Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Buttermilk Breakfast Muffins

As you emerge from the consolatory embrace of slumber, still bleary eyed and weary from the previous night's indiscretions, wouldn't it be nice to be greeted with something a little more gratifying than just toast or cereal. These buttermilk muffins are as fanciful as they are fortifying, with a soft, moist texture, sweet spicing and a delicate aromatic fruitiness. They are also straightforward to make and easy to adapt, with chocolate chip or blueberry just a couple of the countless variations that I've attempted, with delicious results!

P.S. I have been reminded by my resident jam sorceress that these are even more delectable when smeared with jams, preserves or curds!

Prep time: 15 Minutes
Baking Time 30 Minutes
200g Plain Flour
175g Light Muscovado Sugar
1tsp Mixed Spice
1tsp Baking Powder

1tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
1 Large Egg (Beaten)
200ml Buttermilk
100g Unsalted Butter (Melted and cooled)
1/2tsp Lemon Extract

1/2tsp Orange Extract
1/2tsp Vanilla Extract
150g Grated Carrot
75g Dried Vine Fruit
25g Demerara Sugar (Or those little white sugar crystals)

Let's begin shall we? Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5 and line a muffin tin with 9 paper cases. Sift the the flour into a large bowl, then mix together with the muscovado sugar, spice, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Add the egg, buttermilk, butter and extracts, fold through evenly, then do the same with the carrot and fruit. Spoon into your prepared cases, then sprinkle a little demerara sugar onto each. Bake in the centre of the oven for around 30 minutes, until golden brown on top and a metal skewer can be cleanly removed when inserted into the middle of one of the muffins. When you are happy they are cooked, remove from the oven. Leave the muffins in the tray for five minutes, before transferring to a wire rack until completely cool. And that's it, all finished!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Chocolate drizzled Almond Bars

As much as I adore more than the occasional indulgence, regular readers will know that I rarely wish to burden myself too brutally when it comes to their creation. These beautiful almond bars are a most excellent example of when a recipe amounts to more than a sum of its efforts, delivering a flavoursome sophistication to ones biscuit barrel. They are also easily adaptable and offer great scope for modification. For example, although I love the bittersweet complexity good quality dark chocolate provides, you can substitute for rich white chocolate or even sweet milk chocolate for children. Also instead of flavouring with almond, using orange, lemon or vanilla extract, even rose or orange blossom water all work splendidly.

Prep time: 20 Mins (Plus some cooling time)
Baking time: 18-20 Mins
100g Plain Flour
100g Unsalted Butter (Chopped into small cubes)
100g Ground Almonds
175g Caster Sugar
1 Large Egg Yolk
1tsp Almond Extract
150g Dark Chocolate (70% Cocoa Solids)
25g Flaked Almonds

Did I mention this one requires getting your hands dirty? Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4, grease a 21cm square cake tin and line with baking paper. In a large bowl rub the flour and butter together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then add the ground almonds and caster sugar. Keep working with your hands, then add the egg yolk and almond extract and bring together to an evenly combined dough. Press the dough into the base of the prepared tin, levelling it out right to the edges, then bake in the centre of the oven for around 18-20 minutes, until just starting to lightly colour on top.

When you are happy the bars are cooked remove them from the oven. Leave in the tin for about 15 minutes, then VERY carefully remove and place on a flat surface. Leave on the paper, but with a sharp knife slice into squares or rectangles, before transferring the paper over to a wire rack until completely cool. I cut the biscuits when warm as I find they become more brittle as they cool.

