Sunday, 6 April 2014

Lemon & Almond Magic Cake

I first saw this recipe for Magic Cake a few months ago and bookmarked it at once to try. It intrigued me as the magic part comes from the cake mix separating out into 3 distinct layers during baking. A top sponge layer, a custard middle layer and a firmer base layer. It looked incredible and I couldn’t wait to try it for myself.

I was a little dubious at first, as my cake batter was more like cake soup. It was very thin and slightly aerated from the addition of whisked egg whites. I was doubtful it would actually transform into anything sliceable.

On removing my cake from the tin I was amazed and delighted to discover that it had in fact separated into layers! I had not 3, but 4 layers in mine. A top sponge, a soft custard, a firmer custard and a more compact base layer. It was so exciting seeing the pool of cake soup transform into something that resembled cake.

The original recipe used only vanilla extract for flavour but I decided to use almond and lemon zest for mine. I love this flavour combination and the lemon gave it a nice freshness. The top sponge layer was very light and fluffy and the custardy filling was amazingly smooth and creamy.

It was tasty in a novel and unique ‘I can’t believe that worked’ sort of way. But looking at the dessert in its entirety, once you have got over the magic of it forming layers, I felt the base layer let it down. It became very firm and rubbery when stored in the fridge overnight and not that pleasant to eat. The airy sponge and silky custard top layers were so soft and light that the dense rubbery base kind of spoilt it. It has potential to be really good though, so don’t be put off trying it for yourself. The fact I used gluten free flour rather than wheat flour (used in the original) may have had something to do with the rubbery base texture. Others may be more successful

Lemon & Almond Magic Cake
(Recipe adapted from Kitchen Nostalgia blog)
4 eggs, separated
1 tbsp water
150g caster sugar
125g butter
115g gluten free plain flour
500ml milk
1 tsp almond extract
Zest of 2 lemons

Preheat the oven to 160C. Grease an 8inch springform tin and line the base with greaseproof paper. Wrap the whole outside base of the tin in a sheet of foil, in case of any leakages during baking.
Separate the eggs, placing the whites and yolks into different bowl. Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form and set aside..
In another bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar, water and almond extract until light and creamy in colour. Add melted butter and continue beating for another minute. Scatter the flour and lemon zest over the top and gently mix together.
Heat the milk until it is only just slightly warm to the touch, then gradually add it to the batter mix, while mixing slowly. It will become very liquid at this stage.
Add the egg whites on top and gently fold them into the liquid batter using a spatula. Mix until they are mostly incorporated, but a few lumps of whisked egg white are fine.
Pour the batter into the tin and bake for about 60 minutes or until the top is golden and puffy looking.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for at least 3 hours. The top may sink slightly on cooling, this is fine. Then carefully remove from the tin and slide the ‘cake’ onto a serving plate using a big palette knife to help you.
Sprinkle the top with icing sugar and serve. You should be able to see a dense base layer, middle custard layer and airy sponge top.

Makes 1 x 8inch custardy cake

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Roasted Veg & Mixed Bean Salad in Lemon Balsamic Dressing

What do you get if you cross some Portobello mushrooms, a large onion, a parsnip, half a butternut squash and 2 red peppers with an oven?....


If you combine that with some sweetcorn, mange tout and a can of mixed beans tossed with a zingy dressing you get a big bowl of tasty fresh loveliness.

Ok, I’ll admit I’m in a bit of strange mood today, but the colour, aroma and flavour of a mountainous pile of hot roasted veg makes me happy.

I decided to use up all the odds and ends from my fridge to create a tasty bean and veg salad. I love roasting the veg first to make them all soft and caramelised. It really intensifies their flavour and you get those wonderful soft sticky caramelised bits too. I roasted them with some garlic and herbs before mixing with some raw salad veg for a bit of extra crunch. This gets tossed together with a can of mixed beans and dressed in lemon zest, juice and balsamic for a zingy finish.

Fresh and oh so bright and colourful it makes me smile just to look at it. I love all the different textures and flavours. From raw and crunchy to soft and caramelised. A delicious mix of sweet, zingy, earthy, juicy, chewy and crisp. Each mouthful is slightly different depending on what your spear on your fork.

Now it’s finally getting a little sunnier its time to embrace salads again, and with only a little effort these can be much more exciting than a limp lettuce leaf and a slice of weeping cucumber. Hurrah for interesting salads!

