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.

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.

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...

Queen Fairy Cakes

I baked these cakes with my daughter way back in March, just shows how far behind I am with all the draft posts. Anyway, they were a combination of queen cakes and fairy cakes, but using some leftover glacé cherries instead of sultanas. If you’re wondering how a queen cake differs from a fairy cake, then it’s all down to the queen cakes having sultanas, but no icing and the fairy cakes having icing but no sultanas. Call them what you want, we called them queen fairy cakes…

I’m a big one for precision and neatness, I find cooking with the kids to be quite hard as I’m constantly stopping myself from stepping in to make things look good. I think they only way to keep the kids engaged and wanting to bake and cook more, is to let them do as much as possible, with all the proper kitchen tools and appliances. Yes, that also means the rather sharp Global knifes, they have to learn to be careful at some point.

It took quite a lot of willpower to step aside as my daughter did the icing and just leave her to it. Judging by the big grin and sneaky sucking of fingers as she scooped up extra icing, I’d say she enjoyed herself, which was the whole point…

Christmas Cake

I was sat at work the other day eating the last bit of Christmas Cake and I thought that I really needed to get my finger out and jot down some notes. I’ve never made a rich fruit cake before and while it was pretty nice, it wasn’t without issues, so here are those notes.

I got the recipe from the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book, it was the only rich fruit cake recipe in the book that didn’t have any brandy in it. Instead it used dark rum, I had dark rum, just enough to make the cake. I know I shouldn’t really choose a recipe based on what booze I have in the house, but I wasn’t about to go out and buy a bottle of brandy, just to use a couple of tablespoons in a cake.

Baking
The baking of the cake was pretty straight forward, although the kids found chopping the dried pineapple a bit on the hard side. I was trying to get them involved and engaged, but ten minutes of chopping dried pineapple was more then enough for either of them, it was more than enough for me! I managed to give myself a cracking blister from chopping all the dried mango and pineapple, if I ever bake this recipe again, I think I’d soak them in the rum to soften them first.

Other than the dried fruit, it was really easy and the kids did seem to enjoy themselves occasionally, especially with the stirring. It did seem to take a while to cook, it was supposed to be about two hours, but it ended up quite a bit more than that. It turns out that since we baked this, the fan on the oven has stopped working, so we can only assume it wasn’t working properly when we cooked the cake and that affected the cooking time.

We made the cake a couple of weeks before Christmas, so we should really have fed it with a bit more rum before we came to ice it. As we’d used all the rum up during the baking, there was none left for any feeding and I just like the brandy, I wasn’t about to buy any more for the couple of tablespoons worth that, in hindsight, was required. So the main note I need to make for myself if I bake another rich fruit cake, is to have enough booze in the house.

Almond Paste
After sitting for a couple of weeks, it was time to start preparing the cake for icing, which meant covering it in almond paste, or marzipan as it’s more commonly known. I decided to make our own, why buy preprepared marzipan when you’re making everything else from scratch? It was pretty easy, chuck everything into a bowl and mix until it forms a ball. The only real issue was with the egg, I only had large, I have a feeling I should have used a medium as it resulted in the almond paste being a bit on the stick and hard to work with side.

Because of the extra moisture, I decided against trying to make separate top and sides, like the book suggests. I just rolled out a large disc and dropped it over the top of the cake, after I’d slathered it in warm, sieved, apricot jam. I don’t think it looked too bad once it was one, it might not have been as good as doing it with separate pieces, but I was pretty happy with how it looked.

Icing
After a couple of day for the almond paste to dry out a bit, it was time to ice the cake. The book suggested that bought sugar paste icing should be used, but where would the fun in that be, besides, there’s nothing quite as Christmassy as spiked royal icing on your cake. After watching the Great British Bake Off Christmas Masterclass, I decided to go with Mary Berry’s icing recipe as it looked pretty easy.

The resulting icing was a bit on the slack side, which I assume was mainly due to me using large eggs, rather than medium eggs, although it look OK until I added the glycerine. I didn’t have any more icing sugar to add to thicken it, so it was slightly sloppy when it was slathered all over the cake. This meant that the spikes slowly sunk back and it formed a bulge round the edge of the base. The kids were quite impressed though and had great fun whacking the cake with the pallet knife to create the spikes.

