Tag: Desserts

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.70: Kue Lapis Legit – “thousand layer cake” from Indonesia

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.70: Kue Lapis Legit – “thousand layer cake” from Indonesia

Several multi-layer cakes have featured in this series. But there’s one multi-layer cake to rule them all, which is distinguished by the thinness of the layers and the deliciousness of the caramelisation of each. It’s from the unlikely provenance of Indonesia, where it was originally baked by Dutch colonists, and it goes under several names. In Indonesian, it’s Kue Lapis Legit (Lapis Legit for short); in Dutch, its Spekkoek, named because the stripy layers that you see in cross-section reminded the Dutch of the layers in pork belly (“spek”).

What makes Lapis Legit unique is the cooking method: you spread a thin layer of fairly liquid batter over the cake and cook it under the grill (Americans: broiler) until brown and caramelised, repeating this many times to form the characteristic brown and yellow stripes of the cake’s cross section.

In neighbouring Sarawak (the half of Borneo that is in Malaysia rather than Indonesia), they have elevated Kek Lapis (as they call it there) to a fine art, using multiple colours for the layers and cutting the blocks to form intricate patterns. I’m sticking to the basic yellow-and-brown version, starting from this recipe in “Daily Cooking Quest” by Minnesota-based Indonesian cook Anita.

Although the cake looks complex, it’s not excessively time-consuming, certainly not so by comparison with some of the bread and patisserie items in this blog: it took me around two hours end-to-end plus half an hour’s cooling time. However, unlike normal cakes, that’s two hours of constant attention – there are virtually no periods of down time in which you can do something else while the cake is in the oven.

And the results, even on a first attempt, were absolutely worth it – one of the best and most interestingly different cakes I’ve made.

Setting up

  1. Preheat your oven to 200℃ fan.
  2. Use a cake tin with a removable base. If possible, use a square tin, because the cake cuts into rectangles really nicely: mine is 22cm square and worked OK, but 18-20cm would work better, giving you the opportunity for more layers. Line the bottom with baking paper, grease the sides with butter.
  3. You will need three bowls for your stand mixer. I only have two, so I improvised by making the sabayon mix in a separate copper bowl and using a hand mixer to whisk it, thus avoiding scraping and washing up in mid process.

The butter base

  • 300g butter
  • 120g sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tbs rum
  • 90g plain flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground mace (if you have it – I didn’t)
  1. If your butter isn’t yet at room temperature, chop it into small pieces and leave it for a few minutes to soften.
  2. In your first mixing bowl, combine the butter, condensed milk and rum. With the standard beater, mix at medium speed until fluffy (Anita says 8 minutes – mine took half that).
  3. Mix flour salt and spices and add to the bowl, mix for another minute or so until smoothly combined.

The sabayon mix

  • 12 eggs
  • 85g caster sugar
  1. Separate the eggs: put 12 yolks in one bowl and 6 whites into another, which ou’ll be using for the meringue part of the cake mix (discard the other 6 whites, or keep them for making other stuff).
  2. Add the sugar to the egg yolks and whisk at high speed until the reach the consistency of thick cream. They’ll never quite achieve the stiffness of whipped cream, but you can get close.

The meringue mix

  • 6 egg whites from above
  • 55g caster sugar
  • ¼ tsp cream of tartar
  1. Using the whisk of your stand mixer, beat the eggs at high speed until soft and frothy
  2. Add the sugar and cream of tartar, and beat at high speed until you have a stiff meringue

