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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2014 – a year of baking

Well, once again this is a bit late due to essay writing. But now I am finally done, and apart from having to go to work the next three days, my Christmas break has officially started!

I didn’t manage to bake anything new or exciting this week though (predictably), just more gingerbread, and some brownies for my housemate’s birthday. So instead, I thought I’d go through all the stuff I’ve baked this year and talk about some of my favourites. 2014 has gone quickly, but looking back to January feels like a lifetime ago. So much has changed since then – not least that I have proven to myself that I can post regularly on a blog for a year (well, I’ve still got a couple of weeks until its officially a year, but let’s call it that anyway).

So without further ado, here are my ten most favourite things I baked this year…

10. Plum Cupcakes – a celebration of all things autumnal!

9. Gingerbread Cupcakes – brought festive deliciousness

8. Rhubarb and Almond Loaf – this was a really good late spring bake, which I made multiple times because it was so tasty.

7. Suksessterte – perhaps the tastiest thing that I didn’t get to eat, but was made in celebration of my lovely friends getting engaged ❤

6. Peanut Butter Cookies – there should always be peanut butter cookies

5. Chocolate Chip Brioche Pretzels – these are the best breakfast you will ever had. And best snack you will ever have.

4. Peach Jam Scones – peach jam is the best jam ever, and it’s even better when you put it in a scone.

3. Walnut, Chocolate and Honey Tart – I can’t even. Every time I think about this I want to  make it and eat it all by myself

2. Caramel Walnut Upside Down Banana Cake – see above. Also, the tastiest thing I didn’t write a proper post about.

AND THE WINNER IS….

1. The Pancaken!!! – literally nothing will ever beat this – the most frustrating and rewarding thing I have ever baked. I don’t know if I’ll bake another one for Pancake Day 2015. Part of me wants to, and the rest of me is horrified at the prospect of spending hours making pancakes and burning myself repeatedly.

I hope you all had a great 2014, and have a Happy Christmas!

Cranberry-Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

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This week has been my reading week, which naturally meant that I got ill, because I needed to spend my time writing essays. Typical. On the bright side, Taylor Swift’s new album ‘1989’ came out, which I have been dancing to all week (in between sneezes). Time is flying by, and now that Halloween has passed, it feels like Christmas is just around the corner – which quite frankly is terrifying. The last 8 weeks of this year are going to be incredibly busy for me – I have an insane amount of work to do in the coming weeks, and I’m already tired.

Toffee Apples didn’t happen..I looked at the recipe, saw it (unsurprisingly) involved boiling water and sugar together, and I didn’t really have time for disasters this week, so instead I decided to look for more ways to use the pumpkin puree I have still. These cookies are really quick and easy, and I chose to do the cranberry pumpkin ones because they seemed the most autumnal, but you can add chocolate chips or other dried fruit or nuts or anything you want really! To be honest, the pumpkin doesn’t add much flavour (unless you add your cinnamon,nutmeg and ginger), but it does give the cookies a nice yellowy colour inside. The original recipe is for tiny tiny cookies, and suggests it yields about 48-60 cookies – I made mine slightly bigger, about 3 inches across, and got 26, which seems a more manageable number to me (and a more satisfying size of cookie).

This recipe is in cups, but if you need conversions into grams or ounces, this is the best place.

 

Cranberry-Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies (adapted from Fall Baking – November 2011)

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup caster sugar

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 & 1/2 cups plain flour

3 cups oats

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. In a large bowl beat together butter, brown sugar, caster sugar, baking soda, salt and spices. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until combined. Add flour. Stir in oats, pumpkin and cranberries until combined. Chill the dough if you want/if you have the time.

2. Drop heaped dessert spoons of dough onto lined baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until light brown. Leave to cool on the sheets for a couple of minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Suksessterte – Norwegian vanilla cream ‘success tart’

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So, this week was supposed to be sticky toffee pudding (don’t worry, it’s coming next week). Then I found out that my lovely friends Rosie and Jim had got engaged! So I had to make them something appropriate to celebrate 🙂 – I’ve been waiting a while for a good enough success to make a ‘success tart’ and this is definitely it! They really loved it, which is wonderful!

