attempt at running every day in February (see previous posts) went out of the window yesterday – following my Covid vaccination on Friday, I felt pretty awful for most of Saturday and running was out of the question. However I feel fine today, and managed 11km along the Grand Union Canal, which was great (but very cold).

The warming smells of chocolate babka floated round the house and were very cheering. Even better was the sweet, but not too sweet, yummy deliciousness of the finished thing! So, so worth the wait.

Nigella’s Emergency Brownies

Emergency! SOS! Brownies required! It was a Saturday night in January – cold, dark, wet and mid-lockdown. What better time for an emergency brownie? I saw Nigella making these last week on her tv show, and immediately looked up the recipe which you can find by clicking this link. Sometimes it’s good to have a normal sized cake or pan of brownies, enough to keep you going for a few days (well, a couple anyway) or give away. But sometimes it’s better to have ‘just enough’, which is what this recipe provides perfectly.

It’s easy, quick and yummy. I can think of plenty of other ‘emergency’ occasions when this recipe will be exactly what is needed.

All ingredients are likely to be at hand. Important for emergencies.

We served it with vanilla ice cream which was exactly right.

The recipe serves 2-4.

Emergency over. Chocolate fix sorted. Another Saturday night with nowhere to go but the sofa and the television (The Masked Singer is a bit addictive) feels quite a bit better with a proper dessert.

Marmalade sandwiches – with a twist

The most famous marmalade sandwiches are those of the renowned Paddington Bear whose Aunt Lucy introduced them to him in Darkest Peru before he came to London to live with the Browns. Paddington almost always had an emergency marmalade sandwich under his hat. This seems like a good idea to me, although I imagine it might make your hair (or fur) a bit sticky.

Here in London it is the height of marmalade making season. Which is great when you are in a second period of self isolation. Plenty of time for making marmalade with those bitter Seville oranges that have such a short season. There is really nothing like a pot of homemade marmalade. It is ALWAYS better than shop bought. And everyone’s marmalade is different, so swaps are a voyage of discovery. This year I have so far made some traditional chunky marmalade, and some which is finer cut with the addition of bergamot. Bergamot is a yellow-green citrus fruit with a distinctive flavour. It’s quite a strong flavour so I only used one per kilo of fruit. For my final batch I intend to make a dark whisky flavoured version.

A friend and fellow marmalade maker told me last week about the Marmalade Awards, a truly wonderful institution, and as eccentrically English as it is possible to be. There are categories for all sorts, including a special category for marmalade makers who also happen to be bellringers! Entries are open until the beginning of February, so there’s still time to send in your pot. The entry fee goes directly to a local hospice and they have raised over £250,000 so far which is wonderful.

Today I revisited a marmalade sandwich I invented when I was about 15. I can’t remember the circumstances of the invention but it has remained a culinary highlight of my life. You need a good bread – this is true of any sandwich of course – and today I had a white sourdough (not homemade I’m afraid). Spread one slice with chunky peanut butter. Spread the other with butter and marmalade, preferably chunky cut and homemade, but any really good marmalade will suffice – and do not skimp on either! Finally lay on slices of top quality well cooked bacon. It has to be proper dry cured bacon, smoked or unsmoked, whatever you prefer. Today I had smoked streaky from the most amazing butcher The Ginger Pig. Carefully put the slices together, eat and enjoy! It’s a Taste Sensation as we like to say here in Hanwell.

While googling marmalade sandwiches I found a rather intriguing recipe for a marmalade sandwich cocktail here. It needs a particular gin, and also Aperol. I don’t have either in the house at the moment, but I will certainly bookmark that page for when I’m allowed out of the house again. I love the fact it’s finished off with finely ground toast crumbs! Although my sandwich was accompanied today by a cup of coffee I rather fancy trying it with this cocktail one day.

Last year I wrote a blog post about marmalade which featured Nigella’s chocolate orange cake, containing marmalade. This has proved one of my most looked at posts. It is one of the best cake recipes I know, and so easy. I think it may have to be made again this weekend. Who knows? I may even use a pot of homemade this time!

A loaf of bread

It occurred to me that although this blog is all about baking, (and yes, mainly about cake), I have never written about baking bread. Over the years I’ve made a lot of bread. It seems to be something that goes in phases for me; I get very enthusiastic and then go off it again until the next time. I’ve made bread in a breadmaker, bread by hand, light loaves and heavy (sometimes by design!) loaves, proper sourdough loaves and general everyday loaves.

Soda bread

In the last month or so I have made a few loaves. I found my copy of Dough by Richard Bertinet and made a couple of different loaves from there. First I made a caraway rye loaf, and then a classic white pain de mie or everyday loaf. Bread making is honestly nowhere near as difficult or complicated as it is sometimes made out to be. And it is very satisfying too.

Rye and caraway
White bread

This week I made an easy loaf – non yeasted soda bread. This was inspired by two things/ people: first, my son Tom who makes pretty much all his own bread. He had a problem in the first lockdown when there was a major shortage of yeast, and then flour. He turned to making soda bread, with any flour he could get. Second, the butcher near us sells proper Irish coarse wholemeal flour for the authentic flavour. I learned today that soft wheat (as opposed to the hard stuff that is used for yeasted breads) is the only kind that really grows in Ireland and that is one reason why soda bread is a big thing there.

There are lots of recipes for soda bread but I like this one from Delia Smith, which has just five ingredients: flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, buttermilk and water. It takes literally minutes to mix, and is easy to bake. You don’t even need a loaf tin, because it’s shaped by hand into a round. Straight out of the oven it has a great crust, which softens a little overnight. Soda bread is delicious as it is, or buttered. It is also really good toasted with marmalade. Talking of marmalade – tis the season! Hurray! I have some oranges boiling away right now..