Putting it together

  1. If the sabayon mix has gone a bit liquid while you were making the meringue, whisk it for another minute or so.
  2. Add the sabayon mix into your butter base and mix using the standard beater until smoothly combined.
  3. Fold the meringue into your mixture until smoothly combined, with no bits of unmixed egg white left.
  4. Pour a couple of ladelfuls of mix into your cake tin and spread it so that you have a thin, even layer. Ideally, you want around 3-4mm thickness (on the photos here, I was somewhat over that).
  5. Put in the middle shelf of the oven and bake until the top is golden. You’ll need something like 8 minutes, but check it after 5-6, because it really depends on your oven and on the thickness of your mixture.
  6. Take the cake out of the oven and switch it to its top grill setting at maximum temperature (or set up your separate grill if that’s what you have). Move the oven shelf to its highest position.
  7. Pour another ladelful or so of mixture into the tin. It will go more liquid as it contacts the hot surface. Your objective now is to get the thinnest possible layer of mixture that completely covers the whole cake: I achieved this by the combination of using an offset spatula and by tilting the tin in different directions until the coverage was smooth.
  8. Put the cake under the grill, and cook until golden brown. This will take between one and two minutes: you need to watch it like a hawk because the difference between uncaramelised yellow and burnt can be as little as 20 seconds.
  9. Take the cake out and repeat until you have run out of mixture. You’re trying to get as many layers as you can – I managed around 8.
  10. Once you’ve grilled the last layer, take the cake out and cool it in the tin for around half an hour.
  11. Finally, put a knife around the sides to make sure the cake has come away from all four sides, and take the cake out of the tin (if the tin has a removable base, this should be very easy).
  12. Enjoy…
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.63: Pistachio Baklava from Turkey

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.63: Pistachio Baklava from Turkey

As we get close to 80% of the way round the world on this journey, I have to admit, dear reader, that some of the bakes have been getting a bit on the obscure side (and there are more of those to come). Baklava, however, isn’t one of those: the nut-filled, syrup-infused flaky pastries feature on the dessert menu of just about every Turkish, Greek, Persian or Middle Eastern restaurant on the planet, not to mention innumerable cafés.

Although scholars point at recipes for vaguely baklava-like desserts going all the way back to ancient Greece, the dish as we know it today probably showed up in the kitchens of the Ottoman Empire. So essential is the dish to Turks today that during Ramadan in 2020 – in the eye of the storm of the Covid-19 pandemic – baklava bakers were granted specific permission to stay open on the grounds that this was an essential commodity (if you don’t believe me, check out the New York Times article).

 There are many variations as to the choice of nuts, the make-up of the syrup and the way the final product is shaped, but roughly, it comes to this: the Greek version is likely to be filled with walnuts and soaked in a honey based syrup, whereas the Turkish version is more likely to use pistachios with a lemon-infused sugar syrup. That’s a very broad brush distinction – you’ll find plenty of exceptions, mixtures and different ideas.

I’m going to assume that in common with 99.99% of home cooks on the planet, or at least outside the Middle East, you have no intention of making your own filo pastry. On that basis,  making your own baklava is relatively straightforward, albeit time-consuming – it depends on how quick you are at laying out sheets of filo and brushing melted butter over them, which you’re going to be doing a lot of. I ended up with a kind of amalgam of recipes from The Spruce Eats, The Mediterranean Dish and Cleobuttera. The key thing to remember is to pour cold syrup over the hot baklava and then leave it to soak for a substantial amount of time.

The syrup

  • 450g sugar
  • 750ml water (see note below about quantities)
  • Juice of ½ lemon (around 30ml)
  • Optional: 10g liquid glucose, which is supposed to help prevent your syrup from crystallising
  • Optional: other flavourings such as orange blossom water, orange extract or cloves – I didn’t use any
  1. Put all items into a small saucepan and mix
  2. Bring to the boil and simmer until you have a thick syrup, around 104℃
  3. Take the saucepan off the heat

The quantities in this recipe seems to be set so that you leave the syrup on for the whole time you’re making the baklava, reaching the right stickiness around the time you finish. This kind of worked, but next time, I think I’ll use a third of the amount of water and just get it done in adavance, with a fraction of the time boiling down.

The main thing

Ideally, you want a baking dish the same size as your filo sheets, at least 2.5 cm deep.. Mine was 37 cm x 27 cm, which was around 3 cm too narrow, so I had to trim down the filo. A word of warning, though: you will be cutting the baklava in the dish before it goes into the oven and, most likely, again when it is baked. This will probably gash any non-stick coating on your dish (it did mine). You can probably help matters by lining the tray with a single piece of baking paper so that you can lift the whole lot out after baking, which at least means you’ll only wreck it once rather than twice. Alternatively, a Pyrex dish might be a better choice.

The diamond shape I used is pretty traditional, but you can, of course, try many different ideas: baklava is often sold in squares or rectangles.

The quantities assume that your filo comes in 250g packs, each of which has around 15 sheets. This lets you make three layers of 10 sheets each. Adjust the number of sheets accordingly: you want to use around ⅔ of a pack for each layer. Some recipes, by the way, just use two layers of filo with one layer of nuts – that’s fine too.

