Sunday, 29 June 2008

Rhubarb meringue pie

I have always loved the concept of lemon meringue pie; it looks gorgeous - like a cloud has landed in a pie plate - and you get lots of different flavours and textures in a single slice. In fact, the only thing holding me back from forming a lifelong love affair with lemon meringue pie is the small matter of my lemon loathing. I may well have found the answer.

There’s no need to pipe the meringue but I’m obsessed with piping everything at the moment:

Rhubarb provides the same tart contrast as lemon does to the sweet sticky meringue and, as the CCD (Caked Crusader’s Da) had harvested the last of the summer’s rhubarb crop it seemed wrong to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Here’s the rhubarb waiting to be covered in a duvet of meringue:

Rhubarb, left to its own devices, is very tart – mouth puckeringly so. What interested me with this recipe was that you use a combination of sugar and orange juice to sweeten the rhubarb. The orange juice worked beautifully and seemed to bring out a delightful depth of flavour in the rhubarb. It was intriguing as the first ‘hit’ of flavour was the tart rhubarb then the sweet orange came through and left you with a fresh citrus taste.

The rhubarb filling sets very firm allowing lovely crisp slices to be cut:

I served it with thick cream, but in truth, it didn’t need it (believe me, this is not a comment I make lightly!).

For the pastry:
173g plain flour
120g unsalted butter
3 tablespoons icing sugar
2 egg yolks - keep the whites for the meringue!
Plus, a further 2 egg yolks for sealing the pastry after baking blind – keep the whites for the meringue!

For the rhubarb filling:
675g rhubarb, chopped
75g caster sugar
Juice of 3 oranges (if you want to use bottle juice, this amounts to 250ml)
75g cornflour
1 egg yolk

For the meringue:
4 egg whites – saved from the stages above!
175g caster sugar

To serve: whipped cream

How to make:

- First make the pastry. Place the flour, icing sugar and butter in either a food processor or mixer and blend until the texture fine breadcrumbs.
- Add the egg yolks and mix until the dough comes together.
- Using your hands, make the dough into a smooth ball. Flatten slightly then wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C/400°F/Gas mark 6.
- Grease a 23cm fluted flan tin and then roll the pastry out and use to line the tin. I roll my pastry out between two sheets of baking paper as this eliminates the need to dust the surface with flour.
- Once in the tin, cover the pastry with either baking paper or non stick foil and weigh down with baking beans.
- Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the baking beans and paper and brush the pastry with the two beaten egg yolks. This will seal the pastry and stop it becoming soggy from the juicy rhubarb.
- Return the pastry, uncovered, to the oven for a further 15 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and golden.
- Leave to cool on a wire rack.
- While the pastry is cooking, make the rhubarb filling. Put the chopped rhubarb in a large pan with the sugar. Cover the pan and cook on a low heat for five minutes. Then remove the lid and keep cooking until the rhubarb softens. Rhubarb collapses when it cooks and that’s what you’re aiming for – you don’t want any hard lumps left. Stir every now and again to encourage the rhubarb to break down.
- Mix the cornflour with the orange juice. Remove the rhubarb from the heat and stir in the orange juice/cornflour mixture.
- Return the pan to the heat and bring to the boil stirring all the time. This will thicken the rhubarb.
- When the rhubarb is at boiling point, cook it for a further 2 minutes then remove from the heat.
- Allow to cool slightly before beating in the egg yolk. If you do this straightaway the egg might scramble so be patient!
- Pour the rhubarb into the pastry case. You can make the dish up to this point the day before serving. Let the rhubarb cool in the pastry case then cover and chill. If you make the meringue the day before it might weep.
- Finally, make the meringue topping. Whisk the three egg whites until the soft peak stage.
- Preheat the oven to 150°C/fan oven 130°C/300°F/Gas mark 2
- Continue to whisk and add the sugar gradually until it is fully incorporated.
- Whisk until the stiff peak stage before spreading or piping over the rhubarb.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes until the meringue is crisp on the outside and golden brown.
- Serve either warm or at room temperature but definitely with cream!
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

Strawberry and cream cheesecake cupcakes

The TV is full of Wimbledon at the moment and while it probably makes most people think about tennis, I think about strawberries and cream (it’s always food first!)

These cupcakes pack a lot of intrigue. They are pretty enough so that if all you got was what you saw i.e. a cupcake with a creamy strawberry topping, you’d be happy. But they have a secret! Baked inside the cupcake is a strawberry along with some creamy cheese filling.

