Sunday, 22 May 2016

Cider cake

For Mr CC’s birthday we took a luxury train trip right the way across the country to Somerset; the carriages were all authentic Pullman carriages from the Art Deco era (the sort of train someone usually gets murdered on in an Agatha Christie tale…luckily our trip was less eventful!) – ours had been used by the Queen for a trip so we felt pretty pampered:

I think I mentioned a week or two back that, wherever we visit, I try to buy a fridge magnet and honey.  Honey didn’t seem right for Somerset so I flexed the rule to mean ‘local food produce’ and came back with a rather lovely little jug of cider.  If I’m being entirely honest it was the jug that swayed me more than the cider.

The cider is somewhere between the extremely fizzy ciders you find in supermarkets and the more traditional flat cider.  ‘Flat’ always sounds an unappealing description; it has a critical edge to it, but all I mean is it’s not fizzy.  While I’m always partial to a bit of fizz I must confess to rather liking the less carbonated varieties as I seem to taste the apple more somehow.  I also thought it would be nice for baking with, hence this week’s choice of cake.

The addition of the cinnamon is lovely because it emphasises the apple element and conjures up the flavours you expect from an apple pie.  The sponge is a light texture and makes the cake very eatable (I know – all cakes fall into this category, but there is just something about a soft, crumbly sponge!).  I added a sprinkling of sugar on the top for a bit of crunch.


150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g light muscovado sugar, plus 2 tablespoons extra for the topping
3 eggs
340g plain flour
1 ½ teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
225ml cider


Preheat the oven to 180C/fan oven 160C/350F/gas mark 4.

Line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and pale – it won’t go truly whippy, as it would with caster sugar, as the muscovado is grainier.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Weigh out the flour, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon and mix together.

Fold in a third of the flour mix, followed by a third of the cider.

Repeat until all the ingredients are incorporated.

Spoon into the prepared tin and level the surface.

Sprinkle the additional sugar over the top.

Bake for approximately 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tin for approximately 20 minutes, until you can safely handle to de-tin. 

Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

The cake will keep for several days in an airtight tin.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 8 May 2016

Date, honey and walnut cake

Whenever we go on a trip out there are usually two purchases I make: a fridge magnet, and a jar of local honey.  My latest honey acquisition came after a visit to an Essex Wildlife Trust centre at the wonderfully named FingringhoeWick.  It doesn’t sound like it should be a real place!

I’ve spent a lot of time recently sorting through my cookbook collection; it had got out of hand and so disorganised following our house move (over 18 months ago now – eek! No excuse anymore!) that I couldn’t find anything.  Now it’s all nicely arranged by type, so I had no trouble locating an old cookbook I have dedicated entirely to honey.

This simple cake stood out as the one to make; I’ve boosted the quantities a bit but the ratios remain the same.  With the weather predicted to be warm, I didn’t want anything too fiddly or involving buttercreams – and this cake couldn’t be easier or quicker to make.

Don’t be fooled by this cake’s plain Jane looks; it packs a glorious punch with comforting flavours and a soft texture punctuated by walnuts and chewy dates.  It’s a more old fashioned sort of crumbly sponge and the walnuts stop it getting too sweet, which you might think it would be given the inclusion of sugar, honey and dates. It really is worth making.  Keeps well too…which might not be an issue!


185g unsalted butter, at room temperature
115g castor sugar
75g runny honey
3 eggs
115g dates, chopped
115g walnuts, chopped
300g self raising flour


Preheat the oven to 180C/fan oven 160C/350F/gas mark 4.

Line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.

Beat together the butter, sugar and honey until light, soft and whippy.

Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Mix in the dates, walnuts and flour and ensure everything is well combined.

Spoon into the prepared tin, level the surface and bake for approximately 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Start checking it after 40 minutes, as ovens vary.

Leave to cool in the tin until you can safely handle; de-tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 1 May 2016

Chocolate pecan tart

I suspect this may be the same as a Mississippi mud pie but haven’t called it that in case, like key lime pie, there’s a specific ingredient/aspect that defines it and I’m not aware of it!  These things can be a minefield so I thought I’d avoid causing any offence – in all honesty it was the inclusion of pecan nuts that made me just think, ‘hmm, best not go there!’

