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 😊.

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 Originally made in tall fluted round pans, it is now commonly shaped in a loaf tin.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.

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..

Bara brith and some sparkly windows!

I made this loaf of bara brith after a particularly tiresome day at work, when I just wanted something sweet and tasty and easy to make. Bara brith is Welsh for speckled bread and was traditionally a yeasted bread. This is a quick version with baking powder as the raising agent.

The recipe comes from the recipe book that accompanied the very first series of the Great British Bake Off in 2010. I bought a second hand copy recently and it is full of classic recipes like this. It’s not just sweet baking either, there are recipes for raised pies and savoury tarts.

Bara brith is very good sliced and spread with some butter, and maybe a nice chunk of English cheese. It was so good a couple of weeks ago that this morning I made another loaf. It has to be the quickest bake ever to mix up. The night before I soaked the fruit in hot black tea, and weighed out the flour. I also prepared the tin with baking parchment. In the morning it took literally 5 minutes to stir it up and get it in the oven.

Recipe for Welsh Bara Brith

Ingredients:

250g mixed dried fruit

100g dark brown muscovado sugar

225ml strong hot tea (no milk!)

A good pinch of salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 large egg, beaten

250g self raising flour (or plain with 3 level tsp baking powder)

Method

Put the dried fruit and sugar in a large heatproof bowl and pour over the hot tea. Stir well. Cover the bowl with a clean dry tea towel and leave to soak for at least 6 hours, or overnight.

When ready to bake heat the oven to 160 deg C / 325deg F / Gas Mark 3. Add the salt, spices and beaten egg to the dried fruit mixture and stir well. Then add the flour and mix well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and bake for about an hour until a skewer or cake tester comes out clean. Leave to stand on a wire rack for 15 minutes to firm up before turning out. Leave to cool completely before slicing.

My modifications! I used mixed spice instead of just cinnamon, and increased the amount to half a teaspoon. The second time around I used a mixture of flours: half white, quarter white rye and quarter spelt. The second loaf was even better than the first. I think this maybe because I soaked the fruit overnight rather than for just an hour or so the first time.

I think bara brith makes a very good substitute for Christmas cake – and it’s much easier to make!

And now for the Christmas sparkle! A local neighbourhood has organised a Christmas advent window display and around 200 households joined in. So one evening I went for a little run round what is known (by the estate agents!) as ‘Olde Hanwell’ and looked at the lights. I really need to go again as there will be more now!

This was so clever – the sleigh moved to and fro across the window!
This window was full of seasonal jokes!
The photo does not do justice to this really pretty display
And finally … this house never disappoints! A 5k run took a very long time – so many beautiful windows and gardens!

There seem to be a lot more lights everywhere this year. I think people have felt that we all need cheering up. I certainly had a lovely time looking at these beautiful window and garden displays. My next running plan is Christmas morning – a quick 5k perhaps round the park. And another evening run to see all the lights again at the weekend!

I hope your Christmas is happy as it can be, given the circumstances we all find ourselves in.

Buttered popcorn cookies – and Sunday run day

WordPress is the blog platform I use, and while it’s only one of many of course, the variety of blogs on it is vast. Sometimes I like to browse around them, and occasionally I find one that seems interesting, and then I follow it! Just like many of my lovely readers have done with my little blog – thank you!

This recipe came from one such blog, GreatEightFriends. As the name suggests it’s a blog written by a group of friends who entertain amongst themselves and share their recipes. This recipe sounded so straightforward I thought I had to try it. I’ve never thought of popcorn as a cookie ingredient before, but it really works! You can find the recipe by clicking here.

I did make a little adjustment- as usual! I added about half a cup of chopped toasted pecans. I think it was definitely an enhancement, but I’m sure the cookies are also delicious without them.

When I added the four cups of popcorn to the cookie mixture, plus the chopped nuts, I did wonder whether I’d overdone it and the mixture would actually hold together. But a determined bit of spatula work and it did all stick together. Using a scoop (like an ice cream scoop) made it easy to get the cookies the same size, and also helped to keep them in a round shape.

Dough mixture – crammed with popcorn and nuts!

The salty sweet flavour traditionally associated with popcorn is really yummy, and the soft cookie with the crunchy texture of the popcorn and nuts is a fab combination. They look attractive too with the bits of popcorn poking through the tops.

Altogether a very easy recipe with great results.