After spooning half the batter into the paper cases you stand a strawberry in the mix:

Then the cream cheese filling:

Then the rest of the batter:

Mine went a bit wild in the oven!

The texture of the cake isn’t the normal spongy cake. I would say it was a halfway house between a cupcake and a scone. Once piled up with the cream and strawberry topping it is a substantial cake. Here they are ready to transport:

There are a few stages to making these but nothing complicated. As long as you have the time, you certainly have the skill.

One warning, so you don’t panic when making these, the batter is particularly ugly. The texture of it is a bit like when melted mozzarella starts to cool down and goes a bit stringy.

For the cupcake:
90g cream cheese (I used Philadelphia)
150g caster sugar (50g for the cream cheese, 100g for the cakes)
350g plain flour
2.5 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
240ml milk
30g unsalted butter, melted
12 small strawberries, washed and hulled

For the strawberry and cream topping:
426ml double cream
3 tablespoons icing sugar

For decoration: 12 big strawberries

How to make:

- Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
- Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.
- Mix the cream cheese with 50g of caster sugar and set aside.
- Now make the cupcakes. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and remaining 100g of sugar.
- In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the milk and melted butter.
- Pour the liquid into the dry mixture and beat until well combined.
- Spoon half the batter into the 12 paper cases.
- Place a strawberry and a teaspoonful of cream cheese in the centre of each cupcake, then cover with the remaining cake batter. Ensure the strawberry is completely covered.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out cleanly (from around the edge – you want to test the sponge, not the strawberry!). Mine took 20 minutes and went a bit wild – they came out huge!
- Leave to cool on a wire rack.
- Now make the topping. Whisk the cream until it forms soft peaks then add the icing sugar and whisk until stiff peaks form.
- Pipe onto the cupcakes.
- Top the cream with a lovely big strawberry with the leaves left on.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

What the Caked Crusader chose to bake to this week (28 June 2008)

Lee Wiley was a popular jazz singer in the 1930s-1950s and it baffles me why she – yes, she - isn’t still popular. I can’t even recall how I discovered her recordings now but that smoky voice and perfect phrasing had me at the first note!

Lee Wiley sings in the style that I would term “supper club jazz”. I think I may have just invented this description. What I mean by it is that this is what I’d love playing while I ate a nice dinner somewhere.

The stand out track for me – because I love the song as much as Wiley’s rendition of it – is “More than you know” available on her Night in Manhattan/Sings Vincent Youmans/Sings Irving Berlin album. Beautiful and just as great songs should be performed: simply.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Berry and custard cake

While I enjoy tackling complicated, involved recipes – indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a blog if each week my comments amounted to “open the packet, pour it out into a bowl” – there is something very rewarding about a simple recipe that looks so much more. This is definitely such a recipe. The finished cake looks sophisticated and like you spent several hours on it. In truth the whole cake is baked in one go and once it’s baked there’s little more to do than eat it!

This is a perfect cake to make right now when the summer berries are abundant and of beautiful quality. I used English raspberries and blackberries but you could use any mix of berries that take your fancy. Nothing says summer like a colander full of berries!

Once the cake batter is in the tin you sit the berries on top:

Then cover the berries with custard:

The custard is incredibly easy to make and as it is made with soured cream rather than the more usual double cream it has a very slight tart edge that compliments the berries perfectly. If you normally find custard too sweet then give this a go.

Whilst cooking the cake encases the custard and this is what it looks like once baked; I love the way you can see the berries just waiting to burst free from the squidgy sides of the cake:

I knew the cake would taste delicious but thought it needed something to make it look pretty. The recipe recommended serving it with whipped cream and more berries so I though why not put these on top of the cake?

The berries clearly thought this was a good decision as they are positively glowing with happiness!

This is the sort of cake where everybody wants a second slice. Can you blame them?

Cream, custard, berries and sponge. The perfect summer cake. Enjoy!

If some of the measurements in the recipe look strangely precise it is because I converted it from a US recipe in cups.

Finally I got to use my new cake tin this week – I like things that go beyond being merely useful and are also beautiful. I ordered mine from Amazon.

