Spiced madeira cake

I love cinnamonny things, especially on a winter evening, but you can’t have mulled cider everytime you want a warm spicy treat. This spiced madeira cake is a lovely, caramelly treat that’s great fresh from the oven, or taken from the freezer and toasted.
The muscavado sugar gives a lovely molasses-y flavour, and I added the nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger in my usual quantities of 1:2:3. If you had ground cloves, they might go well in the cake too. I only keep cloves for mulling though, so my cake gets a pass on that flavour.
I don’t care for fruit cake, but you could add any sort of dried fruits that you think might go. Madeira cake is pretty forgiving, so you can add as much as you feel like (or none :) ).

Look at that lovely cake. All the flavours of Chrismas, with no hidden fruit.

Look at that lovely cake. All the flavours of Chrismas, with no hidden fruit.


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Raspberry bakewell tart

In my quest to learn how to make laminated doughs (think croissants), I picked up Murielle Valette’s Patisserie. It’s brilliant, I’ve even cooked more than one thing from it already (croissants, pain au chocolate, lemon tart, dense chocolate cake and the modified bakewell below). For my colleague’s birthday, I insisted on making her some cake, and made a bakewell as I had all the ingredients to hand (in fact, the pastry had been made and frozen the weekend before). Instead of the apricot and almond tart in the book, I went for a raspberry bakewell, which went down very well when I brought it into work on the Monday.

Slices of cake

Look at that beautiful layer of jam

I’d highly recommend the book if you like French pastries (and cake in general), it’s divided into a techniques section and various chapters based on particular doughs (puff pastry/brioche/choux) and I’ll certainly be making more from it. It’s a great way to fill your workmates with butter, as it’s a critical part of most of these tasty treats.

What a marvellous book!

What a marvellous book!

Pastry

  • 230g flour
  • 140g salted butter (normal butter in a gold wrapper, otherwise add salt)
  • 55g caster sugar
  • 1 egg

Rub the flour and butter together until it’s breadcrumblike. Don’t overwork it or the butter will melt and the pastry won’t be lovely and crisp. Mix in the sugar, add the egg and mix quickly until it forms a large ball. STOP WORKING THE PASTRY. Mash into a vaguely rectangular shape, wrap it in clingfilm and put it in the fridge, have a coffee and sit down for an hour.
Divide the dough in half and freeze a portion (you can use this for more cake in the future). Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it’s about 4mm thick. Gently lower it into your favourite pie tin and form gently into the corners. Trim the top of the pastry with a sharp knife and put the pastry into the fridge for another half hour. Pre-heat the oven to 160°C.
Put a load of baking paper into the pastry case and fill with baking beans (or uncooked rice or lentils, I use some red lentils I don’t care for). Bake for 40mins. Remove the baking paper and contents and put the pastry back in the oven for 5 more mins to brown the middle slightly. Take out of the oven to cool while you prepare the almond filling. Leave the oven on, you need it at 160°C in ten mins anyway.

Filling

  • 110g softened butter
  • 110g caster sugar (plain sugar or vanilla sugar)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract, if you use vanilla caster sugar, you can leave this out
  • 90g ground almonds
  • 25g flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 dessertspoons of good rasberry jam
  • a large handful raspberries, frozen is grand

Beat the sugar, butter and vanilla essence together. Add the ground almonds and flour and mix well. Beat the eggs and add a little at a time, mixing well.
Spread the jam on the bottom of the pastry case. Pour over the almond filling. Drop in some raspberries. Bake at 160°C for 45 mins. Cool in the tin. Turn out and serve with the best coffee you have.

Ready to go to work and get chopped up and devoured

Ready to go to work and get chopped up and devoured

Peanutbutter Brownies

A number of members of my collaborator’s group are leaving for pastures new, so I have made cake as a goodbye-you’re-really-gonna-miss-it-here gift.

raw brownies

The brownies prior to baking. The peanutbutter and chocolate chunks sink into the hot brownie batter during cooking, so this method allows even distribution of filling.

The recipe is my usual brownies recipe (also found in the cheesecakebrownies recipe) with the addition of blobs of peanutbutter instead of nuts. I did have nuts, but it was a bag of hazelnuts, and would have needed roasting and skinning, but peanut butter is delicious with chocolate, so this “laziness” worked out well too.

