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

apricot and walnut shortcake

With grateful thanks to our Good Housekeeping cookery book – subtitled the cook’s classic companion – and well worth seeking out if you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to traditional recipes.

For the shortcake:

  • 175g self raising flour
  •  half teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 75g unsalted butter – softened
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg

For the filling:

  • 100g broken walnuts
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg white
  • 410g can of apricot halves in juice (or you can use fresh apricots, stoned and halved, poached briefly in water with a bit of sugar and lemon juice added)

Grease a shallow 8 inch (20cm) round springform tin. Put the flour and cinnamon in a food processor and add the butter. Blitz until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and the egg and mix to a soft dough.

Turn the dough into the greased tin and smooth it out evenly. You could use the back of a spoon to do this, or your fingers.

Now start the filling.  Put the walnuts in the food processor with the sugar and blitz until it’s all finely ground.  Then add the egg white and blend it to a soft paste.  Spread this mixture over the shortcake base and leave a 1cm-ish gap to the edge.

Drain the apricots well.  Arrange them with the cut side down over the filling.  Bake at 180 degrees C for about 30 minutes, until the filling has risen between the apricot halves and is looking set and slightly browned.

You can glaze the shortcake with some sieved apricot jam mixed with the juice drained from the fruit, heated in a pan until it goes syrupy (about 3 minutes).

For a bit of variation you could use ground almonds instead of walnuts, and you can also use plums instead of apricots.

Christmas cake 2015

IMG_20151122_181718[1]There are hundreds of different recipes out there, but having tried Nigella’s last year I think this is just about the easiest both in terms of shopping for ingredients and in baking it.  This is my take on it. Quantities below are for one small 18cm round or 15cm square cake.  If you double up the mixture this will make a 23cm round or 20cm square cake but will take much longer to cook.  Soak the fruit in any type of aromatic spirit (I used a mixture of Scotch and brandy as that’s what I had available!), or use bourbon if you want to go the full Domestic Goddess route. Make sure your butter and eggs are at room temperature before you start mixing – take them out of the fridge the night before. Nigella suggests adding a teaspoon of almond extract but I don’t think it’s necessary, especially if the cake is going to be covered in marzipan before icing. This is quite an easy cake to put together, but you do need to bear in mind that you need to start preparing the ingredients a good 24 hours before you’re ready to bake it.

  • 350g raisins
  • 150g currants
  • 50g glace cherries, cut in half
  • 75g chopped walnuts
  • 200ml whisky, brandy or bourbon
  • 150g butter
  • 90g dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon black treacle
  • 150g plain flour
  • 75g ground almonds
  • half teaspoon cinnamon
  • quarter teaspoon ground cloves
  • quarter teaspoon ground ginger

Put the raisins, currants and cherries in a small saucepan and pour over the spirit of your choice.  Bring the mixture to the boil then remoove it from the heat, give it a good stir, then cover it and leave it overnight.

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees C or gas mark 2.  Line your cake tin with a double thickness of greaseproof or baking paper.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and cream them together until the sugar granules have disappeared. Then mix in the grated lemon zest. Now add an egg and beat it in well.  Add a spoonful of flour, mix that, then add another egg and beat well.  Now add in the black treacle.  A good tip to get treacle out of the tin is to heat up the spoon over a gas flame fora few seconds, or dunk it in a cup of boiling water, before putting your spoon in the tin.  The heat will help the treacle slide off the spoon more easily.

Mix the flour, spices and ground almonds together in a separate bowl (you really don’t need to sieve flour these days, unless you’re still buying it from a grocer’s shop where they scoop out your flour from a big sack on the floor….).  Add a big spoonful of flour mix followed by a big spoonful of the soaked dried fruit and mix well. Continue like this until all the flour and all the fruit is incorporated.  Then add the chopped walnuts and give the mixture one last stir to distribute the nuts evenly through it.

Put the mixture into your cake tin.  A silicone spatula is a great tool for getting the last scrapings out of the mixing bowl.  Level off the  mixture in the tin as much as you can, then put it in the oven. A small 18cm round cake will take anything between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours to cook, depending on your oven.  A larger 23cm round cake will take about 3 hours, give or take 20 minutes either side. The easiest way to test if your cake is done is to stick a thin metal skewer right into the middle, leave it there for a few seconds, then pull it out. If the skewer has some sticky cake mixture on it, the cake’s not done yet.  If it comes out and looks clean, the cake is baked all the way through.  Take it out of the oven and brush the top with a tablespoonful of brandy or whisky, turn it out of the tin and wrap it up in a double layer of foil (you can keep the baking paper on it at this point).  The next day, take off all the baking paper and rewrap it in fresh baking paper, then put it in an airtight container.

At this point, your cake is ready for feeding.  Every so often,  unrwap your cake,  prod it all over with a skewer and brush over a couple of tablespoons of whisky or brandy, then wrap it up again .

