Prize-winning Eccles Cakes, 2016

So, OK, I only won the prize because no-one else entered, but I’m confident they would have stood up to any competition.

I’m usually disappointed by any Eccles cakes apart from the usual shop-bought ones which aren’t really ‘puffy’ puff pastry and these did turn out very like them: I used Delia Smith’s cheat method for puff pastry, because life’s too short. This recipe makes about 10 decent sized cakes, but you could make more if you go for a smaller size of pastry square. Don’t forget to adjust cooking times if you make smaller ones though – they’ll cook more quickly.

Ingredients:  Rough Puff Pastry:

  • 1 pack (250g) salted butter
  • 350g plain flour
  • Water

Filling:

  • about 100g currants
  • 25g chopped apricots
  • 30g butter
  • zest of an orange or lemon or 2 limes
  • Orange liqueur*
  • two tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom

* NB. you can use any booze here, the original recipe used to have brandy it in apparently, but then those temperance folk came along and complained. You can use mixed peel but I hate it so usually substitute apricots.

Freeze the butter for about half an hour, measure the flour into a big mixing bowl and then grate the butter into it using a box grater – the side you’d normally use to grate cheese. If the butter’s getting a bit melty, dip it in the flour. When it’s all done, mix it up with a knife, chopping any big lumps until it’s the consistency of bread crumbs. Add the cold water a bit at a time until you get a reasonable dough.

Put the dough in a plastic bag or clingfilm and chill it in the fridge for an hour. Take it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you’re ready to roll, or it can be too hard to roll out.

Meanwhile make the filling. Melt the butter in a pan, and add everything else. The longer you can leave this soaking in the booze, the juicier and more fabulous the currants and apricots will taste. Currants will soak up quite a lot. If you have some free liquid when you’re ready to use it, pour it off or you’ll get a soggy bottom. Actually drinking it is quite nice.

Roll the dough out, fold it up – all recipes seem to think it’s important to fold over a third into the middle and then the other third over that, so why not do that? Then roll it and do it again a couple of times more.

Finally cut out a square about the size of a CD case and put a dollop of the fruit mixture in the middle and fold in the corners – a bit of water applied to them will help them stick. Turn them over and nudge them gently into a more round shape. When you’ve done them all, make some slits in the top, wet the tops slightly with water and sprinkle them with some brown sugar.

Bake for about 20 mins in a 225°C oven, until they’re a nice golden brown. If they still look or feel a bit soggy and pale around the sides or bottom, leave them in for another 5-10 minutes. For god’s sake leave to cool before sampling. The insides are hotter than the sun when they first come out. They’re actually better completely cold.

To serve: Stuff them into your face as fast as you can before someone else gets hold of them. With clotted cream is nice.

ecclescakes

 

 

 

French almond cake

5 eggs at room temperature showstopper_cut_almond_cake
200g  caster sugar
half a teaspoon of salt
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
200g ground almonds
30g plain flour
Knob of butter for greasing your tin

Switch on your oven and pre-heat to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.  Base-line a 23cm (9in) springform tin with greaseproof paper, and smear the insides with a bit of butter. Grate the zest of your lemon, then cut the lemon in half,. Get two large bowls ready. The one for the egg whites should be ceramic, steel or glass – trying to whisk egg whites in a plastic bowl is a recipe for disaster, as plastic is never completely grease-free and any trace of grease will mean you can’t get as much air into the whites as you need. Rub the inside of the bowls with the cut lemon halves (you can use them for putting in your gin and tonic later). Separate the eggs and put the whites in one bowl and the yolks in the other.  Add half the sugar to the yolks and beat together until light, pale and fluffy. Add the lemon zest and beat for a bit longer. An electric hand mixer is great for this – if you use a hand whisk you will get really tired trying to make this cake!

In the other bowl, beat the whites until they form stiff peaks. If you are using the same mixer for both yolks and whites, make sure that you clean the blades well before whipping up the whites – see comment above about grease and egg whites. Add the remaining sugar to the whites gradually, and keep beating until stiff and shiny.

Using a metal spoon add two big spoonfuls of the whites to the batter to loosen it then fold in the rest, using a cutting motion to avoid knocking out all the air you’ve carefully beaten into the whites. Weigh out the salt, almonds and flour and mix together thoroughly, then fold gently into the egg mixture. There’s really no need to sift the flour/salt/almond mixture, just make sure there are no big lumps of ground almonds and that the salt is evenly distributed.

Scrape the mixture into the springform tin and bake  for 40 minutes. The sponge should be coming away from the sides and the middle should spring back when gently pressed.

Leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out and place the right way up on a cooling rack. Once it is completely cool, remove the paper. This cake does sink slightly in the middle as the only raising agent is the egg whites.

The image is of my entry for the street party bakeoff challenge – three layers of French almond cake, sandwiched with blueberry and raspberry jam, finished with white chocolate ganache, white chocolate fingers and white chocolate buttons, and topped with fresh strawberries and blueberries. It came second…showstopper_almond_cake