Category Archives: cake

Salted peanut butter brownies

Salted peanut brownies

We are off to a friend’s straight after school tonight so I have made these brownies to take with us for a treat. I have also asked one of the students attending Sunday’s bread making course for cake requests and brownies are at the top of her cake list. It made sense then, to trial these and cook again on Saturday, ready for Sunday.

They are an adaptation of Ruby Tandoh’s excellent Salted Milk Chocolate Brownies from The Guardian Cook section published on 7 February this year. I can’t resist fiddling with recipes so I have added peanut butter, used dark chocolate instead of milk and used half and half of caster sugar and soft dark brown sugar. I have also swapped the plain flour with wholemeal spelt.

When I made Ruby’s brownies the first time, (with just a few changes), it became quite clear that by sprinkling sea salt on the top of these beauties just makes them even more tempting and addictive.

If you have a fancy for a gooey, deeply chocolatey, salty and nutty cake (and who wouldn’t?) get your teeth wrapped around one (or two, or three) of these.

Makes 9 brownies

175g unsalted butter
150g dark chocolate
50g cocoa powder
100g caster sugar
100g soft dark brown sugar
3 eggs
50g wholemeal spelt flour
¼ tsp fine salt
About 100g crunchy peanut butter
Sea salt flakes

Method

Melt the chocolate and the butter together in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir in the cocoa powder. Leave to cool slightly.

Whisk the sugars with the eggs in a large bowl until the mixture is thick and doubled in volume.

Pour the chocolate mixture onto the egg mixture and fold carefully together until well mixed. Add the flour and the salt and fold in. Pour the batter into a foil lined 20cm square cake tin. Drop blobs of peanut butter into the batter and swirl with a skewer. Sprinkle the sea salt flakes over the top.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4 for 25-30 minutes or in the Aga’s baking oven with the rack set on the bottom rung for 20 minutes until the brownie is crusted on top but still has a bit of a wobble. It should be undercooked so that when it cools it is fudge and dense in texture with a crust.

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Grape cake

grape cake

There has been a bumper crop of grapes at my niece’s house this year. There have been lots of grapes in previous years. But this year with the warm weather these grapes are really delicious. They are small and unfortunately seeded, but for outdoor grown English grapes they are very, very good.

bowl of grapes

Until I picked up a copy of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy from the local charity shop I had no idea that grape cake was a thing. He also recommends freezing grapes and enjoying them frozen as a dessert with a bit of chocolate – my goodness, frozen grapes are delicious. So quite a few bunches have been frozen and then a couple of bunches made their way into this cake. The cake is really good. It’s a shame these grapes have seeds. I didn’t remove the seeds prior to including the grapes in the cake batter and they do ruin the texture of the cake a little. But with these grapes being so small, taking the seeds out would have been a long-winded process.

I have altered Jamie’s recipe. Well, I can’t help myself from tinkering. So this is my recipe for grape cake. Blueberries, raspberries or apple (chopped up small) would be a good alternative to grapes if you don’t have any handy. I had a bit of dessert wine left over that needed using up so I included it in this cake. If you don’t have any to hand then just use more milk in its place, so 150ml milk rather than the 75ml. This is a lovely moist cake and I will be trying it with other fruit too.

4 eggs
250g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter, melted
150g extra virgin olive oil
75ml sweet wine (or you could use milk if you don’t have any sweet wine)
75ml milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
400g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
600g grapes, or blueberries, or raspberries or apple chopped into small dice

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°c, 350°f, gas mark 4 or use the middle shelf of the Aga’s baking oven. Grease and line a 23cm cake tin.

