Double Espresso and Brazil Nut Cake

Double espresso and brazil nut cake

Double espresso and brazil nut cake

I seem to be making a lot of cakes lately.  Perhaps it’s making up for lost time in the lead up to my wedding where I barely made any.  Also, making cakes in the summer is a bit of a nightmare, isn’t it?  I made four for a friend’s wedding this year and had to ice them in a marquee on the hottest day of the summer, whilst decorations were put up around me, bands soundchecked and the wine began to arrive, also needing fridge space.  My icing kept melting, which resulted in several dashes to said fridges to try to chill it before the cakes were ruined completely.  If I ever came close to understanding the stress of the contestants on The Great British Bake Off, it was then.  Worth it in the end, though, as the wedding was amazing.

Anyway, last weekend I made this cake for my brother-in-law, his girlfriend and her parents who were busy renovating their flat.  They’re not just painting and doing a bit of moderate DIY, this is the ripping-down-walls-rebuilding-new-ones kind of renovating which, I imagine, is pretty hungry work. 

This cake is one I have made time and time again, and it comes from my favourite baking book, Dan Lepard‘s Short and Sweet.  It is a great alternative to a coffee and walnut cake and uses so much coffee that the flavour is really quite strong.  The finely chopped brazil nuts and spelt flour give it a coarse texture all the way through, rather than a cake studded with nuts, which is often the way. 

It also has coffee water icing.  Which is basically espresso and icing sugar.  What’s not to like about that?

Double Espresso and Brazil Nut Cake

For the cake
100ml whole milk
2 tsp instant espresso powder
1 tbsp fine-ground coffee beans
175g unsalted butter, softened
100g soft light brown sugar
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
100g plain flour
100g wholegrain spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
75g brazil nuts, finely chopped, plus extra for decoration

For the icing
200g icing sugar, sifted
3 tbsp strong espresso

Preheat the oven to 180ºc.  Grease two sandwich tins and baseline with greaseproof paper. 

In a small saucepan, combine the milk, espresso powder and ground coffee and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. 

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated.  Beat in the coffee mixture.

Fold in both flours, the baking powder and the brazil nuts until you have an even smooth batter.  Do not overwork it. Scrape the batter into the two tins and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, mix together the icing sugar and espresso until smooth and thick.  If it is too runny, add more sugar; similarly, if it is too stiff, add more coffee, a little at a time.  Using a palette knife, spread the icing over the top of the cooled cakes.  Place one cake on top of the other and decorate with the remaining brazil nuts.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes for National Cupcake Week

Chocolate orange cupcakes

Chocolate orange cupcakes

There was a time in London where vertiginous cupcakes were everywhere you looked.  I would often see people walking through the city on the way to their offices, carrying boxes with sugar-hued icing swirls, ready to delight their colleagues.  When there was nobody on hand to make them, companies could send boxes of them directly to your desk, decorated with everything from edible glitter to fondant handbags.  The Hummingbird Bakery, arguably the pioneer of London’s cupcake fixation, became a household name and sold thousands of cookbooks.  We were hooked.

It all makes perfect sense really, as the cupcake trend came at roughly the same time as the recession hit London.  It was the perfect environment for small, affordable treats to take hold.  Bakery windows across the city were filled with these brightly coloured treats, ready to lift us out of the gloom of the dire economic climate.  As well as this, people were baking more, inspired by shows such as The Great British Bake Off.  The cupcake seemed unstoppable.

Inspired by this wonder-product, many tried to supersede the cupcake with other baked goods.  I remember the campaign to crown the whoopie pie as the new king of the shelves.  The macaron was hailed as a classier alternative, and the craze for the cronut in New York sent many London bakeries into a spin trying to replicate it.  After a few years of reigning supreme, the cupcake was knocked off its perch, but it never really went away.

This week is National Cupcake Week, which was started by industry magazine British Baker and is “designed to promote the popularity of cupcakes in order to help bakery businesses boost their sales.”  As well as this, they aim to raise money for the charity Wellbeing of Women through encouraging the public to fundraise with bake sales. For the rest of us, it’s an excuse to bake and eat.