For the cake:
125g (1 cup) plain flour
112g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
1 egg
100g (7 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
300g (3 cups) mixed berries (I used raspberries and blackberries)

For the custard topping:
475ml (2 cups) soured cream
112g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
1 ½ tablespoons custard powder
2 egg yolks
3 teaspoons vanilla extract

Optional decoration: whipped cream and raspberries

How to make:

- Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
- Grease and line a 23cm springform cake tin.
- Mix together all the cake ingredients, except the berries, until you have well combined and smooth batter.
- Spoon into the cake tin and level.
- Place the berries evenly over the surface of the cake batter and put the tin to one side.
- Now make the custard topping. Place all the ingredients into a bowl and beat until you have a nice yellow runny custard.
- Pour the custard gently over the berries so as not to disturb them.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes until the custard is well set. Mine took 60 minutes. Don’t worry if the cake creeps up over the custard whilst baking – it gives a rather nice ‘enclosed’ look, as if the sponge base is a bowl for the custard.
- Leave to cool in the tin, on a wire rack. The cake will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator.
- Serve with whipped cream and berries, if desired; you can either pipe it on top of the cake and place the berries on top or serve separately in bowls.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

Cinnamon sugar puff cupcakes

Over the past weeks I have hugely enjoyed my foray into the world of cupcakes and buttercream. This week I was keen to find something that still qualified as a cupcake but didn’t go down the buttercream route; this week I wanted the cupcake to be the star.

I cannot recall when I enjoyed making anything more than these little puff cakes. When I got to the stage of rolling the cake tops in melted butter and then dipping in sugar I wished I’d made 100 as I could’ve stood there for hours performing this inexplicably gratifying task!

The butter and the sugar awaiting the cupcakes:

The topping is applied when the cupcake is still hot; as the cake cools the topping turns into the sort of sugary coating that you normally see on doughnuts – you know the sort, where it sticks to your lips and you just have to lick it off. The cupcakes are quite pale – I love this photo as it shows the dipped (on the left) and the undipped (on the right). Just look how deep and beautiful the colour of the cinnamon coating is:

All dipped!

The combination of crisp sugar topping and soft airy sponge is delightful. Next time I make them I will double up the recipe as the cupcakes are quite small and I am a glutton.

Cut open, you can see the flecks of nutmeg in the cupcake. For small cakes these really pack a flavour:

Still deliberating whether to make them? As you can imagine, The CCD (Caked Crusader's Da ) has sampled many a cupcake, yet declared these his all-time favourite. Recommendations do not come much higher!

If some of the measurements in the recipe look strangely precise it is because I converted it from a US recipe in cups.


For the cupcakes:
85g unsalted butter, at room temperature
112g caster sugar
1 egg
118ml milk
188g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the topping:
85g unsalted butter, melted
112g caster sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

How to make:

- Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
- Grease a 12 hole muffin pan. You do not need to use paper cases for this recipe.
- Cream the butter and sugar together until they are pale and fluffy.
- Beat in the egg.
- Weigh out the flour and add to it the baking powder, nutmeg and cinnamon. Beat 1/3 of this dry mix into the creamed butter mix.
- Beat in half the milk, then a further 1/3 of flour. Repeat until all the milk and the flour is beaten into the mix.
- Spoon the batter evenly into the 12 holes.
- Bake for approximately 18 minutes or until a skewer comes out cleanly. Mine took exactly 18 minutes.
- Stand the muffin tray on a wire rack for only 5 minutes, then turn the cupcakes out – you need them upright so the dome is on top.
- Melt the butter and, in a separate bowl combine the sugar and cinnamon. Ensure that the cinnamon is stirred into the sugar (the sugar will look brown).
- Dip the dome of the cupcake into the melted butter and then dip into the bowl of cinnamon sugar. Make sure the cupcake’s dome is completely coated.
- Stand the cupcake on the wire rack to cool completely. Repeat until all the cupcakes are coated – there will be butter and sugar left over.
- Eat the cupcakes while they are warm or at room temperature. They will keep for two days in an airtight container.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

What the Caked Crusader chose to bake to this week (21 June 2008)

I don’t think any self-respecting student in the 1990s could get by without owning at least one Depeche Mode CD. Memory operates in strange ways: the Depeche Mode song “World in My Eyes” is perhaps, for me, one of those Proust’s Madeleine moments – when something triggers a latent memory so powerful and intense that you wonder why you hadn’t recalled it sooner. Proust was far more eloquent and termed it ‘involuntary memory’ (which is why he’s deemed one of the all time great literary figures whereas I’m a cake obsessed woman blathering on a blog site)

I only have to hear “World in my Eyes” and I’m back in the musty-smelling exam hall sitting my A-Levels. I was listening to a lot of Depeche Mode at that time and used a line from the song “nothing more than you can touch now, that’s all there is” in part of my answer to a question on John Webster’s “The Duchess of Malfi”. This is weird - now I can even taste the olbas pastilles that got me through my A-levels and kept my sore throat from developing into anything nastier. It was 16 years ago!

