Monday, 26 November 2007

The Caked Crusader is away...

...righting cake wrongs in the Caribbean at the moment.
However, I am still updating the site - I built a store of items before I left and that's why every new post is showing as 11 November.

Rest assured, the Caked Crusader would not leave you without cakes......

Saturday, 17 November 2007

What the Caked Crusader chose to bake to this week (17 Nov 2007)

OK, this may be controversial but I'm going to come out and say it: I don't like The Beatles. Phew, what a relief to finally get that off my chest. I admit that I wasn't around during the 1960s so may have missed out on what all the fuss was about, but I don't like their songs - somehow they just make me cringe; I'm not sure why.

For me, the true talent from that era is The Kinks. They represent everything good about pop music - punchy lyrics, great riffs, memorable tunes and a sense of humour. As soon as the opening guitar riff of "You really got me" bursts out from the speakers you know something special is happening. But it's not all thumping guitars (All Day and All of the Night, Till the End of the Day) - there's the sweet melodies (Sunny Afternoon, Waterloo Sunset), the gentle, almost whimsical, nostalgia (Days, Autumn Almanac, Wonderboy) and then the downright mischievous (Lola, Plastic Man, Dedicated Follower of Fashion).

And if you can wonder around Waterloo without humming that opening riff then you're a stronger willed person than I am......

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Sticky Toffee Puddings

Having recently enjoyed a work trip to the Middle East I pondered what I could make to reflect the sights I had seen – how to capture the essence of my travels. If you have been to the Middle East you will very quickly pick up two themes on which a lot of the tourism and merchandise is focused – camels and dates. I didn’t fancy using any camel products – whilst out there I tried the camel’s milk rice pudding and can vow that it will never pass my lips again. Strange that the milk can actually taste camel-y.

So that left dates. And what better use of a date than sticky toffee pudding? Here is my packet of the plumpest, juiciest, biggest dates I have ever seen. These are from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but all the Emirates also seem to produce dates – I bought quite a selection.

Without a doubt, these are the biggest, most succulent dates I have ever had the good fortune to come across. Look at the size of them (missus!):

Sticky toffee pudding, to me, is up there as one of the greatest comfort foods; what I love about this recipe is that you get the sweetness but the little puddings are not stodgy – quite the opposite in fact. I think this is because they are baked rather than steamed.

The batter is lumpy and loose and that’s how it should be! Don’t panic.

While these can be made and served straight away, they are much better if left to stand for 1-2 days as they soak up the sauce and seem to get even more squidgy. There is no need to refrigerate them while they are maturing, covering the dish with foil is adequate.

I like to serve them warm with ice cream but purists may prefer custard. I defy you to eat one without smiling! And try not to think about the calories......

This photo captures the light spongy texture:

For the puddings:
225g stoned dates
175ml boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
175g self raising flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs, beaten
85g unsalted butter
140g Demerara sugar
2 tablespoons black treacle
100ml milk (whole or semi-skimmed)

Custard or ice cream to serve

For the toffee sauce:
175g light brown sugar
50g unsalted butter
225ml double cream
1 tablespoon black treacle

How to make:

- Chop the dates quite small and put them into a heatproof bowl. Pour over boiling water and leave to stand for 30 minutes until cool and soft. Mash lightly with a fork (leave some lumps as this gives a nice texture to the finished puds) and add the vanilla.
- Preheat oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/Gas mark 4 and grease 7 mini pudding tins. They should have a capacity of approx 200ml. Sit them on a baking sheet.
- Cream the butter and sugar together until well combined. Because the sugar is gritty you won’t be able to get the mixture smooth.
- Add the beaten egg gradually beating well between additions.
- Beat in the black treacle.
- Weigh out the flour and add the bicarbonate of soda to it.
- Measure out the milk.
- Using a metal spoon fold about a third of the flour into the butter and egg mix. Then fold in a third of the milk. Then a third of the flour etc until all the flour and milk has been added.
- Stir in the soaked dates, including any liquid in the bowl. The mixture will now be soft and lumpy.
- Spoon it into the pudding tins and bake for approximately 25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tins as, initially, the puddings are very soft and will tear if you try to handle them at this stage.
- Meanwhile, make the sauce. Put the sugar, butter and 125ml of the cream into a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring all the time, until the sugar has dissolved. If you see grains on the back of the spoon the sugar has not dissolved.
- Stir in the black treacle and turn the heat up slightly. Let the sauce bubble for three minutes stirring occasionally to ensure nothing is sticking or burning. Take care as the sauce is very hot – it won’t spit or do anything nasty but you could hurt yourself if careless.
- Take the pan off the heat and stir in the remaining 100ml of cream.
- You can now assemble the puddings and sauce and serve now if you wish, but I recommend letting them mature for a couple of days.
- Pour half the sauce into a deep ovenproof dish, then stand the turned-out puddings on the sauce. I invert them for stability and look.
- Pour the rest of the sauce over the puddings and loosely cover the dish with foil. You don’t have to refrigerate them.
- When ready to use, warm the puddings in the oven 180°C/fan oven 160°C/Gas mark 4 for 15-20 minutes or until the sauce bubbles. To keep them moist when re-heating, keep the dish covered with foil.
- Serve with ice cream, custard or cream.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

Ode to some biscuits

Following on from a comment by Mr Strongbow on the site, here is another poem by my colleague Alan. His ruminations on biscuits coupled with the discovery that he had a fan, led to his latest masterpiece: Ode to some biscuits.

'Twas the fifth of October, 2007 I do not doubt
When the Poet's thoughts were turned to biscuits without a doubt
For some tasty snacks I wanted to eat without delay
And none could me this gainsay

The loveliest is of course the custard cream

With its tasty biscuit layers most lovely to be seen
And the custard filling nice to eat
Whilst eating with a cup of tea is quite a treat

But lest we forget the jammy dodger is also fine indeed

With its jam and shortbread that to eat we all need
And of course the chocolate chip cookie the bringer of glee
Which is found a-plenty in the stores of Dundee

For antipodean snacks the Anzac bisuit cannot be beaten

And by the citizens of Australia and New Zealand it is often eaten
And the bourbon is a fine bisuit I can see
But let it not be confused with the demon drink despised by Mr Murphy and the Blue Ribbon Army

The Garibaldi is a biscuit of historic interest
And was eaten by that Italian patriot I must confess
The fig roll is a healthy choice I must say
And the health conscious consumer will eat many without dismay

So in conclusion and without a doubt

No one should of biscuits be without
And the better we our biscuit tins do fill
The lesser chance we have of being ill

Coconut Cake

This was actually posted on 17th November - it's showing 11th November because I created a stock of items on this day as I'm working abroad for a short while and didn't want my site to get stale!

If vanilla didn’t exist, far more of my thoughts and hankerings would be turned over to coconut. I love it in any sweet cooking but abhor it in any savoury. I thought, naively, that the world shared my coconut love. However, on mentioning my plan to make a coconut cake to my colleague Alan (the poet, if you recall) he said “that might be a tougher one to promote”. I’m not ashamed to admit that I reeled – yes, reeled – at such a comment.

Is coconut really so out of favour with the great British public in anything other than some revolting Thai dish?

This cake is lovely and, unashamedly coconut obsessed – there’s coconut in the cake and on the buttercream. The recipe is adapted from a traditional British country cake called “Coconut Pound Cake” in which the recipe calls for some pink food colouring in the cake mix. I’m not a fan of adding colouring unnecessarily to a recipe so haven’t. If it’s important to you to be traditional then go ahead. I don’t think it will make any difference to the taste.

The cake is crumbly but moist and the buttercream has that lovely smoothness to it that tells you you’re eating something tasty but naughty.

