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.


Bramley Lemon Curd

I love lemon curd, I always have. I used to bug Mum to buy jars of the hard set luminous yellow stuff when I was a kid. I can remember the first time I tried proper lemon curd, it was at my Granny’s house after school one day. After tasting it, there was no going back to the processed stuff, it just wasn’t in the same league.

I’ve toyed with the idea of making it for myself for years, but like most thing, I’ve never got round to it. But once we bought the Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2 I knew that I finally had to give it a go. Since my wee boy had recently enjoyed some passion fruit curd, I asked him if he wanted to help, he said yes. He changed his mind on the day though, preferring to play with his Lego, but then my wee lassie decided that she wanted to help.

It was pretty easy to make if I’m being honest, although it took waaaaaaay longer than the book suggested. I’m not sure why, but I think a combination of a smallish pan and a big thick pyrex bowl, meant that it was sitting quite far away from the simmering water. The book says to stir over a gentle heat, but in the end I had it on full whack and it still took fifty minutes, rather than the stated nine to ten, to reach the required 83°C.

Next time I make it, I’ll definitely be putting the bowl on the widest pan we have, so it sits further in and closer to the boiling water. I’ll also use slightly less apple, as I this batch wasn’t lemony enough for my tastes. Their variation of using gooseberries instead of the apples sounds interesting though, especially as I’ve just planted two gooseberry bushes in the garden.


I love marmalade, I think it’s mainly due to my Mum making a massive batch of it every year, mainly for Dad to use on his toast; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him have anything else on his toast to be honest. I’d planned to make some last year, but was a bit lax and missed all the Seville oranges. So this year, I made sure I knew when they would be in the shops and bought enough to make two batches.

The River Cottage Handbook on preserves has to methods for making marmalade, the whole fruit method and the sliced fruit method. As I’ve not made marmalade before, I thought it best if I made one batch of each, so that I could decide which was easiest and tastiest.

The first method I tried was the whole fruit one, which sees the whole oranges boiled until the rind is soft. They are then sliced up to your preferred thickness, before being boiled with the sugar until setting point is reached. I didn’t put a plate on top of the oranges when boiling them, so they were floating, rather than submerged, but it didn’t appear to affect them, as all of the rind was soft.

It felt like it took an age to chop them up though, I wasn’t expecting it to take me so long. It wasn’t that they were tough to chop up or anything, just really messy. I think it would have all gone a bit quicker, if I’d scooped out the flesh and then chopped the rind, rather than trying to do it all together.

The main issue I had with this method though, was with the boil, as even though I took it way above the required 104.5°C setting temperature, it just wouldn’t pass the crinkle test. In the end, I think I boiled for around fifty minutes before I decided that enough was enough and potted up. While it did set in the jars, it wasn’t with the stiffest set, although that’s no to say it was overly runny either.

The following weekend I decided to try the sliced fruit method, which takes considerably longer to complete. This is mainly due to the need to soak the rind in its own juices overnight. I thought that chopping the raw rind would be quite hard, but it didn’t seem to take me any longer than for the whole fruit method, although I did have to put a couple of plasters on my finger to stop it blistering.

Once they’d been sliced and soaked, they were boiled with their juices until soft, before the sugar was added. Unlike the whole fruit method, this batch had absolutely no issues passing the crinkle test, in fact the moment it hit the requisite temperature, it was pretty much ready. The set in the jars was much, much stiffer, with pretty much no wobble whatsoever.

As you can see from the photos, one batch was thick cut and the other thin cut. The colour of each batch was different too, which was pretty much all down to the type of sugar used; plain granulated in the thick cut and demerara in the thin cut. I don’t know if these differences had an impact on the ability of each batch to set or not, further experimentation is probably the only way to tell.

Personally I like my marmalade to be thick cut, but also strongly flavoured; imagine buying an Olde English type from the supermarket. In that respect, neither batch I’ve made is really to my tastes. The thick cut, isn’t strongly flavoured enough and the colour is too light, while the thin cut has the flavour and colour, but the rind is too thin. I’m not sure which method I’ll use next year, but I do know that it’ll be thick cut and using demerara sugar, which should at least give me the flavour, colour and chunkiness that I’m after.

Denis Cotter for Dinner

Portobello mushroom & aduki bean gratin with roast parsnip crust

My brother was round for dinner the other weekend, so I took the opportunity to break out Denis Cotter’s For The Love Of Food and cook a couple of recipes for the second time. I’d cooked both of these a few months ago when my Sister and Brother-in-law were down for a weekend and have been itching to cook them again. These are just some notes to remind myself to tweak various bits if I come to cook them again.

Portobello mushroom & aduki bean gratin with roast parsnip crust
The title of this one makes it sound really grand, but it’s essentially just a posh shepherds pie and a damn tasty one at that. If you’re going to use dried aduki beans, then you need to give them plenty of soaking time and allow up to 75 minutes or so for them to cook. If you don’t allow enough time, you can end up serving dinner rather on the late side, which is what happened the first time I cooked this. I could have just used a tin of beans, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been quite as good.

You may also need to vary the cooking time of the portobello mushrooms depending on their size and how ruberry you like them. Personally, I like my mushrooms cooked within an inch of their life, so ten minutes isn’t enough if they are really large. This time I gave them fifteen minutes and they were still rather on the bouncy side for my liking, although it may help to chop them into slightly smaller dice, so they soften a bit more during the final cooking.

That’s pretty much it for this dish, other than a note to use a large dish, as it makes quite a lot.

Citrus, sultana & maple rice pudding with raspberries
The first time I cooked this I was in a bit of a quandary, as I know citrus juice curdles milk and there’s a lot of milk and citrus juice in this recipe. I did wonder if this was intentional, as there’s no reference to it in the recipe, but I suppose it must be. Just keep an eye on the milk and cream, it boils over in the blink of an eye, which can be a bit of a nightmare if you’re in the middle of doing something for the aduki bean gratin.

The recipe says to bake in the oven for an hour until most of the liquid has been absorbed. As you can see from the photos below, after an hour, there is still a load of liquid left. There is no mention of how still the rice pudding should be, so it be really stiff, or still quite runny when served? I used an extra ten grams of rice this time, but was still concerned that there was too much liquid left; maybe my oven isn’t as hot as it claims to be.

I might try using a blowtorch on the sugar crust next time, as sticking it under the grill results in the edges of the dish going all burnt and messy looking. Maybe I should just wipe the excess sugar off the edges, before it goes under the grill, but then I wouldn’t get to use the blowtorch…

These are both recipes that I’ll cook again, as they are both really, really nice. The best bit about cooking stuff that will feed six adults, when there are only three of you, is that you’re setup with leftovers for the next few days. Which means lunch at work is far, far tastier than anything the cafeteria serves up…