I volunteered to bake some cupcakes for the office this week in celebration of National Cupcake Week.  These chocolate orange cupcakes were baked by Jo Wheatley on the second series of The Great British Bake Off.  They are a soft chocolate sponge, brushed with an orange juice and granulated sugar soak whilst warm, and topped with a delicate orange buttercream.  This recipe makes eight if you use normal-sized muffin cases, or will make 12 if you use the smaller cupcake cases.  Don’t be shy with the orange sugar soak, it makes the cupcakes wonderfully moist.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes

For the cakes
120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
50g dark chocolate, melted
1 large egg
120ml whole milk
1 orange, juice only
3 tbsp granulated sugar

For the buttercream
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
300g icing sugar
2 tbsp whole milk
50g white chocolate, melted and cooled
Zest of 1 orange
Dark chocolate, for grating

Preheat the oven to 175ºc and line a 12-hole muffin tin with muffin cases or cupcake cases.

Place the flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl.  Rub in the butter until fully combined.  In a jug, whisk together the eggs and milk, then stir into the dry ingredients.  Mix in the melted chocolate.

Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling them two-thirds full, and bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes.  Mix together the orange juice and granulated sugar and, once the cakes have been removed from the oven, brush the mixture over them whilst still hot.  Set aside to cool in the tin for ten minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Do not throw away the orange juice mixture.

To make the buttercream, beat together the butter and icing sugar in a bowl, or the bowl of a freestanding mixer, until light and fluffy.  Beat in the milk, white chocolate and orange zest.

Brush another layer of the orange juice soak over the cooled cakes, then pipe or spread the buttercream on top.  Finish with some finely grated dark chocolate.

Pastel de Nata

Pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tarts

Pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tarts

The first time I had a Portuguese custard tart, I was hooked.  This was some time ago and, unlike now, they were a rare find.  We use to trek all the way to the Lisboa Patisserie on the Goldborne Road and have one as a treat, and you can imagine how much of a mission that journey was from south-east London in the pre-Overground days.  I would buy one to have there and then, and one to keep me awake on the Hammersmith and City line as it trundled, painfully slowly, towards my connecting station.

Now, of course, times have changed and you can buy them in more or less every London neighbourhood.  The boom in street food markets has made them even more available, and now it seems that all of London is enraptured with the pastel de nata.  Londoners’ love affairs with certain baked goods are well-documented: we went nuts over the cupcake, briefly flirted with the cronut (or whatever you’re allowed to call them without infringing copyright) and now it seemed that this little treat from Lisbon is king.

I have heard that the best example of the pastel de nata can be found in its birthplace, more specifically in a bakery called the Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem.  Apparently, these tarts are so good, people go on pilgrimages for them.  With no trip to Portugal on the horizon, I instead decided to make my own.  I’ll be honest, these are not the easiest thing to make.  Flaky pastry is always a bit temperamental and requires a lot of time and care to get right.  The custard is relatively straightforward, but as with anything that combines hot milk, hot sugar and eggs, there is often a potential for it to go wrong.  You could, of course, use shop-bought pastry to save time and effort if you wish.  I have tried these tarts with both shop-bought puff pastry and the homemade flaky pastry in the recipe below; and, of course, the latter is better, but it also takes a considerable amount longer.

The recipe below is the most straightforward of those I’ve tried.  The key is to chill the pastry overnight, anything less and it will be difficult to work with.  If you have better skills than me, you could replace the pastry below with an all-butter puff.

Pastel de Nata

For the pastry
225g plain flour
¼ tsp sea salt
200ml water
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the custard
3 tbsp plain flour
310g whole milk
265g granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 strip lemon peel
1 strip orange peel
165ml water
½ tsp vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks

Start to make the pastry the night before you want to finish the tarts.  Combine the plain flour, salt and water in the bowl of a freestanding mixer.  Using the dough hook, mix until the dough forms a smooth ball, about 30 seconds.  Place the dough on a floured surface and pat into a six-inch square.  Cover with clingfilm and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Roll out the dough until it forms a large square – it should be about half a centimetre thick.  Take one-third of the butter and spread it across the left two-thirds of the dough, leaving a border of 1inch around the edges.  Neatly fold over the unbuttered part of the dough, then fold over the left third in an envelope fold.  Pinch the edges closed using your fingers.