I would put this in the category of “cakes that look like you spent much longer making than you really did”. (Incidentally, if you're wondering about the lovely plate the cake is on it's from the Bahamas and the decoration around the edge is of Junkanoo headdresses)

For the cake:
225g unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
115g desiccated coconut
225g self raising flour

For the buttercream:
225g icing sugar
115g unsalted butter, softened
3-4 tablespoons desiccated coconut

1 glace cherry to decorate, optional

How to make:

- Preheat oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/ Gas mark 4 and line either an 18cm round tin with greaseproof paper.
- Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Don’t skimp on this stage as I think it is the foundation of success. Take a tiny piece of the mix and place on your tongue. Press it to the roof of your mouth – if it’s gritty the mix needs more beating. When it’s smooth you can move to the next stage.
- Beat in the eggs, then the coconut, then the flour.
- Spoon into the cake tin and bake for about an hour or until a skewer comes out clean. Mine took about 1 hour 10 minutes but it’s probably worth checking on it after about 45 minutes as ovens vary greatly.
- Leave to cool for 10 minutes in the tin and then remove from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
- For the buttercream, cream the butter and icing sugar together until very smooth and spread onto the top (and sides if you wish) of the cake.
- Immediately after, sprinkle on the desiccated coconut.
- I tend to make the cake the day before I want it, and then make the buttercream on the morning of the day on which the cake will be served.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

3R Cake (Rum, Raisin and Ricotta)

If you have bad memories of the 3 R’s at school (that’s reading, writing and arithmetic for those not in the know) fear not, for there is a new gang of 3 R’s in town: Rum, Raisin and Ricotta – a love triangle made in heaven!

This cake is exquisite. I could stop there and would have conveyed my message completely, but I’ll carry on...the squidgy, juicy texture of this cake is almost indescribably lovely. It’s similar to baked cheesecake – understandable given the ricotta – but doesn’t have the cheesecake style base and is much moister. The soaked raisins burst gentle rum flavours on your tongue and the soft cake cushions them delightfully. As you can guess....I’m a fan!

I think that where any recipe requires soaking fruit in alcohol you should aim to soak for as long as possible, ideally 24 hours. This isn’t vital and your cake won’t be ruined if you can’t, but more is always more! The longer soak allows greater absorption too so the raisins will be really plump and moist. As I soaked the fruit for 24 hours I used a little more than the recipe stated e.g. 6 tablespoons instead of 3...hic!

One warning though – if, like me, you taste the raw mix before baking, be prepared that the temptation to sit and eat the whole bowlful will be great. The only thing that stopped me was the thought ‘if it tastes this great raw, how awesome will it be cooked?’ I now know the answer: VERY!

How I wish this piece were here for me to eat right now:

You can dust the cake with icing sugar before serving if you want to. My eatership (as I have decided to term the eaters of my baking) never seem to like clouds of icing sugar on the top of their cake so I didn’t bother.

This cake is best made the day before you want it as letting it sit overnight somehow makes it more succulent. As long as you keep it airtight or just wrap it in foil it will keep perfectly for a few days.


100g raisins
3 tablespoons rum (but Marsala would work if you don’t like rum)
175g unsalted butter, softened
175g caster sugar
250g ricotta cheese
Vanilla extract to taste, I used about a tablespoon
3 eggs, separated
150g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Icing sugar, for dusting before serving (optional)

How to make:

- Either the day before, or as early as you can, put the raisins and rum in a bowl. Ensure that all the raisins are sitting in the liquor and then cover and put aside. If preparing the day before, whenever you think of it, give the raisins a stir to make sure that they all get their share of rum.
- Preheat oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/ Gas mark 4 and line either an 18cm square tin, or a 20cm round tin with greaseproof paper.
- Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Don’t skimp on this stage as I think it is the foundation of success. Take a tiny piece of the mix and place on your tongue. Press it to the roof of your mouth – if it’s gritty the mix needs more beating. When it’s smooth you can move to the next stage.
- Beat in the ricotta, egg yolks and vanilla.
- Stir in (beating is too tough on the raisins) the rum and raisin mixture including any unabsorbed rum.
- In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until they reach the soft peak stage.
- Add a couple of spoons of egg white to the ricotta mix and fold in using a metal spoon. This slackens the mix and makes the rest of the egg white easier to fold in.
- Fold in the remaining egg white using light lifting and cutting motions.
- Fold in the flour and baking powder until the mix is thoroughly combined, then spoon into the tin.
- Level the surface, but don’t press down too hard as you don’t want to lose all the air you’ve been carefully folding in, and bake for 40 minutes or until the surface is firm to the touch and the contents don’t wobble too much. It will firm up on cooling so it’s a judgement call. Mine took almost an hour until I was happy it was set enough.
- The cake does flatten a little on cooling so don’t worry that you’ve done anything wrong. Let the cake cool in the tin as it needs to firm up before you handle it.
- Serve dusted with icing sugar if you want to.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

What the Caked Crusader chose to bake to this week (10 Nov 2007)

There are certain artistes who naturally come to the top of the listening pile at particular times of the year. It is a bleak, grey day as I type – autumn is on the cusp of becoming winter. It’s only 2.30pm yet I need to put lights on to see what I’m doing clearly. In other words, the perfect environment for listening to the oeuvre of Eels.

I always think of E (never sure whether to call him the front man when he’s the only member of Eels!) as America’s Morrissey but perhaps, whisper it softly, better (eek! I can hear The Smiths’s fans frothing at the mouth!). Both write songs that walk a little on the dark side of human emotion and foible but both always tinge their work with inky black humour that many miss and therefore dismiss as depressing.

Eels have released six studio albums now and not one a dud. You’d think there’d be a dip in quality at some point but it’s never happened. For me though it is Electro-Shock Blues that is the essential purchase. I admit that this probably isn’t a sentence that’s typed every day but – the Wikipedia link I have provided is a very succinct and elegant summary of why the album is so special and why the emotions in it have such sincerity. In short, the album is a masterpiece and possibly the greatest album of recent times.

Plus, if you look hard enough, Eels occasionally have baking references - there is a line in “That’s not really funny” that goes: ‘you bake delicious pie and that’s enough for me’.
Good man E! He’s got his priorities right.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Raspberry Friands

Free-whats I hear you murmur. It’s pronounced free-onds and they are delicious little almond cakes. I always feel that these are the sort of tantalising, drool-inducing gem you see in expensive cake shop windows; they are small and pretty but surprisingly substantial to eat. This is because ground almonds replace virtually all of the flour in the mix.

Such pretty little things:

I have used a friand tin to get the distinctive domed oval shape. However, you can just as successfully use a muffin pan. Friand tins are available from cook shops now (I think Lakeland Limited stock them) but please don’t think you have to get one for good results– I have one as I am an obsessive acquirer of cake tins (I have decided to name the condition caketinophilia) and only use it for the three or four times a year I make friands.

The basic friand mix produces a lovely cake; however, I always put raspberries on the top as I love the sweet/tart contrast this provides. The one down side of putting raspberries, or any other berry, on top is that you squash the dome a bit.

Personally, I find the friand at its best the day after it was baked. Something magical seems to happen overnight and the juiciness of the almonds soften the cake to make it a sticky delight. They keep for several days in an air tight container – not that they will hang around that long.

Here’s a photo of a friand aged 1 day old. Just look at that luscious texture:

While friands aren’t difficult to make, there are a couple of things I will highlight in the ‘how to make’ section. And when you make them for the first time, however many times I tell you that the raw batter is the ugliest you will ever see, you will still panic that it shouldn’t look like that. If your batter looks like lumpy wallpaper paste you’re going to get a good result - just keep chanting "the Caked Crusader wouldn't lead me astray, the Caked Crusader wouldn't lead me astray"!


