Chocolate Guinness Cake

There are a handful of cookery writers that I trust implicitly: Jamie Oliver, The Hairy Bikers, and Nigella Lawson chief among them. Pick up any of their books, turn to any recipe, follow the instructions exactly and you will end up with something delicious. Every time.

This is a Nigella recipe, and the first time my wife made it we knew that it was a cake that we could come back to time and again. It is now a firm family favourite, baked for birthdays, family gatherings and any other time we feel like it.

Yes it’s wickedly indulgent, but somehow, because it is so light and moist, it doesn’t really feel like it. It’s not one for anybody on a diet though!

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Photo Credit: James Merrell

RECIPE

For the cake:

250ml Guinness
250g unsalted butter, chopped into slices or cubes
75g cocoa powder
400g golden caster sugar
140 ml soured cream
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the topping:

300g cream cheese
150g icing sugar
125ml double or whipping cream


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180°C/350ºF/gas mark 4. Grease and line a 23cm/9 inch spring form tin.

Pour the Guinness into a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the butter. When the butter has melted whisk in the cocoa and sugar.

In a separate bowl, beat the soured cream with the eggs and vanilla and pour into the beer and butter, then whisk in the flour and bicarb.

Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined tin and bake for 45 – 60 minutes.

Leave it to cool completely in the tin on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.

When the cake is cold, lightly whip the cream cheese until it is smooth, sieve in the icing sugar and then beat them both together. Add the cream and beat again until it is thick and unctuous. Spread the topping thickly over the top of the cake so that it looks just like a well-poured pint of Guinness.

Lemon and Coconut Bundt Cake

One of my favourite things to do in my spare time is wandering around charity shops, looking for cookery books. They seem to be bought as presents for people who don’t want to cook, so they end up being given to charity and you can find some amazing books in almost-new condition. I have picked up several hundred over the years, at a small fraction of what they would have cost new; it is fair to say that I’m addicted.

One book I picked up recently was ‘Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook’, it is turning out to be one of the best books I own. It is American, so the measurements are mainly in cups rather than the grams that we English are more familiar with; it can be a bit tricky to convert one to the other and still get the best results – cups are a measure of volume whereas grams are a measure of mass and they don’t always convert properly. Don’t let the cup measurements put you off, measuring this way is dead simple, and this cake is absolutely stunning – for vegans and carnivores alike.

I had to buy a Bundt tin for this one and I am glad that I did because though you can make it in a regular tin it comes out far better when made this way. You will need a 10-inch Bundt tin.

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RECIPE

1 cup of golden caster sugar

2/3 cup of vegetable oil

1 400g tin of coconut milk

1/4 cup soy or almond milk

1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice

the zest of 2 large lemons

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

The grated flesh of a coconut

A few tablespoons of icing sugar


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ Gas 4.

Break your coconut open, take out the flesh and, using a vegetable peeler, peel off the brown skin on the back of the flesh. Grate using a box grater then chop the grated flesh a little more. The coconut flesh gives the cake great texture and gives you something to bite into; if the coconut flesh is too big it can be distracting, so make sure the pieces of flesh are no bigger than your little fingernail.

Lightly grease a 10-inch Bundt tin. In a large mixing bowl combine the sugar, vegetable oil, coconut milk, soy milk, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the wet ingredients in batches, mixing well after each addition. Stir to combine, then stir in the coconut.

Pour the batter into the Bundt tin and bake for approximately 1 hour in the centre of the oven. A skewer inserted into the cake should come out clean.

Remove from the oven and let it cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then place a cutting board over the cake pan, gently flip it over and release the cake from the pan.

Let it cool completely then sift a sprinkling of the icing sugar over the top.

Double Chocolate Cake with Almond Cream and Raspberries

Of all the challenges that baking presents, making cakes for vegans must rank as the hardest. When you can’t use eggs to give it a lift you have to go down the road of using raising agents, with the attendant risk of a soapy undertaste; when you can’t use the velvet luxury of butter you have to use oils, so you have to ensure you inject decadence in other ways.

