Sunday, 24 June 2012

History corner – brown cake and patriotic biscuits

Time for a delve into history corner and, for this visit, I’m baking from “Isobel’s Home Cookery” from 1916.  Isobel’s Home Cookery was a monthly publication and, at the end of the year, a bound volume was produced, which is what I have.


1916 was slap bang in the middle of World War 1 and, while Britain didn’t have rationing until the very end of the war, care was taken to avoid waste and flamboyance in recipes.

I chose brown cake because it seemed such an unglamorous name for what is effectively a chocolate sponge sandwich.  Unusually, the recipe requires you to make chocolate milk and this provides not only the flavour, but also most of the moisture as the recipe uses only one egg.  For a modern version of this cake I would expect three eggs.

The cake rather divided my eatership –some finding it too dense and cloying in texture.  Interestingly, they don’t like brownies either for the same reason.  I do like brownies and think that this cake is similar to a squidgy brownie...which is no bad thing, but don’t make it expecting a light crumbly sponge.

The icing is particularly austere in that it contains cocoa, sugar and water.  No buttercream here!  Surprisingly, it tastes very good and rich – a cocoa hit for the chocolate lovers out there.

The patriotic biscuits are a light gingerbread which manages to be crunchy and chewy at the same time.  The only patriotic element seems to be using red, white and blue sprinkles but, as I didn’t have any, I opted for pastel shades.

What I love about old recipe books is the insight they give you into ordinary people’s lives and views; the hot issues and health scares of the day.  Here are some of my favourite examples:

I had never considered that the piece of cheddar lurking in my fridge was plotting to do me harm!

In an age where we’re bombarded with statistics on childhood obesity and TV chefs are launching crusades about poor school lunches, I find it refreshing (and a tiny bit comforting, if I’m honest) that there was an age when mothers were advised to give their children sugar, especially in cake form.

This is less than 100 years ago but look at how old age is portrayed.  I’d love to know how old the lady was in this photo and then compare her to women of her age nowadays – I think we’d be shocked.

This is one of my favourites.  March is the month when youngsters are apt to get ‘out of sorts’.  I’m sure with this Mrs Danvers-esque woman bringing them trays they’ll be motivated to get well and out of her clutches in no time!

While most of the book focuses on running the home and looking after the family, some sections are rather more poignant, like this one about husbands coming home from the front.  Wives are recommended to give their husband food they wouldn’t get in the trenches and pastry is suggested as an achievable luxury.

There is a section on cakes and biscuits you can always have on hand so that you can offer unexpected visitors something a little more exciting than bread and butter.  What I love is the dress the lady is wearing.  If I have unexpected visitors (which I don’t because anyone who knows me knows better than to turn up unannounced!) they will find me in slippers, jogging bottoms and a t-shirt.  This lady looks rather more groomed!

This boy is pale and thin because he has the same kind of sandwiches every day!  Not fair.  I had ham sandwiches practically every day at school – how come the affliction of thinness passed me by?  I think I will stick with ham sandwiches rather than the suggested raisin and nut sandwiches.  What next – ham flapjacks?

I end on a note of caution and advice – feed up when you feel run down.  Be safe out there people......

Ingredients for the brown cake

For the cake:

285ml / ½ pint milk
45g / 1 ½ oz cocoa, mixed with enough cold water to make it into thin cream – I added 8 tablespoons
115g / 4oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
170g / 6oz brown sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
340g / 12oz self raising flour

For the icing:

Equal quantities of cocoa and icing sugar – I used 8 tablespoons of each
Enough boiling water to make a glossy icing

Method for the brown cake

Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Line two 20cm round loose bottomed sandwich tins with baking paper.

Place the milk in a small saucepan and bring the milk to the boil.

While the milk is heating, mix together the cocoa with enough cold water to make it the consistency of thin cream.  I found this to take 8 tablespoons.

When the milk boils, remove from the heat and stir in the cocoa.

Put to one side to cool.

In a mixing bowl beat together the butter and sugar until smooth and well combined.

Beat in the egg and vanilla.

Stir in half the flour along with half the cocoa milk.

Repeat with the remainder.  Don’t worry – the batter will be runny.

Ladle the batter into the two prepare tins.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean.

Place the tins on a wire rack to cool and de-tin the cakes as soon as you can safely handle the tins.

Leave the sponges to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Now make the icing: Place an equal quantity of cocoa and icing sugar into a bowl – I used 8 tablespoons of each as I only planned to sandwich the cakes, not decorate the top.

Add boiling water, a teaspoon at a time, and beat into the dry ingredients.

