Sunday, 27 January 2008

Sugar and spice (and all things nice) cake

As we all know, boys are made from slugs and snails and puppy dog tails. Therefore this must be a cake for the girls!

Of all the cakes on my site this is probably the easiest to make. It is also utterly delicious; a perfect cake to have with a cup of tea or coffee. Lovely warm spices and a crunchy sugar topping makes this a sensual delight. But I have a confession. I only made it because I wanted to play with my new toy –my new nutmeg grater means I will never grate bits of my finger off again. When I unpacked it I stood grating nutmeg into the sink just for the fun of it before I conceded that, as activities went, this was probably one of the more futile. Isn’t she a beauty:

The cake is quite plain to look at – there won’t be any amazed gasps when you unveil it. The amazed gasps will come when people eat it and marvel at the flavours: cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. This cake is all about the eating! You can see the spicy flecks:

I am so confident in this cake that I serve it alone. No cream, no custard, no fruit, no bells, no whistles. Enjoy.

175g unsalted butter
250g light brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
250g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1-3 tablespoons milk (whole or semi skimmed)
2 tablespoons Demerara sugar

How to make:

- Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
- Line a 900g loaf tin with baking paper.
- Beat the butter until pale and creamy, then add the light brown sugar and beat for about 5 minutes. Usually I would say “beat until pale and fluffy” but that won’t happen with brown sugar. As long as you beat for 5 minutes it will be perfect.
- Gradually add the eggs, beating well to ensure they are incorporated.
- Add the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger to the creamed mix and fold in, adding the milk one spoon at a time as necessary. Only use as much milk as you need to slacken the mix.
- Spoon the mix into the tin and then sprinkle the Demerara sugar on top; this is what gives the crunchy top.
- Bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Mine took 1 hour.
- Cool in the tin for at least 10 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool.
- This cake will last several days in an airtight container and is most delicious a day or so after baking.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

What the Caked Crusader chose to bake to this week (26 Jan 2008)

I make no apology for ‘bigging up’ Eels again this week. Firstly, it’s my site! Secondly, I genuinely write about what I listened to when baking. Thirdly, Eels are probably just about the best band around at the moment.

I tend to be susceptible to any influences around me i.e. if I hear a song I know on a tv programme or advert, or read about an artist I like, I think “yeah, I’ve got that record – I need to listen to it”. This week during my train commute I have been reading Eels frontman E’s (aka Mark Oliver Everett) autobiography entitled “Things the Grandchildren Should Know”. If you appreciate the dry, dark wit of his lyrics then you will love his book. It’s particularly interesting to see how directly he turned the awful events in his life into songs. Listening to the song knowing the background makes the emotion so much stronger; I felt quite shaken listening to the song “Electro shock blues”, for example.

It’s also worth reading to find out what he said to his hero, Neil Young, the one time he met him!

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Bramley apple and custard tart

All hail Henry Merryweather. Apart from sounding like he’s just stepped out of a Dickens’ novel, he was the chap who discovered Bramley apples in his Nottinghamshire garden in 1850. Nothing says ‘England’ like a lovely big tart Bramley apple. And nothing says ‘yum’ like sweetened stewed Bramleys with custard. Hands up who wants a slice of this beauty?

Bramleys even look beautiful cooking in the pan:

Wherever you are in the UK at the moment, the chances are you’re being rained on. The sky seems to be a permanently murky grey colour and the rain is unrelenting. It is at such times that my thoughts turn to what is called “nursery food”. I don’t actually like the term because it always makes me think of milky rusks and pulpy food without any decent seasoning, but it seems to be used nowadays to describe comfort food of a sort that ‘nanny’ would’ve given us in our youth (what planet do the people live on who coin these phrases?)

This is another recipe for demanding types who like their baking to tick more than one box. It could be a dessert, or it could be a slice of something to have with a cup of tea. There’s no need to put anything with it as you already have the apple and custard in the tart topped with lovely cream. Pure excess! The best kind.