Turn the dough 90 degrees so that the long edge is facing you.  Repeat the buttering and folding process again.  Pinch the edges closed using your fingers and turn the dough 90 degrees once more.

This time, roll the dough out into a rectangle with the shorter edge facing you.  Spread the butter over the whole surface, again leaving a border at the edges.  This time, roll the dough away from you in a tight log.  Cut the log into two halves, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge overnight.

To make the custard, whisk together the flour and 65ml of the milk in a large bowl and set aside.  Place the sugar, water, cinnamon, lemon peel and orange peel in a small saucepan and bring to the boil without stirring.  At the same time, scald the remaining milk in a separate saucepan.  Keep an eye on both.

Whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture.  Remove the cinnamon, lemon peel and orange peel from the saucepan and slowly pour the sugar syrup into the bowl, whisking constantly.  Add the vanilla and let the mixture cool for a few minutes before whisking in the egg yolks.

Preheat the oven to 250ºc and grease a 12-hole muffin pan.  Remove the chilled pastry from the fridge and roll out to the thickness of a £1 coin.  Using a large cutter, cut out circles of the pastry, removing a small section so that they can be pushed into the muffin tin without any excess.  This should look like a pie with a wedge missing or like ‘pac man’.  Push the pastry into the muffin tin and seal any gaps.  The pastry should reach the top of the hole.

Fill each cup ¾ full with the warm custard.  Bake in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until the pastry has browned and the custard is puffed up and a little coloured on the top.  Allow to cool in the tin for half an hour and then transfer to a wire rack.

Plum Upside Down Cake

Plum Upside Down Cake

Plum Upside Down Cake

There are a few specific things that start happening around the middle of September that signal that autumn has arrived in London.  As we are lucky enough to live in a city with so many beautiful parks, the colour change from green to amber makes the seasons so obvious and distinct.  As the last few of us return from our summer holidays, we start settling into this new routine of putting on warmer clothes, walking the streets hugging paper cups of coffee and going home earlier at night.  Fewer people go to the parks at lunchtime, and almost nobody sits at the once-crowded outside tables of the cafes.  We collectively move inside. 

For me, it is other small things that mark the beginning of autumn:  the arrival of the circus on Peckham Rye Common, the return of schoolchildren to my morning bus journey, the slow drip of Christmas products in to the supermarkets and the complaining about it getting earlier each year.  Most of all, though, it is the change in what we begin to cook.  Beautiful summer salads, bowls of berries and barbecues give way to a more comforting range of foods:  we start to embrace the winter fruits and veg and the stews and soups that protect us from the nip in the air.  Comfort food becomes the order of the day.

Plums are one of the most-used fruits in my kitchen throughout the autumn.  They start to make an appearance in mid-August, and by September they are everywhere.  There are a wide variety of plums available and they lend themselves to being used in a variety of ways.  Two of the winter dishes I love best are a plum and hazelnut crumble and a spiced plum chutney.

I had some plums leftover from a tart I made earlier in the week for some friends, so decided to use them to make a plum upside down cake.  Some friends on Twitter told me that this is very straightforward to do.  I actually feel a little silly writing up a recipe for what is essentially a basic sponge mix poured over some chopped fruit, but it really is an excellent way for using up any fruit you have.  Once baked, cooled and turned out, the plums become incredibly tender and almost melt into the sponge, creating a kind of plum jam topping.  It would be excellent as a pudding with custard.

Plum Upside Down Cake

3 plums, halved, then cut into thirds
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
225g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease a 8-inch loose bottomed cake tin and line the base and sides with greaseproof paper. 

Arrange the plum slices in the base of the tin.  Try and squeeze in as many as you can.

In a bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until combined.  If the mixture looks like it is curdling at this point, add a tablespoon of the flour to bring it back together.  Fold in the flour until just mixed, be careful not to overwork it.

Scrape the batter into the prepared tin, being careful not to dislodge any of the plums underneath.  Bake in the oven for approximately 40 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin.

