Tag: Cake

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.54: Basler Kirschenbrottorte from Switzerland

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.54: Basler Kirschenbrottorte from Switzerland

The German (or, in this case, Swiss-German) habit of running nouns together does sometimes lead you to a recipe that does exactly what it says on the tin: Basler Kirschenbrottorte (cherry-bread-cake from Basel) is, er, a cake whose two main ingredients are bread and cherries. And which comes from the city on the triple border between Switzerland, France and Germany. It’s surprisingly light for something which is not so far from a bread pudding, it’s fruity, cinnamon infused and bursts with flavour. This recipe comes from the food blog Helvetic Kitchen, where it’s accompanied by a nice family story to go with. I’ve halved the quantities.

To state the bleeding obvious, it isn’t cherry season in London right now, so I’ve gone for a 500g pack of frozen black cherries. This seemed to do the job OK, with the advantage that the cherries arrive already stoned, albeit with care needed to ensure that they were properly defrosted and with most of the surplus water dried off. However, I’m going to suggest that if you have fresh cherries growing anywhere near you, the way to go is definitely going to be to make this in season.

Warning: this recipe uses a lot of bowls. I can’t see an obvious way around this.

  • 500g cherries
  • 250 g leftover bread (in my case, this was the last of my Antiguan Sunday Bread)
  • 200 ml milk
  • vanilla paste or extract to taste
  • 100 g biscuit crumbs – I used Digestive biscuits; in the US, one would probably go for Graham Crackers.
  • 60 g butter
  • 100 g sugar
  • 3 large eggs (around 200g total)
  • pinch of salt
  • 50 g ground almonds
  • 10 g flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • kirsch or fruit schnapps to taste
  1. If using frozen cherries, defrost them.
  2. Preheat oven to 180℃.
  3. Cut the bread into 1 cm cubes and put in a bowl.
  4. Put the milk and vanilla into a saucepan and scald until very warm (80-90℃). Take off the heat and pour into a bowl to cool.
  5. Remove the stones from the cherries, if this hasn’t been done for you already
  6. Prepare a 20cm springform tin: line the bottom with baking paper, grease the sides generously with butter. 
  7. Once the milk is at room temperature, pour it over the bread and squeeze it down so that all the bread has soaked up some milk.
  8. Blitz your biscuits to a powder. Take about half the crumbs and spread them evenly over the base of the tin.
  9. Cream the butter and sugar together.
  10. Separate the eggs, pouring the whites into a bowl of your stand mixer, and the yolks into the butter-sugar mixture.
  11. In yet another bowl, mix the remaining biscuit crumbs, ground almonds, flour, cinnamon and salt; stir until blended evenly.
  12. Add the bread mixture into the butter-sugar mixture and mix.
  13. Add in the flour mixture and mix until everything is very even.
  14. Add the cherries and kirsch and mix.
  15. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in.
  16. Pour the cake mix into your tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. If the cake looks like browning too far before the middle is cooked, cover it with foil for the last 5-10 minutes.
  17. Remove and cool on a rack.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.49: Vaisių pyragas, fruit cake from Lithuania

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.49: Vaisių pyragas, fruit cake from Lithuania

Time for a different kind of bake altogether: a yeasted fruit cake, which is a lovely afternoon snack somewhere between a cake and a bread. This one is from Lithuania and comes to us all via food writer Barbara Rolek: the same recipe seems to surface in lots of different US websites. I first spotted it on The Spruce Eats; I’ve halved and metricised the quantities, as well as tweaking a few things.

The result is a bit like a giant, fruit studded cinnamon bun. It’s great for slicing and storing in the freezer for a ready supply of snacks. The recipe doesn’t need excessive amounts of work, but it needs a lot of elapsed time – there are multiple rises which can each take a couple of hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen. Start early.

A couple of caveats, especially if you’re looking at the photos:

  • You can use pretty much any dried fruit you like. I couldn’t get glacé cherries, which looked nice in the original recipe. 
  • The dough on mine came out very stiff indeed, so you may find you want to increase the amount of milk.
  • I used bread flour, which was probably a mistake. I’d stick with plain flour next time.
  • Also next time, I’d probably start by activating the yeast in some warm water (or milk) and sugar. The recipe doesn’t suggest this, but not doing it meant that my dough took an eternity to rise.