  • 225g butter
  • 375g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs (orignal recipe called for 4 medium, but we buy ex large normally)
  • 75g cocoa powder
  • 100g self raising flour
  • 100g bar of chocolate (or “chocolate”, as I often use scotbar)
  • Peanutbutter (about 3 tablespoons, have more than enough anyway, there should always be peanutbutter in a kitchen)

Grease and/or line a cake tin (I used my 17cm tin and a small dish, the small dish is for have a small set of home brownies when the big tin is brought to work). Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (170° for fan ovens).

Melt the butter and add the sugar. Beat in the eggs one by one. Sift the cocoa and flour together, and add to the mix in three parts.

Divide between cake tin(s). Break up the chocolate bar and plop pieces around on the brownie. Get a teaspoon and a knife and plop 0.5tsp sized dollops about the surface. The chocolate and the peanutbutter will sink during cooking anyway. Put into the oven for 40 mins.

Cooked brownies

See? Allllllll sunk into the brownies. The greaseproof paper means the sunk/melted chocolate chunks wont glue the cake to the tin (trust me, voice of experience, chocolate glue is hard to get off tins without heating).

Let the brownies cool in their tin, then turn them out and cut them up. Alternatively, don’t wait for them to cool and attack them with a spoon… just mind yourself, they’re pretty hot.

spoon on a brownie

Too impatient to wait for them to cool…

Cheesecake brownies (bonus three recipes in one)

I’ve been meaning to make cheesecake brownies for a few years. I’ve a great recipe for brownies from Chocolate Cookery (you’ll have to look this one up on abebooks) and an equally great recipe for white chocolate cheesecake. Others have combined these before with much success, so it was my turn to have a go off them.

Slices of cheesecake brownies waiting to be brought to college

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Further adventures in biscuit land

I love a good shortbread so I do. It’s quick enough to make, and the buttery delight means it’s hard to make shortbread that doesn’t taste good. People always go on about shortbread being quick enough to make if guests suddenly arrive and you want to show off / not go to the shop for biscuits, but seriously, who does actually do that. I just make it on a whim, so the lads in college will be in for a treat tomorrow, lucky folks.

The recipe was derived from a barely remembered (misremembered?) ratio of 3 parts flour to 2 parts butter to 1 part sugar. It’s VERY buttery, so if you don’t like buttery shortbread you won’t like this (also, how can you not like buttery shortbread). It’s a simpler cousin of this recipe, it’s not as delicate and fragile, an altogether more robust shortbread than can survive the trip to work.

It is pretty quick to make, about ten to fifteen minutes making the dough and then fifteen to twenty while they bake in the oven. If you want to chocolate coat them then that will take extra time. This makes about twenty biscuits (4-5cm in diameter).

Delicious chocolate covered shortbread waiting for the chocolate to set, and some naked ones waiting to be nommed.

  • 240g plain flour
  • 160g butter
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp almond essence

Preheat the oven to 170°C (mine’s a fan oven). In a bowl, mix together the butter and flour until it starts to resemble breadcrumbs. Then add in the sugar and essence. Mix about a bit, then start to knead it all together. The kneading takes a little work as it’s a pretty crumbly dough (the only thing holding it together is butter!). When it’s come together as a lump, you can roll it out. (I stuffed it into my biscuit gun and cut off neat circles, as it’s too stiff to pass through the shapes). (I made about 20 biscuits)

Put your (about 8mm) thick cookies on your parchment lined tray. Leave a little space around the biscuits, they’ll spread by about 20% due to the massive amount of butter in them (they melt basically). Put them in the oven for 15 to 20 mins until starting to brown very very lightly. Leave to cool on the tray for five minutes before transferring to the wire rack.

Optional:
You can coat the biscuits with chocoalte if that’s your thing. I coated 15 of the biscuits with about 200g of chocolate. While the oven is cooling, put the broken chocolate into a borosilicate (pyrex is a tradename dontchano) bowl and while the biscuits are cooling the chocolate can melt and you dont have to watch for it burning in the microwave. Dip each biscuit into the melted chocolate using a pair of forks, turn and then place on parchment to set (I’m using one of these nonstick sheets for the oven that you get in Aldi). And be patient. When they’re set, you can eat them!

My first coffee and walnut cake

I’ve been meaning to get around to making coffee and walnut cake for years, and what better excuse to make a big decorated cake than a party! So, today, I made one, finally! Taking inspiration from Darina (did I mention how much I love the Ballymalloe Cookery Course book?), I added walnuts to the basic coffee cake recipe and doubled the buttercream quantity so there’d be some to go on the top.