Once cool, remove the tin but keep the base intact.  If the cake has a dome, cut this off carefully using a serrated knife to create a flat surface.  This will be the bottom of the cake.  Turn upside down on to a plate or cake stand and carefully remove the base of the tin and the greaseproof paper.

The Best Meatballs Ever

Meatballs and spaghetti

Meatballs and spaghetti

As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, I find that I spend more time at home than I did in the heady days of summer.  For one, pub gardens aren’t as fun if you have to put a coat on and huddle together.  Also, I find that my credit card bills from the holidays and living it up at a variety of weddings, festivals and trips to the seaside are so obscene that I reining it in seems the only option.

One thing I like to do on these cold evenings is fill up my freezer.  It’s probably the instinct for stocking up for winter kicking in, and all of a sudden I am digging out all of the Tupperware and filling it with things that I can eat later.  Hearty stews, soups and casseroles to be defrosted on a cold winter’s day when a trip to the supermarket is just too much to bear.  My two favourite things to keep in the freezer are meatballs and homemade tomato sauce.

Meatballs are a godsend as you can freeze them after they have been cooked and then, once defrosted, just heat them through in the sauce for about 10-15 minutes before serving.  A little fresh pasta and a sprinkle of parmesan and you have an excellent meal. 

I have tried a number of different meatball recipes, but these from the Polpo cookbook are my favourite.  They use pork and beef mince, which give them an excellent flavour, and the addition of a little pinch of chilli gives just a smidge of warmth.  The best thing about these meatballs is that they are cooked in the oven, rather than on the stovetop, which means that they do not have the crisp edges that frying gives and remain soft all the way through.  Because of this, they tend to break up less than other meatballs when cooked in the sauce.

The sauce is also from the same cookbook and uses both fresh and tinned tomatoes.  It too contains a bit of chilli for that extra warmth, which you can leave out or adjust to your own taste.  I have adapted the sauce from the original recipe by adding a little red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce to give it a little more depth. 

This recipe makes about 50 meatballs, which is more than any family can eat in one sitting.

Meatballs

1kg minced pork
500g minced beef
3 medium eggs
½ tbsp fine salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
150g breadcrumbs
Pinch dried chilli flakes
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 220ºc / 425ºf / gas 7.  Lightly grease two baking trays.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients by mixing together with your hands until fully combined.  You can make the meatballs any size you wish, but I always weigh out 35g of the mixture for each ball.  Roll into a sphere and place on the baking tray.  Repeat until all of the mixture has been used up.

Bake the meatballs in the oven for ten minutes, turning once.  When ready to serve, poach in the tomato sauce for 10-15 minutes until heated through.  The meatballs can also be refrigerated or frozen at this stage.

 

Tomato Sauce

100ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp fine salt
¼ tsp black pepper
Pinch chilli flakes
750g fresh tomatoes, quartered
3 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Heat 50ml of the oil in a large pan and saute the onion and garlic until soft, approximately 10 minutes.  Add the salt, pepper and chilli and stir in.  Add the remaining 50ml of the oil and the fresh tomatoes and cook on a medium heat for a further 15 minutes.

Add the tinned tomatoes and simmer on a low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the oregano, caster sugar, red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce.  Taste for seasoning.  Puree thoroughly using a hand blender.

Recipes adapted from ‘Polpo’ by Russell Norman

Lemon Curd Layer Cake for Band of Bakers

Lemon curd layer cake

Lemon curd layer cake

Last night, after what seemed like an eternity, the bakers of south east London were out in force again, bringing their cake tins to Camberwell, celebrating risen cakes and lamenting soggy bottoms.  Band of Bakers was back from its summer break.  The theme: anything goes.  Literally anything.  Bake what you like.

Much to my surprise, many found the lack of constraint to be a burden rather than a freedom.  I, myself, made several u-turns on what I would bake in the lead up to the event and almost ended up driving myself mad.  It seems that a more specific theme gives a lot more focus.