I really want to make another one now though, because I feel like there were a few bits I could have improved on. This tart is best made the day before you want to eat it/give it to someone I think, because the custard takes a little while to set, so by the time I had to take it out it was still pretty wobbly in the middle. I also made the mistake of taking the base out of the tin before putting the custard on it. Do not do this. It is a bad idea that leads to collapsing bases. I’m slowly getting the hang of making custard though, which is a positive – making this was slightly out of my comfort zone, and a lot of things could have gone more wrong than they did, so I’m really glad I did it. Once I’d poured the custard into the base, Oli was practically licking out the saucepan, the custard was that good. It’s really rich and buttery, with a nice hint of vanilla.

From the recipe point of view, one thing I love is that you use egg whites in the base and egg yolks in the custard, which means you end up with no egg waste at all. A lot of recipes that involve either whites or yolks normally don’t have any use for the other, and I don’t like that. Anyway, I highly recommend this – I guess it’s not just for successes, because even making it without anything going wrong feels like a success in itself.

Next week, Sticky Toffee Pudding! (for real)

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Suksessterte, or Norwegian vanilla cream ‘success tart’ (from Scandilicious Baking by Signe Johansen)

Base:

5 egg whites

200g icing sugar

200g ground almonds

1 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

Topping:

150ml double cream

100g caster sugar

5 egg yolks

200g butter, cut in 1cm cubes

1 tsp vanilla extract

cocoa powder for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/gas 3-4 and lightly oil a 23cm round cake tin.

2. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. Add the icing sugar a few spoonfuls at a time and keep whisking until stiff peaks form again. Put the ground almonds in a separate bowl with the baking powder and salt and stir well. Gently fold the egg whites into the dry ingredients until just blended – don’t knock out all the air, but no blobs of egg white.

3. Pour gently into the cake tin, smooth with a spatula and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 30-35 mins or until golden and firm to the touch. It may sink slightly after it’s removed from the oven. Leave to cool in the tin whilst you prepare the topping.

4. Bring the double cream to a simmer in a saucepan, stir in the caster sugar and allow to dissolve completely before removing from the heat. Put aside to cool slightly. Lightly beat the egg yolks in a medium, heatproof bowl. Stir a couple of spoonfuls of the warm cream into the yolks, then pour in the rest of the cream and stir vigorously to create a smooth, creamy custard.

5. Pour the custard into a saucepan and stir over a low heat until it thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. As soon as it has thickened, remove the pan from the heat and place on a cool surface. Gradually incorporate the butter cubes, whisking vigorously as you fold them in. If the mixture cools too much, simply pour into a heatproof bowl, place over a pan of simmering water and keep whisking as you add the butter cubes. Once the butter is fully incorporated, stir in the vanilla extract, then pour the filling into a medium bowl and cover with cling film directly on the surface to stop a skin forming. Once it has cooled slightly, place the filling in the fridge and chill until it is thick and stiff (about an hour or so).

6. Remove from the fridge and beat the filling with a spatula to soften it slightly before spreading on the almond tart base. Smooth the top of the tart and put back in the fridge to chill for at least an hour (preferably several). Serve lightly dusted with cocoa powder.

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

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This week the lovely Laura came to visit me. She had just returned from living in Paris for the last two years, and came covered in bags full of stuff. I do mean covered. It was her birthday a few weeks ago, and I sent her a wooden pop-out cupcake in place of a real one, because it’s not exactly efficient to post cake to people living in a different country. However, I did make up for it this week by making her these delicious Chocolate Chip Cupcakes. They have the most incredible chocolate glaze on top, which I was a bit apprehensive about at first, because I don’t remember ever putting egg in icing before, but it turned out beautifully – so glossy and delicious, but not too rich. There was, however, far far too much of it – I think I only used about half of the amount that I made. So later I’m going to be making a sponge cake to use up the rest of it, and the strawberries I picked in Oli’s parents’ garden yesterday.

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The adorable cupcake cases and toppers came from Jordi a while ago, and I’ve been saving them for some kind of special occasion, and I thought Laura’s belated birthday cake should definitely be it.

These cupcakes are not only delicious, but also a good way of making yourself feel better after seeing ‘The Fault In Our Stars’, which Laura and I sobbed our way through on Thursday night. I think I cried the most out of everyone – at one point I blew my nose quite loudly and people turned around and looked at me. BUT it is an incredible film and everyone should go and see it (except for people with hearts of stone, because you won’t enjoy it).