The dough

  • 8g yeast
  • 120g sugar
  • 180 ml milk
  • 550g plain flour
  • 4g salt
  • 60g butter
  • 1.5 large eggs
  • 180g mixed fruit
  • 120g raisins
  • 40g walnuts
  • 30 ml rum
  1. In your stand mixer, combine 300g of the flour, 60g of the sugar, the yeast and milk and mix until reasonably smooth. Cover and leave to rest for an hour.
  2. Melt the butter. Add it to the mix with the eggs, the salt and the rest of the sugar and the flour. With the dough hook, knead for 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add the fruit, raisins, walnuts and rum. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Leave to rise until doubled in size. Expect this to take an hour or two.

The filling

  • 30g butter
  • 60g sugar
  • 6g cinnamon
  1. Melt the butter. 
  2. Mix with the sugar and cinnamon. Leave to cool somewhat.

Putting it together

  1. Grease a loaf tin.
  2. Flour a surface and roll out your dough into a rectangle. The width of your rectangle should be somewhat under the length of your loaf tin; the length around 1½ times the width.
  3. Spread your rectangle of dough with the filling. Don’t go too close to the edges – you won’t want filling leaking out.
  4. Roll up the dough into a thick sausage, ensuring the filling is sealed inside. Transfer the sausage into your loaf tin.
  5. Leave to rise until doubled in size. Again, this could easily take 1-2 hours. If this hasn’t happened after a couple of hours, give up and bake it anyway.
  6. Preheat oven to 200℃ fan
  7. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 175℃, then bake for around another 40 minutes.
  8. Leave to cool on a rack. If you want, sprinkle with icing sugar (I didn’t).

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.44: Runebergintorttu from Finland

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.44: Runebergintorttu from Finland

The weather in London today has been unremittingly grey with continuous drizzle, reminding me of a trip to Savonlinna in Finland, which is also the country which provided us with the biggest northern hemisphere rainstorm of our lives. So here, in homage to Finland and in honour of the poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg’s birthday next week, are Runebergintorttu or Runeberg Cakes.

To be fair on my many Finnish friends and on Savonlinna, which is a truly fabulous festival set in an impossible atmospheric mediaeval castle, it’s drop-dead gorgeous when the sun comes out (which it did the following day). And the Finns have a lot going for them, not least the best rainproof gear I’ve ever bought and also the best loudspeakers on the planet (with all those forests, the Finns really know their wood) and a surprisingly dry sense of humour (opera lovers need to check out Covid fan tutte).

One note on the photos: I don’t have the tall cylindrical moulds that you need to make Runebergintorttu properly, so mine are baked in a standard muffin tin. But they taste the same… If that level of authenticity bothers you, this is the kind of thing that should work.

I started with a recipe from scandikitchen.co.uk and only changed a few things: I couldn’t get hold of Leksands crispbread, but I did find some dark Ryvita which I believe to be pretty similar. I used blackberry jam rather than raspberry. Vanilla essence is easier to find than vanilla sugar in these parts. I didn’t have any amaretto either, so I grated the zest of the orange that made the orange juice and added that. Personally, I think the combination of orange, cardamom and rye turned out to be an absolute winner.

  • 125g butter, plus some for greasing
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 100g plain flour
  • 6g (1 tsp) baking powder
  • 2g salt
  • 50g crispbread (Leksands, Ryvita or whatever), or just use breadcrumbs
  • 80g caster sugar
  • 1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 100ml cream
  • 50ml orange juice, plus zest of the orange
  • Vanilla essence to taste
  • 80g icing sugar
  • Raspberry jam (or, in my case, blackberry jelly) to finish
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ fan.
  2. If your butter isn’t soft, cut it into small cubes and leave to soften.
  3. Grease your muffin tin (or other cake mould) with some more butter.
  4. Mix your flour, baking powder, ground almonds and salt.
  5. Grind your crispbread into breadcrumbs
  6. Cream the butter and sugar together
  7. Add the eggs and mix
  8. Add the flour mixture and combine
  9. Add the breadcrumbs and cream and combine
  10. Add the orange juice, zest and vanilla essence and mix thoroughly. You should now have a fairly thick, sticky batter.
  11. Divide the batter into the moulds in your cake tin.
  12. Bake for around 15 minutes.
  13. Leave to cool in the tin for a short while, then turn them out.
  14. You will serve the cakes upside down. Since they have probably domed somewhat, cut them reasonably flat so that they stand upright.
  15. Mix the icing sugar with about 10ml warm water until you have a thick paste. Transfer this to a piping bag.
  16. Pipe a circle of icing around the top of each cake. Put a dollop of jam into the middle of the circle. I found this easier than the original recipe, which suggests doing the jam first (as per the photos).
  17. Leave the icing to dry (or don’t bother) and enjoy!
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.42: Mađarica, layer cake from Croatia

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.42: Mađarica, layer cake from Croatia

Continuing with the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s coffee-and-cake tradition, here’s a cake from Croatia that deserves to be close to the top of the best-seller list, particularly with a coffee after a brisk morning winter walk (I speak from immediate experience). 

