Banana Spice Cake

Whenever I eat a bare banana cake, I can’t help thinking it could do with some icing.

As we had loads of bananas, slowly turning black, in the fruit bowl, it was time to inflict another banana cake on my work colleagues. Rather than leaving bare, I decided to top it with some sort of salted caramel icing; I couldn’r decide on buttercream or a plain glaze.

The other issue, was deciding on whose banana cake to make, in the end I decided to go for Signe Johansen’s Banana spice cake, from Scandilicious Baking. This was under the incorrect assumption that I hadn’t already made this one for my work colleagues.

If I’d bothered to look at my spreadsheet of previous bakes, I’d have baked Dan Lepard’s Dark banana ginger cake instead. I’d baked it the weekend before, we had friends round for fika, and thought that it could handle some icing.

Banana spice cake, with salted caramel glaze

I decided to go with a simple salted caramel glaze. I can’t remember which recipe I used for inspiration, but it’s pretty simple; make a caramel, add some salt, pour over cake, eat. As it turns out, banana cakes are generally bare for a reason. The topping didn’t quite work, it was nice, but jarred with the cake a bit too much.

If I was going to attempt to top a banana cake again, I think a buttercream based topping would be a better choice.

Iced London Buns

I’ve made these once before, they were lovely. Not sure why its taken me so long to make them again.

These Iced London Buns are from Justin Gellatly’s excellent book, Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding. You can tell they’re going to be tasty, before you mix the dough. Even the caraway seeds, which at first glance seem a bit odd, smell right when they’re in the bowl with everything else.

Greedy ants...

Both times I’ve made these I’ve not been too happy with the shape of the buns. They don’t turn out like the iced buns you buy from the shops, which are generally touching and have to be pulled apart. This is no bad thing, depending on your point of view.

Proving...

I’m not sure what happened when they were in the oven, as they didn’t colour up very well. Even with an egg wash, they came out slightly anaemic and patchy, rather than the stated golden brown. Maybe if I’d just brushed them with egg yolk, rather than whole egg, they would have been less patchy, who knows.

Out of the oven...

While my icing skillz leave a lot to be desired, I was relatively happy with how the icing on these turned out. I can’t help thinking that the icing would’ve looked better if I’d used a letterbox type icing nozzle, rather than just chopping the end of the icing bag. I might have to invest in some bigger icing bags and some nozzles and try that next time.

Iced buns!

If you fancy making some iced buns, then you could do a lot worse than these. I’d definitely recommend giving them a try.

Millionaire’s Shortbread

I loved Millionaire’s Shortbread as a child. Mum used to make it occasionally and I’d sneak downstairs and nick slices out of the biscuit tin.

It’s a wonder that I’ve not attempted to make it before now. I think I’ve always been put off by making the caramel layer, and the fact that it’s a three step process with gaps between each step. You need to plan ahead, which is something I always seem to forget to do. As I had all the ingredients and I was off work (ill again), I decided I had the time to make it.

Making the caramel...

I’d already decided to follow Felicity Cloake’s recipe on the Guardian website, which was easy to follow. I started with the shortbread, which went without drama. I’ve never used semolina in shortbread before, it certainly made the base slightly crunchier.

When the base was cool, I made the caramel, which as it turns out wasn’t that hard. Although I think it’s one of those things that you get better with experience, as it’s all about knowing when to stop the cooking. Once the caramel was cool, I melted the chocolate and slathered it on top.

Chunks of Millionaire's Shortbread...

I always remember Mum cutting her millionaire’s shortbread into fingers. This was so chunky and rich, that I’m not sure you’d have been able to finish a finger. With the office being half empty again, and the fact that you didn’t need that big a chunk, it didn’t get finished. My wife loves millionaire’s shortbread, as do the kids, so I luckily managed to avoid a tricky situation by brining some home.

If I was to make it again, I would make the shortbread and caramel layers slightly thiner, they were both just a bit too thick. This might require a bit more chocolate on top, which is hardly a problem.

Fridge Cake

Fridge cake isn’t just for summer. I made this back in early February, I’ve just been slack with blogging about it.

I’d originally planned on making fridge cake and millionaire’s shortbread together. A bout of illness had me off work on my usual cake day, and the following week lots of colleagues were out of the office, so I settled on just making the fridge cake.

