Cakes and sweet bakes


Wimbledon cake

I love tennis. Or more accurately, I love the time of Wimbledon Championships. You get glimpses of Ye Olde England – the near-mythical age of fogs and mists, men walking around in top hats and ladies nibbling on crustless cucumber sandwiches.

I must admit that, other than a few glorious heatwave-friendly salads (the one with miniature baby potatoes, fresh peas, mozzarella, wild rocket, toasted pine nuts and extravagant quantities of silky green asparagus was particularly delicious), I haven’t done much cooking since the Championships began. I have either travelled down to London to visit Wimbledon, or have been glued to my TV watching Wimbledon, or have been sitting in my garden with strawberries and Pimms imagining myself to be at Wimbledon.

Except for this cake. I wanted to concoct a strawberry and cream cake that could be enjoyed not only during Wimbledon, but on all special summer occasions – of which there are plenty. Since there’s enough cream in the filling, I didn’t put any butter in the cake (only small quantities needed for greasing the cake tin). Happily, it works. The semolina gives the cake a slightly crunchy, dense texture.

I used strawberry jam that I had made last month from tiny little strawberries that grow in my garden. I was going to post the recipe, but given that some food bloggers are sharing recipes for exotic and imaginative jams and marmalades, my own humble effort felt a little, well, humble.

Serve the cake with crustless white cucumber or watercress sandwiches, plump scones, a pot of tea, and a glass of champagne or Pimms for the taste of England in summertime. Makes one 8-inch cake.

For the cake:
Unsalted butter, softened, for greasing

3 eggs, separated
4 oz/ 100g caster (powdered) sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
3 oz/ 75g semolina

For the filling:
8 oz/ 200g strawberry jam or coulis
A few fresh strawberries, finely sliced (optional)
5 fl oz/ 150 ml clotted or whipping cream, lightly whipped

To finish:
Icing (superfine) sugar
Fresh strawberries, sliced or left whole (optional)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/ 350F/ gas mark 4. Grease a deep, round 8-inch (20 cm) cake tin and line it with buttered greaseproof paper (butter side up).
2. Place the egg yolks, sugar, grated orange zest and juice and the semolina into a bowl and mix well until thoroughly combined.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry, then gently fold them into the orange and semolina mixture. Pour into the prepared cake tin.
4. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30-35 minutes until well-risen and pale golden brown. The top of the cake should spring back when lightly pressed with a finger.
5. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
6. Meanwhile, heat the strawberry jam or coulis on gentle heat until it is runny. (I’m suggesting 200g, but adjust the quantity – half a jar, whole jar – to suit your own taste). Let it cool a little at the same time the cake is cooling.
7. To fill, carefully split the cake in half horizontally and fill with the strawberry jam, the clotted or whipped cream and, if using, a few sliced strawberries.
8. Just before serving, sift some icing sugar over the top and, if desired, decorate with fresh strawberries. Enjoy the cake a little warm or at room temperature – but it must be eaten on the same day as it won’t keep.

greek-easter-bracelets-with-sesame

It’s a shame Britain doesn’t have a tradition of Easter foods. Well, we consume hot cross buns and chocolate eggs in massive quantities this time of the year – but they are not so much a ‘tradition’ as brainchild of supermarket marketing departments. At least, that’s what I think.

So for inspiration on Easter cooking, look to Italy, Greece and other countries with a strong Catholic or Christian tradition, and you will find plenty of eggs dishes and baked sweet treats.

These Greek pastry ‘bracelets’ – which are like a cross between bagels and biscuits – are a favourite with children. The dough can be shaped into large or small bracelets, rings, rolls, cigars, twists, plaits – or anything else you fancy, really.

This is a traditional recipe – it’s known as Kulurakia in Greece – so I make no apologies for using white flour and white sugar. You can substitute brown flour and raw cane sugar if you wish – I’m sure it would be fine, but it won’t have that old-fashioned rustic Greek taste.

Get children involved in making these bracelets – if you don’t have any, do what I do and borrow a gaggle of nephews and nieces. It’ll be a lot of fun, especially if you make an event of it and have an egg painting party at the same time as the bracelets are being baked. Happy Easter! Serves 4 to 6.