In point of fact, Mađarica (or Madjarica, if you prefer to avoid the “d with stroke”) is the Croatian word for “Hungarian girl”, and the cake bears a distinct resemblance to the Hungarian Dobos torte, created in 1885 for the National General Exhibition of Budapest. Who knows (or, for that matter, who cares) which came first?

Croatians seem to bake this cake for the thousands: all the recipes I came across were for seriously large quantities. I went for this recipe from Tamara Novacoviç and halved it, which still made for a generous cake.

Mađarica is one of those multi-layer cakes where you’re trying to get the layers as thin as you possibly can. Croatian recipes tend to assume that you’re using a standard cake tin and baking the layers one at a time. Since you’re trying to make a rectangular cake, I figure it’s easier to use large flat tins (Swiss roll tins or similar) and then cut the layers to size after baking.  Obviously, how you tackle this is going to depend on what tins you have available.

Filling

  • 25g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 500ml milk
  • 100g sugar
  • vanilla extract or paste to taste
  • 25g dark chocolate
  • 90g butter
  • ½ tbsp rum
  1. Mix the flour and cocoa powder in a bowl and set aside. Have a balloon whisk ready.
  2. Put the milk, sugar and vanilla into a saucepan and bring to the boil. When just boiling, take it off the heat, pour about a quarter of it into the bowl with the flour and cocoa powder, and whisk until thoroughly dissolved.
  3. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and return the saucepan to the heat. Add the chocolate, reduce the heat and keep whisking until the mixture thickens.
  4. Take the mixture off the heat, give it a minute or so to cool slightly, then add the butter and whisk until thoroughly melted.
  5. Stir in the rum.
  6. Cover (to avoid too much skin forming – you can’t avoid having a bit) and leave to cool while you make the rest of the cake.

Cake layers

  • 300g plain flour
  • ½ tsp (2g) baking powder
  • 1 egg white
  • 90g sour cream
  • 90 g sugar
  • 90g butter, at room temperature

I’m going to confess at this point (in case it isn’t obvious from the photos) that I wimped out: I had two 33x22cm Swiss roll tins ready but I didn’t dare roll the dough thin enough to use more than one of them. I should have had the courage to use both – my layers are definitely twice the thickness they should be – so that’s what I recommend that you do.

  1. Preheat oven to 180℃.
  2. Prepare two 33cm x 22cm Swiss roll tins (or whatever other baking trays you have) by greasing them and lining them with baking paper.
  3. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl.
  4. Cut the butter into cubes and put it with the sugar, sour cream and egg white into the bowl of your mixer; beat until smooth.
  5. Add the flour mixture and knead to a smooth dough. Add a bit more sour cream or water if your dough is too crumbly.
  6. Now the tricky part: divide the dough into two, and roll each half  thinly enough to spread out evenly over its baking tin. It’s probably easiest to do this by rolling the dough between two sheets of baking paper. Transfer your rolled dough to the tin.
  7. Bake for around 8-10 minutes.
  8. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Assembly and glaze

  • 50g dark chocolate
  • 25g butter
  • 20g sunflower oil (or other neutral oil)
  1. Cut each cake/biscuit layer into three, using a ruler or measuring tape to make pieces that are as close to identical in size as you possibly can.
  2. Place the first layer on your serving plate.
  3. Spread around one fifth of the filling evenly over the layer, then add the next layer. Repeat this four more times to build up your cake.
  4. Melt the chocolate and butter together (30s in a microwave should do this fine, if you can’t be bothered to wash up a double boiler).
  5. Add the oil and mix thoroughly.
  6. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake, making sure that you cover the whole cake with an even layer of glaze. Some of the glaze will have dripped over the sides: if you want, even this off with a palette knife.
  7. Refrigerate for several hours (or overnight) until the glaze hardens.
  8. Cut the cake into rectangles to serve.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.41: Bublanina from the Czech Republic

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.41: Bublanina from the Czech Republic

Let’s start 2021 and the second half of this trip around the world with an easy, cheerful bake from the Czech Republic. Like every country in the former Austro-Hungarian empire, Czech has a strong coffee-and-cake culture, and the bake that you see everywhere is a light cake made with fresh fruit called Bublanina – a close relative of the French clafoutis.

