Thursday, 28 February 2008

Great Cooks Blogroll

I have joined the Great Cooks Blogroll! If you glance at the bottom right corner of my blog you will see a link and the blogroll showing you all the sites who belong. Think of all the wonderful recipes these sites contain!

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Rich butter cake

This cake is simplicity itself – a plain loaf that only takes about 10 minutes to make and put in the oven. But what rewards for so little effort! Sometimes you just want a really plain cake with lovely, subtle flavours but no fuss.

This cake is all about butter and vanilla. A marriage made in heaven!

A soft, close textured sponge not dissimilar to a Madeira cake but more vanilla-y. Perfect with a cup of tea (or coffee if you absolutely must). If you want to add another texture to the cake you can scatter crushed sugar cubes on the top of the cake before baking but I haven’t done this – I don’t think it needs it.

Here you can see the rich, buttery texture:

No other cake ingredient seems to waft such a delicious aroma around the home whilst cooking quite like vanilla. To me it is the culinary equivalent of the Sirens calling sailors to the rocks. Except no one dies.

I think this shot shows the beautiful “come and get me” texture of the cake:

250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons semi skimmed milk
3-4 teaspoons vanilla extract
250g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

How to make:

- Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
- Line a 900g loaf tin.
- Cream the butter and sugar together until they are pale and fluffy. Don’t skimp on this stage – give the mixture a good beating for 5 minutes or so.
- Gradually beat in the eggs, milk and vanilla. Don’t worry if it curdles a little, as soon as you add the flour it will sort itself out.
- Fold in the flour and baking powder until well mixed in.
- Spoon into the tin and level.
- Bake in the over for 50-55 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Mine took an hour.
- Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and allowing to cool completely
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

What the Caked Crusader chose to bake to this week (23 Feb 2008)

I wouldn’t say that Stacey Kent is going to go down in musical history as one of the all-time great female jazz singers, but I have a soft spot for her uncomplicated style and the way that you always get the sense that she thinks the song’s the star, rather than her – she never spoils a classic with the modern curse of vocal acrobatics which seems to involve putting in 8 notes where only one is required.

Her plaintive rendition of “Fools Rush In” – possibly Johnny Mercer’s finest lyric and, trust me, there’s a lot of competition! – is her masterpiece; not a word or note is wasted and I still can’t listen to it without hitting the replay button!

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Plum, almond and ricotta cake

This could very well be the moment I attain ‘nirvana’ in cake. Imagine a cake that has the lightness of the most beautiful sponge yet the richness and depth of flavour of a cheesecake and the moistness of the most wonderful friand . Then imagine that it has a layer of sweet jam and is topped by juicy caramelised plums. Then imagine that you don’t have to imagine it because it’s real!

There are no words to describe the loveliness of this cake. It looks beautiful, tastes beautiful and is ridiculously easy to make. It takes longer to assemble in the tin than it does to actually make the batter.

Any soft fruit would work in this cake - apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums – and I think it’s important to match the jam to the fruit. I happen to love plums and had a jar of homemade damson jam that provided a lovely match.

Don’t put the jam right to the edge as you want the cake to bake around it and enclose it. You don’t need to be too fussy about spreading it – blob it on:

Then cover with the remaining batter:

Any cake that looks this beautiful going into the oven is going to be a winner:

As it cooks, the sugar sprinkled on the top caramelises the fruit and makes a glorious topping:

This is what I believe is called a “serving suggestion”:

250g ricotta cheese
140g unsalted butter, melted
4 eggs, beaten
225g golden caster sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for the top
250g self raising flour
200g ground almonds
4 tablespoons of plum/damson jam
1 tin of plums (There were 11 in the tin of which I used 7), stoned and cut into quarters
Handful of flaked almonds

To serve: lightly whipped cream. I used Chantilly cream.