Roasted Veg & Mixed Bean Salad in Lemon Balsamic Dressing
3 large Portobello mushrooms
2 red peppers
1 parsnip
½ butternut squash
1 large onion
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp dried oregano
Fresh pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
Large handful mange tout
½ mugful of sweetcorn
400g tin mixed beans
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Chop the mushrooms, peppers, and onion into similar sized slices. Cut the butternut squash and parsnip into slightly smaller chunks than the other veg as they are firmer and will take longer to cook. Don’t peel the parsnip or butternut, the skins will cook and soften in the oven and provide a nice texture later on. (Plus it’s all good fibre)
Place the veg onto a large baking tray and scatter over the oregano, garlic powder and a fresh grinding of pepper. Drizzle over the 1tbsp olive oil and mix together with your hands until everything is evenly coated.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Then remove the tray and mix everything together with a spoon. Return to the oven and bake for a further 15-20 minutes until everything is softened.
Leave to cool on the tray until lukewarm.
Scoop the roasted veg into a large bowl, making sure to scrape up any sticky caramelised bits from the base of the tray.
Slice the mange tout into diagonal strips and add to the veg along with the sweetcorn and tin of drained mixed beans.
Grate over the lemon zest, then add the juice, balsamic and extra 1tbsp olive oil. Mix everything together well.
Serve either as a main meal or as an accompaniment to other bits and pieces.
Store in the fridge and make sure you give it a mix whenever you go to eat some, to ensure the dressing doesn’t just sit in the base of the bowl.

Eat and enjoy – preferably in a nice sunny spot, but at your desk tastes good too.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Carrot & Fennel Seed Mash

I had a surplus of carrots in the fridge and decided to turn them into a carrot mash to have in place of mashed potatoes with dinner. I’ve recently been experimenting with the more aromatic spices in my savoury cooking such as fennel, cardamom and cumin and so decided to add some crushed fennel seeds to my carrot mash.

Fennel has an aromatic, slightly aniseed flavour to it and I could imagine it working well with the sweet carrots. To add more flavour and a touch of luxury to my carrot mash, I poached the carrots in fennel infused milk rather than boiling them in water and then used this lightly spiced milk mixture to puree with the carrots.

I decided to make a thick mash, so only used about half the milk mixture when pureeing the cooked carrots. I ate some of it warm with dinner and put the rest in the fridge for later. I intended to reheat it, but on a whim I used it as a spread in a wrap with some falafel and it was delicious! I then ate the rest of it as you would houmous so it works brilliantly hot or cold. I think I almost preferred it cold as the fennel flavour seemed to have developed overnight.

The flavour of the fennel remained quite delicate, while the carrots were sweet with an almost creamy texture in the mouth, despite their slightly rough appearance (they won’t fluff up like mashed potatoes). The subtle aniseed flavour paired brilliantly with the sweet carrot and transformed a standard side dish into something special. The carrots natural orange brightness added colour to anything I served it with.

A quick a delicious way to use up those often overlooked carrots. If you don’t fancy fennel seeds, try coriander or cumin instead. Sorry for the poor photos, it was dark and I was hungry J

Carrot & Fennel Seed Mash
5 large carrots
200-250ml milk
2 tsp fennel seeds
Salt & pepper

Peel and roughly chop the carrots. Lightly crush the fennel seeds to break them slightly. Add the carrots and fennel to a pan with enough milk to nearly cover them.
Bring the mixture to a simmer and then leave to cook for 15-20 minutes until the carrot is completely softened. As there is less liquid, stir occasionally to ensure an even cooking.
Add the softened carrot to a small blender along with half the milk (leave the fennel seeds in). Blitz to form a puree, adding more milk until you have the thickness you desire be it a thick mash/houmous consistency or a thinner style puree.
Season to taste.

Serve warm in place of mashed potatoes or cold as a dip or sandwich filling, as you would houmous.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Tea & Cake with Friends at Steel City Cakes, Sheffield

Yesterday my two best friends from ‘back home’ aka Bedford, came to visit me. I haven’t seen either of them since Christmas and that was only for a couple of hours so it was lovely to catch up with them again and learn all the latest gossip. We had a very enjoyable day shopping in the city centre complete with a delicious lunch at Fusion Organic Café – my favourite lunchtime spot.

I then treated the girls to afternoon tea at Steel City Cakes. I had been once before and was impressed at the variety of cakes on offer. As well as 'normal cakes' they also always have a selection of gluten free, dairy free, vegan or an assortment of all combined! It really is a shop where almost anyone can have their cake and eat it.