4 oz/ 100g clarified or unsalted butter, softened
4 oz/ 100g white sugar
½ teaspoon natural vanilla extract
2 medium organic free-range eggs
12 oz/ 300g white flour
2 level teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder

For the glaze:
1 medium organic free-range egg
1 tablespoon milk

For the topping:
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds

1.    Beat the butter with a fork until it is creamy. Add sugar and vanilla extract, and beat well.
2.    Crack the eggs into the butter and sugar mixture, and once again beat thoroughly.
3.    Sift in the flour with the baking powder and cinnamon, and combine everything to make soft dough. Allow the dough to stand for approximately half an hour.
4.    Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375F/ 190C/ gas mark 5.
5.    Then break off walnut-sized pieces of the dough, and shape each into a roll about 4 inches long.
6.    Pinch the ends together to form a bracelet shape and flatten slightly. Place the bracelets on greased baking sheets, making sure you leave enough space between each to give them room to rise.
7.    Make the glaze by beating together the egg with the milk. Using a pastry brush, paint each bracelet with the glaze.
8.    Carefully sprinkle the top of the bracelets with sesame seeds.
9.    Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes until golden.
10.    Allow to cool on a wire rack. Serve warm with coffee. Store any remaining bracelets in an airtight container.

welsh-teabread-on-a-plate

I have never before posted two sweet recipes back to back on this blog. However, I had already prepared Welsh teabread and had planned to write about it next week, when I realised that 1st March is St David’s Day – Wales’ patron saint’s day. So I decided to swap my schedule around and put up this post this week, in case any of you are looking for traditional Welsh recipes for the weekend.

This is a simple and straightforward take on the famous Welsh teabread known as ‘bara brith’ – which simply means ‘speckled bread’. There are many versions, some made with yeast. Sweet, warm pudding spices, candied peel, and chopped nuts are often added; and sometimes the top of the bread is covered with crushed sugar cubes before baking. However, I prefer this unfussy version. In this unyeasted form, the bread will keep longer than yeasted loaf.

Variations of this bread are found all over Britain. In Scotland, you’ll find Selkirk bannock, and in Ireland, the barm brack – both are similar.

This recipe is easy to make even if you are unaccustomed to baking. If it sinks a little or there are cracks on top, it doesn’t matter – just make sure that the bread isn’t too hard, which is the only important bit.

Butter generously and eat with a pot of tea on a leisurely weekend afternoon. Accompany with plum jam or orange marmalade if you like. Makes one 2lb/ 1 kilo loaf.

6 oz/ 150g currants
6 oz/ 150g sultanas
8 oz/ 200g light muscovado sugar
10 fl oz/ 300 ml strong black tea, freshly made
A little softened butter, for greasing
10 oz/ 250g white self-raising flour
1 medium egg, beaten

1.    Start the preparations the night before, or a few hours in advance. Place the dried fruit and sugar in a bowl, pour over the hot tea, and leave overnight or for several hours.
2.    When you are ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 150C/ 300F/ gas mark 2.
3.    Lightly grease a 2 lb/ 1 kilo loaf tin. Line the base and the sides with lightly greased greaseproof paper.
4.    Add the flour and egg to the fruit and tea mixture. Mix thoroughly.
5.    Place the mixture into the prepared loaf tin, and level the surface.
6.    Bake in the pre-heated oven for 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes until well-risen and firm to the touch. A skewer or knife inserted into the centre should come out clean. If not, place the loaf back in the oven a little while longer, making sure not to overcook.
7.    Allow to cool in the tin for 10 – 15 minutes. Then turn out on a wire rack and cool completely.
8.    Slice and spread with butter (and preserves, if you like) before eating.

passionfruit-muffins

These American-style muffins are quick and easy to make, and infused with a distinct tropical fragrance: the sweet, sharp, and hauntingly elusive tanginess of passion fruit will instantly transport you to a far-off island. They are ideal for breakfast for the day after Valentine’s Day…

You can make the muffins more elaborate by adding a splash of orange juice, a little finely grated orange zest, and a pinch of freshly ground allspice berries. You can ice them, too, with fresh orange or passion fruit flavoured icing if you like. I prefer them plain, however, accompanied by tropical preserves, and extra passion fruit pulp squeezed over the top.