This tart is made in layers. First, you bake the pastry case, this is my favourite shortcrust pastry made with butter and egg yolk and all things delicious; no anaemic pastry here! – here it is fresh from the oven, the paper and baking beans removed. I like the way you get little dents in the pastry from where the beans have sat:

Say goodbye to the pastry as it's covered in apple puree. Although sweetened the apple retains a slightly tart edge which works wonderfully with the indulgent creamy custard:

Next, the custard is poured over:

What intrigued me with this recipe is that whenever I have seen cinnamon used in apple recipes, it is always added to the apple part of the dish. Here, the cinnamon infuses the custard and makes an interesting alternative to the usual vanilla custard. When I make this dish again I think I would add more cinnamon as I don’t think the taste really stood up to the other flavours of the dish. It was the first opportunity I’ve had to use my Bahamian cinnamon sticks:

It’s particularly appealing the way the custard mixes with the stewed apples and turns them a pinkish colour.


For the sweet rich shortcrust pastry:
173g plain flour
120og unsalted butter
3 tablespoons icing sugar
1 ½ egg yolks
(if you’re wondering why some of the quantities look odd, it’s because this is 1.5 times the basic recipe)

For the apple:
750g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped (I needed 5 apples)
65g golden caster sugar

For the custard:
400ml double cream
60g golden caster sugar
2 cinnamon sticks (or one large one) – I recommend adding more cinnamon
3 large egg yolks
1 egg (yolk and white)

For the cream:
142ml double cream
Vanilla extract, to taste

How to make:

- To make the pastry either put all the ingredients, except for the egg yolk, in a food processor and blend. Then add the egg yolk and bring together to a dough. Or, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles bread crumbs. Then stir in the icing sugar before adding the egg yolk and bringing to a dough.
- Make the pastry into a flattened disk and wrap in clingfilm, refrigerating for 30 minutes.
- Grease a 23cm round, 4cm deep loose bottomed flan tin.
- Roll the pastry out between two sheets of greaseproof paper and then line the tin with the pastry. Don’t worry if it tears, use any excess to patch it up – it is very good natured.
- Chill the pastry for an hour in the fridge (this will help to limit shrinkage on baking)
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
- Line the pastry case with either greaseproof paper or non-stick foil and fill it with baking beans, dried pulses – whatever you have.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is cooked, but still pale. You don’t want to overcook it at this stage as it has a lot of baking ahead of it!
- Remove the paper and beans and leave to cool.
- Now cook the apples. Place the chunks of peeled and cored Bramleys into a saucepan and add 2 tablespoons of water. Cook over a gentle heat until slightly softened and then add the sugar. I found the apples broke down to a pulp better with the saucepan lid on, but keep checking it as you may need to add a little extra water if the apples look dry. I needed to add a further 3 tablespoons.
- When the apples have collapsed (this will take 10-15 minutes) remove the pan from the heat and stir to ensure that no lumps remain. Leave to cool.
- Now make the custard. Put the cream in a saucepan and add the sugar and cinnamon sticks. Over a gentle heat, bring to the boil.
- Remove from the heat and fish out the cinnamon sticks. Leave the cream to cool for a few minutes before beating in the egg and yolks.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 170°C/fan oven 150°C/325°F/Gas mark 3
- Place the pastry case (still in the flan tin) on a baking sheet.
- Spoon the apple puree over the pastry base. At this point, put the baking sheet with the flan on it, onto the oven shelf as it will be too nerve-wracking and difficult to move the flan when you have poured the custard on!
- Pour the custard gently and slowly on to the flan. I poured it through a sieve to ensure that there were no lumps in the custard.
- Ease the oven shelf back into the oven, and bake for approximately 2 hours or until the custard is set (mine took 1 hour 45 mins). Don’t worry if, when you take the tart from the oven you notice a dark brown skin on top – I think this happens purely because of the slow baking. I tasted a bit and it was rather nice, however, it’s not that pretty so – on taking the tart from the oven – I peeled it off with a palette knife. It comes off very cleanly if done straight away and reveals the beautiful set yellow custard underneath.
- Allow to cool. You can either add the piped cream (simply whip the cream with a dash of vanilla) decoration at this point or just before serving. Either way, once cool, the tart must be kept refrigerated; it can be made a day in advance of serving.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