Next warning: filo dries out easily. Keep it covered with a tea towel at all times other than the minimum few seconds you need to peel a sheet off the block.

  • 400g shelled, unsalted pistachios
  • 40g sugar
  • 250g ghee (use clarified butter if you prefer or if you can’t get ghee)
  • 500g filo pastry (fresh or frozen)
  1. Preheat oven to 200℃ fan.
  2. Blitz the pistachios in a food processor until they are mostly powdered but still have a coarse texture with lots of small pieces.
  3. Transfer to a small bowl, add the sugar and mix. Reserve 50g for garnish after the baklava is baked.
  4. Melt the ghee.
  5. Spread your baking dish with ghee, and scatter a thin layer of pistachios.
  6. Now work quickly. Peel a layer of filo off your block and place it on your dish. Cover the block with a tea towel. Spread the layer with ghee. Repeat around 10 times (see note above).
  7. Spread half the pistachio sugar mix evenly over the dish. You may need to shake the dish to get it even.
  8. Repeat steps 6 and 7.
  9. Repeat step 6 for a third time to get your top layer of filo.
  10. Brush the top of your pastry with the remaining ghee. If there isn’t enough for a generous amount, melt some more: you don’t want dry filo at the top.
  11. Cut the baklava into a diamond pattern – around 5 strips along the shorter side and around 8 along the longer side. This gets you 40 generously sized baklava – you can go smaller if you want.
  12. If your syrup is still boiling, wait until it’s reached the right stickiness and you’ve taken it off the heat.
  13. Bake until golden brown, around 40 minutes.
  14. Remove the dish from the oven and place it on a rack. Pour the syrup evenly over the whole dish, then sprinkle evenly with the reserved pistachio mix. 
  15. Cover with foil (otherwise, you’ve just created the world’s biggest attraction for the local insect life) and leave to cool.
  16. When it’s cool enough, put it in the fridge and leave for at least 8 hours (or overnight). Freshly made baklava just doesn’t have the right consistency (we checked this).
  17. Re-cut into its diamond shapes and serve.

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.46: Brazo da Reina from Chile

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.46: Brazo da Reina from Chile

I have no idea why a Swiss Roll is called a Swiss Roll. I’ve travelled to Switzerland a lot and I don’t remember seeing one there. If Wikipedia is to believed, it doesn’t even come from Switzerland in the first place. But apparently, if you happen to be in Chile, at 5pm, it’s time for a coffee and a slice of Brazo da Reina – a rolled sponge cake filled with dulce de leche (caramelised condensed milk). The name in Spanish means “the Queen’s Arm”, which sounds to British ears more like a pub sign, which just goes to show that there’s no accounting for language. It’s not really clear where that name comes from either, and the same cake has other names in different bits of Latin America: Brazo de gitano (gypsy’s arm) or Pionono. Other countries also use different fillings.

The Chilean recipe I started from is notable for having a lot of eggs and no shortening whatsoever, which makes for an incredibly light, airy sponge cake. There are other recipes that use a small amount of oil.

The recipe I used tells you to fold the egg yolks into the beaten whites, then add the flour to the whole lot. That was a little too far outside my comfort zone, so I stuck to a more conventional scheme of mixing egg yolks, sugar and flour before folding, which worked very well.

The tricky part of making a roll cake – especially one as light an airy as this – is to roll it up without tearing. I wasn’t 100% successful, but it was good enough.

The last time I made dulce de leche, for Argentinian alfajores, I baked the condensed milk in an oven tray, which worked OK but was fiddly. For this recipe, I found the ultimate cheat method in the Brazo da Reina recipe in a blog called Curious Cuisiniere – just boil the condensed milk in its can. It’s close to zero effort and worked perfectly. Their advice for rolling up the cake seemed sensible too: this is the first time I’ve tried a roll cake, so I can’t speak for how well other methods work.

You’ll want a Swiss roll tin, around 30cm x 20cm.

The dulce de leche filling

  • 400g can of condensed milk
  1. Put the tin of condensed milk (unopened, but you may want to take the paper off) into a saucepan, pour water to cover it (with some spare, since it will evaporate), and bring it to the boil.
  2. Leave it to simmer for 2-3 hours (two will get you a light caramelisation, 3 will get you a more golden-brown and stronger tasting result.
  3. Remove the tin from the pan and leave it to cool.