Depeche Mode songs just sound good – simple as that. There’s no fancy wordplay or complicated tunes, it’s just solid, dark pop music executed brilliantly – in fact it’s best not to think about the lyrics too much, “he promises me we’re as safe as houses / as long as I remember who’s wearing the trousers” being a particularly gruesome rhyme and reliant on the Essex pronunciation of ‘trouses’ for it to work. My favourite is still “Personal Jesus”; it was always the show-stopping live number and the one you waited for – just the first hint of the “doooo dah doo-doo dah, doooo dah doo-doo dah ” relentless thumping lead guitar could whip the crowd to a frenzy of anticipation. Incidentally, this was the first time that Depeche Mode used a guitar of any kind on a track.

Incidentally, my studies were most enjoyable and I recommend The Duchess of Malfi to all of you; it is a cracking play – if you like something with lots of dungeons, death, violence, not many laughs, a poisoned bible (I kid you not!) and some killer lines then it’s worth investigating. Think of John Webster as a kind of 16/17th Century Quentin Tarantino. My favourite line was and remains: “other sins only speak; murder shrieks out”. They don’t write them like that anymore…

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Old fashioned coffee cake

It’s Father’s Day this weekend so I thought I should make something to tickle the CCD’s (Caked Crusader’s Da) taste buds. He loves coffee and he doesn’t like overly sweet things so this was the ideal cake.

The reason I picked this recipe is because there isn’t a huge amount of buttercream; also the coffee’s natural bitterness cuts through the icing sugar used.

I rather like the piped splodges of buttercream supporting each star:

The cut slices show the lovely open texture of the sponge; this is not a heavy cake at all:

The CCD declared the cake a success but the final word must go to the CCM (Caked Crusader’s Ma) who said that the cake was so delicious “it was worth going through the pain to have you”.

Happy Father’s Day CCD!

Wildlife corner

Slight digression here but it is Father’s Day and the CCD liked the pictures...what does it look like when two giant wood pigeons try and share a birdbath? (The leaves behind the rear pigeon’s head belong to the CCD’s rhubarb – the same rhubarb I use in all my rhubarb cakes!)

For the cake:
175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
175g light brown soft sugar
175g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 eggs
3 teaspoons instant coffee dissolved in 2 teaspoons boiling water

For the buttercream:
75g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g icing sugar
3 teaspoons instant coffee dissolved in 2 teaspoons boiling water

How to make:

- Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
- Line two 20cm sandwich tins with baking paper.
- Beat the butter and sugar together until smooth. The mixture doesn’t go light and fluffy with brown sugar, so beat until the butter is soft and smooth.
- Add the flour, baking powder, eggs and coffee and mix until well combined.
- Divide the mixture evenly between the two sandwich tins and level the surface.
- Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out cleanly. Mine took 23 minutes.
- Leave to cool on a wire rack. I let the cakes cool in their tins before turning out and removing the baking paper. I made the cakes the day before I wanted to serve them. They will keep in an airtight tin.
- Now make the icing. Put the butter and half the icing sugar into a bowl and beat until smooth.
- Beat in the coffee then add the rest of the icing sugar beating until the icing is smooth and well combined.
- Spread just over half the icing onto what will be the bottom sponge and top with the other sponge cake.
- Use the remaining icing to decorate the top of the cake. I spread some over the surface and then piped some around the edge to hold my star decorations.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

Vanilla cupcakes

I am happy. My kitchen currently smells of warm vanilla. My mission, if I choose to accept it, is to make the cupcakes as vanilla-y as possible.

Twelve little cupcakes ready for transit:

The CCM (Caked Crusader’s Ma) and CCD (Caked Crusader’s Da) have both made it very clear that they are partial to Swiss meringue buttercream. They did this subtly with statements such as “I wouldn’t bother with any other kind of buttercream” and “this is the best buttercream ever – nothing else comes close”. I can take a hint.

Look at the yummy, sweet, sticky Swiss meringue buttercream – so smooth and light:

Sometimes it’s nice to strip things back to really simple, basic flavours. That’s what I’ve tried to do here – so often the vanilla cupcake is the foundation for a fancy flavoured buttercream or icing that we forget just how lovely it is when it’s allowed to be the star of the show.