As today is Sunday I went out for a longer run this morning as I usually do. My run today was a virtual 10k for the Osterley 10k (organised by Ealing Half marathon) which would normally have been yesterday at Osterley Park. Of course that was cancelled for 2020 which is sad, but we seem to be getting used to all that now. For me the Osterley 10k has been the real start to the Christmas season in the last few years. I’ve done the run with friends from Quit the Gym in the morning – and then rushed home to get changed for a Questors choir dress rehearsal for our Christmas concert in the evening. Both events cancelled for this year. Let’s hope that things are back closer to normal in 2021.

This year the virtual run is raising money for the Ealing Food Bank. More and more families and individuals in the UK are living with food insecurity, or food poverty. I am thankful that my family have enough to eat, and I don’t have to worry about whether I can afford the heating and the food bills. Especially at this time of year, when everyone is thinking about spending money on special food and gifts, it is very hard for those families on the brink. If you can maybe try and support your local food bank if you don’t already?

Sunday catch up – two bakes in one post!

One thing about writing this blog is that it is a great way to procrastinate and put off the boring jobs that really need to be done. Conversely it can also be difficult to find the time to write sometimes because of all those jobs – and work, and other life things…

So here is a quick update on two baking projects I’ve done over the last ten days or so.

First I took part in a little lockdown mini bake off via Zoom and WhatsApp with my niece L. (in north London) and not-niece G. (in Paris). We decided to make something not too complicated, but not too straightforward either. A Battenberg cake was a good choice. We all used the same recipe from the BBC website here. I made an orange version, adding the zest of an orange, and a little juice. I coloured one half of the mixture orange. We managed to have a chat, and get the mixture into the oven in the allotted 40 minutes of a free Zoom session! The we carried on via WhatsApp and photos. For some strange reason L.’s cake – which was the most beautiful pink – collapsed as it cooled, and she decided to abandon the marzipan coating altogether. G. and I continued with the trimming of the cakes and covering with marzipan. I stuck my cakes together with a very fine cut marmalade to continue the orange theme. If you are a fan of marzipan then you should definitely try a Battenberg!

Here’s the ingredients. I couldn’t get the lid off the food colouring bottle and ended up stabbing a hole in the cap with a sharp pointed knife!
I used baking paper to create a barrier so that both mixtures could be baked in one tin.
Trimmings are cook’s perks!
Slightly wonky but I was really pleased with the way it turned out, and the way it tasted.
Here is G.’s Battenberg – looks yummy!

Second bake of the week was the following Friday evening. I decided that lemon cake was what I wanted. I was actually googling blondies and found a recipe that was called Lemon Brownies. Now to me that sounds a bit strange, because a brownie is brown because it’s made of chocolate. So how can it be lemon? The recipe looked like a fairly basic lemon sponge, so I thought I can’t really go wrong here. And I was absolutely right! It came out light and fluffy with a lovely lemon flavour. Really great recipe which you can find on this website. It’s very straightforward and the result was dee-lish-us!

And just in case you think that I only make cake – this week I’ve also made some kimchi, and I’m slowly perfecting my favourite dal – makhani dal, which I made in honour of Diwali this weekend.

I am a big fan of naturally fermented food and kimchi is so good! On so many levels…
This is really the Queen of dals (just don’t think about how much butter it contains 😂)

And – I’m still running. Today I ran 10 miles (16km) between Isleworth and Kingston along the river Thames. The weather wasn’t that great, but who cares? The trees were beautiful, and there was lots to see, including several people going for a swim in the river!

Beautiful autumn colours and quite a lot of muddy puddles!

Another week of lockdown is over. Sometimes it doesn’t really feel like a lockdown at all, when there are so many people out and about. A friend sent a photo of a line of people waiting 20 minutes to get out of Richmond Park! Mad.

I hope you are all well, and finding things to do at home, or outside.

A classic Victoria sponge

After recent shenanigans with vegan chia eggs I thought I would go back to a classic sponge. No strange or fancy ingredients here, just straightforward flour, sugar, eggs and butter. Plus a little vanilla.

My husband’s grandmother used to make a jam sponge pretty much every Saturday. It was wonderful! She also used to make the best rice pudding I have ever eaten almost every Sunday. I think I can match the cake, but I will never be able to match the rice pudding.

In case you hadn’t worked it out the Victoria sponge (also known as a Victoria sandwich cake) was an invention of the 19th century. In fact it wasn’t a thing at all until Alfred Bird (famous for Bird’s custard powder) invented baking powder in 1843 – a combination of bicarbonate of soda (alkali) and a weak acid – in the case of the baking powder I used this was sodium pyrophosphate. Together they cause a reaction that makes the cake rise.