The idea of a Bublanina is that the cake batter bubbles up around the fresh fruit. The trick is to use enough fruit that’s fresh enough that the cake is moist and fruity, but not so much that it’s damp and soggy. There’s no prescription about what fruit to use: it’s really a case of whatever’s in season. In the middle of a London winter, I went for blueberries (which are presumably in season somewhere across the globe), but strawberries, cherries, peaches and plums are all possible.

You have various options on the batter. At one of the end, you can just shove everything into a bowl and mix it; at the other, you can separate the eggs and pack air into the whites as a raising agent, soufflé-style. You can make the batter more traditional by using some semolina flour, can emulate the clafoutis by adding ground almonds, you can use various flavourings (vanilla, orange or lemon zest, Grand Marnier, etc). I’ve kept it simple and gone with a recipe from czechcookbook.com by Kristýna Koutná, a native of Brno, one of my favourite places in Czech; I’ve added lemon zest and changed the amount of flour slightly (my batter was definitely coming out runnier than Kristýna’s video).

A couple of notes on the photos: (1) I used 250g of blueberries, which was all I had. 400-500g would have been better. (2) The ingredients shot is missing the vanilla and lemon.

  • Butter for greasing cake tin
  • 320g plain flour (plus 20g or so for sprinkling)
  • 200g sugar (plus 30g or so for sprinkling)
  • 8g baking powder
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 240 ml milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 40 ml oil 
  • Vanilla extract to taste
  • 400g fresh fruit in season
  • Icing sugar for dusting
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ fan
  2. Grease a cake tin or baking dish (I used a rectangular Pyrex dish or around 30cm x 20cm, but you can use any shape you like). Dust it with flour and shake out the excess.
  3. If you’re using fruit like peaches or large strawberries that need to be cut up, do so now: make sure the fruit isn’t too wet.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix flour, sugar and baking powder and blend.
  5. Add lemon zest, eggs, milk and oil
  6. With the standard beater, mix until smooth – do not overbeat.
  7. Pour the batter into your cake tin or dish
  8. Lay out the fruit on the batter. If it sinks, it doesn’t matter.
  9. Sprinkle a bit of sugar over the top.
  10. Bake for around 40 minutes until golden brown on top
  11. Leave to cool
  12. Dust with icing sugar before serving

You can eat bublanina warm or cool it to room temperature. If you find it a bit dry on its own (particularly if, like me, you were a bit short of fruit), add a fruit coulis.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.39: Sri Lankan Christmas Cake

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.39: Sri Lankan Christmas Cake

It being that time of year, I was casting around for a Christmas cake that was suitably exotic for this blog, but still had that fruit-laden richness for cold winter evenings. To my surprise, the one that leapt out at me was a recipe from Sri Lanka, which makes something that’s recognisably in the English Christmas Cake tradition, but softer and moister. The ever-reliable sbs.com.au provided the recipe.

What distinguishes the Sri Lankan version is a hefty dose of chow-chow preserve (other Sri Lankan touches are the addition of rosewater and cardamom). Chow-chow is a fruit with many names: choko, chouchou, mirliton, chayote; it’s roughly the shape and consistency of a quince, with a bright green skin reminiscent of a Granny Smith apple. I couldn’t find the preserve locally, but the fruit was readily available in Indian or Caribbean stores, of which we have plenty in London, so I made my own preserve, which wasn’t difficult. (Admission: I did leave mine on the stove for way too long, so it crystallised on setting: this didn’t seem to damage the cake overly.)

Traditionally, you would cover the cake with marzipan and hard icing. That’s too much sweetness for me, so I just made the fruit cake. I also left mine relatively soft and gooey, which is really delicious, at the expense of being tricky to cut. You may want to leave yours in a bit longer than I did.

The chow-chow preserve

Starting with this recipe, this made enough for two cakes. You may want to halve the amounts.

  • 1.1 kg chayote (3 fruits)
  • 1.5 kg sugar
  • 380 ml water
  • ¾ tsp salt
  1. Peel and chop the chayote. 
  2. Put everything into a preserving pan and cook until the fruit is soft and the syrup is thick. You probably want a sugar temperature of around 105℃ – I went well over that.
  3. Cool, and put into sterilised jars until needed.