Then there’s the texture: there are no eggs to hold air in and give the crumb its structure; there is no butter to give it strength. The most likely result is a dense, stodgy, unappetising cake that appeals to no-one. For that reason, when you find a great vegan cake recipe you should treasure it. When you find a great vegan cake recipe that carnivores also love… well, it’s treasure indeed. This one is clever, using baking powder and vinegar to give a good rise and open texture. Don’t worry, the vinegar is undetectable in this delicious cake.

This recipe comes from a book entitled ‘Peace & Parsnips’ by Lee Watson. Buy it. It is full of excellent recipes and ideas that prove that vegan cooking can result in delicious food that will hold its own against any cuisine.

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RECIPE 

For the cake:

150g unrefined brown sugar

220g plain flour

50g cacao powder

80g very dark vegan chocolate, chopped into very small pieces

1 heaped tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

75 ml vegetable oil

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

250 ml water

For the almond cream:

80g raw almonds, soaked overnight, brown skins peeled off

75 ml unsweetened almond or soya milk

100 ml vegetable oil

2 tsp almond extract

2 tbsp maple syrup

For the topping:

fresh raspberries

2 tbsp crushed pistachio nuts


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4.

Oil and line the base and sides of a 24cm loose-bottomed springform cake tin.

Place the sugar, flour, cacao powder, chocolate, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir it all together. Add the oil, vinegar and water – gradually – and whisk slowly until it forms an even batter. Take care not to overwork it.

Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 25-30 minutes. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should pull out with a very small amount of sticky cake clinging to it.

Leave to cool on a wire rack, in the tin, for 30 minutes or so. Remove from the tin when it is nearly cool.

Meanwhile, make the almond cream. Put the almonds into a food processor and process, scraping down the sides regularly, until it is smooth, then drizzle in the milk and process until it forms a smooth cream. Now drizzle in the oil, which will make it thicken up. Finally, add the almond extract and the syrup, process briefly until thick and smooth, it should be the consistency of whipped double cream.

When the cake is almost cooled, spread a thick layer of the almond cream on top. Arrange the raspberries decoratively on top, any way you like, and finally sprinkle with the crushed pistachios.

This cake not only tastes incredible, it also looks amazing – definitely one to show off with.

Moist Carrot and Sultana Cake

How do you improve a carrot cake? Tough call, but lots of cinnamon and sultanas does the trick in this delicious and surprisingly low-calorie tea cake. It’s made with sunflower oil instead of butter, and is a creation of the Hairy Bikers who reckon that it is only 239 calories per slice. Perhaps the toughest part of a calorie-controlled diet is the self-denial, but sometimes a little self-indulgence can help keep you on the path. When delicious and (almost) guilt-free creations like this are available, why deny yourself?

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RECIPE – serves 10

200g (net weight) carrots, peeled, trimmed and grated

3 large eggs

100 ml sunflower oil

100g caster sugar

200g self-raising flour

100g sultanas

finely grated zest of an orange

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

icing sugar to decorate


METHOD

Heat the oven to 190C/ Fan 170C/ Gas 5. Line the base of a 23cm springform cake tin with parchment paper, and lightly oil the sides.

Beat the eggs with a whisk until light and frothy, add the sunflower oil and sugar and whisk until fully combined. Stir in the carrot, sultanas, orange zest, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the baking powder to the flour, mix it in thoroughly, then add the flour and fold it in carefully until the mixture is just combined. You want to keep as much air in the mix as possible so don’t overmix it. There is no need to sift the flour into this cake.

Pour into the lined cake tin and gently level it off.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes until the top is golden and the sides of the cake are just starting to shrink away from the sides of the cake tin. If you are unsure then a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake will tell you if it is done – if the skewer comes out clean then the centre is baked.

Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

This cake will happily last 3 or 4 days in the fridge – if it is around that long…

Shortbread

We ran out of shortbread yesterday; good grief, you would think the sky had fallen in. It is my job to ensure that we always have a jar of homemade shortbread on our shelves, without a doubt it is the thing that I make most often and though we don’t eat it fast, we do eat it regularly – it is just so delicious. Luckily, shortbread is quick and very easy to make, it is a great thing to make with children, and so my mistake was quickly rectified.

I must have tried a dozen shortbread recipes, and they were all okay but not quite perfect. Then I found Delia Smith’s recipe and my search for perfection came to an end. The trick is to include semolina in the mix, it gives a lovely crunch and beautiful shortness to the finished biscuit.