I would normally be a little wary of places offering homemade gluten free cakes alongside 'normal' cakes, but on my previous visit I had a chat with the owner who said her daughter is also gluten free and she is the one who bakes their gluten free cakes – result! There is nothing nicer than a gluten free cake baked by someone who truly knows and understands the sheer enjoyment of being able to eat a nice piece of cake along with the rest of their friends/family.

Steel City Cakes is located on Abbeydale Road and its not the easiest place to get to if travelling by car as there is limited parking along the streets outside, but don’t let that put you off. Once inside we were greeted by a vast assortment of layer cakes, most of which where 3 layers tall – now that’s my kind of cake! As well as cakes there were also cheesecakes, brownies, cupcakes and a few tarts on offer.

I decided to treat the girls to the tea and cake combination deal which allows you to have any cake and drink of your choice for £4. My friends chose lemon cheesecake and a white chocolate & fresh raspberry triple layer cake as their cakes. I enquired what was gluten free that day and was offered a choice of chocolate & toffee, coffee & walnut or chocolate & fresh raspberry cakes, as well as chocolate brownie or an apricot and custard tart. Wow what a choice! I went for the chocolate & fresh raspberry cake as I love that combination.

Some of the other 'normal' cake combinations sounded amazing and different from your standard, chocolate and vanilla only cake places. There was a spiced courgette cake, a pistachio one, coffee & walnut, salted caramel and peanut butter & chocolate. Yum.

When the cakes arrived we were amazed at the portions – they were huge! Normally these types of tea and cake offers mean you get a thin sliver of cake, not here these were substantial slices of cake and cheesecake that could almost have fed two people. So make sure you come hungry.

For drinks J and I went for fruit tea which was served in traditional china cups complete with saucers and floral design, which was a lovely touch. My other friend went for hot chocolate with complementary whipped cream on top.

We all tucked in somehow managed to polish off the lot. All the cakes were fresh and light and I loved the addition of the fresh raspberries with my chocolate cake. That little bit of fresh tartness really cut through the sweet buttercream. My cake was actually vegan and gluten free, I’ve no idea who they made it so rich and chocolaty without dairy, eggs or gluten. I was very impressed. My other friend described the lemon cheesecake as one of the nicest she’s had and I must admit it did look divine (please make some GF versions too!).

We all left full, happy and in a bit of a sugar coma. The shop is a bit out of the way but don’t let that put you off. I’ve been twice now and both times the cakes have been delicious and the variety excellent. This is clearly a shop run by cake lovers for cake lovers and well worth a visit.

Note: This review is my own. I went of my own accord and have received no incentive for writing this review.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Lemon & Poppy Seed Pancakes with Hot Stewed Plums

It’s pancake day, or to give it its proper name, Shrove Tuesday this coming Tuesday. This is the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, when people are meant to use up their eggs, milk and sugar before refraining from them for Lent. Giving up the foods is not something many people adhere to nowadays, but the act of making and eating pancakes is a much loved and followed tradition, certainly in my house.

Growing up we always had the thin crepe style pancakes, served with freshly squeezed lemon juice and a sprinkling of caster sugar. I still love these, but decided to experiment with a thicker style pancake this year. I wanted to stick with the lemon theme, so added lemon zest to the batter rather than squeezing it over at the end. To accompany the lemon I decided to add some poppy seeds. Lemon and poppy seed is a classic combination and I liked the slightly crunch and appearance they added to the pancakes.

The pancakes were thicker than crepes, but not quite as thick or fluffy as the American style pancakes. I ate these for lunch so rather than dousing them in syrup I served them with some hot stewed plums, which kept them less sweet and more suitable for lunch.

I loved the deep glossy red colour the plums turned after stewing. Their freshness and natural juice added a lovely fruity syrupy flavour. I added a little yellow cornmeal to the batter to help give them a bit of texture and also lend a subtle yellow colour to the pancakes. Cornmeal can something makes things a bit dry, but the fruity juices from the plums soaked into the pancakes and helped keep them soft and moist.

The lemon flavour really came through and worked wonderfully with the fruity plums. The poppy seeds added a slight crunch but they were more for appearance than flavour. Overall a very tasty lunch and a nice change to the usual crepe style lemon and sugar pancakes, although I’m not saying I won’t enjoy a few of those on Tuesday too!

Pancakes, how do you enjoy yours?

