Vanilla & Apple Cake

A couple of weeks ago a new branch of Norfolk St Bakery opened at the top of the street where my office is. I can only describe this place as having some of the best cake I’ve ever eaten, not to mention the insanely good bread. They have an amazing range of Portuguese treats, pastel de nata, bolinhos, etc etc. The first time I went in I bought a few different things to share with my colleagues, all of which were incredible. The next day I went back and bought more of my favourite, the vanilla roll. I feel pretty certain that I’m destined to put on some serious weight with this place two minutes from the office, but there will so much joy in gaining that weight from the deliciousness of the cake, maybe I don’t care?

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Anyway, having consumed all this cake, I realised that I’d never made any Portuguese cake, and that this clearly needed to change. I tried (unsuccessfully) to find a recipe for the vanilla roll, so decided to settle instead for a vanilla cake with caramelised apple topping. Maybe settling isn’t the best word, because, wow. Like, really wow. I think this might be just the beginning of a love affair with this type of cake. It has a load of egg in it, which creates a sort of denser sponge, but it’s not heavy, it’s just, great. Go find yourself a Portuguese bakery, or make some of this cake and indulge.

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Blackberry & Apple Loaf Cake

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Autumn is here. I tend to forget how quickly summer can end, how the chill in the air appears overnight and the nights start to draw in. The weather is wetter this year, but the same change comes, the trees are turning shades of orange and gold, which spells time for a slightly heartier cake that warms you on cooler days.

IMG_5185tThis is that cake. A wonderful nutty cake with warm fruit and a crumble topping. It’s basically two puddings combined into a joyous concoction that will warm your soul. There had to be some self-control to stop us demolishing the entire thing in an afternoon. IMG_5192t
I’ve rarely used hazelnuts in a cake before, almonds are usually the recommended nut of choice. After this, I will be making more cakes with hazelnuts in because, seriously, wow! Forget hazelnuts and chocolate in your cake, hazelnuts with fruit is where it’s at. This is destined to become a staple cake, one that I make again and again throughout the autumn and winter.  Continue reading

Upside-down blueberry and elderflower cake

It was a rainy evening. Somehow British summers always end up a little disappointing in this respect. A couple of weeks of blazing sunshine, followed by constant, unfailing miserable weather that makes it feel more like October than July (I say this like it’s a bad thing, but I’m already looking forward to autumn). I’d been super ill that week, and felt exhausted. I’d eaten like crap and slept badly, and sometimes you just need to clear your mind, bake, and then sit and eat some damn good cake.

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I proceeded to make the following cake three times in the space of about two weeks. This is no bad thing, although I think the first cake tasted the best and the second looked the neatest (I will add here that I didn’t eat all three by myself – however bad things get I think I’ve yet to eat an entire cake to myself).

This is one of those cakes that makes you feel comforted as soon as you start eating. It’s a cake to be eaten with coffee or after a good meal, or sometimes as breakfast, because it does have fruit in it and that’s definitely okay. The recipe originally comes from Scandilicious by Signe Johansen, however I have revised it slightly with each bake. I have yet to be adventurous enough to try it with a different fruit (although the first version I made was blueberry & raspberry), but there’s time for that. I’m pretty sure it’d be great with blackberries, and after all, tis the season etc etc.

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Upside-down blueberry and elderflower cake (from Scandilicious by Signe Johansen)

300g blueberries (or other soft fruit)
50ml elderflower cordial
4 eggs
250g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
125g plain flour
125g ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
125g butter, melted
125g Greek yoghurt
  1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3-4, and grease a 23cm springform tin. Wrap the outside of the tin in a layer of foil to create a seal to stop fruit juice leaking out.
  2. Spread the blueberries evenly over the base of the tin, drizzle with the elderflower and leave to macerate.
  3. Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla with a mixer/hand whisk for 5-8 mins until pale and fluffy. When you remove the whisk, the trail of mixture it leaves on the surface should remain visible for 2-3 seconds.
  4. Combine the flour, almonds, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Mix the melted butter and yoghurt together. Gradually mix the melted butter/yoghurt and dry ingredients into the beaten egg mixture, alternating between wet and dry ingredients until combined.
  5. Pour the batter over the blueberries and bake until the top looks golden and feels springy and firm to the touch. This seems to be anywhere between 40-60 minutes, depending on your oven. Pierce with a skewer to check it’s cooked through.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for as long as humanly possible before releasing the springform and flipping the cake upside down onto a plate (original recipe says leave for 15 minutes – this was not long enough to stop my first cake breaking in half)

Sugar Free Banana Bread

This is an unusual one for me. I am all about sugar. I mean, I eat a lot of vegetables too, but when it comes to cake, I am a purist – it’s got to be full of butter and sugar. That’s what cake is about, right?

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A few weeks ago one of my colleagues went on a sugar free diet, and a couple of the others were just generally trying to ‘eat better’…I think we’re always striving for this in my office, but there’s a pretty consistent balance between the amount of cake and the amount of fruit consumed – recently there has been a pretty steady stream of Creme Eggs being consumed. But, I digress! To my colleague, sugar free meant no cake, so I decided to look into making sugar free cake (because an office without sugar is no fun).