Now, I know that my blog does not really need another lemon cake.  It has two lemon cakes already, one with poppy seeds and one with prosecco, but this is such an extra special lemon cake that I could not help but make it for the Band of Bakers event.  It comes from the gorgeous Ginger and White cookbook, with recipes from the Hampstead cafe of the same name.  It is one of those books that you leaf through, marking almost every page with a little tab as you want to bake everything.  The idea of delicate lemon cakes squidged together with homemade lemon curd was the perfect treat for the end of summer.

The cakes are incredibly easy to make and use few ingredients.  Similarly, the lemon curd, although time-consuming, is also very simple.  Zesting five lemons may be the death of your wrists for the evening, but it is worth it: after all, who really enjoys a cake with just a hint of lemon?

Lemon Curd Layer Cake

For the cake
225g unsalted butter, softened
280g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
4 large eggs, beaten
220g self-raising flour
Icing sugar, for dusting
Blueberries, for decoration

For the lemon curd
3 egg yolks
115g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
80ml lemon juice
55g unsalted butter, softened

To make the lemon curd, beat together the egg yolks and the sugar in a glass bowl (you can use either a balloon whisk or a wooden spoon – it doesn’t really matter).  Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and beat in the lemon zest, lemon juice and butter.  Continue to stir over the heat until the curd thickens.  This will take about 15 minutes.  Remove the bowl from the heat and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Butter three regular sandwich tins and baseline with greaseproof paper. 

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy.  Whilst beating, or with the motor of the mixer still running, add the beaten eggs a little at a time.  If it looks like the mixture is curdling, add a tablespoon of the flour to bring it back together.  Finally, fold in the flour, being careful not to overmix.  The batter will be quite thick, but this is OK.

Scrape into the prepared tins and bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 15 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  The cakes are very pale anyway, so do not be tempted to overcook to make them darker in colour.  Cool in the tins for 10 minutes and then turn out on to wire racks, removing the greaseproof paper from the bottoms.

Once cool, spread one layer with half of the lemon curd, going right up to the edges, and place a second cake on top.  Spread this with the other half of the lemon curd, and then top with the final layer.  Decorate with blueberries and icing sugar and serve.

Adapted from a recipe from the Ginger and White Cookbook

Sriracha Wings

image

Sriracha wings

At the weekend, Claire and Will had a BBQ in their Forest Hill garden.  These are eagerly anticipated, not only because Claire makes a frickin’ good burger, but also because us London-dwellers have little outside space so appreciate a good BBQ all the more.

My contribution to the BBQ is always chicken.  A few wings to have alongside the epic burger.  For years I have made them with a chipotle-honey glaze, as I would have this time had I not entirely run out of chipotle paste (a very rare occurrence in our house).  A quick scout around on the internet produced a few different hot wing recipes, but none I liked as much as Serious Eats’s Sriracha wings.  Of course, you could just smear a load of Sriracha straight from the bottle on to the wings, but this recipe combines it with honey, lime and soy to create a more multi-dimensional sauce and tones down the levels of heat and garlic you usually get when you eat the sauce straight.

Sriracha wings

Sriracha wings

These wings are prepared in two stages:  firstly a dry marinade of salt and baking powder dehydrates the skin to make it crisp up more when cooked (since discovering this, I never make wings any other way), and then a coat of the Sriracha sauce just before putting on the grill.  This recipe has plenty of sauce for the amount of wings, so you can re-baste whilst the wings cook, building up levels of glaze for a stickier wing.

Sriracha Wings
Adapted from a recipe by Serious Eats

12 chicken wings, jointed and tips removed
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp sea salt

For the sauce
55g butter
125ml Sriracha
2 tbsp honey
1½ tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp finely chopped coriander
1½ tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp rice vinegar

Arrange the chicken wings in a large bowl, skin side up.  Mix together the baking powder and sea salt and sprinkle over the wings.  Refrigerate, uncovered, for 4-8 hours.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan and allow to cool slightly.  Whisk in the remaining ingredients.

When you are ready to cook, brush a liberal amount of the sauce over the chicken wings, turning them over to coat the underside too.  Cook them on a barbecue until the skins are crisp and the meat cooked through, adding more of the sauce as you go.  Transfer to a plate and serve.