A beautiful coffee and walnut cake.

The cake speaks for itself. In the background: a lemon (we know I love lemon), an aeropress (for making coffee in college), and my favourite coffee tin (it has the sleaziest coffee bean on the back, I must show you some time).

In the unlikely event that you don’t like walnuts, you can leave them out. In the more probable event that you do, buy more than you need for the recipe, I find other halves are inclined to start gobbling the nuts before you realise.

The original recipe called for irel, which is a coffee essence sort of product. I think it’s a sort of chicory/coffee syrup that you can use for cooking or making hot drinks with. Instead I used some strong coffee and misused my mokka pot to make it. I half filled the water resevoir and filled the coffee part as normal, giving a shorter stronger coffee (this is not how you’re normally supposed to use them). I poured the coffee over ice into a jug when it was done and put it in the fridge to cool completely. I had some leftover coffee after the cake, so I stirred in some milk for a lovely iced coffee treat. (I love coffee, in case you didn’t know this :) ).

  • 225g butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 6 dessert spoons strong coffee (you could probably substitute in instant or irel if you prefer)
  • 100g of walnut halves (keep the 8 best looking halves for the top of the cake, and roughly chop/crush the remainder)

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line two 20cm cake tins (a bit of butter under the baking paper helps to keep it in place.

Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Then beat in the eggs one by one, beat them thoroughly, the first one is the hardest. Add the (sifted) flour and mix well. Add the coffee and walnut pieces and then divide the mixture between the two tins. Bake for 30 minutes until the cakes are firm and the sides start to come away from the edges of the tin.

Turn out on to a wire and remove the baking paper and then you can flip them over if you don’t want to have lines on the cake. Wait until they’re cool before you begin to ice them.

  • 125g butter
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 4 tsp instant coffee in 1 tsp of hot water (I know, the shame of having a jar of instant, had to buy my first jar in years just to make the cake, ruining my coffee snob credentials)

There are two ways to make the icing, the easy way and the hard way. The hard way is to cream everything together by hand (I tried this at first). The easy way is to bung everything into a food processor, or in my case, a chopper and blitz till it’s smooth. When it’s all creamed together by either method, place the bottom piece of cake on the plate you’ll be showing the cake off on, then spread half the icing on. Place the top part on top and put the remainder of the icing on top. Decorate with the remaining walnut halves. If you want enough to cover the sides, increase the quantity of icing by at least half (I always make a mess of the sides of cake so extra icing is handy for patching holes).

NOM WITH A BIG MUG OF COFFEE AND SOME FRIENDS! (after everyone’s admired your icing skills of course).

Experimentation – peanut butter

I am told that there are “people” out there who don’t like peanut butter, not because they’re allergic and their face will swell up, but because they just don’t /like/ it. Well, this is not for those “people”, this is for us normal folk who enjoy smushed nuts smeared on toast.

We like peanuts in this house, they’re tasty, very tasty, and go great with beer, cider or just a big mug of milk. Every once in a while, we end up picking up a bag of peanuts that aren’t nice and crisp and seem to be under roasted. One day himself decided we should figure out how to make peanut butter to use up these less nice nuts.

In the quest to learn how to make peanut butter, it was discovered that stick blenders aren’t very good for making peanut butter, and that my mother will sleep through using her (loud) food processor to make the same. After a time, we picked up a handy wee chopper in Aldi for blitzing the nuts, as we don’t have room for a full-size food processor.

This evening’s experiment was to see if maple syrup would work nicely as it’s a good substitute for half the golden syrup in peanut butter cookies (recipe to follow at some point).

Ramekin of peanut butter

A handy ramekin, filled with delicious peanut butter.

  • 200g salted peanuts
  • 1 dessert spoon of maple syrup (proper stuff, you know, the stuff in glass jars that’s pretty runny) (Aldi do a good one that won’t break the bank, Marks and Spencer do a good one that will)
  • 3 teaspoons vegetable or peanut oil (for the love of god don’t use olive oil or other strong tasting oil)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt

In theory you can shell, skin and roast your own nuts, but buying bags of salted peanuts is just as easy. If you like a well roasted nut (an even more roasted one that how it was roasted before you bought it), scatter them on a lined tray and put into a 200°C oven for 10 minutes. Check them after five minutes and give a little shake, don’t let them scorch.

