Intensely lemon cake

Intensely lemon cake

This cake is an adaptation of Claudia Roden’s Orange and almond cake. I was asked if I could bake a lemon drizzle cake that was lemony and not too sweet for an upcoming course.   I have been meaning to try Roden’s recipe with lemons instead of the oranges ever since I first made the orange version years ago. This was my opportunity.

It certainly lives up to its intensely lemon moniker.  It is like eating a bit of (tart!) sunshine. The colour of this cake is also intensely yellow, although I think that is due to the eggs being laid by our own chickens who generally roam free and eat a diet of maize, oats, sunflower seeds, anything they might find on the ground and vegetable kitchen scraps (and bread, lots of bread – they now look at me in disgust “What, bread again?”).

It is gluten-free if you make sure you get the GF baking powder. I suggest that you buy the whole, blanched almonds and grind them up in a food processor if you have one. This means that you get some superfine crumbs of almond, like flour in texture, along with some knobbly bits. This adds a wonderful texture to the cake that is more interesting to eat. The almonds also taste fresher when freshly ground.

I added a drizzle to the cake as soon as it came out of the oven to add another level of zinginess but if you want a more toned down lemonyness then feel free to  ignore this last step.

The top of this cake is a tad overcooked, I wasn’t being diligent enough and had gone off to so something else whilst it baked, but actually the contrast is rather stunning both visually and in taste.

If you like your lemon cakes to have a punch to them then I urge you to try this recipe, with the drizzle. Let me know what you think.

2 lemons
6 eggs
200g caster sugar
250g ground almonds (grind whole blanched almonds yourself if you can)
1 tsp baking powder

For the drizzle
Juice of 1 lemon (you can add the zest too if you like)
50g caster sugar

Method
Place the lemons in a small pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer until tender and soft (can take two hours). I pop mine in the simmering oven of the Aga. Drain and leave the lemons until cool enough to handle.

Preheat your oven to 180°c, gas mark 4 or use the lowest shelf in the baking oven of the four-oven Aga. Line a 23cm round spring-form cake tin.

Take off any green end bits off the lemons (no idea what they are called), cut in half and take out any seeds. Place in a food processor and whizz until finely pureed. If you don’t have a food processor then chop away until the lemon is finely minced, catching any juices.

Whisk the eggs until slightly thickened and then add the sugar gradually whisking all the time and continue to whisk until the mixture is light and mousse-like. Fold in the almonds, baking powder and lemons. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes until it starts to shrink slightly away from the sides.

Just before the cake is cooked mix the sugar with the lemon juice. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven make holes all over the cake with a skewer and spoon the sugar and lemon mixture all over the surface of the cake. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 20 minutes and then finish cooling on a wire rack.

This cake keeps for several days,  if it isn’t eaten in one sitting.

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Simnel cupcakes

simnel cupcakes

This is another post that sees me preparing for my Easter baking course. Veg Patch Kitchen keeps me busy and I rarely get the time to bake for pleasure these days. If I am making cakes they are very likely to be for a course and are being made along with lunch items and I don’t have the time to experiment with a new recipe or post it here.  Recipe development for the courses are a different matter though. They are researched and tested ahead of time so I know that we will be able to recreate them with success during the class and they give me an opportunity to still post here.  This blog has given me pleasure, inspiration and returned my lost confidence to me many times over the last nine years and I don’t want to stop posting here when I get the opportunity. So apologies again for thinking of Easter when we haven’t left January yet.

These little morsels of deliciousness will be made by students on my Easter baking course, along with Greek Tsoureki, hot cross buns and, if we get time, Easter biscuits (aka poorly biscuits in this house).

I adore marzipan, and so do my girls. They make it just to eat, and if they can be bothered with the tiny extra effort they will cut them into animal shapes or make them into marzipan chocolates, but most likely they will just eat it in lump form. It is easy to make and so much more delicious than the bought variety.  But by all means buy some if you want to miss out the step of making the marzipan.

These little cakes are very good, moist with the rum soaked fruit and streak of marzipan and just the right amount of sweetness with the marzipan top. Don’t wait until Easter, make them now.