The cake

  • Butter for greasing tin
  • 6 eggs
  • 240g flour
  • 10g baking powder
  • 180g caster sugar
  • icing sugar for dusting
  1. Preheat oven to 175℃
  2. Grease your tin with butter, then line it with baking paper, then grease the baking paper generously.
  3. Separate the eggs into two mixing bowls.
  4. Sift the flour and baking powder together.
  5. Beat the egg yolks and add half the caster sugar. Then add the flour and baking powder and mix until well blended. The mixture will be quite stiff.
  6. In the other bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, add the remaining caster sugar and whisk at high speed until you have a stiff meringue
  7. Add around a quarter of the meringue to your flour mixture and mix in until smooth. Do the same with another quarter, now taking care to keep as much air in the meringue as you can. Now fold in the remaining meringue, working really hard to keep the air in.
  8. Spread the mixture evenly into your tin. Ideally, use an offset spatula to get it really level (I don’t have one, so I just did my best.
  9. Bake for around 10 minutes. You do NOT want to overbake the sponge or you stand no chance of rolling it intact.
  10. Leave to cool for a minute or two, then run a palette knife round the edge to make sure the cake is not sticking to the edge. Sprinkle some icing sugar over the cake.
  11. Spread a tea towel over the cake, and then an inverted cooling rack. Turn the whole assembly upside down. As gently as you can, remove your cake tin. The cake should sit on its tea towel in one piece.
  12. Very gently, pull off the baking paper almost all the way, then put it back in place.
  13. Now roll the cake up as tightly as you can, and leave to cool for an hour or so.
  14. Unroll the cake (this is the part where it’s hard to stop it tearing), spread the filling over it, then roll it up again.
  15. (Optional – I didn’t) dust the cake with more icing sugar.
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.37: Dutch Apple Pie

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.37: Dutch Apple Pie

For Americans, the phrase “Apple Pie and Motherhood” (or possibly “Apple Pie and Mom”) means “a thing in life that everyone agrees to be unarguably good”. But even Americans would accept that Apple Pie comes from the Netherlands. In fact, there are two variants of Dutch Apple Pie: appeltaart, the lattice-topped version that I’ve made here, and appelkruimeltaart, a crumble-topped version whose American equivalent is Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Pie.

Most Dutch recipes (I’ve started with this one) go for a shortcrust pastry with a fairly high butter to flour ratio (this recipe uses 2:3, but I’ve seen higher), sweetened with brown sugar. As often, I’ve cut down the amount of sugar – the original recipe goes for 50% more than I’ve used. The Dutch use self-raising flour, which moves the end result somewhere in the direction of a cake compared to a typical French apple tart or English pie. A neat trick is to cover your base with a layer of breadcrumbs: this soaks up the juices in the early part of the bake and helps to prevent the dreaded soggy bottom.

 The filling is usually fairly heavily spiced and often has other fruit or nuts in addition to the apple. I’ve chosen cinnamon and raisins, but there are plenty of alternatives: cloves, ginger, walnuts or almonds to name just a few. At least once recipe recommends soaking your raisins in rum.

If you’re not in the Netherlands with access to Goudreinet (Golden Rennet) or Belle de Boskoop apples, you’ll have to improvise. You’re going to want an apple which is crisp enough not to disintegrate while baking, and which has plenty of flavour and a level of tartness. Lockdown London isn’t offering my usual levels of choice, so I went for 50/50 Granny Smith and Cox’s Orange Pippin, which worked pretty well. The Granny Smiths are there for tartness, but I’d worry that using them exclusively would be both too sour and too watery.

The pastry

  • 300 g self raising flour, plus flour for rolling
  • 100 g soft brown sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 200 g cold butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt.
  2. Cut the butter into small cubes and mix into the flour mixture with your fingertips until you’ve got rid of the lumps of unblended butter.
  3. Keep aside a small amount of egg for brushing, pour the rest into your mixture and blend until you have a smooth dough which no longer sticks to the side of your bowl.
  4. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

The filling

  • 1 kg apples (see above)
  • Juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste
  • 6g ground cinnamon
  • 50 g sugar
  • 50 g raisins
  1. Peel, core and chop the apples into quarters, then chop each quarter into 4-5 slices. As you go, put the pieces into a bowl with the lemon juice and mix them around: the lemon will stop the apples going brown as you work.
  2. Add the raisins.
  3. Combine the sugar and cinnamon, add them to the apples and raisins and mix everything until even.