How to make:
- Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C/375°F/Gas mark 5.
- Line a 23cm round cake tin. I used a one piece liner as it saves having to grease the tin.
- Beat together the ricotta, melted butter, eggs and sugar until well combined.
- Fold in the flour and ground almonds. You will have a very thick, heavy batter.
- Spoon half the batter into the tin and even out.
- Blob the jam over the batter trying not to go right to the edge (it’s nice if the cake encloses the jam so it’s a lovely surprise when the cake is cut).
- Spoon the rest of the batter over the jam and, using a knife, even the surface.
- Arrange the plum quarters on top of the batter.
- Scatter over the flaked almonds.
- Sprinkle the tablespoon of sugar over the top and then bake for approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Mine took 1 hour and 25 minutes. The cake will have risen and the sugar should have caramelised the fruit. The fruit will shrivel a little but this is where all the delicious flavour comes from!
- Let the cake cool for 20 minutes or so before removing from the tin and letting cool completely on a wire rack.
- If desired, dust with icing sugar before serving. Personally, I don’t think it needs it.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

What’s The Caked Crusader been buying now....?

The ‘4C’ (Caked Crusader’s Credit Card) has been called into action again. I’ve been reading lots of pastry and cheesecake recipes recently that suggest using a food processor. I don’t have one. Or rather, I didn’t have one till this stunner arrived!

The companion piece to my much-loved KitchenAid mixer this is equally unfussy and beautiful. It also weighs a ton so I’ve put it on a separate counter top to the mixer for fear of my kitchen cupboards falling through the floor into the flat below. If you live in the flat below me – don’t worry, the floor is solid concrete and I’m sure that if my eight tons of cake tins haven’t broken it, my 15kg food processor won’t!

What the Caked Crusader chose to bake to this week (16 Feb 2008)

Nothing is more disappointing in music than when someone makes a brilliant debut album that you play to death and then never seems to be able to match it again. My CD collection is littered with brilliant debuts and unworthy follow ups – Tom McRae, Roddy Frame (as a solo artist), Clearlake, The Sundays are just a few that spring to mind...and Ed Harcourt.

Ed Harcourt’s debut “Here Be Monsters” and the EP he released prior to it, “Maplewood” are just great. A mix of joyous upbeat sing-a-longs and moodier, dark songs it had everything; seven years after its release there still isn’t a track I skip. I remember seeing him in concert in 2001, delighted to find him so early in his career and thinking ‘here’s someone I’m going to be seeing many times in the future’. Then came the second album.

I know the argument is that artists have forever to perfect their debut then the record company demands a speedy follow up, but I think there’s another reason too. With success comes budget and a tendency to over-produce things removing the heart that made it so successful in the first place. Anyway, rant over! Let’s end on a positive: “Here Be Monsters” is a wonderful album!

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Cream horns

It’s silly to talk about trends in cakes, but when was the last time you saw a cream horn? How can something so delectable fall so out of fashion? It’s an outrage! So this is my little contribution to bring them back into the minds of you all out there.

Until I started investigating the disappearance of the cream horn I hadn’t considered how they were moulded into the distinctive cornucopia shape. I then purchased these intriguing moulds :

When they arrived my instinct was to put them on my fingers and start cackling like a witch. When my brother saw them he put one on his finger and turned it into that mouse from Fingerbobs. This was a tv programme shown quite a lot in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s – the odd thing is that I remember it ALWAYS being on, yet only 13 episodes were made. It was presented by a slightly creepy man who wore a glove and stuck cheap cardboard puppets onto his fingers. There aren’t many things a gloved and carded finger can look like so you got a mouse, a seagull, a tortoise and a scampi. Yep, a scampi, I kid you not. And there was the insanely catchy ‘fingermouse’ song. Listening to it again on Youtube highlights the poor lyrics of “fingermouse, fingermouse, always on the brinkermouse”. Goodness we were easily pleased back then. But I digress....cream horns.

The ‘horn’ part of a cream horn is made from puff pastry. This, along with filo, is a pastry that I use shop bought. One day, I will attempt to make it but not yet. The trick is to cut long strips of the pastry and wind it round the mould. A dab of water on the end of the strip enables it to stick.
Glazed and ready for the oven:

Once the horn is made you can fill it how you please. I decided on custard cream with raspberries for half of them, and custard cream and chocolate for the other half. While the horns can be baked the day before, I would only recommend filling on the day you will serve them – otherwise you risk making the pastry soggy.