You don’t need to soak your dried fruit in rum but it does make these cakes extra special.  I keep a jar topped up all year so it’s always there if I need it. But, if you haven’t got a jar of  rum soaked fruit sitting on the side (and really who, apart from me, has?) All they really need is an hour or so sitting in a few tablespoonfuls of rum.

For the marzipan: (to make about 325g)
150g ground almonds
75g icing sugar
75g caster sugar
1 small egg
1 tsp lemon juice
a few drops of almond extract (optional)

Method
Place all of the ingredients (you may not need all of the egg so put half in to begin with) in a food processor and whizz until it comes together. If you don’t have a food processor then just mix the ingredients together with your hands until they come together in a smooth ball.

Cut out 24 small circles (12 for popping in the middle of the batter and 12  for the top). Make some balls for the top.  Traditionally you would have 11 balls on the top of your simnel cake to represent the apostles.

Apricot jam or something similar ( I used my crabapple jelly) to brush on the top of the cooked cakes to help the marzipan disc and balls stick.

For the cakes:
150g softened unsalted butter
150g soft light brown sugar
2 eggs
150g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
150g mixed  dried fruit (optionally soaked in a few tablespoonfuls of rum for at least an hour)
zest of 1 lemon and juice of ½ lemon

You will need 12 cake cases and a 12 hole patty tin. Preheat the oven to 180°c, gas mark 4 or use the middle of the baking oven of the Aga.

Method
Cream the butter and sugar together until soft and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well between additions. Sieve the flour and baking powder into the mixture and fold these with the lemon juice and fruit gently into the mixture until well combined.

Place a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into each of the cases. Top with a disc of marzipan and then top each with another heaped teaspoon of mixture. Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until springy to the touch.

Brush the warm jam over each cake and top with a disc of marzipan and decorate with the balls. Place under a preheated grill or at the top of the roasting oven of the Aga for a few minutes until the marzipan is lightly browned. Place on a wire tray to cool completely.

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Greek Tsoureki bread

Greek tsoureki

I am a very lucky woman.  I get to do something that I love for my job.  I fell in love with bread when I realised that it was a challenge and that I could keep on learning about it forever more. Then I decided I want to spread the bread love and set up my bread making classes. All of this is my way of explaining why I am making a Greek bread that is usually made at Easter when I have barely taken down the Christmas decorations. I have to plan ahead in this game and as I popped an Easter Baking Day in the calendar last week I thought it best that I get cracking with perfecting the Tsoureki.

Tsoureki is traditionally braided and has a dyed red egg, to symbolise the blood and rebirth of Jesus, popped in the dough before the second rise so that it is nestled within the dough.  The bread is enriched with butter, egg and milk and flavoured with mehlep and given a slightly stringy feel by the addition of mastic gum.

I already had the mastic gum and the mehlep seeds to hand because our lovely Cypriot Londoner friend Tony had bought some up for me when he visited. The mastic is the sap from an evergreen from the pistachio family grown only on the Greek  island of Chios.  It reminds me of the (very posh) sugar crystals my mum used to have  for guests back in the 80’s. But pop one of the mastic gum crystals in your mouth and you get a chewing gum that is lightly scented pine forests (I am chewing, vigorously, as I type). Mastic gum has been used for centuries as a breath freshener and has anti bacterial properties and is said to be good for indigestion and stomach complaints, amongst a long list of other things. In the case of Tsoureki, you grind a small amount (I used three crystals) to a fine consistency and it imparts a delicate spicy, pine flavour as well as a slight stringiness to the soft dough.

The mehlep (aka mahleb) seeds are from the kernel of a species of cherry and have an almond flavour and impart a wonderful smell to this bread.  Again you use them sparingly in this recipe. I ground five seeds along with the mastic and together they made about ¼ tsp (a pinch of each).

You can make the Tsoureki without the mastic and mehlep seeds, but it won’t have quite the right flavour or texture, so if you can get hold of them, then do. I think they are fairly easy to get online and if you are a keen cook can be used for other dishes.