Final assembly

  • Breadcrumbs (probably around 30g – sorry, I didn’t measure)

I used the fan setting on my oven and I wish I hadn’t – baking for longer without the fan would have resulted in a somewhat softer filling. If you like the apples crunchier, go with the fan option.

  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ conventional.
  2. Grease a 22-23cm springform tin with butter.
  3. Divide the dough into 3 portions, roughly 40%, 40%, 20%.
  4. Roll out the first portion into a circle and use this to line the base of your tin. Trim off any excess and keep it.
  5. Roll the next portion into a long rectangle (you may need more than one) and use it to line the sides of your tin. Again, trim off and keep any excess.
  6. Add all the excess dough to your third piece, roll it out and cut into strips, around 1cm wide.
  7. Spread the breadcrumbs evenly to cover the base of your tart.
  8. Fill the tart with the apple mixture, trying to get rid of the air gaps so the apples are packed well down (but don’t press too hard). The filling will probably form a slight dome over the top: that’s fine.
  9. With your strips of dough, form a lattice over the tart. The Dutch tend to do a kind of overlapping W-shaped pattern – my attempt at this was comically clumsy, as you’ll see from the photos, but this didn’t really matter. You can also do a standard criss-cross version (and if you’re feeling particularly competent, weave it).
  10. Brush the top of the pastry lattice with the remaining egg.
  11. Bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown, which should take around 50 minutes (conventional) or 40 minutes (fan) – depending, as ever, on your oven.
  12. Leave to cool. After 10 minutes or so, extract the pie from the tin.

Enjoy. It’s the perfect treat for a damp, autumnal day.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.33: Black Forest gâteau from Germany

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.33: Black Forest gâteau from Germany

The Germans are fantastic bakers. I could have chosen from dozens of breads and pastries: pumpernickel, pretzels, seed-filled Vollkornbrot, melt-in-mouth Franzbrötchen and so many more. But I’m a child of the 1960s and I couldn’t resist the German cake of my childhood: the over-the-top architectural construction of chocolate cake, cherries and whipped cream that is the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte – the Black Forest gâteau.

You need to be careful on this one: most English and American recipes are very sweet. The German recipes have better flavour balance, but do tend to be unbelievably heavy on the cream – I’ve seen recipes specifying over 1 kg of cream for a cake not much bigger than the one I’ve made here. The nice people at Gästehaus Reger, in the heart of the Black Forest, have posted an English language version of their recipe, so I’ve used that as my starting point (dramatically reducing the cream content). By the way, according to Wikipedia, Black Forest gâteau doesn’t actually come from the Black Forest (it was created by a confectioner near Bonn), but they seem to have embraced it with enthusiasm.

German recipes specify jars of sour cherries. Being unable to get these, I substituted frozen black cherries, adding lemon juice to give a sour edge. It’s not perfect, but it worked. I was also short of kirsch – the cherry-based firewater that is the key ingredient of authentic Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, so I had to substitute some blackcurrant schnapps, left over from a trip to Sweden, which gives a similar flavour. I suggest that you don’t go for the cherry brandy that features in many recipes, because it has a very different flavour, stronger and sweeter.

The next problem to solve is your choice of cake tin. Ideally, you want to follow the Germans and use a single tin, slicing the cake into three layers after baking, because you don’t want lots of crusts. However, the cake extremely light and airy due to its mixture of both sabayon and meringue: my 23cm springform tin is about 6cm high and the cake overflowed it by some margin. This required me to trim some rather misshapen excess: use a deep tin if you have one.

This is a fairly complex and time consuming recipe, with two different baked layers and three fillings/drizzles. You will also use and wash up more bowls than you can possibly imagine. But none of this is unduly difficult.

You need to make the base, the cake and the cherry filling far enough in advance that they’re completely cool. The rest is best done at the last minute.

The cherry filling

If you can get jars of sour cherries, use 500g of those and 250g of the juice from the jar in place of the frozen cherries and lemon juice listed below. Also omit the blitzing of cherries and add 30g sugar.