The cake

  • 150g unsalted cashews
  • 150g unsalted almonds
  • 200g glacé cherries
  • 500g chow-chow preserve
  • 150g glacé pineapple
  • 240g raisins 
  • 240g sultanas 
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom 
  • ½ tsp ground cloves 
  • 1 tsp rosewater (see Note) 
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 60 ml brandy 
  • 250g unsalted butter 
  • 385g caster sugar 
  • 6 eggs
  • 180 g semolina flour
  1. Preheat oven to 140℃ fan
  2. Line a cake tin with baking paper (these quantities work perfectly for a fairly tall 20cm x 20cm tin)
  3. Chop the almonds, toast them in a dry pan, set aside to cool
  4. Chop the cashews, toast them in a dry pan, set aside to cool
  5. Halve the cherries (if they weren’t already bought that way
  6. Chop the pineapple and chow-chow preserve so that the pieces are smaller than half a glacé cherry. How small you want to go is up to you.
  7. Put all fruits, zest, spices, rosewater and brandy into a large bowl and mix them up.
  8. When the nuts are cool, add them also and mix
  9. Chop the butter into small pieces and cream it with the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer
  10. One a time, separate the eggs, adding the yolk to the butter-sugar mix and incorporating it, and reserving the white in another bowl.
  11. Combine the egg yolk/sugar/butter mix with the fruit-nut mix, add the semolina flour and stir until evenly spread.
  12. Beat the egg whites until soft but not hard, fold into the mix.
  13. Spoon the mixture into your lined tin, pressing it to the edges to smooth out any ruffles in the baking paper.
  14. Cut another square of paper and place it on the top: this will stop the cake drying out
  15. Bake for around 3 hours, or more if you prefer a less gooey cake
  16. Cut into three or four rectangles
  17. If you want, ice with marzipan and hard icing.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.28: Sernik from Poland

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.28: Sernik from Poland

Last night was Erev Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year’s Eve), so there was a need to bake something suitable for a Jewish occasion, so what could be better than cheesecake? What I think of as “Jewish cheesecake”, which is broadly similar to what Americans call “New York Cheesecake”, actually hails from Poland, where it’s not particularly Jewish and is called Sernik. 

Dozens of countries have versions of curd cheese: paneer in India, Quark in Germany, túró in Hungary, labneh in the Middle East and many more. The Polish version is called twaróg: just about all the Sernik recipes I’ve found use this. It’s readily available in England; otherwise use any other curd cheese: farmer’s cheese, ricotta, etc.

There are many different variations of Sernik, regional or otherwise, which use different toppings and/or pastry bases; some even dispense with the pastry altogether. I’ve chosen the version from Kraków, Sernik krakowski, largely because it looks pretty and I’ve actually been to Kraków. The pastry is a fairly standard shortcrust, except that it includes baking powder, thus ending up somewhere between a pastry and a cake. The Kraków-specific bit is to top the cheesecake with a lattice made of the same pastry. I’ve included raisins (definitely part of the cheesecakes of my childhood) and separated my eggs, making a meringue with the whites: this makes the finished product lighter.

The pastry

  • 280g plain flour (OO if you have it)
  • 5g baking powder
  • 2g salt
  • 140g butter (start from cold)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100g sugar
  • 50g soured cream
  1. In the bowl of a food processor, mix flour, baking powder and salt
  2. Cut the butter into cubes, add into the food processor and process for 20 seconds or so until you get to the consistency of fine breadcrumbs
  3. Add the eggs, sugar and soured cream, process for a few seconds until thoroughly blended
  4. Form the dough into a ball, put into a covered bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes
  5. Preheat your oven to 180℃ fan
  6. Grease a cake tin around 28cm diameter
  7. Take about ⅔ of the pastry and roll out on a generously floured surface
  8. Line the base and sides of the tin, pressing the pastry firmly into the corners. Prick the base with a fork. Add any offcuts to the rest of your pastry and set aside
  9. Line with baking paper and fill with baking beads. Bake for 15 minutes
  10. When you’ve taken out the pastry, reduce the oven temperature to 150℃

The cheese filling

  • 2 eggs
  • 100g butter, soft
  • 500g twaróg or other curd cheese
  • 25 g flour
  • 100g sugar
  • vanilla extract to taste
  •  125 g raisins
  1. Separate the eggs.
  2. Beat the butter until smooth.
  3. Add the twaróg and mix thoroughly
  4. Add the egg yolks, flour, and vanilla and mix
  5. Beat the egg whites until soft, add the sugar and mix until stiff
  6. Fold the two mixtures and the raisins together