Of course there was yeast before baking powder, and there was sponge cake before baking powder. But those sponge cakes were made from eggs, flour and sugar – no fat. The rising effect was the result of beating the eggs to incorporate air. What is known as a Victoria sponge is in fact a variation of a pound cake; the use of baking powder lightens it to a sponge texture.

Food writer Felicity Cloake has, of course, written about the Victoria sponge here. It’s an interesting overview of technique. I used to follow Delia Smith’s one bowl method, and use a soft margarine like Flora. It was very successful. But I do think that the best texture comes from creaming the butter (yes I used butter today) and the sugar together until soft and light in colour.

Today I used Nigella’s recipe from Domestic Goddess, but didn’t do it in the food processor. I used an electric hand whisk. The secret is in the creaming, and then whisking those eggs in really really thoroughly. Nigella’s recipe also adds in a small amount of cornflour. I have done this in other recipes and like the texture it gives; Felicity Cloake on the other hand doesn’t!

Once baked and cooled I sandwiched the two cakes together with raspberry jam. I used up the last of the homemade (by Viv) jam that she gave me when we met at the Circus last year. Remember those days? When people could sit squashed together in a big tent? Laughing and breathing all over each other?! They’ll come again folks…

It is definitely worth using a good quality jam here as it is one of the main ingredients. Some people also add whipped cream, or even a buttercream. I prefer just plain jam.

Caster sugar or icing sugar to sprinkle on the top? Caster sugar got my vote, and also my husband’s. Cake for breakfast? Well it was closer to brunch – almost lunch – really. And anyway why not?! Cake can cheer a wet Saturday like nothing else can.

This cake did not disappoint. ‘Like walking down memory lane’ said Simon.

It was a classic, plain cake – enhanced to more-than-everyday status by the delicious jam. And not a chia egg in sight..

(If you want the recipe let me know in the comments and I can write it up.)

UPDATE – THE RECIPE

Prepare 2 x 21 cm sandwich tins – grease and flour, or line with baking parchment. Heat the oven to Mark 4 or 180 deg C.

Cream together 225g softened butter with 225g caster sugar.

Beat in 4 large eggs one by one, and also mix in 1 tsp vanilla. If the mixture starts to curdle add a little of the flour mixture between eggs. Sift together 200g self raising flour, 25g cornflour and an extra tsp of baking powder if doing it as a one bowl method. Fold in the flour mixture carefully to the egg/sugar/ butter mixture. If the mixture is stiff add a little milk (2-4tbsp).

Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins, and bake for about 25 minutes. The cake should be coming away from the sides of the tin, and if you put your ear close you shouldn’t be able to hear the cake ‘singing’ too much. Just a little whisper..

Cool on a rack for about 10-12 minutes, then remove from the tins and let cool properly.

Sandwich the two cakes with plenty of jam.

Enjoy with a cup of tea!

Carrot cupcakes with a cheesecake topping

I’ve been away the last few days in a self catering place with a pretty well equipped kitchen. That is always a good thing, and at the moment when a lot of us don’t much feel like eating out, it’s essential.

Earlier this week episode two of the new season of The Great British Bake Off was aired. So far I’m a little bit lukewarm, although I like the presenter combo of Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding. I am not so much a fan of the extended time. However it was suggested to me that cake would be an ideal accompaniment to viewing. I’m certainly not going to argue about that! For a short while I toyed with buying cake… but not for long – eating commercial fondant fancies, as lovely as they are, doesn’t seem right while watching Bake Off!

So. What to make, when the not-at-home kitchen was somewhat short on tins etc? As it happened I had brought my muffin tin. And some basic supplies like flour, sugar and eggs. Carrot cake was suggested, and I immediately though of a lovely recipe I know from a book called The Best of Betterbaking.com. It has the cream cheese topping that is traditional with carrot cakes baked in rather than as a frosting. I really prefer this, as the baked in cream cheese is much less sickly. BUT! I didn’t have the recipe! I couldn’t find the recipe on the website, as it was behind a paywall. What shall I do?! Son to the rescue – he managed to find a great recipe on YouTube: Carrot Cake Bars with Cream Cheese Swirl by Everyday Gourmet Blakely. The recipe looked very similar to what I could remember and had straightforward ingredients.

Blakely makes the recipe in a 9” x 9” tin, which was not available. So I made 12 cakes in the muffin tin. At home I have a gas oven, and this oven was an electric fan oven, which does work in a slightly different way. It also had a glass door so I could watch them as they cooked! I really did feel like the Bake Off contestants, anxiously watching the cakes get very close to spilling out all over the tin! (Although at least I didn’t have to lie on the floor like they do.)

