The Ordinary Cook

Plum Frangipane Tart

I was inspired to make this by Thomasina Miers’ recipe in The Guardian’s Feast magazine this Saturday. Thomasina’s tart is topped with cherries and hazelnuts and I have changed the frangipane recipe a little. I make a dessert every Sunday, it’s the only day of the week that we eat a pudding so I always try to make it a bit special. I wanted to film making puff pastry for my upcoming online courses for Veg Patch Kitchen Cookery School so I combined the two. The tart in the photo is made with puff pastry and whilst it was delicious, the weight of the frangipane topping meant that the puff didn’t have chance to expand into its layers so I recommend making shortcrust for this beauty instead. Save your puff pastry for something that really showcases puff at its best.

You can watch how I make the tart in this video:

You can make a sweet shortcrust if you prefer but I prefer the standard version for most desserts.

Ingredients for the shortcrust pastry:
250g plain or pastry flour
125g cold unsalted butter
5g fine salt
50-70g cold water

Ingredients for the Frangipane:
100g softened butter
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
140g ground almonds
75g plain flour

Your choice of fruit, nuts and a drizzle of honey. I used plums but you could use anything that you have.

Method for the pastry:
You can make the pastry in a food processor with the cutting blade by placing the flour, salt and butter in the machine and pulsing until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add 50g of water and pulse again until it all comes together, if you need more water add it slowly. Wrap in a food bag or clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least twenty minutes but two hours is better as the gluten relaxes fully making it easier to roll out. 

If you are making it by hand, place the flour and salt in a bowl and mix well. Add the butter and using just your fingertips lightly rub the butter through the flour, picking up new pieces of flour and butter all the time. It requires a light touch. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, with some larger pieces of butter, add 50g of the water and stir through with a knife until starting to come together. Then using your hands (preferably cold) bring the pastry together into a ball. Wrap well in clingfilm or a food bag and place in the fridge.

Method for the frangipane:
Place the softened butter and sugar in a bowl and beat well until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well between each addition making sure they are well combined. Fold in the flour and ground almonds.

Method for the tart:
Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and preheat your oven to 180 degrees centrigrade, gas mark 4 or use the floor of the Aga’s roasting oven. Roll out the pastry to a rectangle a little smaller than your baking tray and place on the lined tray. Spread the frangipane over the pastry leaving a 4cm edge all the way around. Spread over your choice of fruit or nuts and drizzle with a little honey. Bring the edges of the pastry over a little way to make a rustic looking tart.

Place in the centre of the preheated oven for 40-50 minutes until golden brown all over and the pastry is fully baked. Serve warm or at room temperature with cream, custard or a scoop of ice cream.

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Coffee & Walnut Drizzle Cake

Coffee & walnut drizzle cake

I haven’t actually been baking much during lockdown, which is the opposite of the majority of the rest of the population if you believe the news and the recent daily stats of this blog (thank you everyone and I hope the recipes have worked and tasted wonderful). I think this may be because I bake a lot normally, I bake cakes at least twice a week to serve at the cookery school, and normally two cakes or a cake and some biscuits for each class. This means that we always have a few slices of leftover cake lying around the house, and to be honest (I thought I would never say this) you can get a bit fed up of cake. Baking hasn’t been at the top of my list of things to do during lockdown and this is the first one I have made since 20th March. I just felt the need for cake, and that often translates into the need for coffee cake. It is one of my all-time favourites.

This one has a coffee and sugar drizzle added as soon as it come out of the oven to add that extra coffee kick and a lovely moistness. You don’t need to add this if you don’t want to and the cake is perfectly good without it. If you do go for the drizzle option then please don’t feel you need the buttercream icing on top, it’s just that in this house a coffee cake isn’t really considered finished without the buttercream. It might be overkill for you, but if the mood strikes you for coffee cake then this combination might just hit the spot.