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RECIPE – makes 24 biscuits

175g unsalted butter, room temperature

75g golden caster sugar, plus a tablespoon for dusting

75g fine semolina

175g plain flour

a small pinch of salt


METHOD

Heat the oven to 150C/130C fan/Gas 2

Using a stand mixer (just to make your life easier, if not a wooden spoon will do the job) cream the butter and sugar together until fully mixed. Add the semolina and beat again, then add the flour and a pinch of salt and beat until just combined. You do not want any rise in a shortbread biscuit so minimise the amount of beating to ensure you don’t put air into it.

Cut a square of baking parchment, scrunch it up then flatten it out. Turn your shortbread dough out onto it (no need to flour it) and using your hands or a rolling pin pat it into a rough oblong approximately 1 cm thick. Place the dough, on the baking parchment, into a small baking tin and ensure the parchment is pushed well away from the dough. The dough will flatten and spread slightly as it cooks so you need to ensure the parchment won’t impede it. Prick all over the surface of the dough with a fork, pushing right down to the bottom – this will ensure that any air has an escape route.

Bake in the oven for 60-70 minutes until it is a deep rich gold. If you like your shortbread extra crunchy you can safely leave it in even longer, just keep a close eye on it. About half way through it’s a good idea to check that it isn’t rising at all; if it is, just pat it back down with your hand.

When cooked, lift it out on the parchment and place onto a cooling rack. Immediately it comes out, use a knife to score the top of the baked dough, about halfway through, to mark out your biscuits (you can see this in the picture above). Sprinkle some caster sugar all over the top and leave for ten minutes or so.

Run a palette knife between the shortbread and the parchment, then slide the parchment out from underneath the shortbread, leaving the shortbread on the wire rack to cool completely. It will crumble a little at the edges, this is a good sign; just push it back together, as it cools it will solidify. When fully cool, break the biscuits off and store in an airtight jar or tin. They will easily last two weeks (or more) without losing their bite.

The Ultimate Victoria Sandwich

If you want to upset a member of the Women’s Institute, show them this recipe and method. It does everything ‘wrong’, and yet the result is the lightest, fluffiest, BIGGEST Victoria sandwich you will ever make.

Using duck eggs takes this cake to a whole new level of flavour, they definitely are the best eggs to use when baking. Apparently the ratio of volumes between the egg white and yolk is different in a duck egg, and they are slightly larger than a large hens egg thus giving you a bigger cake, but all that matters to me is flavour and this cake delivers it in spades.

I have specified spreadable Lurpak here, just because Delia Smith has tested every brand of spreadable butter and Lurpak is what she recommends. I have however made this cake using all kinds of spreads and there isn’t so much difference that you need to worry about it. Use whatever spread you have to hand and you will still be delighted with the results.


RECIPE 

4 duck eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

golden caster sugar – the same weight as the eggs

Lurpak unsalted spreadable butter – the same weight as the eggs

self-raising flour – the same weight as the eggs

2 tsp baking powder

a pinch of fine salt

2 tbsp milk (approx)

For the filling:

250-300 ml double cream

1 jar raspberry jam or compote

1-2 tsp icing sugar


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4. I find it is normally best not to use a fan oven when baking cakes as it can dry out the top before the middle is cooked.

Line the base of two 20cm (8 inch) diameter, 4.5cm (2 inch) deep cake tins with parchment and lightly grease the sides.

Weigh the eggs, in their shells – write the weight down! I guarantee that one day you will be distracted by something and the weight that you had in your head will disappear. Maybe it’s my age, but once bitten twice shy…

The established way of making a Victoria Sandwich is to combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl, mix them together until just combined then bake. That method works fine, gives a great cake and is certainly quicker than the way that I do it, but in back to back tests among family and friends the method below was the winner.

Break the eggs into a large bowl together with the vanilla extract and, preferably using a stand mixer, whisk the eggs. When you think you’ve whisked them for long enough, whisk them some more. And some more. Keep going… you will end up with a froth which is several times bigger than the original volume of the eggs. Don’t be afraid to whisk at high speed for ten minutes or more, all you are doing is forcing air in and it is this air which will give your cake most of its lift.