160g unsalted butter
90g ground almonds
40g plain flour
165g icing sugar
5 egg whites

Raspberries (or any other berry) to top

How to make:

- Preheat oven to 210°C/fan oven 190°C/415°F/ Gas mark 6-7 and grease two friand or muffin tins. I got 7 friands from the mix.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low-medium heat and let it cook for a couple of minutes, just so it darkens slightly. Don’t let it boil or burn. Turn off the heat and leave to one side.
- Place the flour, almonds and icing sugar into a bowl and mix together.
- Put the egg whites into a separate bowl. Here’s one of the key things to get right: with a fork, lightly whisk the egg whites until they are combined, that’s all – then stop! Do not over whisk. Forget every other recipe you’ve ever read where you have to whisk the egg whites until they froth or start to peak. If you do that here you are destroying your friands before they’ve even begun!
- Add the egg white to the flour mix. Also add the butter but make sure you strain it first as you don’t want any of the white scummy bits in your mix.
- Mix together using a metal spoon. This is when you will start to have concerns! The mix is deeply unattractive – there will be lumps in it where the almond clumps together. It will be tricky to get the dry and wet ingredients to accept each other. Persevere. If you stir enough it will work. If your mixture looks like wallpaper paste you will succeed!
- Spoon the mixture into the friand/muffin tray and fill each mould ¾ full. Ensure that you drag the spoon to the bottom of the bowl each time as I find that the ground almond can sink a bit.
- If using, gently place the raspberries on top of the batter. I use 3 per friand but you can use as many or few as takes your fancy.
- Place the tin in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Here’s the second key stage. After 10 minutes, without opening the door, reduce the heat to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/ Gas mark 4 and bake for a further 5 minutes. That’s what the recipe says. I find that after this 5 minutes my friands are still raw. After reducing the oven temperature mine took a further 15 minutes. Obviously every oven is different so use your judgement – as long as the skewer comes out clean, they are done.
- Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a wire wrack.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

What the Caked Crusader chose to bake to this week (3 Nov 2007)

Bobby Darin may have had more presence and Irving Berlin was probably the greater genius, but in terms of sheer cool there can’t be anyone to outshine Hoagy Carmichael . Who, you ask? Well, let me tell you...

I’ve always had rather a soft spot for Hoagy. It’s not just because we share a birthday (date, not year!) or that we both have law degrees; it’s because Hoagy wrote the music (and occasionally the lyrics too) of some of the greatest songs, from the greatest era – even if he’d only ever written ‘Georgia on my Mind’ that would have guaranteed him legendary status (I don’t care what anyone says – no one, but no one sings this better than Hoagy himself); but there’s more: Stardust, Heart and Soul, Skylark, Up a Lazy River, Two Sleepy People, The Nearness of You, Riverboat Shuffle...the list could go on for pages.

Oh, and he was also best friends with jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke. It was Bix who encouraged him to start writing music. Further to this he recorded, often performing his own songs; I admit his warm, jazzy, relaxed and effortlessly cool vocals may not be to everyone’s taste but if you can appreciate the musicality of his honeyed tones then you have a treat in store.

OK. Still not convinced Hoagy’s the Man?

Let’s throw in some Hollywood film roles too then. He starred in ‘To Have and Have Not’ with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, ‘Topper’ with Cary Grant, ‘Young Man with a Horn’ with Kirk Douglas and many more.

And if you still need convincing of his cool credentials, Ian Fleming based James Bond on him – both Casino Royale and Moonraker describe Bond as resembling Hoagy.

My favourite of Hoagy’s recordings is Hoagy Sings Carmichael , I include a link to as it has more reviews – it is also available through the UK site. The Pacific Jazz Men include Art Pepper and if there’s a more hauntingly sad ballad than ‘Winter Moon’ out there I‘m not sure I want to hear it.

I realise this week has rather become a homage to Hoagy rather than the usual brief paragraph on what I baked to. I make no apology for this! Just to round things off here is a photo of Mr C looking particularly debonair. Sorry for the flash, but I couldn’t find this pic on line so had to photograph the one I have hanging on the wall in my home office!