I have suggested you remove the seeds from the fruit because I personally don’t like the crunch of the seeds in this recipe – but you can leave them in if you wish. Makes 12 muffins.

6 passion fruits
2 oz/ 50g softened butter, plus extra for greasing
10 oz/ 250g plain white flour, sifted
1 heaped tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 heaped tablespoon sugar
8 fl oz/ 250 ml milk
1 egg, lightly beaten

1.    Pre-heat the oven to 220C/ 425F/ gas mark 7. Thoroughly grease 12 large paper muffin cups.
2.    Halve the passion fruits. Scoop out the pulp, and put through a fine mesh sieve, pressing it down firmly with the back of a spoon. You should be left with only pulp and juice. Discard the seeds.
3.    In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar, and mix well.
4.    In another bowl, mix together the passion fruit pulp with milk and egg.
5.    Tip the liquid ingredients into the dry ones. Mix everything together quickly with a light hand, just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not beat the mixture.
6.    Divide the mixture between the greased muffin cups, and place each in a 12-cup muffin tray. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until they are well-risen, and a skewer inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.
7.    Remove the muffins from the tray, and leave them (in their paper cups) on a wire rack for 2 or 3 minutes to cool.
8.    Serve warm or cold with butter and preserves (particularly Jamaican guava jam, if you can find it, or pineapple or papaya jam). Fromage frais, or thick creamy yoghurt with extra passion fruit pulp poured over it, goes well with the muffins, too.

sweet-potatococonutpistachio-cake

I have a friend who maintains that drinking is good for him – because he only drinks organic wines and beers. I feel similar way about this recipe – it’s packed with vegetables and nuts, so surely it must be good for you… even if you are detoxing?

Traditional Caribbean cakes are scented rather heavily with sweet spices and essences. While they are delicious – especially with a cup of coffee made from freshly ground Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans – I have reduced the amount of spices that would normally be used in this cake, and have made the essences optional. This suits my own personal tastes but you can, of course, be more liberal with them if you wish.

For the best flavour and an appealingly moist texture, use freshly grated coconut. However, if it isn’t readily available or is too much of a hassle to prepare, desiccated coconut (sweetened or unsweetened) will still be delicious. You may reconstitute it in hot water, if you wish – though this is not strictly necessary for this recipe. If you use dried desiccated coconut, the cake will keep longer than it would if you were to use fresh or reconstituted coconut.

Use any kind of nuts you like – cashews, almonds and walnuts are all traditional, and I often ring changes by using different varieties in this recipe. If using pistachios or almonds, you may want to dip them in boiling water for a minute or so and remove their coarse skins – but again, this is not strictly necessary.

This is an old-fashioned cake recipe that’s quite forgiving – you can put as much or as little effort into it as you like, and the end result should still be finger lickin’ good. The only thing you have to remember is not to be heavy-handed in mixing the cake mixture, and not to over-cook the cake. Serves around 6.

9 oz/ 225g orange-fleshed sweet potatoes
Juice and finely grated zest of ½ lemon
4 oz/ 100g fresh grated or desiccated coconut
3 oz/ 75g sultanas
3 medium eggs
4 oz/ 100g white or pale brown caster sugar
6 oz/ 150g unsalted butter, softened
9 oz/ 225g wholemeal flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder
¼ teaspoon allspice berries, freshly ground
A couple of drops natural almond or vanilla extract (optional)
2 oz/ 50g unsalted, shelled pistachio nuts, chopped

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/ 350F/ gas mark 4. Grease a deep, 8-inch round cake tin, and line the base and all the sides with lightly buttered greaseproof paper.
2. Just when you’re ready to bake, peel and grate the sweet potatoes (not too far ahead in advance, otherwise they’ll start turning grey-black). Combine them with lemon juice and zest, coconut, and sultanas.
3. Beat the eggs, and whisk in the sugar and butter. Add to the sweet potato and coconut mixture, and mix well.
4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and all the spices, and fold them into the cake mixture. Add the almond or vanilla extract, if using, and the chopped pistachios.
5. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Bake for 1¼ to 1½ hours. Pierce a skewer or knife into the centre of the cake to make sure it comes out clean. If not, place the cake back into the oven until done, taking care not to overcook.
6. Leave the cake in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out on a wire rack to cool before serving warm or at room temperature.

panettone-bread-and-butter-pudding

Did you have a good Christmas? Do you, like me, have a lot of leftover panettone (the marvellous Italian fruit bread) to use up? This recipe is an Italian twist on the classic English bread and butter pudding (which is often served with custard). I have given only the basic recipe, but each year I vary it slightly. Sometimes I spread the panettone slices lightly with orange marmalade; on other occasions I add dried fruit (such as cranberries, cherries, blueberries, or sultanas) soaked in brandy in between each layer. Or I might chop up some leftover glace fruit or marron glace, and add that in, too.