Next week: Blueberry Cake

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Chocolate Chip Cupcakes (from Baked in America by The Outsider Tart)

Makes 12-14 cupcakes

175g plain flour

340g light brown sugar

3/4 tsp bicarb of soda

115g butter, chilled and diced

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

175g sour cream

3tbsp whole milk

250g dark chocolate chips/finely chopped chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3. Line a cupcake tray with paper cases.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, put the flour, bicarb and sugar. Mix on a low speed until well blended. Add the butter about a tbsp at a time, and continue on low speed for about 2 mins until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

3. Add the egg and vanilla and blend thoroughly. Stir in the sour cream and milk until the batter looks even. Remove bowl from mixer and stir in chocolate chips. Using a large spoon place a heaped spoon of batter in each case until about 3/4 full.

4. Bake for about 25 mins or until the tops feel firm and a skewer comes out clean. Cool for about 10 mins on a wire rack.

 

Dark Chocolate Glaze (this is the full amount, but if you don’t want to have tons left over, I’d do about 1/2 to 3/4 of the quantities below)

60g granulated sugar

175ml water

340g dark chocolate, chips or finely chopped

1 large egg, gently whisked

1. Prepare all your ingredients first so you can add them to the mixture once everything reaches the right temperature.

2. In a saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a light simmer. If the mixture comes to a boil, wait 2-3 mins before adding the chocolate. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate. Allow it to sit in the hot water for 4 mins or so before stirring to combine.

3. Once all the chocolate is melted and combined, slowly add the egg, stirring constantly. The heat from the liquid will cook the egg and you must constantly stir to ensure you get a thick, smooth and glossy glaze. This thickens as it cools so use immediately if for a smooth finish. Either dip into it or pour it on. Otherwise it can be spread on once cooled.

 

Bløtkake (or Strawberry, Elderflower and Vanilla Cream Cake)

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It has been such an unbelievably beautiful weekend! Admittedly I did have to work yesterday, but then I spent the evening at my friends’ housewarming, for which I made this cake, and today I have eaten roast dinner and sat in the sun reading Harry Potter down at Grantchester Meadows. Basically this is the way every Sunday should be.

This cake is an unusual one – the closest I can think of in terms of the texture it has is the chiffon cake I made for Rachel’s birthday last year. But the strawberry and elderflower flavour is really delicious, and it’s a lovely light, fresh summer cake to have. The recipe says to make this in one tin and then cut it in half, but my ability to cut in a straight line is basically non-existent, and I didn’t want to mess it up, so I separated the mixture into two tins and then halved the baking time. I only realised that I should halve the baking time when they’d been in for about 15 minutes and I went to check on them and they were cooked. Disaster averted! I will also confess that I did cheat, and I didn’t make the custard, mostly because I already had some ready-made stuff that Oli had bought, so it seemed silly to make more. However, the recipe for custard is below if you are feeling more industrious than me! The leftover elderflower cordial which is infused with strawberry goodness is delicious diluted with a bit of water – she suggests pouring it over the cake, but I was worried it would make the cake too soggy, so I drank it instead. Totally worth it.

Next week is the BEER FESTIVAL in Cambridge, which means I’ll be spending a large amount of my evenings sitting outside drinking beer (and praying for continuing good weather), but I might also try and find the time to make a walnut, chocolate and honey tart.

Bløtkake (from Scandilicious Baking by Signe Johansen)

Sponge:

4 medium eggs

150g caster sugar

1/2tsp vanilla extract

150g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp fine sea salt

Filling and topping:

1 punnet fresh strawberries

elderflower cordial

1/2 batch skoleboller custard (see bottom), or 250ml ready-made fresh custard

200g creme fraiche

2 tbsp icing sugar (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3-4 and grease a 23cm round cake tin with sides at least 5cm deep (or two tins or similar size if you’re splitting like me). 

2. Put the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water and whisk until pale and fluffy (this takes about 10 minutes or so with an electric hand whisk – the mixture will approx. triple in size whilst you’re whisking, so make sure your bowl is big enough!). The mixture should look mousse-like and when you remove the whisk, the trail of mixture it leaves on the surface should remain visible for about 4 seconds. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a separate bowl. Add the flour mixture a third at a time to the beaten eggs, gently folding through with a large metal spoon each time to distribute evenly whilst taking care not to knock out all the air.

3. Carefully pour the cake batter into the prepared tin(s) and tap the tin once or twice against the kitchen surface to pop any big bubbles in the mixture. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25-30 mins (or 12-15 in two tins), or until golden and firm to the touch. Allow to cool for 5-10 mins in the tin, then remove from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

4. Hull and quarter most of the strawberries, leaving 5 good ones whole to garnish. Pour the elderflower cordial (I used about 100ml) over the quartered strawberries in a small bowl and leave to macerate for 15 mins or so before draining. Reserve the strawberry-elderflower cordial.