You can see the vanilla seeds from the vanilla infused sugar in the finished sponge:

For the cupcakes:
125g unsalted butter
125g caster sugar – I used vanilla infused caster sugar
2 eggs
125g self raising flour
2 tablespoons milk (whole or semi skimmed)
3 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the buttercream:
4 egg whites
250g caster sugar – I used vanilla infused caster sugar
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

How to make:

- Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C/375°F/Gas mark 5.
- Line a 12 hole muffin pan with paper cases.
- Start by making the cupcakes. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs, flour, milk and vanilla to the bowl and beat until the mixture is well combined and smooth.
- Spoon the mixture into the paper cases.
- Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Mine took 17 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. The cupcakes can be made a day in advance and stored, when cool, in an airtight container. I made the buttercream on the day I wanted it.
- Make the buttercream. Place the egg whites and sugar in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water) and stir constantly to stop the egg from cooking.
- After 5-10 minutes the sugar should have dissolved. You will know whether this has happened by looking at the back of the spoon – if you can see any sugar crystals the mix needs more heating and stirring.
- When no crystals are visible, remove the bowl from the heat and whisk the meringue mixture until it has puffed up and cooled.
- Add the butter and vanilla to the meringue and continue to whisk. The mixture will collapse initially but don’t panic; keep whisking and it will form a smooth, fluffy buttercream.
- Pipe on to the cupcakes and decorate as you wish.
- The finished cupcakes will keep for a couple of days at room temperature. Not that they’ll have the chance!
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

What the Caked Crusader chose to bake to this week (14 June 2008)

However much you like a band there’s always one album that you head for more than any other. For me Radiohead’s “The Bends” is the superior album to the also great “OK Computer”. I just about stayed with them up to “Kid A” and then found it all too much for my fragile little ears. Call me old fashioned but I’m rather too fond of choruses and verses to go down the avant-garde electronic noise route.

But anyway, back to the good stuff – how can you even pick a favourite track from an album as great as “The Bends”? I love the opening guitar riff of “Just” – which could be the best track on the album, but then there’s the bite of “The Bends”, the dreaminess of “Nice Dream” and the lump in the throat emotion of “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees”. Actually it’s easier to pick out the one track I don’t like; however much I try, I have always disliked “Bones”. There’s something about the chorus that brings me out in hives (the plodding Status Quo style guitars don’t help either!)

As I type this “My Iron Lung” has just started to play – how could I have left that out of the contenders for best track? When the song changes pace and the guitars crash in it makes you sit up in your seat but is then trumped by Thom Yorke doing the “and if you’re frightened” bit. Top class.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Coconut and raspberry frou-frou cupcakes

I see these as the poodles of the cupcake world; the strange thing is that I can’t really explain it any further – you’ll either see what I mean or you won’t! When I read the recipe it was like ticking off a list of all my favourite ingredients: coconut, raspberries, cream cheese and butter.

These are show-stoppingly pretty but really not that difficult to make. If you can make a cupcake and you can make frosting the rest is window dressing. What they do require is time and care to assemble.

The cupcakes don’t dome hugely on baking but that’s good as it gives you a nice flat surface to decorate:

The recipe said to use frozen raspberries but the supermarket had some gorgeous English Tulameen raspberries grown in West Sussex and, successfully managing to ignore the price, I knew they had to be mine. They were worth every penny - plump, sweet, juicy and flavoursome. A good raspberry has a price beyond rubies. Look at the raspberries on that!

One little cupcake ready for transit:

The coconut essence was tricky to find but I eventually bought it from Jane Asher, this is a good website for sugar and wafer decorations too.

For the cake:
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
220g caster sugar
3 eggs
75g plain flour
35g self raising flour
40g desiccated coconut
80ml sour cream
150g raspberries

For the frosting:
60g unsalted butter, at room temperature
160g cream cheese, at room temperature
2 teaspoons coconut essence
480g icing sugar

For the decoration:
150g toasted flaked coconut
36 raspberries

How to make:

- Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
- Line a 12 hole muffin pan with paper cases.
- Beat the butter, sugar and eggs together until light and fluffy. If the mix starts to curdle you can add a little of the flour to correct it.
- Stir in the flours, coconut and sour cream and ensure all the ingredients are well combined.
- Carefully fold in the raspberries. Try not to break them and have them bleed into the mix – although some breakages are inevitable. I used a plastic spatula so as to preserve the raspberries.
- Spoon into the paper cases making sure that all the cupcakes have their share of raspberries.
- Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out cleanly. Mine took 35 minutes.
- Leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Once cool I kept the cupcakes in an airtight container to decorate the next day; you can of course decorate them as soon as they are cool if you so wish.
- Make the frosting by beating the butter, cream cheese and coconut essence until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the icing sugar.
- Remove the cakes from their cases and cover with frosting.
- Roll the edges in the coconut flakes then smooth the frosting on the top.
- Decorate the top with raspberries.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.