What the Caked Crusader chose to bake to this week (19 Jan 2008)

It’s never going to score me any points for coolness, but I don’t care – I love The Mills Brothers
Often copied, never bettered, they are one of the few vocal groups who can really swing yet also perform ballads. Most of the early recordings are simply a guitar and vocals yet you’ll swear there are more instruments – there aren’t, it’s just the remarkable talents of those Mills boys! Later recordings had them singing with a band and I always feel that this detracts from the brilliance of their harmonies. Having said that, their album with Count Basie would be in my all time top ten list of albums. It’s quite hard to get hold of in the UK but Amazon US has it. Do whatever you must to get a copy (beg, borrow but don’t steal – that’s just wrong) you won’t regret it.

You may be thinking to yourself, “but I haven’t got a clue who these Mills Brothers are”; and my response would be that I bet you have! Their recordings are often used in TV commercials – remember the employment agency ad of a few years back with the “Get a job, bahda da da, sha la la la la” or the recent car ad with the toy tiger left on the roof “hold that tiger, hold that tiger” – starting to sound familiar?

I was delighted to see that there are various Mills Brothers performances available on Youtube
Worth watching if only to see how TV musical performances have changed!

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Vanilla cheesecake with raspberry sauce.

Indiana Jones’s goal in life was to find the Covenant of the Ark (and then some other stuff that justified the sequels). Outcome: successful.
The Tin Man joined Dorothy in her quest because he wanted a heart (which frankly is just going to make me sound petty in comparison). Outcome: successful
My aim is to find the perfect cheesecake. Outcome: almost there.

My Perfect Cheesecake (MPC) would be beautiful, smooth, dense textured but still light. Over the years I have tried many cheesecake recipes and they’ve never quite matched up to MPC that dwells in my brain and torments me in its elusiveness.

So this is my latest attempt:

It was absolutely lovely – I wouldn’t say it was MPC but it was pretty darned close; certainly closer than I’ve ever been before. Using ricotta rather than cream cheese definitely gives both a better flavour and texture. The biscuit base was very pleasing too as it held together well but was delicious and crumbly in the eating.

Where I goofed on this one was the topping. The recipe had a topping I didn’t care for so I decided to use raspberries. However, as soon as I started to heat the raspberries in some sugared water they all collapsed scuppering my intention to cover the top with beautifully poached whole raspberries covered in thick sauce.

Here they are, innocent before they did the dirty on me and all collapsed into mush:

I also used too many raspberries and ended up with a topping that swamped the cheesecake underneath. What I would do if I made this again is use 500g of raspberries (the photo above shows 750g – what was I thinking??) Firstly I would use enough whole raspberries from this amount to sit on top of the cheesecake. I would then poach the remainder in water and sugar and pour this sauce firstly, through a strainer and then over the raspberries. If I’d done that this time, I may well have been writing about MPC.

One curious thought that hit me when I was dissolving the gelatine was that it looked like I was melting a breast implant. See for yourself:

For the base:
5og unsalted butter
160g digestive biscuits

For the filling:
350g ricotta
11g sachet of gelatine powder
2 egg yolks
60g caster sugar
2 teaspoons Vanilla extract (I put in more as I’m a vanilla freak)
275ml double cream

For the topping:
500g raspberries
Sugar, to taste

How to make:

- Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C/400°F/Gas mark 6.
- Grease an 18cm round tin.
- For the base, melt the butter in a saucepan. While it is melting, crush the biscuits into crumbs. I like to do this by putting the biscuits in a freezer bag, securing the end and then bashing them with my rolling pin.
- Add the crumbs to the melted butter and ensure that you mix well.
- Press the crumbs into the cake tin and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until the base is browned.
- Leave to cool.
- Put 4 tablespoons of cold water into a dish and sprinkle the gelatine powder on top. Leave for 5 minutes.
- In a saucepan heat some water until it is gently simmering. Sit the bowl of water and gelatine on top and leave until the gelatine water has turned clear i.e. all the gelatine has dissolved. This took about 5-10 minutes. Put to one side.
- Beat the ricotta, egg yolks and sugar until blended.
- Add the vanilla and gelatine and continue to beat until the mix is smooth and well combined.
- In a separate bowl, whip the cream until it is at the soft peak stage, then add to the ricotta mix and beat until combined.
- Tip the mix onto the base, cover with foil and chill for at least 3 hours.
- Sit whole raspberries on top of the cheesecake.
- Put two tablespoons of water into a pan and melt a tablespoon of caster sugar into it. When it has dissolved, add the remaining raspberries.
- When the raspberries have collapsed, sweeten the sauce to taste. When it is sweet enough let it come to the boil and bubble away until it reduces in volume by about half and is thick. Strain into a jug and allow to cool.
- You may find as it cools, a skin forms. Remove this and then pour the sauce over the raspberries.
- Cover with clingfilm and return to the fridge until ready to serve.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

What the Caked Crusader chose to bake to this week (12 Jan 2008)

Strange thing the mind. Well, mine is anyway. This week I couldn’t stop humming a song – you know what it’s like; a nugget of a tune gets in your brain and you can’t shift it. The song was “We’ve Got Everything We Need”. I hadn’t listened to it for 5 years, maybe more, but there was it was in my brain – fully formed. All the lyrics too.

It comes from the album Out of Here by Tim Keegan and the Departure Lounge and was released in 1999. I can’t even remember why I bought the CD back then. It was never a commercial hit so I’m baffled as to how I came across it . But I’m glad I did because it’s still a wonderful CD. The internet informs me that the band have long since disbanded which makes me sad that they didn’t record more – I remember their second (and final) album not quite matching the quality of the first. How can you not love a band who call a song “Save me from Happiness”?

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Kourabiedes (Greek shortbread biscuits)

Now this is going to sound dreadfully pretentious and I apologise, but sometimes the truth is a bit pretentious. I first came across these biscuits in a Greek cafe in Nassau, Bahamas. The chef was only able to write the name down using the Greek alphabet. Luckily, my colleague Alan (the poet – remember?) was able to apply his Physics degree knowledge to translating this into English letters. I then had something workable to Google in order to track down the recipe. One bite convinced me they were worth all the effort!
If you’re ever in that neck of the woods I can heartily recommend the grilled Snapper:

Here endeth the pretentious bit.

Technically these little biscuits are classified as dessert but I don’t see the need to be inconvenienced by limiting them to a post-prandial time slot. They are closest to a shortbread biscuit but that’s not really a good description. Using icing sugar always makes a biscuit deliciously soft and refined in texture. The addition of ground almonds makes them moist and the dash of brandy adds a depth of flavour – you wouldn’t honestly know that it was brandy, they don’t taste alcoholic, but you know there’s something extra there.

Here they are fresh from the oven – don’t overcook them as you’ll lose the crumbly softness:

I think they benefit from a light dusting of icing sugar. They look ever so pretty:

Here they are in the tin ready to be taken visiting (and meet their doom but they don't know that yet!):

Crumbly and moist, as all the best biscuits should be, these are also very quick to make. I think it’s traditional that they are crescent shaped – and why not?

250g unsalted butter
80g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brandy (you could omit this but add more vanilla to replace the liquid)
1 egg yolk
375g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g ground almond
Sifted icing sugar for dusting

How to make:

- Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
- Grease or line two baking sheets. This volume will make between 30-40 biscuits.
- Beat the butter and icing sugar until pale and fluffy.
- Add the vanilla, brandy and egg, then beat until combined.
- Fold in the flour, baking powder and almonds. Only fold until you sense the mix is about to come together into a dough.
- Take tablespoons of the mix and roll in your hands until you have made a fat sausage. Curve it slightly into a crescent and place on the baking sheet. The biscuits expand a little but not greatly so you can put them quite close.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly golden.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
- Traditionally the biscuits are dusted with icing sugar before serving.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