A small cake will need one pack of marzipan to cover it – anything bigger may require two. You should put the marzipan on the cake a few days before you want to put the icing on.  Use a tablespoon of apricot jam, heated up and sieved, to brush over the cake before you put the rolled out marzipan on – it will help to stick the marzipan onto the cake.  Icing?  I cheat and use ready-rolled fondant!

IMG_20151122_180954[1]

 

Morgan’s no-bake cheesecake

no-bake berry cheesecakeMorgan came home with this recipe from school – it’s really good! You can make this as 10 or 12 individual ramekins or one big cheesecake like the one in the picture.

  • 8 digestive biscuits
  • 10 ginger nuts
  • 50g butter
  • Ground ginger – a pinch
  • 500g cream cheese
  • 8 tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • 8 tablespoons icing sugar
  • 600g seasonal berries (we used raspberries)
  • 4 tablespoons caster sugar
  • Juice & zest of one unwaxed lemon

Crush the biscuits. Melt the butter, and mix into the crushed biscuits with the pinch of ginger.  Press the mixture into the bottom of the individual ramekins or the lined caketin depending on what you are using, and place in the fridge to chill.

Put the berries and the caster sugar into a saucepan and gently heat them until the berries begin to break down and give out their juice. If you want the berry topping to be a bit more solid and less runny you can use arrowroot to thicken it.   Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Fold the cream cheese and yogurt together. Mix in the sieved icing sugar. Squeeze over the lemon juice and mix in the zest. Spoon the cream cheese mixture over the set biscuit base, and pour the berry sauce over the top.  Put it back in the fridge until it’s all cold again, then you can serve it.

If you want to, you can swirl the berry sauce through the cheese mixture – it will make it a bit less set but just as tasty.

lemonade scones

I’ve always been rubbish at making scones – until I discovered this recipe!

  • 325 g self raising flour
  • 170ml lemonade (I used the full sugar version – might try the diet version to see what happens)
  • 170ml double cream
  • small pinch salt

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees for a fan oven or 220 degrees for a normal oven. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl.  Mix the cream and lemonade in a jug, then fold it gently into the the flour.  It will make quite a wet dough but the less you mix it, the better. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured board and roll it out to about 2.5cm thick, and cut it into squares with a knife, or use a sharp cutter to cut into rounds. It should make about 12 scones2014-06-07 16.32.17.  Put them on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake them in the oven for 12-15 minutes until risen and golden.  You could brush them with milk or eggwash if you want to be fancy. When they’re cool enough to handle, split them and spread with clotted cream and jam.

Gevulde speculaas – Dutch almond slice

Nuts to Lent! I’m giving up giving up things.  Even people who profess not to like marzipan (me included) seem to like this.

  • 200g self raising flour
  • 125g soft brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons speculaaskruiden
  • A pinch of salt
  • 150 g cold unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 300g marzipan (make sure it’s cold so it can be grated)
  • 50g slivered, flaked or whole almonds for decoration

Sieve the flour, sugar, spices and a pinch of salt into a large bowl. Rub the cold butter into the flour mix until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Try not to get it too warm or the butter will melt and the texture will not be quite as good. Add the milk. Knead the dough into a smooth ball, again trying not to handle it too much or get it too warm. Wrap the dough in cling film or a plastic bag, and place it in the refrigerator for 1 hour (or even overnight).

Whisk the eggs with 1 tablespoon water in a separate bowl. Grate the marzipan over another bowl and pour in half of the egg. Mash the egg with a fork through the marzipan.
Preheat the oven to 175 ˚ C. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle the counter and rolling pin with a little flour. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough to a piece of about 15 x 30 cm. Lay one piece on the baking sheet, then spread the marzipan mixture evenly over it, leaving a border of dough around the edge. Place the second sheet of dough on top and press the edges together to seal in the marzipan mixture.
Brush the top of the dough with the rest of the egg. Press the flaked or whole almonds into the dough as decoration. Put in the heated oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. When baked, leave the cake to cool on the baking sheet before cutting.

Rather than use a baking sheet you could also use a round or square cake tin, which avoids having to roll out equal sized pieces as you can just press the dough into the bottom of the tin.

NOTE: speculaaskruiden is a spice mix, over which people will argue incessantly. It’s like asking what to put in a Christmas pudding – everyone has a different opinion.  However,  this page offers a good compromise that most people will agree with most of the time:

About Dutch Food – speculaaskruiden

 

Carrot cake

An easy, moist, tasty traybake version of carrot cake. It can also be made in muffin cases but watch the temperature and cooking time if you make them as muffins – they cook quicker and may burn if you’re not careful.