Final assembly

  1. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut into 1cm wide strips
  2. If you haven’t already, remove the baking beads and paper from your blind-baked pastry case.
  3. Fill the pastry case with the cheese filling
  4. Form a lattice over the top of your cheesecake with the strips of pastry (if you don’t know how to do this, YouTube is your friend)
  5. Bake for around 50 minutes until the pastry lattice is nicely brown
  6. Leave to cool
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.16: Carrot Cake from California

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.16: Carrot Cake from California

It’s been a strange Fourth of July this year: the poison of the Trump era has made  it harder than ever to summon positive feelings for the United States. Still, I’ll use the occasion to celebrate happy days in the past and hope for happier ones in the future, with some close family members and numerous friends in the USA firmly in mind.

I lived in California for a couple of years in the early 1980s and one of my fondest memories is of whiling away hours at Printers Inc., a bookshop-plus-café that was a kind of prototype Borders. Long before Starbucks had started to expand outside Seattle, Printers Inc. served really good coffee and superb brownies and carrot cake. Cake lovers would invariably spot some book they liked, while those in search of a book, with equal inevitability, would be entrapped by the aroma of fresh coffee and cake.

Sadly, I never did get the recipe for the best carrot cake I ever had, baked by Gigi Ellis, the wife of my boss at Fairchild, and I lost touch with Frank and Gigi decades ago. So this recipe, which is close to the Printers Inc. version, comes from the cookbook I bought at the time, a model of Californian eclecticism entitled San Francisco à la Carte. I’ve turned everything metric, because I just don’t see how you can bake accurately using measuring cups, or indeed why you would want to when digital scales are cheap, accurate and generate less washing up.

The quantities here will work for a single cake in a 23cm x 23cm square tin. That will do for 16 small portions (or 8 very generous portions, or whatever you pick in between). If you prefer, you can use more than one tin, which avoids the tricky process of slicing the cake in half, at the price of leaving you with an internal crust that you don’t really want.

Make the cake:

  • 250g carrots (weight after peeling)
  • 250g plain flour
  • 300g sugar
  • 10g baking soda
  • 4g salt
  • 3g cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 150g corn oil
  1. Preheat oven to 175℃.
  2. Grease the bottom of your cake tin, line it with baking paper, then grease the bottom and sides.
  3. Mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. There’s no need to sift the flour.
  4. Peel and grate the carrots.
  5. Beat the eggs (I use a stand mixer). Add the oil and beat until the eggs and oil have combined into a smooth mixture. 
  6. Add the flour mixture to the egg and oil mixture and beat until smoothly combined.
  7. Add the carrots and stir until they’re evenly distributed.
  8. Pour the whole mixture into your baking tin, ensuring that you spread it evenly including the corners.
  9. Bake for 30 minutes – use the usual skewer test to ensure that it’s done. I’m always surprised by the way the cake can be really raw at 25 minutes and just fine at 30. By the way, some people like their carrot cake sticky: if you’re one of them, make sure the skewer *does* come out with some mixture sticking to it.
  10. Cool in the baking tin for 5-10 minutes and then on a wire rack.

Make the frosting:

  • 200g cream cheese
  • 50g butter
  • 150g icing sugar
  • Vanilla essence to taste (optional)
  1. Beat these together thoroughly until very smooth.
  2. Cover and leave in the refrigerator: especially if it’s summer, the frosting will be very runny and you want it to hold its shape when you spread it.

Assemble the cake:

  • 90g pecan halves
  1. Reserve 16 of the best pecan halves for decoration (this will use around 40g). Chop the remainder into small pieces.
  2. Transfer the cake from the wire rack to whatever you’re going to serve the cake on: cake plate, board, tray or whatever.
  3. With a long knife, slice the cake horizontally into two approximately equal parts. Take the top half off and set aside – I do this by sliding a plastic chopping mat between the two halves, sandwiching the top half between the mat and a wire rack and lifting it off.
  4. Spread half the frosting over the bottom half. Scatter the chopped walnut pieces evenly across the cake.
  5. Put the top half of the cake back into place.
  6. Spread the remaining half of the frosting over the cake and decorate with remaining pecan halves, in whatever pattern takes your fancy.