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And behold! I found a recipe that I like. This is pretty straightforward, and I’ve played around with it a bit – most recently I have added chocolate to it, because that still counts as low sugar, right? But what I’ve found is that in banana cake you don’t really need sugar. Granted, it makes it look a bit more appetising (for whatever reason this cake has come out a slightly grey shade of brown every time I’ve made it), but it tastes just as good because bananas are super sugary, especially if you leave them until they’re really brown. I’m not going to start advocating a sugar-free lifestyle, but, this banana bread is pretty good if you want to try it.

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Becoming More Sustainable

One of my goals for 2017 is to find more sustainable alternatives to the least sustainable things that I use on a regular basis. This generally means things that create waste where it could be avoided. I already buy most of my fruit and vegetables from the market, avoiding plastic there. In the absence of a place where I can bulk buy dried foods in Cambridge (most of what goes in our landfill bin is plastic wrap), I started to think about other ways to reduce waste around our house, and when I’m out and about.

Over the last 6 months or so, I have made four notable purchases which I feel have not only lessened my impact on the earth, but are either more cost-effective or practical (or both) than the previous alternatives.

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  1. KeepCup
    KeepCups, or reusable coffee cups are becoming much more common – most coffee chains offer reusable cups, and some give discounted prices for using a reusable one instead of a paper cup. For the longest time I didn’t realise that paper coffee cups weren’t recyclable, and I would always throw them in the recycling bin. After watching Hugh’s War on Waste and being told that in fact they weren’t recyclable, I decided to get a KeepCup to avoid creating unnecessary waste. I don’t buy coffee to take away that frequently, but my colleagues regularly buy coffee from the shop next to our office and when I got one it seemed ridiculous to be getting coffee in a paper cup when the shop was about 15ft from our office.

    KeepCups start from about £7.00 (the regular size starts from £10.00), and you can design your own, allowing you to choose from a wide range of colours to mix and match the different elements of your cup. They’re also currently doing a Star Wars series of themed cups, y’know, if you’re into that.

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  2. Chillys Bottle
    This has been my favourite and most useful purchase by far. I take it with me everywhere. It keeps cold water cold for 24 hours, and hot liquid warm for 12 hours. Great on a hot day when you want some cold water, or keeping your coffee hot for later. They’re not cheap, but the amount I’ve used it over the last few months, it’s definitely paid for itself. Mine cost £30 – I would guess the average person would manage to buy 30+ bottles of water in a year, so it is saving me money. I bought one for my boyfriend as well with his initials on it (because, custom).

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Best Falafel

Falafel is a labour of love. It always takes longer to make than I anticipate, but is wholly worth it once it is done. This recipe is adapted from the Guardian’s ‘how to make the perfect…’ series, and whilst I’m not entirely sure it’s perfect, it’s pretty damn good. This recipe uses a mix of chick peas and fava beans, but if you’re struggling to find fava beans (or dried broad beans, to go by their other name), I don’t see why you can’t just use all chick peas. I can’t say I understand enough about the intricacies of falafel making to understand why one is preferable over the other.

I spent much time searching around various shops to find fava beans, to no avail, so (as previously recommended) I went to Hodmedod’s and found them there. Hurrah!

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Unfortunately a mishap occurred with this batch – possibly not blended for long enough, or the beans weren’t dry enough, but they were a nightmare to shape into balls, and after they immediately fell apart in the pan once I started frying them, I gave up, smushed them all down and made a different sort of falafel, one that looks like a giant bowl of brown sugar. This was achieved by pouring all of the mixture with a few tablespoons of sunflower oil and baking at 200C for about 20-25 mins (turning the mixture occasionally). It’s better in this form if you want to make wraps, because unlike when they’re round, it doesn’t all collapse so easily. So, accidental discovery, would recommend. But you can also follow the correct traditional method below.

img_4666tOne final recipe note: I have to split the ingredients in half and make in two batches because my blender doesn’t fit all of it in at once – at least not for it to effectively blend. If you too have a not-huge-blender, you may want to consider this.

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Quinoa and Pepper Salad

img_4599tThis has become one of my staple lunch options. It’s straightforward and fairly quick to make, and you can switch the different items based on what you’ve got around. This recipe is based on Anna Jones’ ‘At Your Desk Salads’ (from A Modern Way to Cook) – which is an excellent chart of ingredients in six different categories that you can mix and match to create a salad. So the base of this is quinoa, with pepper, spring greens, cornichons, pumpkin seeds and a pesto dressing. I won’t list all of the various options here, but another variation I’ve done recently is brown rice with carrot, lettuce, sesame seeds, capers and a soy sauce/maple syrup dressing.

A Modern Way to Cook has rapidly become one of my favourite cookbooks. In the past I have bought recipe books and cooked one or two things out of them, and then they just sit on the shelf, very occasionally used. So for a while I have refused myself cookbook purchases because it’s not worth paying about £25 for a couple of recipes. This time though, I found the book in the library, and I took it for a test run before investing. For the longest time I didn’t even realise my library had cookbooks, and now I know I think I will always borrow before buying. We cooked out of A Modern Way to Cook pretty much solidly for a week, and I realised that it was going to be a worthwhile investment, because there’s so many new, different (and quick!) recipes to try. Not eating meat has meant I’ve had to invest a fair amount of time into looking at what else I can eat that is good for me, balanced and healthy, and this book is possibly one of the best I’ve come across (also Ottolenghi’s Plenty, which will be discussed at a later date).

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