Then tip the nuts into your chopper/food processor, and start whizzing. When the nuts have turned into a coarse powder, add 2 teaspoons of the oil, the maple syrup and keep whizzing. My chopper isn’t amazing, so I periodically stop, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and go again. It takes longer than you’d expect but the nuts should break down to a paste. Taste the butter, and add the salt if it’s needed (some salted peanuts are saltier than others). Add more oil if the paste is too stiff (you need to be able to spread it on toast at the end of the day).

So basically, lots of whizzing and a bit of extra oil is all you need to make peanut butter. The oil seems to be necessary to get the butter to come together enough to be chopped finer. Sugar is optional, but I like slightly sweetened pb, salty and sweet things are what taste buds were made for!

I’m looking forward to smearing this on thick slices of toasted scotch batch in the morning and drinking some fine fine coffee with it. (Also, next time I make it, I’ll be doubling the maple syrup, so you might want to experiment with that if you’ve a sweet tooth).

Lemon shortbread (for dipping in lemon curd)

Obsession with lemons you say? Who? Me? Surely not….

Intending to make lemon cake during the week, I bought a net of six unwaxed lemons in the supermarket. Sadly, I didn’t get around to it in time for my final day in my most recent lab rotation. So there were six lemons staring up at me for the past few days. Now, much and all as I love lemons, using all six at a go was going to be quite the feat, so I’ve done an experiment in lemon preservation (details to come shortly) and also made some curd. The curd used up two lemons. I used the zest of these two lemons to make the shortbread that follows (I decided I dont much like the bits of zest in curd, as my zester makes them too big).

Normally, Darina is my go to girl for kitchen help, but this time I followed Prue’s directions for shortbread, save that I substituted the rice flour for cornflour as I had that to hand. Rice flour and cornflour have no gluten in them, so when mixed with the wheat flour serve to reduce the overall gluten content of the biscuit to make it much lighter. Generally about a quarter of the flours is gluten free and the rest is wheat flour. Reducing the gluten content too much can result in a biscuit that disintegrates.

Lemon shortbread dough

Lemon shortbread waiting to go into the fridge. Admire my quality fork-pricking of the dough...

  • 110g Butter
  • 55g Caster sugar
  • Grated zest of two lemons
  • 40g cornflour
  • 125g plain flour

I used my Aldi chopper to speed things up, if you have a proper food processor, use that, if not bring your mixing arm to the gym…

Beat the butter to soften it. Cream in the caster sugar and then mix in the zest. Sieve the cornflour and flour together and add to the creamed sugar/butter mix (I dont tend to sift flours when using the chopper, it’s fiddly and I’m lazy…) Blitz until it just about comes together then turn out and give it one last mix. If you’be been doing it by hand, it’ll come together into a nice smooth paste round then.

Roll the shortbread dough out to about 1cm thick on some greaseproof paper (if you try to do it on the worktop, it’ll just smush into place and stick, even if you flour it). Cut into your desired shape (I went with fingers, for good dipping times). Lay on greaseproof paper on the baking tray. Prick with a fork all over, and right through to the tray. Put the biscuits in the fridge to chill until firm. Pre-heat your oven about now to 170°C (I used 160°C as we have a fan oven, damn, I miss conventional ovens).

When the shortbread has firmed up, sprinkle on some caster sugar, for that authentic shortbread look. Pop into the oven for about 20 minutes, until the shortbread has turned a pale golden colour. Prue recommends scooshing under the shortbread with a palette knife (who owns a palette knife like) after they come out of the oven, leaving to cool for 5mins and then transfering to a wire rack, but I just slid the baking paper off the tray on to the wire rack. Be careful though, hot shortbread is fragile, so if they overhang the rack, they’ll break or if you try to move them without COMPLETELY supporting the underside, they’ll break. When they’ve cooled they’re much more robust.

Serve with lashings of lemon curd and some coffee!

Lemony delight (where “y delight” = bars)

For Easter my lovely fella’s lovely mammy invited me over for dinner, so I had to bring something tasty. I’ve been meaning to make something lemony for a while, and so lemon bars were made. Unfortunately, they’re awful tasty, so I had a couple for breakfast, leaving not quite enough to go round after dinner….

The base is a sort of lightly crispish base, like that of the caramel slices, and the topping is a lovely sweet lemon curd. I’d imagine dropping some of the sugar or increasing the amount of lemon juice should increase the tang, or making icing using the juice of another lemon should get a proper wince going.