While whisking the eggs, weigh out the golden caster sugar, self-raising flour and spreadable butter, each to the same weight as the eggs. Add the sugar to the whisked eggs and whisk at high speed for a couple of minutes.

Now add the spreadable butter, together with a couple of tablespoons of the flour which well help to prevent the mixture curdling. Whisk again for a minute or so at high speed until fully combined.

Now sieve the flour and baking powder into the mix, together with a pinch of salt, and with the mixer on its lowest speed combine the flour into the mix slowly and carefully until it is just combined. Have a couple of tablespoons of milk (any kind) at your side and add whatever quantity is required to keep the consistency of your cake mix at a dropping consistency – in other words a consistency that will drop gracefully off a wooden spoon, not stick to it in a big lump or run straight off like a liquid.

Now divide your mix equally between your prepared cake tins…

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…ensuring the top is fairly smooth. There’s no need to be pernickety about it, the mixture will rise and smooth out minor differences. Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 mins until well risen…

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…look at that, they have doubled in size. The cake should be just starting to come away from the sides of the cake tin, as you can see above, and a gentle pat on the top of the cake should reveal it to be soft but set. There should be no need to insert a skewer to check the middle.

Allow the cakes to cool in their tins for about 5 mins, when you should be able to handle the tins without using oven gloves. Run a knife around the inside of the cake tin to ensure nothing will stick and then turn each cake out into your hand. Bear in mind that you will want the best looking top on your cake, and also bear in mind that cooling on a rack will leave lines in your cake. So, select which will be the top of your cake and ensure that surface sits uppermost from the cooling rack; the bottom half of the cake should sit on its top. That sounds a little confusing, so to clarify – when you assemble your cake the most pleasing arrangement is to have a little ‘waist’ in the middle, presuming that your cake tins have a slight angle to their sides. To achieve the waist, you put the bottom half upside down so the narrowest part is uppermost, and the top half should sit right way up so its narrowest part is at the bottom. You will see this effect in the picture of the finished cake, below.

Some like to trim the sides of the cake so they are perfectly straight. If I were presenting it in a competition I might do that, but I think it is a waste of perfectly good cake so who cares if the sides look imperfect – they taste wonderful.

Once the cakes are fully cooled, whip 250-300ml of double cream until it is stiff – be careful not to go too far or you will end up with butter. Spread the entire jar of jam or compote on top of the bottom half in an even layer, pushing it toward but not quite reaching the edge, it will creep there on its own when the cake is fully assembled. Now using a pallet knife or spatula carefully lay the whipped cream on top of the jam, ensuring the two layers don’t mix and once again pushing it out almost to the edge in a thick, even layer. Don’t be stingy with your filling – make it thick and indulgent. Make this a BIG cake!

Now carefully place the top cake half on to the cream, ensuring the cake is level on top, doesn’t lean and is aligned parallel all the way around. Using a small sieve, dust the top of the cake with icing sugar, present, and eat!

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

“By the way, it’s the school fete tomorrow. Could you make a hundred or so cupcakes?” Not the words I wanted to hear at 6:30 on a Friday morning; making that many cupcakes would take a large chunk of the day, how would I find the time to write the Love and Fishes blog?

“How about some chocolate chip cookies instead?” was my diplomatic reply. Agreement reached, I could breathe a sigh of relief. Cookies are quick and easy to make, and are an ideal way to introduce a child to the magic of baking. They also require no finesse or skill, in fact they benefit enormously from looking rough and ready – as long as they taste delicious, which these do.

I have specified spreadable Lurpak here, just because Delia Smith has tested every brand of spreadable butter and Lurpak is what she recommends. I have however made these using all kinds of spreads and there isn’t so much difference that you need to worry about it. Use whatever spread you have to hand and you will still be delighted with the results.


RECIPE – makes 28 cookies

110g unsalted, spreadable Lurpak

150g light brown soft sugar

1 large egg, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

175g plain flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

75g toasted chopped walnuts

100g chocolate chips (use milk, dark or white chocolate, whatever your preference)


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4.

Using a stand mixer (ideally, if not then a hand mixer will do) cream the Lurpak and sugar together until light and fluffy. You can never cream butter and sugar too much so feel free to wander off and leave it beating while you get on with making a cuppa.