Keep adding tiny amounts of boiling water – the icing should be glossy and thick.  Adding too much water will make it dull. (Mine took 9 teaspoons in the end)

Place one sponge on a serving plate and spread the icing over the top.

Place the other sponge on top.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Ingredients for the patriotic biscuits

57g / 2oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
170g / 6oz plain flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
57g / 2oz light brown sugar – the recipe called for ‘moist sugar’ which I think is dark brown sugar i.e. sticky and treacly
115g / ¼ lb golden syrup
To decorate: 1 egg white and hundreds and thousands (ideally red, white and blue)

Method for the patriotic biscuits

Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C/400°F/gas mark 6.

Line two baking sheets with baking paper or non stick foil.

Beat the butter until it is soft and creamy.

Add the flour and beat until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Stir in the ginger and sugar.

Stir in the golden syrup and bring the mixture into a firm, moist dough.

Roll out between two sheets of clingfilm and aim for a thickness of approx 0.5cm.

Using a 7cm round cutter I got 18 biscuits.  The dough re-rolls easily but when rolled out the golden syrup starts to rise to the surface so work quickly.

Place the biscuits on the prepared sheet (they don’t spread that much) and bake for 10 minutes or until a darker golden colour.

Leave to cool for 5 minutes when out of the oven.

Brush with beaten egg white and sprinkle with hundreds and thousands.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 17 June 2012

Coffee streusel layer cake

Today is Father’s Day and the CCD’s (Caked Crusader’s Da) favourite cake flavour is coffee.  That made the selection of this cake extremely easy – and yet another celebration cake I wouldn’t be eating.  Let’s just say coffee’s not my thing.

What sets this apart from other coffee cakes I have made is that the sponge itself contains no coffee.  However, baked into and onto the sponge is a streusel containing instant coffee granules thus packing a real wallop (technical term) of flavour along with texture.  I had my doubts as to whether this would provide enough flavour...until I made the streusel and sniffed it; it smelled like a coffee shop where they grind their own beans (a horrible or lovely smell, depending on your tastes).

A generous drizzle of coffee icing adds further oomph (enough of the technical language I hear you cry!) and looks rather pretty.  In order to test that the icing was smooth and ready to use I tasted a bit...and can vouch that it had a very, very strong flavour...shudder.

I selected this recipe as the cake keeps for several days in an airtight tin; this meant the CCD could take home some slices and enjoy them throughout the week.  Let’s face it, when you tot up all the things our dad’s do for us, they deserve more than one day of celebration!

Happy father’s day to all the dad’s out there!


For the streusel:
80g walnut pieces
2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
115g soft light brown sugar
2 tablespoons plain flour
30g butter – melted and cooled

For the cake:
115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
115g caster sugar
2 eggs
175g self raising flour
4 tablespoons milk

For the icing:
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
1 tablespoon boiling water
100g icing sugar


Preheat the oven to 160°C/fan oven 140°C/325°F/Gas mark 3.

Line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.

Start by making the streusel: Place all the ingredients in a bowl and stir together.  At first it will seem like there isn’t enough butter to bind the dry ingredients, but keep stirring and it will become moist and clump into a texture like wet sand.

Put to one side while you make the cake.

Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and whippy.  Don’t skimp on this stage as this is where the air gets into the sponge.

Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a little of the flour if it starts to curdle.

Fold in the flour and the milk.

Spoon half the cake batter into the prepared tin and level the surface.

Sprinkle half the streusel mix over the cake in an even layer.

Spoon the remaining cake batter over the streusel and spread it out, taking care not to disturb the streusel.

Sprinkle the remaining streusel over the top.

Bake for 1-1 ½ hours or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Place on a wire rack to cool and, when safe enough to handle, remove the cake from the tin and leave to cool completely.

When the cake is cool, make the icing: dissolve the coffee in the boiling water and leave to cool.

When cool beat into the icing sugar to make a thick, glossy icing, adding more water if necessary.

Drizzle over the top of the cake.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 10 June 2012

Toffee topped banana and brazil nut cake

This cake is massive!  When I spooned the batter into the tin it filled it to the brim and I had a horrible feeling that one of my tasks that afternoon would be scraping cake from the bottom of the oven!  But it didn’t overspill – I think that’s due to the long, slow cooking time.

It’s the only large cake I’ve made that has a muffin top to it!  The cake came up well above the height of the tin.

I don’t make a lot of banana cakes as a large percentage of my family won’t eat them; however, when I saw this beauty selfishness took over and I knew we had to become better acquainted.  I’m not sure if it was the toffee covered nut topping or the fact that it just sounded so great from the ingredient list.  Whatever the reason, we’ve had a very successful first date and are now going steady!