It’s probably a good idea to chill the cake at this point, because the frosting really is quite liquid. Take it out of the refrigerator half an hour or so before serving.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.12: Lamingtons from Australia

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.12: Lamingtons from Australia

Since long haul travel looks like being impossible – or at least unwise – for the foreseeable future, let’s travel to the opposite end of the earth in our baking imagination. The Lamington is the definitive Australian cake, named after a sometime governor of Queensland (who apparently didn’t like them, according to TasteAtlas). There’s even a National Lamington Day, on July 21st, so if you’re reading this shortly after publication, you’ve got plenty of time to practise. This makes the Lamington one of a select collection of baked goods to have its own annual celebration day (cinnamon rolls are another, with Sweden’s Kanelbullens dag). 

The recipe for Lamingtons could be written in a single line: cut a sponge cake into cubes, dip each cube in chocolate icing and roll it in desiccated coconut. I’m going to go into a bit more detail (after all, what self-respecting baking blog wouldn’t) but here’s the point: they’re a great option for hot weather because the coconut helps to stop everything melting onto your fingers. Anyway, I’m a sucker for anything made with coconut, so what’s not to like?

Most Lamington recipes are broadly similar. In fact, they don’t really vary much from the first recipe on record, from Queensland Country Life in 1900. You’ve basically got a couple of choices: filled/unfilled and portion-sized/bite-sized. Also, you can choose to use a filling or not. The original recipe specifies more icing, but you can also use whipped cream and/or raspberry jam, which is popular in New Zealand. I’ve gone for plain, largely because I think the recipe is sweet enough as it is, and anyway, keeping the cube structure looks really tricky with two layers of cake stuck together.

The much quoted Australian recipe in taste.com.au gets you 15 cakes of around 6cm on a side, which is a reasonable full portion size; Jamie Oliver’s somewhat different recipe gets you 30 cakes from around the same total weight of ingredients, which makes it more suitable for finger food at a party when there’s lots of other stuff. I’ve kept the sugar down a bit in my version.

What everyone agrees is that you should make the cake the day before you try to ice it: otherwise, your cake is going to fall apart horribly when you try to dip it. So here’s the day 1 part of the recipe:

  • 150g sugar
  • 125g butter
  • 3 medium eggs or 2 large
  • 240g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 120ml milk
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ (or 160℃ fan)
  2. Grease and line a baking pan (purpose made “Lamington pans” tend to be 20cm x 30cm; mine is 23cm square)
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each one
  5. Add half the flour and beat, then half the milk and beat, then repeat
  6. Pour the mixture into your baking pan; do your best to spread it evenly
  7. Bake for around 20-30 minutes, use the usual “a skewer should come out dry” test
  8. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then on a rack
  9. Seal with cling film or in a tupperware and refrigerate overnight

The next morning, you’ll be doing the icing and rolling.

  • Dessicated coconut: you’ll need somewhere in the region of 300-350g, but it really depends on your rolling technique
  • 350g icing sugar
  • 25g cocoa
  • 15g butter, softened
  • 125ml boiling water

You might as well start by getting the coconut ready: you’ll want a decent amount of it in a shallow dish into which you’re going to roll your cakes and the rest in a separate bowl which you’re going to attempt to keep clear of drips of chocolate. Also get a cooling rack ready, putting it on a surface which you’ll be able to clean easily, because icing will drip onto it despite your best efforts.

Next:

  1. Trim off the edges of the cake and cut it into your preferred size. With my square pan, I cut it into 16 squares around 5½cm on a side (they weren’t quite tall enough to be cubes, but it was close enough). A 20 x 30cm Lamington pan will get you 15 6cm squares.
  2. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl, using the finest sieve you have. You’d be amazed at how lumpy they both of these can be when coming straight out of the packet.
  3. Add the butter and boiling water and then whisk until you’ve got all of the lumps out. You will have a wet, liquid icing.
  4. Here’s the tricky bit: you now need to completely cover each cake in icing and then roll it in desiccated coconut without making a giant, gooey mess. I did this by dropping the cake in the icing, turning it over gently with a fork and then picking it up by sticking the fork into it. I held the cake over the bowl of icing to let the excess drip off and then transferred the cake to the shallow bowl of coconut to coat the bottom; I then sprinkled coconut from the other bowl onto any sides that weren’t covered and shook of the excess (for use on the next cube.).
  5. Having transferred all your completed Lamingtons to the rack, leave them for a couple of hours for the icing to set.