  • 250g carrots
  • 150g butter, unsalted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 200g light soft brown sugar
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • Half a teaspoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 75g roughly chopped walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • For the topping:
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 200g cream cheese – must be full fat!
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Half a teaspoon vanilla extract

You’ll need a 28 x 18cm rectangular tin, or about a dozen muffin cases.

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C or gas mark 4.

Line the base of the tin with baking parchment and brush the sides and base of the tin with a little vegetable oil.  Wash the carrots, cut off the tops and grate them.  Put the butter into a pan and heat it gently until it has just melted, or you can melt it in a suitable container in the microwave – 20 seconds at full power, give it a stir, another 20 seconds, etc. etc. until it’s melted but not boiling hot.  Pour the melted butter into a large bowl.  Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat them.  Stir in the carrots and sugar to the large bowl, then add the beaten eggs.  Sieve the flour, salt, cinnamon and baking powder into the mixture and beat with a wooden spoon until it is smooth.  Add the chopped walnuts, and stir in two tablespoons of milk.  Spoon the mixture into the tin. Smooth the top with a spoon.  Tap the tin gently on your work surface to make the mixture level.  Bake for about 45 minutes.  Test by sticking a skewer into the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s ready.  Leave the cake to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack.  While the cake is cooling, sift the icing sugar into a clean bowl. Add the cream cheese, lemon juice and vanilla and beat the mixture well.  You may need more icing sugarif you feel the icing is too sloppy. When the cake is cool, spoon the topping onto it and spread it around. Cut into squares.

TOP TIP: if your tub of baking powder has been open for more than about 6 months, chuck it out and buy some new. It does go off eventually; as it absorbs moisture from the air it loses some of its abililty to make bubbles in your cake mixture.

 

Sam’s (almost) foolproof cherry cake

cherry almond cakeA super easy and almost foolproof cake. You could add sultanas and a teaspoonful of mixed spice instead of the cherries, or chocolate chips. No need to rinse sultanas or chocolate chips though.

  • 150g glace cherries
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 175g soft margarine (this is one time where you shouldn’t be tempted to use butter – it’ll taste OK but won’t rise very much)
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 3 eggs, medium

1 loaf tin measuring 20 x 12 x 8cm

Heat your oven to 180 degrees C or gas mark 4.

Cut the cherries into quarters, put them in a sieve and rinse them under warm running water.  Pat them dry on a paper towel.  Don’t cheat on this bit and think you can leave the cherries whole or in halves – if the cherries are any bigger than in quarters, the bits all sink to the bottom of the cake. They may sink anyway, but it’ll still taste great.

Line the loaf tin with baking parchment or greaseproof paper. The best way is to cut a big oblong of paper, then put the loaf tin in the centre and mark where each corner is on the paper. Then make a diagonal cut from each outer corner to the mark.  You should then be able to fit the paper into the tin, folding the corners over each other to make sure the whole tin is covered. Or you could use a ready-made paper loaf tin liner…

Sift the flour into a bowl, add the margarine, sugar and ground almonds.  Break the eggs into a cup and pour them in too.  Breaking them into a cup means you can fish out any stray bits of shell more easily.

Beat the mixture firmly with a wooden spoon, or use a handmixer, until it becomes light and fluffy.  Then GENTLY mix in the pieces of cherry. Don’t use the mixer for this bit!

Scrape the mixture out of the bowl into the lined loaf tin.  Smooth the top to make it level.

Bake the loaf for about 1 1/4 hours, until it rises and turns golden.  Turn it out onto a wire rack to cool.  Cut in slices and eat! It doesn’t keep long, but then it never lasts that long when we make one anyway.

Molly Cake

At least one of your five a day,  and vegan too – no eggs, no added sugar, no added fat, just yummy.

  •  250g chopped prunes
  • 300 ml water
  • 85 g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 85 g wholemeal plain flour
  • 50 g ground almonds
  • 400 g mixed dried fruits (currants, raisins, sultanas, apricots, cranberries, cherries – whatever you feel like)
  • 100g chopped walnuts
  • 80 ml orange juice

900g loaf tin

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C or gas mark 3.

Line a loaf tin with baking parchment.  Chop the prunes (you can do this in a food processor) and put in a pan with the water.  Bring to the boil, remove from the heat and set aside.

Sieve the plain flour, baking powder and mixed spice into a large bowl.  Add the wholemeal flour, mixed fruit, walnuts and ground almonds.  Stir to combine.  Stir in the wet prune mixture and the orange juice and mix well, and spoon the mixture into the loaf tin. Get it into the oven as quick as you can – the baking powder gets activated by the liquid so you need to act fast to keep all the bubbles in the mixture to make it nice and light.  Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.  Turn onto a wire rack and cool before slicing.

This could be used as a vegan version of a celebration or Christmas cake – it’s quite dense, and will take marzipan and icing quite well as it doesn’t rise much.  However it won’t keep as long as a traditional fruit cake.