I cut the nuts finer for the cake than I did on the top.  I don’t mind chunky nuts on top of a cake where they can be seen, but when hidden in sponge a large nut can be a nasty surprise for delicate teeth.

This cake keeps for days getting better and better – so no need to panic about how huge it is – and is lovely for breakfast, an accompaniment for your mid-morning or mid-afternoon tea, and, if you cut a large enough slice, will do very nicely as a meal in itself!  This next photo show why it’s worth piercing the cake with a skewer before pouring on the toffee topping – look at how it’s oozed into the cake:


For the cake:

175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
175g light brown sugar
4 eggs
125g brazil nuts – chopped quite small
3 large bananas – peeled and mashed
½ teaspoon mixed spice
350g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
300ml plain Greek yoghurt
1 tablespoon runny honey

For the topping:

75g unsalted butter
175g light brown sugar
2 tablespoon double cream
75g brazil nuts – roughly chopped

To serve: thick cream


Preheat the oven to 180°C/ fan oven 160°C/ 350°F/gas mark 4.

Line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Beat in the eggs, gradually.  The mix might start to curdle a little on the fourth egg but that’s fine.

Stir in the brazil nuts and spice.

Mash the bananas and stir into the mix.  I find the most efficient mashing technique is to use my potato ricer.

Stir in the flour and baking powder.

Stir in the yoghurt and honey.

Spoon into the prepared tin and don’t panic – the tin will be full to the brim!

Bake for approximately 1 hour 20 minutes (mine took exactly this time) or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tin until you can safely remove the tin.  Then leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Pierce the cake with a skewer.

Now make the topping: Place the butter, sugar and cream in a pan and gently melt together.
Bring to simmering point and stir well.

Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped nuts.

Pour the mixture over the cake letting it drizzle a little down the sides.

You can if you wish put the whole cake under the grill for 1- minutes to toast the nut topping but I didn’t bother as my grill is erratic and I didn’t want to risk burning the cake.

Serve the cake with thick cream.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Golden syrup cupcakes with vanilla cream cheese frosting, Jubilee goodies - part two of two

For the Jubilee I have tried to use what I consider ‘British’ flavours where possible and it doesn’t get much more British than the wonderful thing that is golden sryup.  I could eat this straight from the pot even though it’s sweeter than sweet.  Thank goodness they now make it in squeezy pots so you can get a quick hit without needing to make a spoon dirty!

Using my beautiful cupcake cases and flags from Lakeland (the rest of which I shall use for the Olympics) these little cakes quickly become something very special; fancy cases and decorations are ideal if – like me – you’re not the world’s best decorator and don’t have a lot of patience to try and learn.

I don’t often make cream cheese frosting but decided to go with it here to offset the sweet syrupy sponges; it works really well and its smooth texture in particular is lovely.  Mr CC is going through a phase where every buttercream/frosting I make is his new favourite; this is his new favourite because it ‘tastes like ice cream’.  I can see what he means but I think it tastes more like whipped cheesecake.

The sponge was lovely and light – not dissimilar to a steamed sponge pudding.  It's also sticky and the top develops a muffiny crust, which is always a bonus!

Breaking news: One and a half cupcakes in, this is now officially Mr CC’s favourite ever cupcake.  Jubilee weekend hits new heights!


For the sponges:

115g unsalted butter
100g light muscovado sugar
230g golden syrup
1 egg
150ml milk – I used semi-skimmed
225g self raising flour

For the icing:

300g cream cheese – I used Philadelphia
150g icing sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 170°C/fan oven 150°C/325°F/Gas mark 3

Line a cupcake pan with paper cases.

Start by making the sponges: place the butter, sugar and golden syrup into a saucepan and melt, over a gentle heat, stirring until the sugar crystals have dissolved.

While the butter mix is melting, combine the egg and milk in a jug and whisk until combined.
Take the butter mix from the heat and stir in the flour.

Add the milk/egg mix and stir until smooth and well combined.  I started out using a whisk to do this before my feebleness made me transfer it to my stand mixer.  The mix will be runny – don’t panic!

Ladle the batter into the cupcake cases and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the sponge comes out clean.  Mine took exactly 20 minutes.

As soon as you can safely handle the cakes, remove them from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Now make the icing: Beat together all the ingredients until smooth and whippy.

Spoon into a piping back and refrigerate for 5 minutes to firm up.

Pipe onto the cupcakes and decorate as you wish.