Slice of coffee and walnut drizzle cake

175g softened butter
175g caster sugar
2 eggs
50g plain yoghurt (or use another egg)
175g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 (one-quarter) tsp bicarbonate of soda
30ml (2 tbsp) strong coffee or coffee essence
50g walnuts

60ml (4 tbsp) strong coffee or coffee essence
100g sugar

75g softened butter
150g icing sugar
1 tbsp strong coffee
walnuts to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade, gas mark 4 or use the baking oven on a 4oven Aga. Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin or 20cm round cake tin.

Beat the butter and caster sugar together with an electric whisk in a large bowl until the mixture has turned pale and is fluffy. Add one egg at a time and beat well to combine. Add the yoghurt and beat well to combine. Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda over the mixture and fold in using a large spoon. Fold in the coffee or essence and the walnuts. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Whilst the cake is baking, put the ingredients for the drizzle in a small pan and heat on low until the sugar is dissolved and then raise the heat and simmer for a couple or minutes. As soon as the cake is out of the oven use the skewer to make holes all over the top and brush the coffee drizzle over the top of the cake. Leave the cake in the tin for at least ten minutes so that the drizzle can be fully absorbed. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

For the frosting, beat the butter until soft and add the icing sugar, stir gently until combined (this saves clouds of icing sugar erupting everywhere) and then whisk until fluffy. When the cake is cold decorate the top of the cake and add walnuts as final touch.

The cake will stay delicious for about three days if kept in a tin.

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Stay safe in these strange times

Well, when I read back my last post written in early January and think that I thought the world was in crisis then, who’d have thought that in just a short few weeks it would become even worse? I hope all of my readers are taking good care and are able to stay safe and healthy in these strange times.

We are extremely lucky here, we have the garden to get out into and we are surrounded by countryside if we want to take our daily exercise. We have planted a few seeds in the greenhouse – salad leaves, radish, peas and broad beans and have loads more to plant when the weather warms up a bit. We have also had time to prepare the veg patch, which we failed to get round to last year because life was so busy. So, fingers crossed for some future meals from the garden.

Talking about veg patches, my cookery school, Veg Patch Kitchen, came to a standstill on March 20th, the day the girls finished school for the foreseeable future and we made the decision that we are not offering an essential service, so classes booked for the remainder of March, April and May were deferred. I am unsure when we will be able to open again, but as soon as the government advice is that we can return to normal we will be back. For now, I am hoping that maybe over the Easter break, my teenage girls will help me with the technicalities of doing a couple of YouTube video showing the basics of bread making. It has been something that we have been meaning to do for ages, so we might take the opportunity now. At the moment, the girls have a list of homework a mile long, as the teachers try to keep them up to date with the curriculum. Some days are easier than others for that one, but they are doing some work each day and we are focusing on staying sane and happy.

I am doing a weekly bake for local friends and whilst I was lucky to put in a flour order before all the madness well and truly kicked off I know that lots of people are finding it hard to source flour and yeast. I put a few tips on that subject of yeast on the cookery school blog, so if you want ideas for making sure your supply of yeast lasts hop on over for a read. You can also make bread with plain flour if you can’t get your hands on strong bread flour and it may be easier to get hold of more unusual flours such as einkorn, emmer, Kamut and spelt. I wrote about Kamut bread a long time ago on here, but it is a lovely bread and if you have one of the other flours mentioned just add the water until the dough is softly sticky as each of the flours absorb water differently.

It is an unprecedented and weird time, but I hope that you are able to make the best of your situation and that you can fit in some baking therapy. Please take good care of yourselves.

Kath x

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Happy New Year

A quick note to wish you all a Happy 2020. I hope that this year brings you joy.

It seems a bit odd to wish you that when the world seems to be in a bit of a crisis at the moment. I took the decision to stop actively listening to or watching the news in December. I realised that it was making me feel anxious and that just by listening to it all didn’t mean I could change anything. So I am taking a break from worrying about it all, instead focusing on what I can change. We are trying to reduce our energy use and waste fewer resources. We don’t throw much food away in this home, what we don’t eat the dogs or chickens normally can, and if not then it goes onto the compost pile. But I am trying to make sure that we have even less. We are lucky to have a farm locally that sells organic milk from a vending machine, so we can buy really delicious milk in a reusable glass bottle and help to support a farmer. I am also lucky to be able to buy organic grain from Mark and Liz Lea for our bread. Mark and Liz live just seven miles away and Mark features heavily in a really interesting series of podcasts by Farmerama Radio, Cereal. If you are at all interested in local food networks or bread making it makes for an interesting listen when you would otherwise be listening to the news.