Lemon & Poppy Seed Pancakes with Hot Stewed Plums
100g gluten free plain flour
25g yellow fine ground cornmeal
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
3 tsp poppy seeds
4 tsp caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 egg
70-80ml milk
Oil for frying

6 ripe plums
1 tbsp caster sugar (optional)
1 tbsp water
½ tsp vanilla extract

Half the plums and remove the stones. Slice into segments and place into a pan along with the water.
Heat gently, stirring occasionally until the plums are softened and have released their red glossy juices. Taste and add a little sugar if they are too tart for your liking.
Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Set aside while you make the pancakes.

Heat the oven to 50C and place 2 plates into the oven to warm.
Add all the pancake ingredients expect the egg, milk and oil into a bowl and mix together. Make a well in the centre and crack in the egg. Mix gently until the mixture starts to form a batter. Add the milk gradually until you have a smooth, thick, pourable batter.
Brush a pan with a little oil and heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the pancake batter, letting the mix spread and find its own shape.
Leave to cook for 15-20 seconds before flipping over and leaving to cook for a further 15 seconds until lightly golden.
Remove the pancake from the pan and transfer to the plates in the oven to keep warm.
Repeat with the remaining batter. You should get 8-10 small pancakes from the mix.
Divide the pancakes between the two plates. Top with the warm stewed plums and serve.
Serve with a scoop of ice cream or Greek yoghurt if desired.
Makes 8-10 small pancakes, serves 2

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Roast Hazelnut, Choc Chip & Sour Cherry Oat Cookies

Yesterday my parents came for a visit. We planned to go out for lunch but I wanted to bake us a little treat to have with afternoon tea when we got back to my flat. I settled on cookies. I haven’t baked a batch of cookies in ages, cake being my usual go-to treat but the cookies made a lovely change.

I’ve said it before but I’m a person who loves different textures in their foods. These cookies are no exception making use of wholesome oats (gluten free ones naturally), gooey dark chocolate chips, nuggets of roasted hazelnuts and chewy tart dried cherries. A delicious combination.

The cookies are quite thick and substantial, meaning they have a wonderfully crisp edge yet stay soft and slightly doughy in the middle, mmmm. The oats add a wholesome bite and flavour while the nuts add crunch and an intense nutty flavour when bitten into, even more so as I pre-roasted them. The chocolate chips stayed soft and melty, while giving an intense dark chocolate flavour which paired brilliantly against the sweet/tart chewy cherries. Every bite was slightly different and it made the cookies very moreish.

I used to make this type of cookie quite often but for some reason I haven’t made them in the past 2-3years! Now I’ve rediscovered them I’ll definitely be baking more soon.

You can of course add whatever add-ins you like. Cinnamon & raisins are classic, but crystallised ginger & lemon or cherry & flaked almonds also work brilliantly.

Roast Hazelnut, Chocolate & Sour Cherry Oat Cookies
150g butter
100g light soft brown sugar
70g caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g roasted hazelnuts, halved
50g dark chocolate chips
40g dried sour cherries
170g gluten free porridge oats
20g tapioca starch
135g rice flour
¾ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp bicarbonate soda

Roast your hazelnuts in a 180C oven for 5-6 minutes until lightly toasted and golden brown, then set aside to cool (optional)
In a large bowl, cream the butter together with both the sugars until light and fluffy.
Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined. Stir in the hazelnuts, chocolate chips and sour cherries.
Add the oats, tapioca starch, rice flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder into the bowl and mix together using a spatula until all incorporated.
Using an ice cream scoop, scoop out balls of dough onto a baking tray. You can pack them close together for now.
Place the cookie balls into the fridge for chill for 20 minutes. Meanwhile preheat oven to 190C and line another baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Remove the cookie balls from the fridge and arrange half on them onto the new baking tray. Leave 2-3 inches between each one. Gently press the tops of the cookie dough balls down, to form thick flat round discs.
Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until golden brown at the edges and still slightly pale in the middle.
Cool on sheet for 1 minute before transferring to a rack with the help of a palette knife. Repeat with any leftover cookie balls.
Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. They also freeze well.
Makes 15-16 cookies

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Celebrating 7 Years of Apple & Spice with Apple & Hazelnut Upside Down Double Layer Cake

Today my blog turns 7. I can’t quite believe it. Each year I like to celebrate the occasion by making an apple themed bake. This year I was inspired by a cake combination of apple and hazelnuts.