  • 750g frozen pitted cherries
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 25g cornflour
  1. Defrost the cherries. (That’s why I’ve shown this step first – you may want to make your cake layers while this is happening).
  2. Reserve 12 of the best looking cherries – you will use them later for decoration.
  3. Blitz half of the remaining cherries to a coarse puree.
  4. Put the puree and any juice into a saucepan with the cornflour, stir thoroughly and warm gently until thickened. 
  5. Add the remaining cherries and bring to the boil.
  6. Remove from heat and refrigerate.

The shortcrust base

This is optional (several recipes don’t include one) but it gives a nice contrast of texture and makes the cake easier to handle.

  • 120g plain flour
  • 3g (around ½ tsp) baking powder
  • 25g sugar
  • vanilla essence to taste (around 1 tsp)
  • 1 small egg
  • 60g butter, softened
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ fan
  2. Mix all ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate for around 30 minutes.
  3. Roll out on a baking sheet to a size slightly larger than your cake tin.
  4. Bake for around 10 minutes
  5. Leave to cool

The chocolate cake

  • 150g plain flour
  • 60g cornflour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 10g baking powder – around 2 tsp
  • 6 eggs
  • 200g caster sugar
  • Vanilla essence to taste – around 1 tsp
  1. Grease your cake tin
  2. Sift the flour, cornflour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a bowl and combine evenly
  3. Separate the eggs
  4. Add around 50 ml of warm water to the egg yolks and beat at your mixer’s highest speed for around three minutes, until you have a creamy sabayon-like texture. Add 130g of the sugar and beat for another three minutes.
  5. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, then add the remaining sugar, then beat until you have a stiff meringue.
  6. Combine the sabayon, the meringue and the flour mix and blend thoroughly. Mix it as a gently as you can (avoiding losing the air that you’ve just beaten into the eggs) but enough to be sure that you haven’t left any clumps of unblended flour.
  7. Pour the cake into your tin, smooth it off so you have a flat top, then bake for around 40 minutes. The cake is ready when a skewer comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the springform tin and leave to cool.

The whipped cream filling

  • 600 g double cream
  • 60 g sugar
  • Vanilla essence to taste (around 1 tsp)
  • 60 ml kirsch
  1. Whip the cream for a minute or so.
  2. Add sugar, vanilla essence and kirsch.
  3. Whip the mixture until stiff.

Final assembly

  • 150ml kirsch
  • 20g sugar
  • 20g dark chocolate for grating (the amount is very approximate)
  1. Add 75 ml kirsch to the cherry filling and mix thoroughly
  2. Add 75 ml kirsch to 75 ml water and 20g caster sugar and mix thoroughly
  3. If the cake is heavily domed (mine wasn’t), trim off the domed crust.
  4. Turn the cake over so the crust side is down.
  5. If your cake overspilled the edges of your tin, trim it so that you have a cylinder.
  6. Slice the chocolate cake into three slices horizontally. It’s helpful to mark the slices with a toothpick in each one, immediately above each other: this will help you re-assemble the cake into exactly the right place.
  7. Move the slices next to each other and drizzle them with the kirsch/water/sugar mix.
  8. Trim the shortcrust base to a circle the same size as your cake.
  9. Spread some cherry filling over the base – remove any whole cherries so that you’re just spreading the jam.
  10. Place a layer of cake onto the base (start with the one that was the topmost layer while baking).
  11. Spread the rest of the cherry filling evenly over the cake. Make sure you get to the edges.
  12. Reserve around 80g of the whipped cream for decoration: you’ll want to put it into a piping bag with a star nozzle.
  13.  Spread ⅓ of the remaining whipped cream over the cherry filling. Make sure you get to the edges.
  14. Place the remaining two  layers of cake on top, using the toothpicks to orient you as to exactly where to put them. After each layer, spread another third of the whipped cream: the top layer should be very even. (At this point, the Germans would also spread cream over the sides to form a perfect white cylinder. But that’s too much cream for me.)
  15. Grate the chocolate into shavings with a grater of vegetable peeler, and sprinkle the shavings over the cake. If you’ve put cream over the sides, also dust the sides with grated chocolate.
  16. Pipe twelve small doughnuts of cream in a circle close to the edge of the cake. Into each doughnut, place a cherry.