When cool peel the bars from the paper and return to the wire rack. Melt the dark chocolate over a bain-marie or in the microwave, then brush all over each bar, letting it cascade over the edges. Sprinkle over a few flaked almonds and leave to set. Time to put the kettle on. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Smoked Caravan Fruit Cake

It boggles my mind when people sneer at my love of leaf tea. Callously labelled as pretentious and pompous, the reality could not be further from the truth. Leaf tea is an artisanal product, with a vast kaleidoscope of flavours and fragrances. Each has its own subtleties and each is an individual. However like cake, leaf tea is a truly affordable luxury that can be enjoyed every day by everyone. Even the very best leaf tea costs merely a few pounds and can be picked up easily online or from one of the many incredible leaf tea shops around the country. So, why not dust off the old tea pot this weekend and indulge yourself in a cup of lost malawi or ceylon kenilworth. I promise you won't be disappointed.

In tribute to my adoration of tea I have created an easy fruit cake recipe to showcase one of my favourite leaf teas, Russian Smoked Caravan. Soaking the vine fruit in this beautiful tea and using the liquor to make a syrup adds a real richness to the finished cake, with a light smokiness and an subtle, almost burnt toffee flavour. Of course, if you have a favoured tea you can substitute with whatever you prefer. As always I encourage experimentation!

Prep time: 25 Mins (Plus overnight soaking time)
Baking time: 60 Mins
200ml Strong Tea
350g Dried Mixed Vine Fruit
175g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
175g Light Muscovado Sugar
3 Large Eggs
1tsp Mixed Spice
1tsp Baking Powder
190g Plain Flour
3tbsp Golden Syrup

We begin by soaking the fruit in the strong tea. Do this in a shallow container, ensuring the fruit is evenly covered with the dark tea. Cover and leave to soak, ideally overnight. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3, grease a 20cm deep loose bottomed baking tin and line the base with baking paper. In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time along with the mixed spice. Sift in the baking powder and flour, then mix to a smooth even batter. Using a slotted spoon (As you want to retain some of the soaking liquor) add the soaked fruit to the mixture, then fold through until combined. Spoon into your prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for around 60-65 minutes, until a metal skewer can be cleanly removed when inserted into the centre of the cake.

When you're happy the cake is baked remove from the oven. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove and place on a wire rack. For the syrup, add 3tbsp of golden syrup to the soaking liquor and heat through in the microwave for 30-40 seconds. Whilst it is warming pierce the top of the warm cake all over with a toothpick or metal skewer. Stir the syrup together, then brush all over the top. I find it easier to do this in two stages, brushing over half then leaving it for 5 minutes to soak in before brushing over the remaining syrup. Leave the cake to cool completely then slice and serve, with a cup of tea.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Marie Sponge

Creating my interpretation of the classic Victoria sponge was no easy task, in fact it was a virtual minefield of tradition, convention and opinion. Fortunately I rarely trouble myself with such trivialities as rules, so if you are convinced that your version is the true Victoria sponge, then prepare to cry sacrilege. Frequent flyers will be aware of my love of home made jam, but here I have used roasted summer fruits instead, which provide a beautiful dynamism in both flavour and texture. This is complimented not by simply cream or buttercream, but a luxurious mixture of the two, lightly perfumed with a just a hint of vanilla. Finally I have finished the cake with a sprinkling of caster sugar. You can substitute with icing sugar if you must, but I find the little crunch of caster sugar crystals just adds to the cakes charm. With such changes I thought a revision of title would be appropriate, so have named this delightful early summer treat after the more controversial figurehead Marie Antoinette. For was it not she who uttered the fabled words "Let them eat cake"?

Prep time: 30 Minutes (Plus some cooling time)
Baking time: 30 Minutes + 20 Minutes roasting time
175g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
175g Caster Sugar
3 Large Eggs
175g Self Raising Flour
1tsp Baking Powder
A pinch of Salt

For the roasted fruit
250g Fresh Strawberries (Weight after the stalks have been removed)
250g Fresh Raspberries
2tbsp Caster Sugar

For the ButterCREAM
100g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
200g Icing Sugar
1tsp Vanilla
50ml Double Cream

Caster Sugar (To finish)