 That’s it. On a hot day, a Lamington and a glass of iced coffee is a snack fit for a king.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.4: Torta Negra

It’s time for this blog to cross a few time zones and head to the Caribbean coast of South America. “Torta negra” is the go-to cake for family celebrations in Colombia, if the Internet is to be believed.  It’s a fruit cake darkened by caramel (the name means “Black cake”) and it’s lighter in weight and darker in colour than a typical English fruit cake. On the basis of the recipe I started with, from Colombian expatriate Erica Dinho, Torta Negra is a lot less sweet than the average fruit cake over here – although this may vary, since it seems to be another of those bakes where every family has its own recipe.

Erica must have a large family or friendship group, because her recipe is for two substantial cakes at a time. I therefore started by halving her recipe; I’ve also turned the measurements into metric and the US names into English ones. That left the thorny question of the caramel: Erica recommends baker’s caramel or dulce quemado, neither of which I knew how to find (even in the foodie land of North London, where you really can get most things) or molasses, which make me nervous because they have a strong and distinctive flavour of their own which tends to overpower everything else. So I decided to go for making my own caramel, which is messy but not all that hard.

Since there’s a very long waiting time in the middle of this recipe,  I’ve split the ingredient lists up according to stage.

Stage 1 – get some fruit macerating

  • 120g pitted prunes
  • 120g dried figs
  • 150g raisins
  • 120 ml port
  • 60 ml rum

Chop up the prunes and figs, then put everything into a tightly sealed jar (I used a Kilner of the sort you use for making jam). Before sealing the jar, do your best to press the fruit down so that as little as possible pokes above the surface of the liquid. 

Now leave the fruit to macerate for at least two weeks, turning it every few days to make sure that none of the fruit is simply drying out.

Stage 2 – make some caramel

If you do this immediately before starting to make your cake mix, it will be not too far off the right temperature to add to the mix: you don’t want the caramel to cool past its freezing point the second you add it to your mix, but you also don’t want it so hot that it’s baking the mix the moment it touches it. (By the way, this might be a good time to start preheating your oven, and to get your butter out of the fridge and softening).

  • 100g sugar
  • 15 ml water
  • 15g butter (optional)

Choose a small stainless steel pan. Put in the sugar and water, mix thoroughly, and heat it up, fast at first and then more gently as you’re trying to find the right caramelisation point. It’s going to bubble furiously, but keep stirring it and you’ll eventually get to a point (around 175-180℃, if you have a sugar thermometer) where it turns very dark. Take it off the heat and add the butter and mix thoroughly (the only point of this is it keeps it a bit more liquid).

By the way, you’ll have way more caramel than you needed. When I had used what I neede for the cake, I poured the rest onto a sheet of baking paper: once it had cooled, I broke it up and kept in a jar for future use.

Stage 3 – mix your dry ingredients

  • 240g flour
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves

Mix all these together in a bowl.

Stage 4 – make your cake mix and bake

Grease a cake tin and line the base with baking paper. Mine worked fine on a 20cm diameter round springform tin, but I imagine you can use any shape you like.

  • 250g butter, softened
  • 250g sugar
  • 6 medium to large eggs
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

Cream your butter and sugar together (I use a Kitchenaid stand mixer for this, but if you don’t have one, elbow grease and a wooden spoon works fine). Add the eggs, two at a time, mixing well at each stage. Add the vanilla extract and mix in.  Next, put in your dry ingredient mixture and mix thoroughly: you don’t want lumps and you don’t want bits of dry raw flour.

Now add around 2 tbs of the caramel you made above.  If you’ve left the caramel long enough for it to solidify, warm it up until it’s the consistency of toothpaste before trying this, or you’ll merely end up with shards of caramel through your mixture.

Take your macerated fruit out of its jar, giving it a squeeze so that you’re keeping as much as you can of the soaking liquid in the jar. Add the fruit to the cake mix and do your best to mix it evenly through the mix.

Put the mix into a tin and bake until the cake passes the usual test of a skewer poked into the middle coming out clean. Erica’s recipe says 1h45: mine was done in 1h15 in a 175℃ fan oven. Everyone’s oven is different, I guess – and I suppose hers might not be a fan oven.

Leave the cake to cool for 10 minutes or so, remove from the tin and leave to cool for another 10, then brush your remaining wine/port mix over the cake, letting it seep in.

Wrap the cake in cling film and foil, leave it to mature for a few days, and serve.

To end with: a few more of the usual in-process shots…