It wasn’t exactly hard to make, the only issue was getting home to find I’d mistakenly though there was mixed peel in the house. I substituted glacé cherries, no-one complained. The kids complained even less when I came home with a few slices left over.

If you’re after a quick and easy bake for work, you can’t really go wrong with this kind of thing.

Chocolate Chip & Peanut Butter Cookies

Cookies are an easy way to feed a load of work colleagues. As they’re generally a hungry lot, I decided to give them the option and made two different types.

I settled on chocolate chip and peanut butter, both from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. I’ve made both of these before, multiple times. My daughter especially loves the peanut butter ones.

I used my ice cream scoop to measure out the dough, so for a change, they were all roughly the same size. Both were tasty, although I think the peanut butter ones went down slightly better than the chocolate chip ones.

Orange and Almond & Lemon Cake

When I started at my current company, I was the tenth employee. We have now doubled in size, so when everyone’s in the office, one cake isn’t enough.

As I had some Seville oranges left over from making marmalade, I decided that I wanted to make some sort of orange cake. A quick look at the The Observer’s The 20 best cake recipes and there was a recipe for Claudia Roden’s classic Orange and Almond Cake.

I didn’t fancy making two of them, so decided to find a complimentary cake. As oranges and lemons are made for each other, I plumped for Rose Elliot’s Lemon cake from her book Fast, Fresh and Fabulous (which has since been renamed the Low-GI Vegetarian Cookbook). The two cake recipes are pretty much identical, except for the citrus fruit used.

There is only one downside to these recipes, which is the boiling of the fruit, it takes ages. Other than that, they’re pretty easy to make. A quick dusting with icing sugar when they’ve cooled and they’re ready to go, accompanied by a pot crème fraîche.

You’ll notice, however, that they didn’t look the same. Claudia Roden’s Orange and Almond Cake had way more volume to it before it went into the oven. It promptly collapsed when it came out and cooled, and stuck itself to the side of the buttered and floured tin. Rose Elliot’s went into the tin and came out of the oven at exactly the same level, no rise but no sinkage either. It had come away from the sides of the tin though, so turned out without any issues.

Not much left...

The appeared to go down quite well, with the lemon cake looking like the favourite out of the two. I’m not sure if this was because I’d used Seville oranges, rather than a sweeter variety, or that the texture on the lemon cake was maybe slightly better. Either way, it meant that I had a few slices to have for breakfast on the Saturday and Sunday.

Breakfast...

The Weekly Work Bake

I’ve baked something for my work colleagues, pretty much every week, for the last couple of years. You’d think that I’d have blogged about it, I’ve been missing a trick.

Cakes, cookies, bars, brownies, muffins and pies, they’ve had the whole lot. I’ve used 7UP, mayonnaise and cannellini beans as ingredients, along with the usual staples. Not all of them have been very good, a few have stuck in their tins, or haven’t quite come out the the oven quickly enough, or just been a bit, well, meh.

A few have been stupendous though. The Honey & Co. Chocolate, hazelnut & cinnamon krantz loaf was sublime; so good I made it again the following weekend for a family gathering. Justin Gellatly’s ginger cake was probably everyone’s favourite though, it was absolutely delicious and didn’t last long.

So this year, I decided I should blog about them.

Patatas Bravas

Patatas Bravas is a Spanish tapas dish, of fried potato, with a spicy sauce.

Having decided to have a go at patatas bravas, I needed a recipe. Step forward Felicity Cloake and her How to cook the perfect… in the Guardian. I’m starting to think it’s probably worth buying a digital subscription. It would be worth it just for her column alone, let alone all the Yotam Ottolenghi and Anna Jones recipes too; it’s a great resource.

I followed the recipe, with a couple of changes. I don’t have any sherry vinegar for instance, so used red wine vinegar instead. I also hadn’t bothered to buy any chives. Other than that, it was straight down the line.

Having grown a few chillies this year, I decided to use one. I should’ve used more than one, as it turns out that they’re not as hot as last year. The tomato sauce had no heat to it what so ever. Which meant that it tasted very similar to the rich tomato sauce from The Geometry of Pasta.

Where the tomato sauce had been distinctly lacking any zing, the aioli had enough zing to raise the dead. It also made a lot. By a lot, I mean enough to slather on double the recipe and still feel like you’ve overdone it a bit.

