Thursday, 26 May 2016

Apple and Hazelnut Fruit Cake

I love fruit cake almost more than anything else. It's just so satisfying! With this one I've used both ground and chopped hazelnuts, as well as some grated apple and cinnamon to give the whole thing an extra delicious dimension. You can find ground roasted hazelnuts relatively easy these days, both online and in some supermarkets. The rest is relatively standard fare, although try to get the nicest dried fruit you can as it will make a big difference!

Prep time: 20 Mins
Baking time: 65-70 Mins
200g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
200g Light Muscovado Sugar
3 Large Eggs
100g Ground Roasted Hazelnuts
115g Plain Flour
1tsp Baking Powder
1tsp Cinnamon
1 Large Dessert Apple (Peeled, cored and grated)
350g Dried Mixed Fruit
50g Blanched Hazelnuts (Roughly Chopped)

So here we go again! Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4, grease a deep and loose bottomed 20cm baking tin and double line with baking paper. In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Toss in the ground hazelnuts, then sift in the flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Mix together, then add the grated apple and fruit and mix again to a smooth consistent batter. Spoon into your prepared tin, then scatter over the chopped hazelnuts and press gently into the surface.

Bake in the centre of the oven for around 65-70 mins, until a metal skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake. When you are happy the cake is baked remove from the oven, leave in the tin for 20 mins, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack, peeling off the baking paper as you go. Once the cake is cool you are ready to slice and serve. Nommmmmmmmmm!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Rhubarb and Stem Ginger Syrup (Plus a cheeky little use for the leftover rhubarb)

I'm not sure why, but I seem to always be surprised at just how delicious rhubarb is when the season returns. It's just not quite like anything else! Here I've knocked up an easy rhubarb syrup with just a prickle of stem ginger and it is sooooooo good drizzled on porridge, with ice cream or even as part of a naughty little cocktail. So what are you waiting for? Have at it!

Prep time: 10 Mins
Baking time: 40-45 Mins
600g Fresh Rhubarb Stalks
150g Stem Ginger Syrup (From a jar of Stem Ginger)
50g Golden Caster Sugar

Off we go once more. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5 and grab a large ovenproof baking dish. Chop the rhubarb into little batons, the same sort of size as the carrot batons you see in the supermarket. Pour the stem ginger syrup into a large mixing bowl along with the caster sugar. Throw in the chopped rhubarb and toss in the sugary syrup, then lay out over the base of your ovenproof dish, pouring over any of the excess syrup. Loosely cover with tin foil (don't let the foil touch the rhubarb) and bake in the centre of the oven for around 40-45 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft and has released it's juice. Tip all the rhubarb and juice into a heat proof container or jar then leave to cool.

Once cool you can drain the syrup from the rhubarb and you are all finished. HOWEVER if you don't want to waste that delicious rhubarb, just take a sheet of puff pastry, cut out little discs and score a border around the edge of each. Paint the discs with egg wash, sprinkle with caster sugar and bake in the centre of a hot oven until risen and brown. Once cool hollow the middle from each disc and fill with shop bought custard along with the rhubarb. Rhubarb and custard tartlets! OOSH!

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Little Raspberry Frangipane Cakes

These little individual cakes are perfectly matched to the early summer sunshine, particularly with a pot of leaf tea to go with! I love frangipane and despite it sounding somewhat specialist it is actually an absolute doodle to make. In fact every element of these is both easy to source and easy to prepare. So really, there's no excuse not to crack on with making them!

Prep time: 20 Mins
Making time: 30-35 Mins
For the Sponge
125g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
125g Golden Caster Sugar
2 Large Eggs
1tsp Vanilla Extract
125g Plain Flour
1tsp Baking Powder
150g Fresh Raspberries

For the Frangipane
100g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
100g Golden Caster Sugar
2 Egg Yolks
1tsp Almond Extract
100g Ground Almonds
25g Flaked Almonds

To the kitchen! Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line a 12 cup muffin tray with paper cases. In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time along with the vanilla extract. Sift in the flour and baking powder and mix to a smooth batter. Spoon equally into your paper cases and press a few raspberries into the top of each (About 3 in each).