Beat the eggs and the sugar together in a large bowl using an electric mixer until thick and moussey and the whisk leaves a trail. Pour in the cooled butter, olive oil, wine, milk, lemon zest  and vanilla extract and beat again until combined. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in gently. Add three-quarters of the grapes and stir in gently. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and place into the oven. Bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven and place the remaining grapes on top of the cake. Push them gently into the batter. Place back in the oven and cook for another 30-40 minutes until the cake feels firm when you press a finger on top. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for ten minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

sliced grape cake

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Rock cakes

Rock cakes

These little cakes are something else I have been making quite a bit recently. A few months ago my nine-year old daughter came home and said this: “Mum, my friend E has rock cakes in her lunch box and I really like them”. Ah yes, I recognise a gauntlet thrown when I see one.  So there I was at 6.19 am the next morning making rock cakes to go into her lunch box. You can’t make rock cakes the day before. They need to be made and then eaten, preferably still warm after only a few minutes spent relaxing on a wire rack. But they are also acceptable at lunchtime when baked in the morning. Apparently.

I hadn’t made them for years before this. I don’t know why because they are delicious. I do know why, I had forgotten how good they are. The name rock cake doesn’t exactly sell them to you I realise, but really they are soft, gently spicy and very, very good. Make them as soon as you can, but not necessarily at 6.19 am, if you can help it.

I make mine in the food processor which means they are a matter of minutes to make.

Makes 12 – 15 cakes

225g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp mixed spice
100g butter, softened
50g demerara sugar
100g dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, candied peel, a mixture – anything you have in the cupboard)
1 egg and 1 tbsp milk, beaten lightly together

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°c, gas mark 6, or use towards the bottom of the roasting oven of the Aga. Grease a baking sheet.

Place the flour, baking powder and mixed spice in the bowl of a food processor or in a large bowl. Cube the butter and either pulse until it looks like fine breadcrumbs or if doing it by hand rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips and a light touch. Add the sugar and the fruit. Add the egg and milk mixture and pulse again until it comes together or mix with your hands until it comes together in a soft dough.

Spoon small mounds of mixture onto the greased baking sheet, you want them to look rough edged like a rock. Spoon a little extra demerara sugar over each one. Place in the preheated oven and cook for about ten minutes until golden brown. Remove to a wire rack, leave for a minute or two and then eat or wait until lunchtime.

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Chocolate chestnut cake

chocolate chestnut cake

 

I must share this cake with you. I have been making it a lot in recent weeks. Mostly because it keeps getting eaten before I have had chance to take a photo of it. Each time I fetch it out of the oven I say ‘now, I must get a photo of this cake this time’, then it’s gone. But I have also been making it because (and this is a really good excuse) chestnut flour doesn’t keep well, so you must use it quickly.

I buy my bread flour by the 25kg sack full from Shipton Mill. To get free delivery I always add to the order and this time I included chestnut flour. It’s not cheap but I have wanted to try it for ages. I am glad I did. It is seasonal so you may have to wait to make this cake.

This cake is fudgy and dense, like a brownie in texture. I have tried all caster sugar, all light brown sugar and half and half caster with muscovado. My favourite is to use all light brown sugar. It gives a caramel edge without being too heavy or bitter. The cake is even better the day after it is made as it just gets fudgier. Be careful not to overcook it though. You want a slight wobble left in the centre when you take it out of the oven. This will firm up when the cake is cooled and your cake will be lovely and moist.

If you have chestnuts rather than chestnut flour then I can recommend my other Chocolate Chestnut Cake as being equally delicious.

200g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids and stuff that you enjoy eating)
200g unsalted butter
200g soft light brown sugar
4 eggs, separated
100g chestnut flour

Method

Preheat the oven to 170°c, gas mark 3 or use towards the bottom of the baking oven of the Aga. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin with baking parchment.

Break the chocolate into small pieces into a bowl. Cube the butter and add to the chocolate. Melt the butter and chocolate in the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water (making sure the water does not touch the base of the bowl). When melted stir gently to combine.

Whisk the egg yolks and the sugar together until well combined and slightly paler in colour.

Whisk the egg whites in a separate, scrupulously clean bowl to firm peaks.

Add the melted chocolate and butter mixture to the egg yolks and sugar mixture and combine well. Fold in the chestnut flour. Add one third of the egg whites, mixing in well so that the mixture is light and the remainder of the eggs can be very gently folded in, retaining as many of the tiny bubbles as possible. When all combined, gently pour the mixture into the lined tin and place in the preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. It may take a few minutes longer depending on your oven but check at 20 minutes as you don’t want to overcook it.