550g strong white flour
1 sachet of easy bake yeast
10g fine sea salt
50g caster sugar
grated zest of 1 orange
3 pieces of mastic gum, finely ground to make a pinch
5 mehlep seeds, finely ground
150ml milk, warmed
50g butter, softened or melted with the warmed milk
150ml water
1 egg
Syrup glaze:
50g caster sugar
50g (or ml) water
flaked almonds to decorate (optional)
Dyed red egg (if you want to be proper and traditional) or mini eggs to decorate

Method
Place the flour, salt, yeast (keep the salt and yeast separate), sugar, orange zest, ground mastic and mehlep in a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer.

Warm the milk to hand hot, I add the butter to the pan to melt it but you can just add softened butter. Add the  cool water to the milk to bring the temperature down. Check it’s not too hot (too hot and it will kill the yeast) and add to the flour. Add the egg. Now you can mix by hand or use a stand mixer.

If you use a stand mixer, then mix until well combined, turn off, leave the dough to rest for ten minutes (covered with a large bag), then mix on speed 1 for 1 minute. Leave dough to rest for ten minutes and then mix again for 1 minute. Cover the dough with large bag and allow to double in size.

If you are mixing by hand you can either mix with a clawed hand until combined and then knead for ten minutes until the dough is satiny smooth and a small piece stretches thinly before breaking or you can mix until well combined and leave to rest for ten minutes.  Keep the dough in the bowl and take the half furthest away from you and stretch it over the half nearest you, turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the stretch and fold. Repeat this action 8-12 times until the dough starts to resist you.  Cover the bowl with a large plastic bag and leave for ten minutes. Then repeat the stretches and folds. Leave to rest again and then repeat the stretches and folds.  Cover the bowl and leave the dough to double in size.

Lightly flour your work surface and tip out the light and airy dough. Deflate slightly and separate into three even sized pieces. Roll each piece out into a long sausage and braid the loaf. I start from the centre and work to each end. Tuck each end underneath slightly. If you are using a dyed red egg place it in one end of the braid and the loaf will prove around it. Place the braid on a tray, cover with a large inflated plastic bag and leave to prove for about 30 minutes, until it is light and airy and has increased in size. Preheat your oven to 190°c, gas mark 5, or use the top of the baking oven of the Aga. Place a baking tray onto the shelf to heat up so you can put the tray directly onto a hot tray. It will make a difference to the rise of the loaf.  Bake for 25 -30 minutes until dark golden and when pressed with a finger it resists your pressure.

In the last five minutes of baking prepare the sugar soup by placing the sugar and water in a small pan and dissolving over a gentle heat, then turn the heat up and simmer for a couple of minutes.  Brush the Tsoureki with the sugar syrup as soon as it comes out of the oven. Decorate with flaked almonds, that you have toasted lightly and some mini eggs if wished.  Place on a cooling tray to cool completely. It is delicious with or without butter.

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Merry Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve already.  I love this day, it’s probably my favourite, with the excitement and anticipation in the air, the cooking, baking and then a celebratory meal tonight playing cheesy Christmas tunes.

I am taking a moment in the middle of this madness to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2018. May this next year bring you happiness and good health and plenty of opportunities to get into your kitchen and bake.

With love and best wishes,

Kath x

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Mincemeat Swirls

Mincemeat swirl

I am running a Christmas Breads course in November at Acton Scott Farm and Museum so I have been planning which breads we will be cooking during the day.  I wanted to do a range of sweet and savoury so that there will be a bread to cover every occasion over the busy Christmas period.  I was thinking about sweet buns and which one we should make. At a Christmas breads course last year we made St Lucia buns, they were quite tasty and appealed because of the story about them being handed out whilst the girls in Scandinavian towns and villages dress in white with a candle crown and walk through the streets. But they are not buns that I would write home about.  I love a Chelsea bun and all of its fruity stickiness so I began to think about replacing the fruit, butter and sugar mixture with mincemeat and it works beautifully.  Whilst I was making them Mr OC commented on the Christmassy smells emanating from the kitchen – so they were deemed perfect for the Christmas breads course, along with a date and walnut loaf and a blue cheese focaccia. All suitably Christmassy and with the advantage of using up the bit of mincemeat left in the jar, the bowl of walnuts and the inevitable bit of cheese that escaped the crackers.