You’re done! It was complicated and it was a long haul, but you’ve created a real spectacular, which is light as a feather and tastes fantastic.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.31: Kanelbullar –  cinnamon buns from Sweden

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.31: Kanelbullar – cinnamon buns from Sweden

In Sweden, October 4th is Kanelbullens dag, which makes the humble cinnamon bun the only baked item I know to have an officially sanctioned holiday. To be fair, it’s not the most long-standing of national holidays, having been dreamed up in 1999 by the Swedish Home Baking Council. But this year, as it happens, it coincided with a cold and rainy Sunday morning here in London, so no possibility of my usual tennis game. How better to spend the morning than with a bit of traditional baking?

The basics of the cinnamon bun are straightforward enough: make a slightly sweetened bread-like dough enriched with butter, milk and (in many recipes) egg, let it rise, roll it flat and spread with a butter/sugar/cinnamon filling. At this point, you have two choices: for the traditional cinnamon roll, you roll it into a sausage; for the cinnamon twist or knot (kanelknutar), you start with a book fold and do a tricky looking twisting trick. I went for the simple roll.

Just about anywhere in Sweden, the buns would be garnished with the little white sugar nibs known as  “pearl sugar”, and in many places, it would be brushed with a syrup glaze after baking. My sweet tooth isn’t what it was, so I’ve omitted both of these. For added puffiness, however, I’ve followed an American blog called “True North Kitchen” and used an Asian pre-dough technique called Tangzhong, which helps to keep the buns stay soft for several days after baking.

The Tangzhong (or “water roux”)

  • 75 ml milk
  • 75 ml water
  • 30g strong white flour
  1. Whisk the ingredients together in a saucepan, getting as many lumps out as you can
  2. Heat over medium heat until the mixture thickens, whisking frequently. Make sure you get rid of lumps as they appear.
  3. Keep heating for a couple more minutes – there shouldn’t be any taste of raw flour left – and then remove from the heat and set aside.

The dough

  • 75g butter
  • 8g yeast
  • 30g sugar
  • 6g salt
  • 400g flour
  • Ground cardamom to taste (I started with whole pods and shelled and ground my own in a pestle and mortar, which yielded about 1g, which was fine)
  • 125ml milk
  • 1 egg
  1. Melt the butter and leave to cool
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, evenly mix the yeast, sugar, salt, flour and cardamom 
  3. Warm the milk to lukewarm (around 40℃)
  4. Add the milk, egg, melted butter and tangzhong to the dry mix. Stir until combined into a smooth dough (either with a wooden spoon or the standard paddle of your mixer.
  5. Knead for around 5 minutes with the dough hook.
  6. Leave to rise until you have a light, puffy dough: this took a couple of hours in a not particularly warm autumn kitchen, but will vary according to the temperature of your kitchen

The filling

Preheat the oven to 225℃

  • 75g butter, softened
  • 75g brown sugar
  • 4g flour
  • 5g cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  1. Combine all the ingredients and stir until you have a smooth, even dark brown paste. 
  2. Make sure it’s soft enough to spread thinly and easily: 30 seconds in the microwave is a good way of doing this. There’s no point in tearing your dough because you had lumps in the filling.

Final assembly

  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of milk
  1. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board until you have a thin rectangle around 50cm x 40cm – try and be as accurately rectangular as you can manage, otherwise (as you’ll see from my photos) the two buns at the end will be rather conical and rather shorter of filling.
  2. Make an egg wash by whisking the egg and milk together until smooth
  3. Slice the dough into sixteen even slices.
  4. Prepare two baking trays and array eight buns on each one. If you have paper bun cases, use them: they help the buns keep their shape. If not, make sure the trays are properly greased.
  5. Brush some egg wash over each bun
  6. Bake the buns until golden brown: this should take around 8-10 minutes; if you did both trays at the same time in the oven, the bottom tray will need a couple of minutes longer.
  7. Cool on a wire rack.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.29: Pasta Frola from Paraguay

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.29: Pasta Frola from Paraguay

Where home-coming Argentinians make a beeline for Alfajores, Paraguayans head for Pasta Frola: a lattice-topped jam tart filled with either guava or quince paste. Childhood summers in Portugal have made me particularly partial to quince paste, and in any case, guavas are hard to get hold of here in England, so the quince version was the obvious choice.