Lemon Slices

A tray of lemon bars after some had been taken away for *cough* ehhh, testing....

  • 175g plain flour
  • 125g butter
  • 50g granulated sugar (though I used caster and it was grand)
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour (I used self raising even though recipe called for plain)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 medium eggs
  • Juice and grated rind of one lemon
  • Whatever you’d like to top it with (icing sugar/icing/fresh air)

Preheat your oven to 170°C. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin (mine was 18cm, first time I’ve ever bothered to measure).

If you have a food processor/chopper, you can use it here or you can do it by hand. Rub the butter into the 175g of flour until it’s like breadcrumbs, and then mix in the sugar (the 50g lot). Pour the crumbs into the tin and press down firmly. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven.

While that’s cooking, prepare the curdy topping. Into your food processor/chopper/big bowl, add the sugar, flour, baking power and salt. I like to leave the wet ingredients until the base is nearly ready to come out of the oven. So you can use this time to get the rind off the lemon (this is a damned fiddly job, and I keep meaning to upgrade my zester). When the zest is off (add it to the dry mix above), roll the lemon firmly on the counter, and then juice over a sieve into a bowl (apparently rolling is supposed to get extra juice out by breaking up the insides a bit, either way rolling gets extra lemon smell onto your hands). Beat the eggs and add to the mix along with the lemon juice and whizz/beat well.

When the 20 mins for the base are up, it should be a nice light golden colour. Pour on the curdy mix and put back into the oven for another 20mins. The recipe reckons the middle of the cake should have a slight wobble and then it’s done, but I overcooked mine (25mins instead of 20) so no wobble (still tasted good though).

Leave to cool in the tin. You can dredge with icing sugar, or put a nice lemon icing on top, or you can do nothing like I did (I was running late, I’d probably have tried harder if I got up earlier). Slice into bars and serve with a bucket of coffee. The recipe claims 24 bars, but I think about fifteen good size bars is more like it.

Caramel Slices (or, Diabetes in a Mouthful)

One of my favourite things to have with a cup of coffee is a humble caramel slice. They also make excellent treats to bring in to work (if you try to eat the whole tray at home on your own, I am not responsible for hospital bills). So, when I finished my second PhD rotation, I brought in caramel slices, to make doubly certain everyone would miss me….

Lunchboxes of Doom (and caramel slices)

That's a lot of caramelly goodness

Beware that the caramel is a) pretty intimidating to calorie counters, and b) somewhat tedious to make, but it totally pays off.

First you make the base. This base is nice and crumbly, but you can do a different type of biscuit if you prefer. I’ve been using this base since I first got the recipe for the slices more than fifteen years ago from my neighbour (hi stella! thanks!).

Biscuity base

  • 8oz plain flour
  • 4oz butter
  • 2oz caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 220ºC. Prepare a baking sheet by putting some greaseproof paper on top. Rub the flour and butter together until it has the appearance of breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar. Tip the crumbs onto the papered tray, and push around a bit until it’s level, but dont press it hard. Bake until golden around the edges (takes about 20 minutes). Leave aside to await its caramelly topping.

Biscuity base

Biscuity base (this also doubles up as a crumble topping, just bake on top of fruit instead of on a tray).

The good stuff (caramel)

  • Can of Evaporated milk (400g I think, also note EVAPORATED, not the other sort)
  • 8oz of butter
  • 4 tablespoons golden syrup
  • Vanilla essence

For the caramel, combine all ingredients apart from the vanilla in a pot. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly. When everything has melted together, bring the caramel to a simmer, and stir constantly, for about forty to fifty minutes, until the caramel coats the back of a spoon. You’ll see it start to thicken and look more like caramel. Also, I’m serious about the stirring, CONSTANT STIRRING. Either farm off some of the stirring time to a younger sibling, or bring a book to hold in your other hand…

Caramel on the back of a spoon

The caramel should coat the spoon nice and thickly when you dip it in the pot.

Pour the thick caramel on to the base and let to cool. Get a big glass of milk to drink while you scrape out whatever is left stuck to the pot (sometimes I leave a bit in the pot instead of pouring it all out, and make myself sick trying to eat ALL THE CARAMELS). When the caramel is cool, you can pour melted chocolate on top. I’m going to assume (never assume etc…) that you can melt chocolate, if not ask someone (me or another adult).

Once the chocolate is set, you can cut it into slices, pop it in a lunchbox, and make yourself a workplace hero!