The first task is to prepare the sponges. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4, grease two 20cm sandwich tins and line their bases with baking paper. In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Sift in the flour with the baking powder and salt, then mix to a smooth batter. Spoon equally into your prepared tins, then bake in the centre of the oven for around 30 minutes, until golden on top and a metal skewer can be cleanly removed when inserted into the centre of the cakes. When you are happy they are cooked remove from the oven, leave in the tins for 10 minutes, then carefully remove each and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

As soon as the cakes are baked you can start on the fruit. Turn the oven up to 220C/425F/Gas 8. Remove the green stalks from the strawberries and halve each one, then place in a bowl with the raspberries and the caster sugar. Very gently mix the fruit together with your hands, taking care not to break the raspberries up too much, then spread evenly over a large shallow baking tray. Roast in the centre of the oven for around 20 minutes, until soft and starting the caramelise, then remove from the oven and spoon the cooked fruit (including the juice) into a clean bowl and set to one side until completely cool.

Once both the sponges and fruit are cool you can finish the cake off. In a large bowl beat the butter until light and fluffy, then sift in the icing sugar and mix until evenly combined. Add the vanilla and double cream then mix until smooth and silky. Take one of the sponges and place on a serving plate. Arrange the roasted fruit evenly on top of the sponge, then spoon over any of the remaining syrup than remains in the bowl. Spread the butterCREAM onto the base of the other sponge then upturn onto the fruit, sandwiching the two sponges together gently. Sprinkle over a little caster sugar and the cake is finished. A magnificent beauty indeed.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Fruit Buckle with a Cinnamon Crumble Topping

Howdy y'all! Ahem, I do apologise I'm not sure what just came over me. It must be something to do with this fruit buckle I am currently shovelling into my cakehole. Created by my American chums, it consists of a biscuity sponge, topped with soft tart summer fruits and embellished with a crunchy cinnamon crumble topping. Although it is more than adequate served cold, this delectation is at its most gratifying when served warm with cream, ice cream or custard.

Prep time: 25 Minutes
Baking time: 30-35 Minutes
75g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
110g Caster Sugar
2 Large Eggs
1/2tsp Vanilla Extract
175g Plain Flour
1tsp Baking Powder
200g Fresh Soft Fruit (Such as Raspberries and Blackberries)

For the crumble topping
25g Unsalted Butter (Cold and cut into cubes)
25g Plain Flour
25g Demerera Sugar
2tsp Ground Cinnamon

This recipe is so straightforward that it barely requires a recipe. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5, grease a 21cm square baking tin and line with baking paper. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time along with the vanilla. Sift in the flour with the baking powder and mix to a smooth even batter. Spoon into your prepared tin, smooth to the edges and scatter over your fruit.

To make the topping rub the butter into the flour with you fingers. Add the demerera sugar and cinnamon then continue rubbing in until combined. Scatter the crumble mixture over the top of the fruit, then bake the buckle in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes until the crumble mixture is crisp and a metal skewer can be cleanly removed when inserted into the middle of the sponge. When you're happy it is cooked remove the buckle from the oven, leave in the tin for 15 minutes, then remove completely from the tin and leave until warm on a wire rack. And that's it, all done.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Spiced Orange Breadcakebread

What makes a bread a bread, or a cake a cake? With this sweetly spiced delight the lines blur. The dough itself is prepared like a loaf, with the familiar stages of kneading and proving. However it is baked, served and sliced as a cake would be. The title though is of little significance as the warm citrus flavour and soft texture speak louder than any moniker you decide to bestow upon it. Equally as lovely as a lunchtime snack, afternoon tea treat or even toasted for breakfast the process of its creation is tremendous fun and more than worth a little endeavour.

WARNING: This recipe contain repeated use of the term "warm place", which for reasons unknown makes me cringe when I read it. I mean an area such as an airing cupboard.