The pudding is very, very rich, but I make no apologies as it is still the festive season. You can make a low fat version by omitting the ricotta cheese and icing sugar altogether, replacing the double cream with single cream, and reducing the quantity of cream and sugar – but, trust me, it won’t taste as good. Just serve in small portions, and think of it as an annual treat. Serves 4.

6 oz/ 150g leftover panettone
3 oz/ 75g ricotta cheese (or butter if you prefer)
2 medium eggs
½ pint/ 300ml double cream
3 oz/ 75g white sugar
Icing sugar for dusting

Mascarpone cheese or ice cream (vanilla, orange, rum and raisin, or chestnut flavours are recommended), to serve

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/ 350F/ gas mark 4.
2. Slice the panettone fairly thickly, and spread each slice with ricotta cheese (or butter). If you wish, you can toast the slices very lightly under a grill (not in a toaster as it can get a bit messy). However, I prefer to leave them untoasted.
3. Beat the eggs well with cream and sugar.
4. Layer the panettone slices in a greased baking dish, ricotta side down. Pour over the egg mixture evenly, and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until golden brown.
5. Remove from the oven and leave the pudding to stand for 5 minutes. Dust with icing sugar, and serve with a blob of mascarpone or a scoop of ice cream. If you got jars of fruit preserved in alcohol (such as oranges in rum) for Christmas, spoon a couple of tablespoons of their content along the side. Enjoy without guilt!

courgette-cake

A variation on the much-loved carrot cake, this recipe is easy to make, even if you are not used to baking.

Until recently, carrot cake was somewhat derided here in the UK. It had a hippy-dippy image, and was associated with health food shops with clunky wooden furniture, and the tie dye-and-sandal wearing brigade (who makes up all these stereotypes anyway?). I guess, on the whole, people’s tastes were pretty conventional and they were wary of doing something as wacky as putting vegetables in their cake!

Then something changed. Either it’s because we started becoming more health-conscious, or maybe everyone simply woke up to the delights of fragrant, earthy carrot cake en masse, I don’t know – but if you ask anybody in the UK now what their favourite type of cake is, chances are they’ll say ‘carrot cake’. All of a sudden, it’s the nation’s darling.

I have added courgettes (zucchini to American readers) to make it even healthier and more colourful. Serves 6.

250 ml sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing
8 oz/ 200g caster sugar
3 large free-range eggs
9 oz/ 225g self-raising flour
5 oz/ 125g carrots, coarsely grated
5 oz/ 125g courgettes, coarsely grated
1 oz/ 25g golden sultanas
1 tablespoon honey
¼ teaspoon each cinnamon powder, ground cloves, and freshly grated nutmeg
1 oz/ 25g unsalted butter, softened
12 oz/ 300g cream cheese (unsalted, if you can find it)
1 oz/ 25g icing sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated

1.    Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C/ fan oven to 160 degrees C/ or gas mark 4. Line a medium cake tin with greaseproof paper and grease the surfaces evenly on all sides.
2.    In a bowl, mix together the sugar with the oil and whisk. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking after each egg.
3.    Sift the flour into the bowl, then fold it in gently, taking care not to over-stir.
4.    Add the carrots, courgettes, sultanas, honey and spices, and fold them into the mixture.
5.    Pour the mixture into a cake tin and level the surface with the back of a palette knife. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes until well-risen and golden brown. Set aside to cool in the cake tin.
6.    Meanwhile, mix the butter and cream cheese in a bowl until fluffy. Add the sugar and orange zest, and mix thoroughly.
7.    When the cake has cooled, remove from the tin, and slather over the icing, spreading it evenly.
8.    Cut into 6 wedges or 12 squares, and serve warm or at room temperature.