It’s a bank holiday weekend so that means the glorious euphoria that only an extra day off work can bring!  I wanted to make something that would last all weekend and provide dessert.  This met the brief and was also a tart that I knew we wouldn’t get bored of – seriously, how you could you ever tire of chocolate tart?

The tart souffled up whilst cooking and sank when cooling.  Don’t panic when this happens; although my outer ring of pecan nuts stood up like sentries and meant the edge couldn’t sink back down giving an ‘interesting’ final look!  Here it is souffled….

….and sunken:

I do admire the design of pecan nuts – they look like shrivelled brains.  Walnuts and pecans have it sewn up regarding ‘interesting looking nuts’.  Most nuts are a bit dull looking – smooth and pale, but these two have raised the bar and always make me pause to look whenever I bake with them.  The complexity in shape that nature can produce is fascinating.  I’ve re-read what I’ve just written and concede that some people may find it weird.  I can assure you that it’s when I say I’ve started talking to the nuts that you should worry (or when I claim that they answer back!)


For the tart base:
225g biscuits – I used hobnobs, but digestives or ginger biscuits would also work
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the filling:
170g plain chocolate
170g unsalted butter
4 eggs
170g dark muscovado sugar
150ml whipping cream
100g pecan nuts

To serve: whipped cream


Start by making the base: blitz the biscuits to crumbs in a food processor, then add the butter and blitz again until you have clumpy wet sand.  NB. If you use the food processor there is no need to melt the butter, unlike it you use the old ‘bash the biscuits with a rolling pin’ method!

Press the crumbs into a 20cm loose bottomed flan tin taking care to come right up the sides.

Place in the refrigerator while you make the filling.

Preheat the oven to 190C/fan oven 170C/375F/gas mark 5.

Melt the chocolate and butter together over a gentle heat.

Leave to cool for about 10 minutes – if the mix is too hot the eggs will scramble when you add them causing a lumpy final texture.

Whisk in the eggs and sugar until smooth and well combined.

Whisk in the cream.

Pour into the chilled biscuit base and place the pecan nuts on top, arranged however you wish.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the chocolate filling looks set.

Leave to cool before de-tinning.  Don’t worry that your tart will settle as it cools – this is normal.

Serve in generous slices with cream.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 17 April 2016

Fruit tea loaf

This recipe came into being because I made a whim purchase.  Whilst visiting a Greek Cypriot supermarket on the quest for baklava (as instructed by Mr CC; if only all quests in life were this tasty!), I spotted a pouch of dried red and white mulberries.  I was starting from a position of ignorance: I didn’t know anyone other than silk worms ate mulberries, but, seeing as I didn’t see any silk worms doing their shopping I deduced that they must also be human food.

What caught my attention was their beautiful knobbly appearance.  I want to describe them as looking like a raisin that had suffered a severe allergic reaction to something but this wouldn’t convey how cute they are.  Texturally, they are similar to a dried fig i.e. they have a bit of grittiness about them.  They are also very dry, which was why I decided to use them in a tea loaf, where they’d have the opportunity to plump and rehydrate.

Having read up about mulberries they seem to be considered a superfood.  I always struggle with this term as – to me – most food is pretty darned super, but it is because they’re high in protein, iron and vitamins blah blah science etc.  They taste nice too – which is the most important thing; imagine a less sweet sultana.

Thickly buttered fruit loaf is one of life’s great joys.  I always say that you can toast the loaf and then butter it, but I never have any left to get to do that!


340g dried fruit – I used dried mulberries and sultanas
60g glace cherries – chopped
110g dark brown soft sugar
200ml cold tea – I used 2 teabags to boost the flavour
225g self raising flour
1 egg


The night before you wish to bake the cake: place the fruit, cherries and sugar in a bowl and mix with the tea.  Cover the bowl and leave - ideally overnight but longer won't hurt.

Day of baking: Preheat the oven to 190C/fan oven 170C/375F/gas mark 5.

Line a 900g loaf tin with baking paper.

Mix the flour and egg into the pre-soaked fruit mix – ensure it is well combined and no pockets of dry flour or egg remain.

Spoon into the prepared tin and level the surface.

Bake for approximately 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.  If the cake is browning too quickly, don’t be afraid to cover it loosely with foil.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Serve in slices with butter thick enough to leave teeth marks when you bite into it!

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.