Prep time: 30 Minutes (Plus 2 hours proving time)
Baking time: 30-35 Minutes
15g Fresh Yeast
75ml Tepid Water
35g Caster Sugar
300g Strong White Bread Flour
1tsp Mixed Spice
1/2tsp Salt
50ml Milk (Warm)
50g Unsalted Butter (Melted and cooled)
1 Large Egg Yolk
The zest of 1 Large Orange
130g Candied Orange Peel (Chopped)
3tbsp Golden Syrup
25g Toasted Flaked Almonds

I love making this on a weekend morning, with a bit of music in the background. Crumble the fresh yeast into a large mixing bowl. Add the water and sugar, then mix with a fork or little whisk until dissolved. Tip in the flour, mixed spice and salt, then the milk, butter and egg yolk, followed finally by the orange zest and candied orange peel. Don't ask me why I add the ingredients in that order, it just feels right!

Mix the ingredients together to a loose dough then tip out onto a clean dry surface. Knead the dough, gripping the dough at one end, stretching the other away from you, folding it back on itself, turning by a quarter and repeating. Do this for 7-8 minutes until smooth and elastic, then shape into a ball and place into a clean and greased large mixing bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for one hour.

Grease a 20cm deep loose bottomed baking tin and line with baking paper. Remove the dough from the your warm place, remove from the bowl and tip out onto a clean surface that has been lightly greased. Press the dough all over with your fingers to knock any air out, then shape into a large disk, very slightly smaller than the base of your tin. Carefully transfer the dough to the prepared tin and place the tin into a large plastic bag. Return to your warm place for a further hour, by which time the dough will have risen.

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Remove the tin from the plastic bag and bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes, until dark brown on top. When you are happy it is cooked take the baked bread out of the oven and carefully remove from the tin, peeling the paper from the bottom. Warm the golden syrup in the microwave for 20-30 seconds, then brush all over the top. Finish by scattering over the flaked almonds and your work is complete. Very well done.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Lady Bianco's Brownies

So are you sure you wish to know of the recipe that seduced the previously incorruptible Lady Bianco so completely? I must warn you pilgrim that from here you proceed at your own risk. For you see these brownies are so unscrupulous, so immoral, so dangerously delectable that once unleashed I cannot guarantee that you will not be bedevilled entirely. They will entice you with their deep aroma of cocoa, enchant you with their dense, fudgey texture and spellbind you with their rich, bittersweet and slightly biscuity flavour. Within a single bite you will be lost in an uncontrollable reverie of ecstasy and like Lady Bianco, you may never return...

Prep time: 30 Minutes
Baking time: 30 Minutes
175g Unsalted Butter (Cut into cubes)
250g Caster Sugar
125g Cocoa Powder
1tsp Vanilla Extract
2 Large Eggs and 1 Yolk
100g Ground Hazelnuts
200g Coarsely Chopped Nuts (Such as peanuts or hazelnuts)

We begin by melting together the butter, sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla. Place each in a large heat proof bowl and sit over a pan of simmering water (Known as a bain-marie). Let the steam from the water heat the bowl and as the butter begins to melt stir together until thick and glossy. When the ingredients having merged completely remove the bowl from the heat and set to one side for five minutes to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3, grease a 21cm square tin and line with baking paper. Beat the eggs and yolk into the chocolate mixture, then fold through the ground hazelnuts, followed by the chopped nuts. Spoon into you prepared tin and spread gently to the edges. Bake in the centre of the oven for around 30 minutes, until a metal skewer comes out slightly sticky when inserted into the middle of the baked mixture, then remove and leave in the tin until cool.

To serve remove from the tin and paper, then slice into individual brownies. Devour with impunity.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Lemon and Almond Syrup Pudding

What is that golden rondure I see before me, filling me with warmth, invigorating me and rejuvenating my spirit? Could it be the sun? Well yes, but what about that OTHER thing? That sweet and syrupy devil? Why it's my lemon and almond syrup pudding! Inspiriting, gladdening and gluten free it is equally befitting both shared with your beloved or shamelessly gobbled down all by yourself. So have at it you baking conquistador, your kitchen awaits!

