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

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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]

 

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.

the Cullimore “Family Heirloom” chocolate cake

The one and only birthday cake, stolen from the Be-Ro cookery book and still available on their website (but they recommend – horrors! margarine…). Make it with drinking chocolate if you must – but cocoa makes it actually taste of CHOCOLATE.

  • 200g self raising flour
  • 225g caster sugar
  • Half level teaspoon salt
  • Half level teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons (25g) cocoa
  • 100g butter, at room temperature
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 5 tablespoons evaporated milk
  • 5 tablespoons water
  • Half teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 180°C, gas mark 3-4.  Grease two 8 inch (20cm) tins and put baking parchment at the bottom. Mix the flour, sugar, salt and cocoa together. Rub in the butter.  Beat the eggs, add in the evap and water and vanilla extract. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture and beat well. Split the mixture between the two tins and bake for about 30 – 35 minutes. If it’s slightly undercooked, so much the better (it really shouldn’t be crispy around the edges!).  Turn out onto a rack.  When cold, sandwich and top with the icing.

For the icing:

  • 60g butter
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa
  • 250g sieved icing sugar
  • 2 tablespoons hot milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 180°C, gas mark 3-4.  Grease two 8 inch (20cm) tins and put baking parchment at the bottom.

Melt the butter, blend in the cocoa, then stir in the hot milk and vanilla and the icing sugar.  Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and thick.  If it looks like it’s separating, don’t worry, just beat it a bit more and add a bit more hot milk, and if it looks really thin then add some more icing sugar.  Let it cool a bit before spreading it on the two cakes and sandwiching them together.  If the icing’s thick it’s like chocolate fudge, if it’s thinner it goes nice and shiny but you might have to catch the drips down the side of the cake. No hardship there.