I am trying to make small changes that will hopefully make a big difference to our family and our sense of happiness. I am grateful for the small things to find joy in, the red sky this morning was really something to behold and my sourdough starter is bubbling away ready for me to make a loaf later.

I am also incredibly lucky to have a job that I love, passing on my love of bread making and baking to others through Veg Patch Kitchen Cookery School. Next week will mark five years since my first class for paying customers. The time has flown by. Nothing makes me happier than hearing from someone to tell me that they are making bread regularly since taking a class with me and that it is making them feel happier and healthier.

So whatever resolutions you may have made or whatever 2020 brings I hope you can find joy and happiness in the small things each day and maybe pass on your love of baking to friends and family either by passing on your skills or making them a delicious cake to share.

Kath x

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Einkorn Apple Cake

Tomorrow I am running a Breadmaking with Heritage Wheats class using Einkorn, Emmer and Khorasan (aka Kamut) flours. But these flours aren’t just wonderful for bread making they shine in cakes too (and pastry and scones). I have made this apple cake with einkorn to show how tasty this particular flour can make all of your bakes. I have made shortbread using khorasan too. You can of course replace the einkorn with any wholemeal flour you have in the cupboard. Spelt would be lovely and is currently easier to buy than einkorn flour. If you are looking for a supplier for einkorn though check out Shipton Mill as they have an extensive range of flours for sale and the delivery is quick.

450g eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced
250g softened butter
250g caster sugar
4 eggs
1/2 (half) tsp mixed spice
250g einkorn flour
1 tsp baking powder
demerara sugar for the top of the cake

Line a rectangular baking tin measuring 30cm x 20cm. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius or gas mark 4 or use the Baking oven of the 4 door Aga.

In a large bowl beat the butter and the sugar together until soft and fluffy. Add an egg at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the mixed spice, flour and the baking powder and fold in until well mixed. Spread half the batter in the tin, place most of the apples on top and then spread the remaining batter over. Place the remaining apple slices on top and sprinkle generously with demerara sugar. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 35-45 minutes until the top is golden and a skewer comes out clean (bearing in mind that if you pierce a bit of apple this will come out on the skewer, it’s raw cake batter that you are looking for). Leave to cool in the tin.

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Wholemeal Lemon Drizzle Cake

This is the cake I made to take with me to feed the people who came along to listen to me talk about the difference that fresh milling your flour can make to your bread and cakes at Ludlow Food Festival a couple of weeks ago. I took my KOMO table top mill with me along with a selection of grains grown organically at Green Acres Farm just up the road from me in Shifnal, Shropshire and some that you can buy from Bakerybits. It is getting easier to buy grain from a farmer not too far away from you, so if you fancy buying a flour mill there are more and more options for sourcing a wide variety of grain. Take a look at UK Grain Lab’s page for a list of farmers that want to sell direct to you.

You don’t need to mill your flour just before using it though. I have used spelt grain this time but it works well with any wheat grain that you have and it will also work great with any wholemeal flour that you can get your hands on. Spelt is a lovely flour to bake with and I have been using it in place of plain flour in recipes for a few years now. You can get Doves Farm wholemeal spelt from most supermarkets these days. There are also lots of opportunities to buy it online.

If you want to learn more about freshly milling your flour you can read about it here on my Veg Patch Kitchen page or come along to one of my classes.

This cake is beautifully light and gorgeously lemony.

225g soft unsalted butter,
225g caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
4 eggs,
225g spelt or plain wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder

For the drizzle:
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 2 lemons
85g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade or Gas Mark 6, or use the baking oven of the 4 oven Aga. Grease or line a 2lb loaf tin.