Prep time: 20 Mins
Baking (Well, steaming) time: 60 Mins
75g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
75g Caster Sugar
1 Large Egg
The zest of 1 Lemon
100g Ground Almonds
1/2tsp Baking Powder
3Tbsp Golden Syrup
The juice of half a lemon

No preheating required this time, instead fill the kettle and put it on to boil, then thoroughly grease a small (1 Litre) pudding bowl or heat proof dish. In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and the caster sugar. In a separate bowl whisk the egg until pale and frothy, then mix gently into the creamed butter and sugar. Fold through the lemon zest, ground almonds and baking powder until evenly combined. 

Pour the golden syrup and lemon juice into a small dish and heat through for 30 seconds in the microwave. Give them a quick mix to loosely combine then pour into your prepared bowl, followed by the sponge mixture. It should reach about two thirds of the way up. Place a sheet of foil over a sheet of baking paper, pleat in the middle (Which will allow it to expand during steaming), then place baking paper side down on top of the little pudding bowl. Fold over the edges and tie tightly around with string to secure, then place in a large saucepan. Pour in the boiling water from the kettle around the pudding bowl, about half way up the side of the bowl, the place on a securely fitting lid. Bring the water up to a gentle simmer and leave to steam for 60 minutes.

When the pudding has steamed carefully remove the bowl from the saucepan and place on tea towel for 5 minutes, before turning out onto your serving plate. If you have any little nuggets of syrupy sponge left in the dish you can spread them easily over the top with the back of a teaspoon. Serve with cold cream, ice cream or custard, as well as plenty of theatre.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Rhubarb and Custard Swiss Roll

Baking can be elaborate and extravagant, complicated and convoluted, intricate and involved. It can be all of those things, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes the most gratifying of pleasures are the most elementary in their creation and the classic Swiss Roll is the perfect example. I’ve filled mine with roasted rhubarb and custard, but there is great scope with regards to both the filling and the topping. Cream, fresh berries, chocolate, jam, the possibilities are endless and, oh dear I seem to be salivating at merely the thought.

Prep time: 20 Mins
Baking time: 12 Mins + 20-25 Mins Roasting Time
3 Large Eggs
175g Caster Sugar
1tsp Vanilla Extract           
100g Self Raising Flour
For the rhubard filling
400g Fresh Rhubarb (Trimmed and cleaned)
4tbsp Caster Sugar
1.5tbsp Rum or Brandy
350g Custard (Bright yellow and inexpensive)
Icing Sugar (To dust)

We begin with the sponge. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6, grease a large shallow baking tray (I use one around 39x28cm) and line with baking paper. Separate the eggs into two separate mixing bowls. For the yolks, whisk together by hand with the vanilla extract and 150g of the sugar, then set to one side. For the whites, whisk (you can use an electric whisk for this) until soft peaks form, then sprinkle in the 25g of sugar and whisk until glossy with the peaks starting to stiffen. Fold the yolk mixture into the whites, until evenly combined, then sift in the flour and do the same. Spoon into your prepared tin and spread evenly to the edges. Bake in the centre of the oven for around 12-14 minutes, until light brown and springy to the touch, then remove and leave in the tin whilst you prepare the rhubarb.

For the rhubarb leave the oven on 200C/400F/Gas 6. Chop the rhubarb into thumb sized pieces and mix together with the sugar and alcohol. Place the pieces in a large oven proof dish, evenly spaced and roast in the centre of the oven for around 20-25 minutes, until soft and just starting to caramelise. Remove from the oven and you are ready for the final assembly process.
Remove the cooled sponge from the tin, peel off the baking paper and place upturned on a fresh large sheet of baking paper. Spread over the custard, leaving a small border around the edge, then spread over the rhubarb. Spoon over any of the roasting juices, then it’s time to roll. Carefully roll the sponge into a cylinder, using the baking paper to aid you. Place on your serving plate, seam side down and dust all over with icing sugar. Slice, serve and smile.