Leave to cool in the tin for about 20 minutes and then turn out onto a plate. You can dive in straight away or restrain yourself and keep until the next day.

 

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Winberry muffins

winberry muffins

 

If you go down the woods today…..

Or, indeed walk up a large hill, then you may well be in for a surprise. No bears having picnics (I hope) but bushes of these delicious little bursts of purpley goodness. My lovely friend and I try to take a walk each week. It’s always a great walk whatever the weather. We put the world to rights in an hour and a half. At the top of the hill you are always rewarded with a wonderful 360° view, whether that is cloud shrouded fields, or crops withering under a heat haze. But at this time of the year you are also rewarded with winberry bushes. There is a mass of them, covered in these tiny berries. They are time-consuming to pick and this is made slightly more difficult, but also more hilarious, by my friend’s dog cavorting through the bushes, stopping to hoover some of the berries up with his front teeth. You don’t get many in fifteen minutes of picking (unless you are a dog), but you get enough for a couple of batches of these muffins. So, well worth the purple stained fingers.

winberries

 

The winberry is a cousin of the blueberry but much smaller. It is known by lots of other names – bilberry, whortleberry, blaeberry, windberry, whinberry etc etc. They grow on nutrient poor acidic soil and my friend and I were discussing how amazing it is that on this windswept hill, which spends a fair amount of time under low slung cloud and takes the worst of the winter weather these little bushes thrive and produce these delicious fruits.

Please remember that if the land on which the winberry grows has an owner then you should ask their permission before foraging. Take only a few, leaving plenty for the birds and mammals which rely on them. Most importantly, make sure you know for certain that it is a winberry bush and not something poisonous.

Makes 12 mini muffins (fairy cake size) or 6 muffins.

150g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
25g caster sugar
1 egg
80g butter
200ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
80-100g winberries (or less if you haven’t managed to pick that many)

Method

When making muffins, lightness is key, so sift the flour and baking powder and don’t overmix.

Sift together the flour and the baking powder into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar gently. Make a well in the centre.

Melt the butter and add to the beaten egg, the milk and the vanilla extract in a jug.

Pour the liquid into the flour and mix very briefly. Add the winberries and mix just enough to distribute them.You should still have some lumps of flour.

Spoon into muffin cases in a patty tin. I used cupcake sized cases to make mini muffins and made 12 rather than 6 large ones.

Place in a preheated oven at 200°c, gas mark 6 for 15-20 minutes. I took them out of the oven five minutes before they were ready and sprinkled demerara sugar on their tops and continued to cook until the muffins were golden brown. This gives them a slightly crunchy top.

half eaten winberry muffin

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Bara Brith – the cake and the loaf

The cake version

The cake version

 

The loaf version

The loaf version

I have become a little obsessed with bara brith. A long time ago someone used to make our family a bara brith on a regular basis. It was delicious. It became a little less delicious when we heard that she mixed it in her bath.

There are two types of bara brith. The cake version and the yeasted bread version. Bara Brith translates from the welsh as speckled bread, referring to the currants, raisins and candied peel within each slice. The arguments about which is  the real bara brith rage on. History has it that bara brith would have been the last loaf put in the dying oven at the end of the weekly bake, adding the fruit to the bread dough to make it a more palatable loaf.  When raising agents came into regular use the bread became a cake.

The cake version is often a tea bread with the fruit steeped in strong cold tea overnight. This makes it a very moist cake that lasts for days. Spread with butter, it goes very well with a flask of coffee and a beautiful view.

The bread version, though, I have been having trouble with.  I initially tried a version from a traditionally welsh cookery book. This particular recipe asks for wholemeal flour. However, I found that the enriched dough became just to heavy to get anything more than a small rise, making for a heavy bread. It tasted OK, but the cake tasted better. However, I was determined to keep trying.  I found another recipe, and this one uses plain white flour. The rise was much more successful, but perhaps not authentic, traditional bara brith.  If anyone makes a bara brith bread (the yeasted version) that they enjoy then I would be very interested in their recipe.