Time for a couple of short linguistic digressions. The Spanish for quince is “membrillo”, and quince paste (sometimes called “quince cheese” for reasons I can’t fathom) is “dulce de membrillo”. In Portuguese, however, a quince is a “marmelo” and the paste is called “marmelada”. The English word “marmalade” confuses both Portuguese (where orange jam is just called “doce de laranja”) and Italians, for whom the word “marmellata” means jam of any sort, and “marmellare” means “to make jam”. In Italian, “pasta frolla” simply means shortcrust pastry, and this dessert would be called a “crostata”.

You can buy dulce de membrillo ready made in the UK, but it tends to be fairly expensive at around £25 or £30 for a kilo. Anyway, our local shops don’t stock it and our local fruit shop had quinces, so I had a go at making my own. Peeling quinces is a bit of faff – the skin is very tough – but other than that, the process isn’t too difficult.

Quince paste

This is metricised and modified slightly from the recipe from simplyrecipes.com. I overbought quinces and made around double this recipe, which was way too much: the quantities here will make well over 1kg of paste, which is a lot more than you need for the Pasta Frola.

  • Around 1 kg of quinces (typically 4 fruit)
  • Grated zest and juice of one lemon
  • Vanilla essence to taste
  • Around 800g jam sugar (to be adjusted)
  1. Peel and core the quinces, being sure to remove the fibrous bit of stalk that’s inside the quince. Chop coarsely (maybe 8-12 pieces per fruit).
  2. Put them in a saucepan, add the grated lemon zest cover them with cold water and bring to the boil.
  3. Simmer for around 30-40 minutes until you can cut them with a wooden spoon
  4. Drain the quince pieces and transfer to the bowl of a food processor: blitz until extremely smooth (this can take several minutes).
  5. Return the puree to a saucepan, add the sugar, vanilla essence and lemon juice.
  6. Bring to the boil, uncovered, and simmer gently for 60-90 minutes, stirring often enough to ensure that you don’t caramelise the paste on the bottom of the pan.
  7. Preheat oven to 125℃
  8. When the mixture is a dark pink/orange, remove from the heat. Line a shallow rectangular oven dish with baking parchment and spread the mixture evenly into the dish.
  9. Leave the dish in the oven for around 90 minutes for the paste to dry out. The Spanish and Portuguese cook theirs to the consistency of thick jelly, so that you can cut slices of it. It’s quite difficult to get to this stage without burning it somewhere, and in any case, you don’t need to for Pasta Frola: a soft paste is just fine and you’re going to be baking it some more anyway.

By the way, quince paste is a really wonderful accompaniment to cheese, particularly sharply flavoured cheese.

The Pasta Frola

Thanks for this to my daughter’s South American colleague Daniel (who was the person who insisted that it should be included in this blog in the first place). His recipe was for about double this amount as a 40cm x 30cm traybake: I used a square tin with a removable base of around 23cm x 23cm, which left a small amount of pastry left over.

  • 250g plain flour (use OO if possible)
  • 15g baking powder
  • 90g cup of sugar
  • 125g butter, plus some for greasing
  • 3 egg yolks (around 50g)
  • 40ml milk
  • 700g quince paste (see above)
  • 50ml madeira, port or similar fortified wine
  1. Preheat oven to 150℃
  2. If your butter isn’t soft, cut it into squares and leave it a few minutes to soften
  3. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine flour, sugar and baking powder and mix well
  4. Add the butter and mix until you reach the breadcrumb stage
  5. Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the mixture, together with the milk
  6. Mix until you have a smooth dough
  7. Knead it for a couple of minutes until somewhat elastic, then cover and leave for 15 minutes
  8.  Meanwhile, grease the tin, and mix the quince paste and madeira in a bowl
  9. Once the dough has finished resting, separate out one third of it and set aside. On a generously floured board, roll it out to the size of your tin with around 2cm overlap all the way round
  10. Line your tin with the dough. If, like me, your dough always breaks at this point, don’t worry – just press it into the bottom and sides with your fingers as best you can. The recipe is very forgiving
  11. Pour your quince mixture into the tin and spread it to the edges
  12. If necessary, trim the pastry down to the height of the filling
  13. Roll out the remaining amount of pastry and cut it into strips approximately 1cm wide. Use these to form a lattice over the tart. At this point, you might like to think about how many pieces you’re going to cut the tart into and make sure that you have a gap, not a strip of pastry, at the point at which you’re going to do this (clue: I didn’t do this and learned the hard way).
  14. Brush the pastry on the top with some of the egg white.
  15. Bake for around 40 minutes.