5. Cut your cake in half, or not if you baked it in two tins. Shortly before you want to serve the cake (ideally no more than an hour in advance or it will go soggy), spread a smooth, even layer of the vanilla custard over the cut surface of the bottom half of the cake. Carefully put a layer of drained strawberries on top and drizzle with a little of the elderflower cordial for extra flavour if you wish. Sandwich the upper half of the cake on top.

6. If you wish to sweeten the creme fraiche, whip it gently with the icing sugar. Spread the creme fraiche over the top of the cake and garnish with the reserved whole strawberries.

 

Custard:

4 medium egg yolks

40g cornflour

500ml whole milk

75g caster sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

Put the egg yolks and cornflour in a bowl and whisk together so the cornflour is distributed evenly. In a saucepan bring the milk and sugar to a simmer and then remove from the heat. Pour a third of the hot sweetened milk on to the egg yolks and stir through to temper the yolks. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan, add the salt and bring to a gentle boil while stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and sieve if any lumps have appeared. Add the vanilla extract and stir through. Pour into a bowl and cover with cling film so that it sits directly on the surface of the custard to stop a skin developing. Allow to cool completely before refrigerating until needed.

New York Cheesecake

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I think one of the things I’m enjoying most about having this list is that I created it entirely based on what I wanted to bake, as opposed to what I was capable of baking. And this is one of the occasions when I’ve baked something that I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen to make unless someone had specifically requested it of me. I haven’t made many cheesecakes in my time, and I’ve certainly never made one that needed to sit in a water bath whilst it baked. I was reading some other posts about New York cheesecakes, and came across horror stories about water seeping into the tin and, I will admit, I got a bit terrified. But after some reassuring words from my sister, who convinced me that being in the water was the only way this cheesecake was going to turn out right, I resigned myself to making my tin the most waterproof tin ever. I am talking 3 layers of foil surrounded by greaseproof paper and tied with string. Because deep down I knew that if I didn’t do that, I would be adding to the stories of people who got watery cheesecake. No thanks. And I am glad to report that whilst my approach may have been excessive, it definitely worked. So there.

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One thing I did realise whilst reading the recipe though was that nowhere does it mention wrapping up the cake tin before putting it in the water, which seems really remiss, seeing as I’m pretty sure most people make cheesecakes in springform tins which are in no way water-tight. I am so glad I did some cheesecake research, otherwise it would’ve been a total disaster.

Having said that, I didn’t leave it in the oven quite long enough, so it didn’t set completely in the middle. I also took it out of the oven and forgot about it, when I was supposed to cover it and put it in the fridge, so it developed a large crack in the middle. All in all though it’s pretty delicious, and considering this is my first attempt, I don’t mind too much that it’s a little squishy in the middle.

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New York Cheesecake (from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

base:

140g plain flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1 egg yolk

50g butter

50g caster sugar

topping:

900g cream cheese

4 eggs

190g sugar

1tsp vanilla extract

 

1. Preheat the oven to 150C/Gas 2. Put the flour, baking powder, sugar and butter in a mixer (or with a handheld whisk) and beat until you get a sandy consistency. Add the egg yolk and mix through – it will still be sandy but a little more moist. Press this mixture into the base of the prepared cake tin using your hand to flatten and compress it. It must be pressed down to form a dense base.

2. Bake for 20-25 mins, or until golden brown. It should have lost its sandy texture and come together to form a coherent base. Set aside to cool.

3. Put the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract in a mixer (or with a handheld whisk) and beat on a slow speed until you get a very smooth, thick mixture. Add one egg at a time, while still mixing. Scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl after adding the last egg. The mixture should be very smooth and creamy. Be careful not to over mix or the cheese will split.

4. Spoon the mixture onto the cold cheesecake base. Put the tin inside a larger tin or in a deep baking tray and fill with water until it reaches two-thirds of the way up the cake tin (wrap your cake tin in foil if necessary!!!) Bake for 30-40 mins or until golden brown but still wobbly in the centre. Don’t overcook. Leave the cheesecake to cool slightly in the tin, then cover and refrigerate overnight before serving.

 

Next week: Strawberry, Elderflower and Vanilla Cream Cake