Eating
So what was it like to eat…? Pretty nice as it goes. I was worried that the dried fruit would be all tough and chewy, but it wasn’t; I’d still soak it in the rum next time though. The cake was slightly on the dry side, I’ll be honest, but I think a feed or two would have sorted that out; so I’ll need to make sure I have enough booze next time. The icing was too soft, even after a slice had been cut and left for a few hours; it hardened at the edges, but the middle was still squidgy. I’d consider leaving out the glycerine next time, or maybe add more icing sugar to thicken it up.

Over all I was very pleased with my first rich fruit cake, the rest of the family weren’t so enamoured, only having a singly slice each. So yes, I destroyed about seven eights of the thing all on my own and it wasn’t a chore. I’ll definitely make another Christmas cake next year, but I might just go for Mary Berry’s recipe in its entirety, as it looked very nice.

Entertaining

Aubergine with Buttermilk Sauce

We had friends round for dinner last Saturday evening, which meant I got to do some cooking. It was just a shame that I was recovering from a bout of tonsillitis, so I’d not really been up for looking through recipe books, or even thinking about cooking for the previous week and a half. But since I needed to put something on the table, I had to break out the recipe books and try and put together a menu.

I originally thought about finally attempting some stuff out of the Terre à Terre cookbook, but realised that I wasn’t quite well enough for that level of forward planning. Which basically left it as a straight flight between Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty and Denis Cotter’s For The Love of Food. Since I didn’t want it to be too formal, or too demanding, I decided to go with some recipes from Plenty, not that I’m trying to say that Denis Cotter is to formal or demanding, he’s not. The starter was new, but the three things I’d picked for the main course were all recipes I’d cooked before, I was trying to make it a relatively easy and stress free day and go for more of a Mediterranean table covered in food affair.

I wasn’t sure about what to do for pudding though, but as I’d been flicking through Maria Elia’s The Modern Vegetarian a lot recently, I decided to go with her Orange, Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake. I’d wanted to make it a couple of weekends previously, but something came up and I didn’t get the chance, so this was the perfect opportunity.

The notes below are mostly to jog my memory if I ever come to cook them again for entertaining people. If you find them useful then great!

Starter: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Aubergine with Buttermilk Sauce
I followed the recipe to the letter, with the oven at 200°C, but after the stated 40 minute cooking time, the aubergine wasn’t really done enough. I wouldn’t say it was still raw, but it certainly wasn’t as soft as I was expecting. I’ll have to bare this in mind if I do it again and either leave them in for longer, or use a slightly higher temperature. The only other things I can comment on are that unless you absolutely drown the aubergines in the buttermilk sauce, you’ll have loads left over. Similarly with the pomegranate, you probably only need the seeds from half of one, unless you really want a massive pile on top.

Also just realised that I didn’t sprinkle any za’atar on top of the buttermilk sauce, not sure where my head was at that evening…

The recipe for this one is on the Guardian’s website.

Main: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Itamar’s Bulghar Pilaf
Nothing to be said about this one, it’s dead easy to prepare and tastes amazing. Really this is a just a note to myself to make sure that I have all the required ingredients before starting to prepare a dish, especially tomato purée. Then you don’t have to txt your guests and ask them to pop into the supermarket on their way over to pick you some up…
Main: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Leek Fritters
The recipe calls for chopping the leeks into 2cm thick slices and fry with the shallots for fifteen minutes. Two things, either stir the leeks more frequently so they don’t catch and cook for a bit longer so they are soft all the way through, or chop them slightly thinner so they don’t take quite as long to cook. I found that not all the leeks were soft all the way through when prepared according to the recipe. Also, don’t whisk the egg white before it’s required, otherwise it goes a bit manky if left to sit for a bit and re-whisking it doesn’t get it back to how it was.

Finally, you really need to leave them to cook for quite awhile on each side, if you try and flip them to early, they’ll just fall to bits and be rubbish. The base should be quite a dark brown before you attempt to flip them, then you know that the fritter is solid and will survive being turned over.

This recipe is also available on the Guardian’s website.

Main: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Smoky Frittata
This recipe calls for scamorza affumicata, which is a smoked mozzarella. I know you can buy it from the cheese shop in Cambridge, but they have to order it in and it might take a week, so you really need to plan in advance. I’m sure that the oak smoked cheddar that I use instead gives a totally different taste and has different melting characteristics. One of these days I really need to get my finger out and order the real thing. Also, when adding the smoked paprika, make sure you are whisking in a big enough bowl, as it has a tendency to clump together.