Mincemeat Swirls
For the enriched dough:
300g strong white flour
250g plain white flour
1 sachet of easy bake yeast or 10-15g of fresh yeast
10g fine sea salt
50g caster sugar
150ml whole milk
150ml water
50g unsalted butter
1 egg
For the filling:
5-6 tablespoons (about half a jar) of mincemeat
For the glaze:
50g caster sugar
50ml water
For the icing:
50g icing sugar
squeeze of orange juice 0r use water

Method
To make the dough:
Heat the milk  and butter in a small pan until the butter has melted, add in the tepid water and check with a clean finger that the liquid isn’t too hot. If it’s too hot it will kill the yeast, so leave it to cool for a while.

Measure the flours, salt, sugar and yeast (keeping the salt and yeast separate as the salt will kill the yeast too) into a large bowl, pour in the liquids and add the egg.

Using a clawed hand mix the ingredients together until they come together in a shaggy mass.  If the mixture has any dry bits of flour add a splash more water. You want it to feel on the wet side rather than the dry side. Cover with clingfilm, a large plastic bag or a shower cap and leave to stand for ten minutes.  Uncover and using one hand stretch half of the dough furthest away from you and fold it over the other half. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat this stretching and folding. Repeat the action for a further 8-10 times. The dough should start to resist you as you do these stretch and folds. This is the gluten developing.  Cover the bowl again. Leave to rest for at least ten minutes and repeat the stretch and folds. Stop stretching and folding when the dough becomes difficult to pull. You will have done enough. Rest for at least another ten minutes and repeat the stretch and fold.  Cover and leave until the dough has doubled in size (about an hour in a warm kitchen).

Preheat your oven to 200°c, gas mark 6, or use the roasting oven of the Aga. Place a solid shelf or tray in the centre of the oven or use the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga. All bread benefits from being cooked on a solid tray rather than a wire shelf.

Lightly flour the work surface and tip the dough onto the flour.  Roll into an oblong roughly 40cm x 30cm. Spread spoonfuls of the mincemeat evenly over the surface. Mincemeat swirls

Roll up from the long end, like a Swiss roll.

Rolling up mincemeat swirls

Once fully rolled up cut into 8-9 pieces, depending on how big or small you want your buns to be. Place the buns, swirl facing up, in a square or round cake tin, that measures about 20cm. You want the buns to be touching slightly so that they batch bake (that way you get the lovely soft side when ripped apart).

Mincemeat swirls in tin

Flatten each bun slightly with the palm of your hand.  Cover with clingfilm, a large inflated plastic bag or a shower cap and leave to rise until they look nicely risen and slightly puffy (about half in a warm kitchen).

Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and burnished.  If you poke the middle with your finger you should feel very little resistance.

Just before the buns are due to be ready place the sugar and water for the glaze in a small pan and bring to a simmer over a gentle heat. Simmer for about two minutes.

When cooked place the tin on a wire rack and brush the sugar glaze over the buns.  Leave them in the tin for about ten minutes and then remove and place on the wire rack to cool completely.

Mix the icing sugar and enough orange juice or water to make a pourable icing and decorate the top of your buns to your heart’s content.

Baked mincemeat swirls

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VonShef Stand Mixer – A review

VonShef Mixer

Photo courtesy of Domu

Domu sent me a stand mixer to put through its paces. The VonShef stand mixer has a 1260w motor and comes with a dough hook, whisk and paddle.  It has a similar styling to the KitchenAid with its curved body and stainless steel bowl.

I was interested to see how it would perform against my KitchenAid. I use my KitchenAid mixer daily, mixing bread doughs for the family, making cakes and occasionally I use it for students at my bread courses who want to learn how to mix their doughs in their stand mixers.

The Vonshef is a fraction of the price of the KitchenAid, but then it doesn’t have the sturdy workmanship that you expect of a stand mixer in the KitchenAid price range. The VonShef is made of plastic and so does not have the heavy, sturdy feel of the KitchenAid, but the benefit of this is its portability – the VonShef can easily be lifted in and out of cupboard if you don’t have the workspace to store your stand mixer on the worktop. The VonShef’s plastic is slightly more lightweight than the cheaper Kenwood Mixers on the market, but the VonShef is also cheaper than the cheapest Kenwood.

I have been thoroughly testing the VonShef over the past couple of weeks. It has made cakes and mixed the enriched doughs and pizza dough ahead of a bread class. I have been impressed with its performance.