At the moment I think my heart belongs to the cake version. It lasts for days making it a handy cake to have in the tin.  The bread is just a little too heavy, even when made with the white flour and if I want a fruit loaf then this one wins hands down.

I would be interested in your bara brith thoughts to keep the obsession alive.

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Coffee and hazelnut cake

coffee and hazelnut cake

I made this cake for a friend. A few weeks ago she was taking her dog for an early morning walk, slipped and managed to break her ankle in three places and dislocate it. She now has a bionic ankle made good with more pins than a pin cushion on the British Sewing Bee. She is on the mend but still has a good few weeks of recovery to go.

This cake was made to make her feel loved. I have known her since we were 11, (so that is quite a few years), and I consider her as one of my closest friends, and yet I had managed to never notice that she doesn’t like coffee. How did that happen? However, (and I’m not sure if she was just being polite at this point) she did eat a rather hearty slice and asked me to leave her a couple of slices for the next day. Mr OC, who adores coffee, loved this cake. It is drenched with a coffee syrup as soon as it comes out of the oven which makes it deliciously moist. The topping is not your normal sweet buttercream but offers an excellent contrast of creaminess with just an edge of sourness from the quark. You could add more sugar if you were after something a bit sweeter but I liked the contrast very much.

Michele from Cooking at Home recently posted about her coffee cake which never lets her down and everyone loves. I will be making her version next time as I like the idea of the crunchy topping very much.

For the sponge:

1 tbsp instant coffee
scant tbsp hot water
175g (60z) self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
175g (6oz) softened butter (room temperature)
175g (6oz) caster sugar (I used golden)
3 eggs
50g (2oz) hazelnuts, finely chopped (I whizzed whole hazelnuts them in the food processor for a few seconds)

For the syrup:
1 tbsp instant espresso powder
50g (2oz) demerara sugar
50ml (2floz) boiling water

For the filling and topping:
250g (9oz) mascarpone
200g (7oz) Quark or fromage frais
1 tbsp reserved coffee syrup
1 tbsp of dark soft brown sugar (or more according to your taste)

You will need two sandwich tins (mine are 7½ inch or 19 cms) greased and the bases lined with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 170°c, gas mark 3 or use the centre of the baking oven of the four oven Aga.

Method

First mix the coffee powder with the hot water for the cake and allow to cool a little.

Then place all the ingredients, including the coffee mixture into a bowl and mix well until everything is well combined and the batter is a soft dropping consistency. Add a tablespoon of milk if you think it needs to be a little softer. Divide the mixture between the sandwich tins. Place the tins in the centre of the oven and cook for 25-30 minutes until the sponges are beginning to shrink from the sides of the tin and are springy to the touch.

Whilst the cakes are cooking make the syrup. Place the coffee powder and the sugar in a heatproof jug and pour the boiling water over. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. This will take a minute or two.

As soon as the cakes come out of the oven pierce them all over with a skewer or cocktail stick and then spoon the syrup over as evenly as possible. Reserve a tablespoon of this syrup to add to the filling/topping.

To make the filling, place the mascarpone and quark into a bowl and mix until combined. Add the reserved coffee syrup and the sugar and mix until well combined. Add more sugar if you feel you need it  but bear in mind that a little sourness is a good contrast to the sweetness of the cake.

When the cakes are completely cold turn them out of the tins and place one onto the serving plate. Pile half the filling on top and then top with the second cake. Swirl the remaining filling over the top of the cake.

Take to a coffee-loving friend, or a friend that doesn’t like coffee – the choice is yours. (Sorry, H).

By the way, we had our holiday. A lovely, relaxing 10 day break on Madeira. We saw the sun again and let it warm our bones. What a pleasure. We came back refreshed and ready for action. Now let’s just hope the English sun peaks its head out from behind the clouds. Come on sun, don’t be shy.

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