Yupo, yet another recipe that’s on the Guardian’s website.

Pudding: Maria Elia – Orange, Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake
The recipe just calls for a 20cm springform cake tin, just make sure the one you use is deep, as this is one big cake! I prepared a tin and the I just knew it wasn’t deep enough once all the ingredients had been mixed together. The picture in the book is top down, so gives no indication of depth, but the one I made was 5cm deep at the edges and 7cm deep in the middle. Also remember to put the cinnamon stick into the syrup when you’re making it, I’m sure that would have made it even more delicious.

The recipe says to cook for around an hour, until a skewer comes out clean, I ended up cooking mine for an hour and a quarter and the skewer wasn’t coming out clean from certain parts of the cake. In the end I just figured that it had had enough and took it out, I didn’t want to do my usual thing of over cooking everything.

Turns out this recipe is on the Daily Mail website.

Pudding: Maria Elia – Ginger Sorbet
Always leave a sorbet mix to cool completely, before putting it into an ice cream maker. Otherwise it’s just going to waste the ice block and instead of turning to sorbet, it’ll just cool down. I still can’t fathom why I poured hot sorbet mix into the ice cream maker, it defies all logic.

It also took longer than three hours to set, it was more of a granita than a sorbet after about five hours. Even the next day, it was still more of a granita than a sorbet, might just have been my idiocy though.

The recipe for this one is on some Australian website – LifeStyle FOOD.

Overall I was quite pleased with how things turned out. The bulghar pilaf was lovely and the leek fritters and their green sauce went wonderfully well with it. I think the smoky frittata would have been better on its own with the pilaf though, it just wasn’t on a par with the leek fritters and the flavours of those two, while they both went with the pilaf, don’t really work together for me. Maybe the pilaf and fritters with a side of some crushed beans, feta and za’atar with some flat breads would have been better, I might have to try that next time.

The Orange, Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake was absolutely delicious, even the kids were noshing their way through it the next day. I can see myself baking that one again and again. I’ll have to have another crack at the ginger sorbet too, but I’ll let it cool down before going in the ice cream maker next time.

Genoese Sponge

On the same day I made the brioche buns, I really fancied making a sponge cake of some description. So while the brioche was in the dehydrator proving, I broke out the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book and looked through the options. I didn’t have much flour, sugar or butter, so ended up looking at those sponges that are made by whisking up eggs to provide the lightness.

I settled on the Genoese Sponge, mainly as I had all the ingredients, but also as I had a recollection that it had been one of the technical challenges from this year’s Great British Bake Off (here’s the recipe for Fraisier cake). Making the batter wasn’t too hard, but knowing when it was "thick enough to leave a trail on the surface when the whisk is lifted" was a bit harder and I probably over whisked it.

Also the folding in of the flour and butter was a bit of a chore. Normally I’m quite good at folding things in, but the flour really didn’t want to be incorporated and every time I drew the spoon through the batter, the flour just seems to reappear on the surface unmixed. The butter was slightly easier, but I think I knocked too much air out of the mixture getting it all mixed in.

I decided to make two sponges, rather than one deep one, mainly as I wanted to pack the middle with some double cream and tropical fruit. So I divided the mix into two prepared tins and gently placed them in the oven. They didn’t rise very much, but it was noticeable that they had risen ever so slightly. After they had cooled for a bit, I turned them out and left them to cool properly on a wire rack.

Just like I always do, I over whipped the double cream. For some reason, I always give it an extra whisk or two when it gets to the soft peak stage and this tips it over the edge, you’d think I’d have learnt by now. I mixed some cubed mango and a couple of passion fruit into the cream and slathered it all over one on the sponges, the other went on top and was given a liberal dusting of icing sugar.

I thought the sponge turned out OK, it had a bit of spring to it, even though it was maybe a touch on the dense side. The passion fruit didn’t come through enough in the filling though and the pips were a bit on the annoying side, so I think I’d use a couple more and sieve them in the future. Over all it wasn’t a bad first attempt, but I’ve left plenty of room for improvement.

Interestingly, the kids were divided on it, my wee boy loved it and ate quite a lot of the next few days. My daughter on the other hand, only had the one slice, she scrapped all the filling out, ate one side of it and wouldn’t touch it again. Might need to find a different filling, maybe I should try making a crème pâtissière and doing a Fraisier cake