Keep the cakes in the refrigerator, taking care to bring them fully to room temperature before eating – this provides the best flavour.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 3 June 2012

Jubilee treats...part one of two

If you live in the UK, the chances are you’ve realised that this weekend is a four day Golden Jubilee celebration marking Our Maj’s 60 years on the throne (stop sniggering!).  Let’s just say it’s garnered a mention or two in the media....

Being an old curmudgeon, I shall be avoiding street parties like the plague (the last street party I went to was for the Silver Jubilee in 1977; I had green balloons attached to me and wore a label identifying me as a Birds-Eye pea pod.  This stuff scars you for life – believe me) but instead decided on a nice meal with my family.

This post covers the dessert and afternoon tea cake.  As I was roasting a huge rib of beef on the day, I wanted to pick recipes that could be prepared in advance, would have a broad appeal, would suit the occasion and look good without much faff.  I think the strawberry mousse, and the raspberry and blueberry cake achieved this!

Let’s start with the strawberry mousse: it’s a gelatine set mousse containing both cream and natural yoghurt; this stopped it being too sweet.  I like leaving little flecks of cream in my mousse as they feel delicious in your mouth; the trick is to fold the mousse just enough but not so much that it becomes a single colour and texture.

The darker topping is just strawberry puree, sweetened to taste with some icing sugar.  I served the mousse with shortbread biscuits (the recipe for which can be found here)

The raspberry and blueberry sponge is my attempt to get patriotic by picking out the colours of the Union flag (yes, I am a pedant – it’s only the Union Jack when it’s at sea.  Pedantry over.)  This is a big cake and it serves a lot of people – I used my 23cm round tin which is a tin that doesn’t get a lot of airings in my kitchen!

Raspberries and blueberries are probably my favourite fresh fruits to bake with as they add such a pop of colour and a fabulous texture to any cake as they collapse and squidge into the batter during baking.  All this cake needed was a simple vanilla buttercream to set it off.

I hope everyone enjoys the extended weekend...and please come back and visit early next week to see my other Jubilee bake involving golden syrup and cream cheese (and no – it’s not a cheesecake!)


Ingredients for the strawberry mousse

625g strawberries, washed and hulled
Icing sugar – to taste
3 tablespoons runny honey
4 leaves gelatine
250ml double cream
250g natural yoghurt

To serve: shortbread biscuits – recipe can be found here

Method for the strawberry mousse

Take 225g of the strawberries and blitz in a food processor or blender.

Pass through a sieve and taste – add icing sugar if needed.  I added 1 ½ tablespoons to my strawberries.

Pour into a jug and refrigerate until serving.

Now make the mousse: blitz the remaining strawberries and sieve.

Stir in the honey.

Fill a small bowl with cold water and place the gelatine leaves in it to soften.

Pour about 1/3 of the larger puree into a small saucepan and heat until just bubbling.

Remove from the heat.

Squeeze all the water out of the now soft gelatine leaves and whisk into the hot puree.

Put to one side until cool, then whisk into the other 2/3 of puree.

Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks.

Add the yoghurt and whip until combined.

Fold in the strawberry puree.  If you like creamy little bits left in your mousse take care not to fold it too much.

Ladle into four 250ml glasses and cover with clingfilm.

Refrigerate until you wish to serve.

When serving, pour some of the puree on top, and serve with tiny shortbread biscuits.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Ingredients for the raspberry and blueberry cake

For the cake:

200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs
325g plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
150ml milk
125g fresh raspberries
125g fresh blueberries

For the buttercream:

150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g icing sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk

Method for the raspberry and blueberry cake

Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.

Line a 23cm round springform tin with baking paper (a 20cm square tin would also work).

Beat together the butter and sugar until smooth, light and whippy.  Don’t skimp on this stage – this is where you get all the air into your batter.

Beat in the vanilla.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Measure out the flour and then take two tablespoons of it and sprinkle over the fruit – this ensures that the fruit is dry and won’t sink in the cake.

Fold the flour and baking powder into the batter, followed by the milk.

Tip the floury fruit into the batter and gently fold trying not to break the fruit – some will break, don’t worry!

Spoon into the tin and level the surface.

Bake for 50 minutes – 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Mine took an hour.

Leave to cool, in the tin, until it is cool enough to handle and safely de-tin.  Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Now make the buttercream: beat the butter until it is soft.

Add the icing sugar and beat together – start with the mixer on a low number to avoid dusting your kitchen with icing sugar!

Add the vanilla  and milk and beat until smooth.

Spread over the top of the cake and decorate as desired.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.