Place the butter, sugar and lemon zest in a mixing bowl and whisk until fluffy and light. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well between each addition. Sieve the flour and the baking powder over the mixture, making sure you add any bran left in the sieve. Use a large spoon to carefully fold the flour into the mixture.

Place the batter into the tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 45-60 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Whilst the cake is cooking mix the ingredients for the drizzle together. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven make holes all over the cake and spoon the drizzle mixture all over. Leave in the tin for ten minutes and then turn out and cool on a wire rack.

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Wholemeal Chocolate & Walnut Cake

I have made this cake for a course at Veg Patch Kitchen Cookery School tomorrow. I always make one or two cakes to welcome people with. We sit down for ten minutes at the start of every course and have a cup of tea and a slice of cake. It seems to me a very civilised way to start your day and I hope it gives people a sense that their day won’t just be filled with activity and learning but will also be relaxing and fun.

I have milled the flour fresh in my Komo table top mill, using Wakelyns YQ grain grown 5 miles away at Green Acres Farm in Kemberton but any wholemeal flour will work well. If you don’t have wholemeal then you can make a lighter cake using plain white flour or you can substitute the wholemeal with spelt flour. Experiment and see which flour you prefer.

150g soft unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
75g dark brown sugar
pinch of salt
2 eggs
75g Greek yoghurt
100g dark chocolate, melted
75g wholemeal flour
25g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
65g walnuts, chopped plus some to sprinkle on top

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, gas mark 4, or use the baking oven of the four-oven Aga. Line a 20cm round cake tin.

Place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until soft and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, blending in well before adding the second. Fold in the yoghurt, melted chocolate, flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. Fold in the walnuts. Spoon the cake batter into the cake tin and sprinkle over the extra walnuts to decorate. Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until it is firm on top and a few crumbs come out when you stick a skewer in. It will be a moist cake a bit like a brownie, but lighter and tender.

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Salted Caramel Brownies

salted caramel brownies

My youngest daughter is doing her SATs this week so I have made brownies as a treat after school. She needs all the treats she can get; it has been a stressful year with SATs practice after practice after practice. We will all be glad when Friday comes and SATs are over with.

I have made a version of these brownies before with peanut butter, but decided on salted caramel this time as we had some cream in the fridge. I have also added some chopped almonds in there for a bit of interesting texture.

The salted caramel takes a bit of making but you do end up with a jar of caramel sauce that will last about a month in the fridge. Which is always a good thing and it’s not a massive hardship even for someone like me that normally only has to look at caramelising sugar to make it go grainy.  If you can’t be bothered with it then just use a jar of ready-made caramel sauce (aka dulce de leche) or omit it altogether as the brownies are delicious all on their own.

For the caramel sauce:
115g water
240g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
½ tsp salt
225g double cream

Place the water, sugar, vanilla pod and salt in a pan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Turn up the heat and boil the sugar syrup until it turns a  dark golden colour.  Take off the heat and add the cream. It will seize up and go hard. Don’t worry. Return to the heat and stir and it will become runny again.  Heat until it reaches 110°c or turns a dark golden colour.

For the brownies:
175g butter
150g dark chocolate
50g cocoa powder
100g caster sugar
100g soft brown sugar
3 eggs
50g wholemeal spelt
50g almonds, chopped
pinch of coarse sea salt

Line a 23cm round or 20cm square tin with parchment. Preheat the oven to 180°c, gas mark 4, or use the baking oven of the 4-oven Aga.

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

In another large bowl whisk the eggs and the sugars together until thick and moussey. Pour the chocolate mixture over the egg mixture and fold in gently. Fold in the spelt flour and the chopped almonds. Pour the batter into the tin.  Pour some of the caramel over the top and sprinkle with the coarse sea salt.

Place the tin into the centre of the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes. The top should be crusty but the centre should still be wobbly. It will firm up on cooling and give that characteristic fudgey centre. Serve with a little more caramel sauce poured over the top.

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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

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 syrup 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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