My apple themed bakes from previous years are:
1st yearSpiced Apple Cake

4th yearFruity Tea Loaf

My apple and hazelnut cake consists of light layers of nutty cake made by replacing some of the flour with ground hazelnuts. This was baked in tins that had chunks of sautéed spiced apple placed in the base first. When the cakes are turned out the apple bases become the topping for each cake layer. This creates layers of hazelnut cake topped with apple which when stacked means one apple topping acts like a fruity filling along with some creamy ricotta, and the other cake creates an appley topping as decoration. A double layer upside down cake.

I chose to shell, roast, de-skin and grind my own hazelnuts as we had lots of hazelnuts in their shells leftover from Christmas. I’ve never roasted and ground my own hazelnuts before and the intense nutty aroma this process produced was intoxicating. I’d really recommend roasting and grinding your own if you can, the flavour was far superior to the pre-ground variety, so nutty and fresh tasting.

The apple for the base/topping was made with tangy Cox apples that I first softened slightly in a mix of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. This created little chunks of sweet and spicy appley goodness that were delicious when baked into the hazelnut cake.

I debated using slices of apple rather than chunks, to create a more decorative topping when the cakes were turned out, but decided this would make the cake harder to cut neatly. I think I made the right decision in the end and I liked the chunks of apple, I think they added more flavour and texture than a thin slice would have done.

To fill my cake layers I used fresh ricotta that I lightly beat with a little maple syrup to sweeten it. This worked really well and kept the cake feeling light and delicate, as ricotta is no where near as rich as double cream. As it was lightly beaten it became smoother and creamier and many of my tasters didn’t realise it wasn’t cream until I told them. You couldn’t really taste the maple syrup, it just sweetened the ricotta slightly while still letting the hazelnuts and apple shine through.

My family loved the cake and it was devoured within a day. The combination of roasted hazelnuts, succulent apple and milky creamy ricotta was a delicious combination and kept the layers moist. It was the kind of cake you could eat for afternoon tea or as a dessert. (Sorry for the quality of the photos it was a very dark day).

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog or who writes blogs of their own. You are a great source of inspiration and new ideas. I’m sure most bloggers would agree with me that there are occasions were finding time to bake and blog can feel like a chore, but most of the time I delight in freedom of food creativity it allows me to explore.

Apple & Hazelnut Upside Down Double Layer Cake
Hazelnut Cake
60g hazelnuts, skin on
120g caster sugar
120g butter
80g gluten free plain flour
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder

Sautéed Apples
4 x Cox apples (350g peeled, chopped weight)
15g butter
3 tsp light soft brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon

150g ricotta
1½ tbsp maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Place the hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 8-9 minutes until the skins are tinged and they smell very nutty.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Then rub the hazelnuts in a clean tea towel or sheets of kitchen paper to remove the skins. If sufficiently roasted, they should just flake off easily.
Grind the hazelnuts in a coffee grinder or small food processor and set aside.

To make the apple, peel, core and dice the apples into 1-2cm pieces.
Heat the butter in a frying pan and add the apples. Allow to cook for 8-10 minutes until just starting to soften. Sprinkle over the sugar and cinnamon and cook for a further 1 minute until the sugar has dissolved to form a light caramel with the juices from the apple. Set aside.

Line the base of 2 x 6inch cake tins with greaseproof paper. If not still on, heat the oven to 180C. Divide the sautéed apple between the bases of each cake tin.
To make the cake, make sure your butter is soft and then beat it together with the sugar until it is pale and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in well. Scatter the flour, baking powder and hazelnuts over the top of the cake and mix until combined.
Divide the cake batter into the tins, spreading it carefully over the top of the apple chunks. It’s easiest to do this by blobbing on small spoonfuls and spread it out gently. It may look like there isn’t enough sponge mix, but it puffs up in the oven.
Bake the cakes for 20-25 minutes until risen and gently springy to the touch.
Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before running a knife around the edge and turning out. Leave the cakes to cool upside down, with the apple facing up.

To assemble, use a spatula to beat the ricotta with the maple syrup until it becomes smoother and creamy. (It will still look slightly granular, this is fine)
Place one cake layer on a serving plate, apple side up. Spread over the ricotta and top with the second cake layer, also apple side up.
Allow to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before dusting lightly with icing sugar and serving.
Store any leftovers in the fridge and due to the moistness from the apple and ricotta, its best to eat within 2 days.

Makes 1 x 6inch cake.