Soured cream and hazelnut crumble cake

After the excesses of Christmas I felt it was time for a simple cake; one that didn’t need a side serving of cream and wasn’t smothered in, admittedly delicious, buttercream. A sort of ‘detox’ cake (Disclaimer: the owner of the site makes no health claims about this cake)

This is an interesting cake (aren’t they all.....sigh) as the actual cake part of the mix isn’t very sweet. However, the crumble part is and so an interesting contrast is created. The cake is seriously succulent:

One thing I would say, I followed the recipe and made the cake in a 23cm square tin. Next time I think I’ll make it in a 20cm square tin to get it a bit deeper. I’m not mad about shallow cakes and would rather have a smaller, but more cube-like, shape.

The slice just glistens with juicy goodness:

For the crumble element:
225g dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
115g finely chopped hazelnuts (you could also use walnuts)
55g unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces

For the cake:
115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g caster sugar
3 eggs
215g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
250ml soured cream
Optional: dash of vanilla

How to make:

- Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
- Grease and line a 23cm square tin or a 20cm square tin if you prefer a deeper (albeit smaller) cake.
- For the topping mix the brown sugar, nuts and cinnamon together and then rub in the butter. It won’t go to breadcrumb consistency but rub until you sense the butter has been evenly distributed among the dry ingredients. Put to one side.
- To make the cake, cream the butter and sugar together either in a mixer or by hand. Cream until the mixture turns pale and looks fluffy.
- Beat in the eggs one at a time. The mix may start to curdle but it will not affect the outcome. If it bothers you add a little of the flour to stop it (NB. Add the flour from the recipe’s allocation – not extra flour!)
- In a separate bowl, combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder.
- Fold one third of the flour mix into the creamed butter and egg mix. Then fold in one third of the soured cream. Continue to alternate until all the flour and soured cream is incorporated.
- Spoon half the batter into the cake tin. Sprinkle half of the crumble mix on top of this.
- Spoon the remaining batter onto the crumble mix and gently spread so that no crumble is visible. Sprinkle the remaining crumble mix on top of the cake.
- Bake until a skewer comes out clean. This will take somewhere between 60-70 minutes. Mine took exactly 60 minutes. If you make the cake in the smaller tin it may take a little longer as the mix will be deeper.
- Let the cake cool for 15 minutes or so in the tin, before turning out and letting cool completely on a wire rack.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

The Caked Crusader goes sales shopping...

For some females, sales shopping is about frenzied buying of handbags, shoes etc that have become irresistible merely because they are cheaper than they were when you rejected them initially. The Caked Crusader rises above such futility; to the extent that sales shopping this year comprised of visiting my local department store.

My kitchen scales and me have been getting along just fine, my only complaint being that I had to crouch down a bit to read the display. However, I had to convince myself that we had grown apart because, when I saw this stunner glinting at me seductively from the shop shelf, I knew we were meant to be together!

It wasn’t the beautiful blue-lit display, it wasn’t just the shiny and curvaceous bowl, it wasn’t that it can measure grams/ounces/fluid ounces/millilitres. It wasn’t even that it was reduced by 25%. It was love.

What the Caked Crusader chose to bake to this week (5 Jan 2008)

I’m not usually a fan of female vocals often finding them too shrill or over-theatrical. Shirley Manson’s vocals however, are superb. This week I listened to the Garbage debut album, also imaginatively called ‘Garbage’. I think the phrase is ‘all killer, no filler’. There isn’t a bad moment on the whole CD which is why it disappointed me when subsequent releases never quite measured up.

Sometimes CDs become attached to a moment in your life and just listening to the CD conjures up such a rounded, full memory that it’s almost frightening. Think Proust’s Madeleine but music. This album was released in 1996, slap bang in the middle of my three years of training and exams to become a Chartered Accountant. I can clearly recall listening to this as a reward having completed a tedious day’s study faffing about with weighted average cost of capital and net present value calculations. If that means nothing to you be grateful!