For the frangipane, cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the egg yolks along with the almond extract. Add the ground almonds, mix to a smooth paste, then spoon equally on top of the raspberry sponges. Using a teaspoon coax the frangipane around the raspberries to the edge of the sponge, then press into contact so they (sort of) encase the fruit. Scatter the flaked almonds over the top of each filled case and bake in the centre of the oven for around 30-35 mins, until risen and golden brown on top.

When you are happy the cakes are baked remove the tray from the oven and transfer each to a wire rack until cool. Put the kettle on and you are done. :-)

Friday, 6 May 2016

Memoirs of a Gentleman Baker - Chapter 1, The Beginning

As I stood there, my nose pressed against the cold glass window I was transfixed by the cornucopia of treasures displayed so tantalisingly close inside. Pastries, breads, tarts and cakes adorned the shelves, glistening and dazzling in the morning sun. The enchantment of these precious jewels was matched only by the hypnotizing aroma emerging from the doorway to the small shop and being a mere a whip of a lad, I was powerless to resist their charms.

Steeling myself, I cautiously edged inside and was near lifted off of my feet by the booming voice that greeted me.

“Good morning young Sir!”

Behind the counter stood the personification of the word “jolly”, his face as round as his frame. My whole body shook as he bellowed.

“And what can I get for you today?”

I fixed my gaze at my toes and replied meekly

“I’m sorry I only have a few pounds. I’d just like to look if that’s ok, everything in here is so beautiful”

The man laughed, slapping his hand down onto the wooden counter top.

“Sir, for that you may choose what you like!”

I was astonished. How could anything so wonderful, so desirable be so affordable? How could I choose from such a bounty? I was so dumbstruck I could hardly raise a response.

“I, um I don’t know. There’s just too much. Can you choose please”

His expression changed to one of mischief as he theatrically produced a paper bag. I hopped to the counter, which I could barely see over and on my tiptoes gripped it tightly to see what this magician was about to materialise. He quickly and covertly filled the bag, sealed it and presented it to me proudly.

“My boy, these are for you”.

As I ran from the bakery, carefully protecting my precious cargo I could scarcely contain my excitement. I denied myself even the briefest of glimpses, fearing I would yield to temptation and as I reached my home I felt I would burst with anticipation.

I placed the bag gently on the kitchen table. Both my heart and mind raced as I imagined what treats awaited me and, unable to stand the torture any longer I looked inside...

That is where it all began. The spark that ignited a fire within, all consuming, that has burned deep inside me ever since. An interest that grew into a love, that grew into a passion. I have become a fanatic, and my obsession is baking. Baking, baking, baking. It’s all I think about, all day, every day and it’s what keeps me awake at night. Biscuits, pies, tarts, breads, puddings, crumbles, cakes, they fill my thoughts and haunt my dreams.

When I began I viewed baking as tortuous and treacherous, where the slightest deviation from the recipe would result in inevitable disaster. It intimidated me, scared me even and creating anything remotely edible, let alone appetising seemed beyond my limited skills.

What changed however was that I tried. I set to one side my apprehension and trepidation and I never looked back. I started with the simplest of cakes, the most basic of breads and from there my eyes were opened. Baking is not complex, precise or pressured, it is a joyous, fulfilling diversion from the tedious, toneless and tiresome. A colour, texture and flavour filled bonanza of achievable and affordable luxury.

I am now intent on only two things. The first is to bake, to create both the sweet and the savoury, indulging in the traditional, as well as discovering new flavours and textures. The second is to share, not only the fruits of my labour, but my recipes, ideas, and love for all things baking. I want everyone to feel as I did that day as a boy. The sense of wonder, of excitement, of joy and I truly believe with only a little endeavour everyone can.

What started as purely an avocation quickly became an odyssey, on which I ventured far and wide, meeting a kaleidoscope of colourful characters. Each of my experiences has made me both the gentleman, not to mention the baker I am today and the pages that follow are sprinkled with but a few morsels from my memoirs. My hope is that you can find more than just information, but inspiration and motivation to try some of the recipes and ideas yourself.

So now my new friend, it is over to you. The stage is yours...