Cooked horn ready for filling:

I found that one sheet of puff pastry gave me 6 horns. The recipe below is for 12 horns.

For the horns:
2 sheets of ready rolled puff pastry
1 egg
Caster sugar

For the filling:
300ml double cream
250g good quality fresh custard
Vanilla extract, if required
Small box of raspberries
2 tablespoons of light brown sugar
1 small tub chocolate curls (available in the cake decorating section of the supermarket – chocolate chips would also work)

How to make:

- Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C/400°F/Gas mark 6.
- Line your baking sheets with baking paper. I recommend putting only 4 horns on each baking sheet as they puff up.
- Have a little bowl of water next to where you are working.
- Unroll the pastry and cut strips of about 1.5cm lengthways. Dampen the end with water and then roll around the cream horn mould taking care to overlap so there are no gaps. Place on the baking sheet and repeat until you have 4.
- Brush the pastry with beaten egg and then sprinkle with caster sugar.
- Bake in the oven for approximately 15 minutes. You’re aiming for a dark golden colour. In my oven, this took 18 minutes.
- Allow the horns to cool slightly before removing the mould. The pastry will have puffed up around the mould but with gentle twisting it is easy to remove.
- Repeat until all the horns are baked.
- Both fillings have the same custard cream. Start whisking the cream until it thickens slightly. Add the vanilla extract, if using, and whisk until incorporated.
- With the whisk still running, spoon several tablespoons of the custard into the cream. When it is incorporated add more custard. It’s best to do this gradually as you don’t want to inhibit the cream thickening. You won’t be able to beat all the custard into the cream so use your judgement.
- Now all that is required is assembly. Spoon half the custard cream into a piping bag and pipe a horn one third full. Add some raspberries (if the raspberries are tart, spoon some light brown sugar over them and let it be absorbed – I did this the day before building my horns), then pipe some more cream, then some raspberries and so on.
- For the chocolate horns stir the chocolate curls into the custard cream, then pipe into the horns, adding more chocolate if desired.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Congress tarts

I was driven half insane by the smell of these cooking. They contain practically all the things I would pick for my “last supper” namely coconut, almond, vanilla, pastry and jam. If I could have snuck custard in there somehow I would die happy! The Caked Crusader’s Ma (CCM) had a great idea – she thought that they would be lovely warmed for a dessert and served with custard. The CCM then got rather excited at the thought of one large congress tart and had to calm herself down!

Here’s the inside view:

Google has let me down as I was trying to find out how they got their name and all I could find were lots of lame jokes about American politics...I’m sure you get the drift. So if anyone knows, I am genuinely interested to learn how they acquired the name.

This could be one of those “oh, just me then” moments, but don’t you love it when you open a box of eggs and find a feather attached to one of the eggs?

I think it’s important to point out two things about these little beauties. Firstly, they are quite sweet – don’t get me wrong – not in a bad way. If you like a bakewell tart then you’ll be fine with these. Secondly, when I make them again I will put a smidgen more jam in the base. I was careful this time as I didn’t want jam bubbling up the sides of the tart but I think they could take a little more! Here’s how much jam I put in:

These are all a coconut lover could want – juicier than a macaroon, more flavoursome than coconut ice, more substantial than a Bounty bar. In other words: heaven!

Unusually for me, I used the pastry recipe rather than my trusty shortcrust. What intrigued me was the use of the whole egg, not just the yolk and the inclusion of vanilla. It’s a nice pastry – quite biscuity in some ways and a dream to roll out.

The raw filling isn’t the most attractive you’ll ever see; it looks a bit like porridge:

The tarts start to get more appealing by the time they are assembled and ready for the oven:

And by the time they come out of the oven they are practically Miss World’s of the cake kingdom!