This all made for a bit of a disappointing dish. Lacklustre tomato sauce, overly pokey and rich aioli, I was struggling to see why people rave about it.

Patatas Bravas, first attempt

In a twist of fate, I ended up having to buy another bag of Charlotte potatoes. So decided to have another crack at the recipe a few days later. I decided to change a few things.

Out when the homegrown chilli and in came homegrown chilli flakes, I know they’re hot. Rather than roasting the tatties at 200°C, I followed Yotam’s method for the potatoes in his Batata Harra recipe; so 240°C to get them good and crispy.

I also cooked the tomato sauce for longer, really reducing it to intensify the flavour and make it thicker. As I mentioned above, there was a lot of aioli left over, so I didn’t have to make any more of that.

This was almost a different dish. The heat and spiciness of the tomato sauce, the crunch of the tatties and the cool of the aioli. I can see why people rave about it.

I’ll definitely be making this again. Just have to think of a few other veggie tapas dishes to go with it…

Pommes Lyonnaise

Pommes Lyonnaise, or Lyonnaise potatoes are a French dish of sliced potatoes and onions, sautéed in butter and sprinkled with parsley.

I’d been trying to decide on what potato recipes to cook for myself, so I could buy the correct sort of potato. Having decided to cook patatas bravas, which require a waxy potato, I needed to find another recipe to use up the rest of the bag. Step forward Pommes Lyonnaise, mainly as I had the rest of the ingredients at home.

I par-boiled the potatoes for about ten minutes, then dumped them into a colander to drain. After sorting out the kids, I got on the rest of the dish, which didn’t take that long. For some inexplicable reason, I added some dark brown muscovado to the sautéed onion, evidently to help caramelise them. I should definitely have used a little caster sugar, rather than the muscovado, as that brought far too much flavour and sweetness to the end result.

While the onions were cooking, I sliced the potatoes. I threw away all the end bits, leaving only slices that had no skin on both sides. After removing the onions from the pan, I sautéed the potato slices in some more butter. This was done in two batches, as even our big skillet wasn’t big enough to fit all the slices in one go. Finally a bit of chopped parsley was sprinkled over the top, then the whole lot dumped onto a plate.

If I was to make it again, then I’d probably use a slightly bigger onion and definitely not add any muscovado. As a plate of food on its own, I’m not sure it really worked. I think it’s definitely in the side dish category and needs to be served as an accompaniment to something.

Rumbledethumps

Rumbledethumps is a traditional Scottish dish, made from left over tatties, cabbage and onions. It’s another one of those comfort dishes that can handle all the butter and pepper you can throw at it.

Rumbledethumps is essentially a variation of the Irish colcannon, or the English bubble and squeak. I can remember having plenty of bubble and squeak as a child, with Mum cooking leftover mashed tatties and cabbage in a frying pan. I can’t ever remember anyone calling it Rumbledethumps though, or cooking it in the oven.

I’ve tried in the past to make bubble and squeak in a similar fashion to how I remember Mum making it. We never seem to have leftovers in this house though, so it’s always been from scratch and ended up being a bit disappointing.

As I had some Charlotte potatoes leftover from making the Batata Harra, I decided to used those to make the mash. In a similar fashion to the Clapshot, I simmered the tatties with a bay leaf, a bunch of thyme and some garlic cloves.

Given the choice, I wouldn’t use this variety of tatties to make mash again, as the end result is far too gloopy. You’re much better off with floury tatties like King Edward to make your mash.

Mashing tatties with butter and pepper...

I also decided to use kale, rather than cabbage, mainly as we had a bit bag of it in the fridge, as my wife likes to juice it. Rather than sauté the kale with the onions in some butter, I steamed it over the simmering tatties. This only happened, as I’d totally forgotten about the onion, so ended up quickly frying off a shallot, while everything else sat there ready to go in the oven.

Some grated Red Leicester cheese sprinkled on top, and it was ready for the oven. It just so happened that we had a small amount of this cheese left, so it meant that I could use it all up. This felt a bit more in the spirit of the dish, rather than cracking open a new packet of Cheddar.

I thoroughly enjoyed eating every single last drop of this, even though it could easily have fed two; I was stuffed to the gunwales for hours afterwards. It’s a great comfort food, the tatties and kale go so well together, there’s nothing about it not to like.