It managed to mix five doughs consecutively (1 white pizza dough and 4 enriched doughs), using the mix and rest method, without any difficulty. The mix and rest method replicates the stretch and fold in the bowl by hand method that I use during the bread classes.  Both take advantage of allowing the gluten proteins time to develop (as soon as you add liquid to flour the two proteins that make up gluten, (glutenin and gliadin), start to form chains) and then giving them a helping hand by mixing (machine) or folding (hand), allowing to rest and then another mix or fold.  Both methods prove equally effective to a long knead by hand or running the mixer for 5-10 minutes.   The instructions for the VonShef mixer advises that you don’t run the mixer for longer than 5 minutes to avoid overheating the motor and the mix and rest method avoids this. Although, I think a five-minute knead at speed 2 is more than sufficient to develop the gluten of most doughs.

The VonShef has a few features that really stand out.  The splash guard fits well and makes adding ingredients mid-mix easy.  The pulse action is very quick and is great when you have added eggs to a cake mixture. They are mixed evenly and efficiently.  When I was making the cake, I found that I had to scrape down the bowl after each addition of a new ingredient, but I have to scrape down my KitchenAid too. The mixer worked perfectly well at mixing a light airy sponge.

It wasn’t just any cake either, but my eldest’s thirteenth birthday cake. A very important cake indeed.

Unicorn cake

So how do I rate the VonShef stand mixer? Well, it is noisier than my KitchenAid and nowhere near as sturdy or, let’s admit it, as beautiful, but for a mixer in the price range that it is in it is a great piece of equipment that makes great cakes and works perfectly well for mixing bread doughs. If you are looking for a budget mixer rather than a once-in-a-lifetime purchase then I can recommend the VonShef.

Disclaimer: I was sent a VonShef mixer free for the purposes of this review.  The opinions expressed are my own and honest after thoroughly testing the mixer. 

 

 

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Depressed Cake Shop

Depressed Cake Shop poster

I have been asked to bake a cake for Shrewsbury’s Depressed Cake Shop on Tuesday 10th October at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery in partnership with the charity Shropshire Mind.  The Depressed Cake Shop is a chance for the community to come together and consider and discuss issues around depression.

All the cakes will contain an element of grey to symbolise the grey cloud that can hang over someone struggling with depression.

I have trialled my cake today to make sure I have the recipe spot on before baking it again for next week’s event.  I have chosen to make a chocolate orange cake based on Claudia Roden’s orange and almond cake, but with the added boost of chocolate. Nigella has a similar recipe but I have reduced the sugar by 50g and upped the treacly flavour of the sugar by using light soft brown rather than caster sugar.

Chocolate and orange cake

If you are in or near Shrewsbury next Tuesday then please pop into the museum between 11am and 2pm to support this very good cause.

Chocolate, orange and almond cake

2 oranges
200g light soft brown sugar
6 eggs
200g ground almonds
50g cocoa powder

Method
Place the oranges in a pan and cover with cold water.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 1½ hours until the oranges are soft. Drain and allow to cool. Cut the oranges in half and remove any pips. Place in a food processor and pulse until pureed. You can do this in a food mill or chop finely and push through a sieve if you don’t have a food processor.

Preheat your oven to 180°c or gas mark 4 or use the baking oven of the four oven Aga (or the roasting oven of the two oven Aga using a cake baker or cold shelf).

Break the eggs into a large bowl and beat until combined. Add all the other ingredients and stir well until the mixture is smooth. Pour the mixture into an 18cm cake tin lined with baking parchment.  Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes until springy to the touch.  Cool on a wire rack in the tin for ten minutes and then remove from the tin and allow to cool completely.

I have decorated my cake with a grey cloud made out of fondant icing coloured grey and piped with a darker grey icing made with icing sugar, food colouring and a few drops of water.

Chocolate and orange cake slice

UPDATE (9/10/17): A lovely person called Chantal emailed me to remind me that we aren’t supposed to make cakes with nuts in, in case of allergy. I really should read things properly!  So, instead I have made rice crispie cakes, because who doesn’t love a crispie cake? They are always the first to sell on any cake stall. I hope they sell well tomorrow.

 

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