For the pastry:
200g plain flour
Pinch of salt
70g unsalted butter
80g caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the tart filling:
250g caster sugar
150g ground almonds
1.5 tablespoons of rice flour or semolina
Pinch of ground cinnamon
3 egg whites
70g desiccated coconut
Raspberry jam (I used a seedless variety)

How to make:

- First make the pastry. Rub the butter into the flour and salt until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Stir in the sugar then make a well in the centre for the egg and vanilla.
- Using a knife, bring the mixture together. Mine came together beautifully, but if the pastry looks too crumbly sprinkle some water on to it. Not too much – just enough to bring together.
- Shape the dough into a ball and sit it on a sheet of clingfilm. Flatten slightly into a disc then wrap up and chill for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C/400°F/Gas mark 6.
- Grease two 12 hole patty tins. This recipe will make 18 tarts.
- Roll the pastry out between two sheets of baking paper and using a round cutter slightly bigger than the patty hole, cut out circles of pastry. You’re aiming for the pastry to be thin but not see-through. About 4mm thick.
- Once all the pastry cases are cut out and sitting in the patty tins, put the tins in the fridge for about 10 minutes. This will limit shrinkage on cooking.
- Now make the tart filling. In a bowl whisk the egg whites until they are frothy but still liquid.
- In a separate bowl mix the sugar, ground almonds, rice flour or semolina, and cinnamon.
- Fold the dry ingredients into the egg whites then add 50g only of the desiccated coconut.
- Remove the patty tins from the fridge and spoon a little jam into the base of each. Don’t spread it out – leave it as a little mound in the centre . This will stop the jam from seeping out. (Note my photo above of the jam – next time, I will use more than this)
- Spoon the coconut filling on top, evenly across how ever many tarts you have.
- Sprinkle the remaining 20g of coconut on top.
- Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown and firm to the touch. The skewer test won’t work. Mine took 25 minutes.
- Allow to cool before removing from tin.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

New adventures in friands

Now if you’re anything like me you lie awake at night rueing the fact that a friand is always better with raspberries in it, but to get that flavour combination you sacrifice the lovely domed top of the friand.

I believe I highlighted this sadness in my original friand post.

Well, worry not my friends for I have had somewhat of a eureka! moment. I tried a batch of friands and put half the mix into the tray. Then I put the raspberries in. Now you see them:

Then I covered them with the rest of the mix. Now you don’t:

And they domed!

What the Caked Crusader chose to bake to this week (2 Feb 2008)

Some people just exude cool - Mose Allison is probably the coolest singer I can think of. He’s so laid back that you wonder how he’s staying awake. On top of his easy vocals, he’s a great pianist and songwriter.

The greatest hits CDs are the best value and my favourite is available from Amazon.
Plus (warning: obscure TV reference coming up) on the cover of this album he is a doppelganger for Howard Hughes from “Ever Decreasing Circles” - a great British TV comedy from the 1980s. Can’t find a photo of Howard to prove it – so you’ll have to take it on trust!

If you are drawn to the pessimistic side of the street how can you not love the lyrics to “I don’t worry about a thing”? It’s a gorgeous antidote to every sappy ‘I love life’ song out there – here’s the first verse:

If this life is driving
You to drink
You sit around and wondering
Just what to think
Well I got some consolation
I'll give it to you
If I might
Well I don't worry ‘bout a thing
Cause I know nothing’s gonna be alright

Saturday, 2 February 2008

I’ve been tagged!

Luckily it didn’t hurt. I was tagged by Glamah who writes her lovely blog in the Windy City itself – Chicago.

As I understand it, it is now my duty to provide 5 facts about myself and then tag five other people. They post 5 facts (about themselves) on their blog and link back to me, then pick 5 other people to tag. I suppose eventually every blog in the world will be linked through the game.

Fact 1 – My home currently contains not one, but two David Tennant calendars (different pictures, couldn't decide, one in the kitchen, one in the spare bedroom, hurrah!).
Fact 2 – One night last week I dreamed that my nephew’s toy seal (who’s called Gottron) started hanging out with rock stars and got a tattoo.
Fact 3 – I am a frustrated creative at heart and have written two novels (unpublished – grrrrrrrr)
Fact 4 – The most famous person I have ever met is Kevin Spacey. I was not at my eloquent best.
Fact 5 – I actually quite enjoy washing up. Consequently I use my dishwasher as a storage cupboard for cake tins.

Phew, now that’s done who shall I tag....?

Soo -
Ling -
Clarice –
Anamika –
Fiona –

Over to you, ladies!