With all due modesty, and credit to the recipe, these cakes were an absolute hit! The cream cheese baked in topping was delicious. And the cakes were very light. Deceivingly light, it was easy to eat more than one.

RECIPE (makes 12 or a 9” x 9” pan)

Prepare the pan or put cupcake/muffin liners in the tin. Put the oven on at 350 deg or Mark 4.

Mix together the following dry ingredients:

1cup flour; 1 tsp baking soda; 1/2 tsp baking powder; 1/4 tsp salt; 1 & 1/2 tsp cinnamon – I used pumpkin spice which is mixed spice.

In another bowl whisk together the following:

2 eggs; 1 cup sugar; 1/2 cup veg oil; 1 tsp vanilla extract.

You also need 1 & 1/2 cups of grated carrot at the ready. And if you like you can also add some walnuts and/or sultanas or raisins.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well. Then mix in the carrot and nuts etc. Put the mixture in the pan/ muffin cups.

Make the topping. Mix together:

8 oz (225g) of cream cheese (I used quite a fancy French cream cheese with salt, but any cream cheese would be fine); 1 egg; 1/3 cup of sugar; a little vanilla and/or grated lemon zest. ( I actually didn’t do this and the flavour was still yum.)

Put a dollop on the cake mix and very gently swirl it in a bit, using a a skewer or a thin knife. Bake for about 20-30 mins – I think this depends quite a bit on the oven!

I’ve written out this recipe mainly so that I can easily refer to it again myself, but I hope you try it too, because it’s definitely worth it!

Chocolate-malt birthday cupcakes

It is lovely Georgia-in-Paris’s birthday very soon. Today her Dad and her Not-Dad are travelling to France to deliver her cake! Really! 😉 Well not exactly. That’s not the actual reason for the journey to be honest. But it seemed a good opportunity/excuse to make cake. I did in fact make this recipe a couple of years ago for Georgia so I hope she still likes it. It is an adaptation of a great recipe in The Best of Better Baking.com.

The original recipe is called Moist and Mellow Yellow Birthday Cake or Cupcakes, and I have made it as is and it was very good. This version was inspired by Maltesers. Apparently in the US they are called Whoppers. The flavour is malted chocolate. I really love this flavour. Last time I was in New York we went to a great luncheonette – Lexington Candy Shop – and I had a chocolate malted milk shake which was The Best! If you are ever in this neighbourhood make sure you check this place out – it is so cool!

I love Maltesers in a box. It reminds me of going to the cinema or the theatre. Anyone else?

The recipe turns out a moist cake with a good texture, light but not too fluffy. I think this is partly the milk, and partly the addition of cornflour.

I made 6 giant cupcakes and 8 smaller regular sized ones. You could get 24 cupcakes or one 20cm (8 inch) cake. A cake for any occasion really.
The original version

Recipe (my version):

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups caster sugar

3/4 cup (6 oz or 170g) softened butter

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup (125 ml) warm water

1/2 cup (125 ml) warm milk

2 tbsp malt extract, stirred into the milk/water mixture

2 1/4 cups plain flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

2 tbsp cornflour

1 tbsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

Method (my way!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees or Gas Mark 4. Get your tins ready – 2 x 8” or 9” pans; or a 9” x 13” pan; or 2 dozen muffin cups; or a combination. Grease or line with baking parchment or paper muffin liners, or whatever you usually do to stop the cake sticking in the pan.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each.

In a jug combine the milk, water, malt extract and vanilla.

Mix the wet ingredients into the creamed mixture.

In another bowl sieve together all the dry ingredients.

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring until mixed together really well.

Put the cake batter into whatever tins and pans etc you are using.

Bake for: round cakes 25-35 minutes; large cake 35-45 minutes; cupcakes for 18-25 minutes. The tops should spring back when gently pressed.

Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes. When cool ice with your chosen icing/ frosting. For these cupcakes I used a simple chocolate ganache – a bar of dark chocolate (180g) chopped and melted into 3/4 cup or about 200ml of double cream brought to a simmer and removed from the heat. Stir until melted, leave to cool then whisk. When it’s spreading consistency use to cover the tops of the cakes. And finally – decorate with Maltesers!

These are the giant cupcakes that went over to Paris.
Happy Early Birthday Georgia!
These are the regular size cupcakes that stayed in London. 🙂
I sprinkled these with a few gold flakes.

If you try this recipe I would love to know how it turned out. Either the original vanilla or the chocolate or maybe something else! It’s going to be another stormy weekend in the UK – stay in and bake!