Add the beaten egg and the vanilla essence and mix well – again, you cannot over-beat this mixture and the more air you can encourage into the mix the lighter your cookies will be.

Fold in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, hazelnuts and chocolate chips until just combined. Be careful, you don’t want to spend an age knocking air into your cookies only to knock it all out again.

Put a walnut sized blob on to a baking sheet…

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…allowing plenty of room between them because they will spread considerably as they bake. Bake for approximately 15 mins, removing them when they are golden brown. Leave them to cool on a wire rack, they will go crispy with a lovely melting texture in your mouth.

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We took these to the fete and they were a hit – the lady on the stall next to ours had one, waxed lyrical and bought five more, then bought up every one that we hadn’t sold by the end. I’d call that a recommendation.

Bakewell Tart

It’s one of my favourite things in the whole world, that’s all I really need to say.

Like all baking, it’s a bit of a faff to make: you have to make pastry – and it needs to be as short as you can make it so that it crumbles and melts in your mouth, and that means it can be difficult to handle – you need to blind-bake that pastry and then you have to make a frangipane. But really, once you’ve tasted it you’ll be rushing to make another one, I promise.

At 30cm, this is a big, deep tart, easily big enough to feed a crowd at a birthday party – which is the reason I made the tart pictured below. The recipient was my mother-in-law, an amazing cook with very high standards, and she was insistent that she wanted this as her birthday cake – high praise indeed!

If you don’t want your tart to be quite as big then reduce the quantity of each ingredient – just be sure to keep everything in the same ratio and amend your cooking time accordingly, like all baking it always pays to keep your eye on it in the latter stages of cooking.


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RECIPE – to fill a 30cm loose-bottomed flan tin

 

For the pastry case:

275g plain flour

80g ground almonds

75g caster sugar

110g vegetable shortening (Trex) – fridge cold, cubed

115g unsalted butter – fridge cold, cubed

3 egg yolks


For the filling:

1 whole jar of raspberry jam

1 tsp vanilla extract

300g butter, room temperature

300g caster sugar

200g ground almonds

100g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

3 medium eggs, beaten

A handful of flaked almonds


 

METHOD

Heat your oven to 190C / 170C Fan / Gas 5 when ready to blind-bake your pastry case. You will need a 30cm loose-bottomed flan tin.

Make the pastry:

Put the flour, ground almonds and caster sugar into a food processor and pulse a few times to mix it thoroughly. Add the cold butter and Trex and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, then gradually add the egg yolks, pulsing once or twice with each addition. Take care not to overwork the pastry mixture, the beauty of this pastry is that it is soft and crumbly, doing too much to it is liable to make it tough. When fully combined empty it out of the food processor and form into a ball but do not knead it. Wrap it in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

If you are old-school and like to work your pastry by hand then you don’t need me to give you instructions for that. I seem to have fingers that are too warm to make pastry by hand so I always do mine in the food processor – if anyone would like to give me a masterclass in making pastry by hand then I would welcome it!

On a lightly floured surface, roll your pastry out into a round until it is approximately the thickness of a pound coin, this should give you the correct diameter to fill your pastry case with a little left over that you can trim off later. Always keep your trimmings as you may need to make a couple of repairs.

*Tip: As mentioned earlier, this is a very short pastry which can be difficult to pick up; one way to alleviate this is to roll the pastry out between sheets of baking parchment, another is to lay the loose base of the flan tin on your work surface, lightly dust it with flour and then roll out your pastry over it. If the latter, to put it into the flan case fold the edges of the pastry in on each other and drop the base into your case, then unfold the edges and press in to the flutes, using a small piece of pastry to gently push into the sides and bottom.  At this time you may need to make a few small repairs to rips and tears, just take a small amount of pastry and press in to any problem areas – it doesn’t matter if it is a bit rough and ready, nobody will see it, the important thing is to ensure that the pastry case is completely sealed otherwise your frangipane will leak out.

At this point you can trim the pastry to the level of the flan-case, by rolling a rolling pin across the top. There should be no shrinkage of the pastry case when you bake it because there is no water in the pastry; the presence of too much water is the most common reason for shrinkage.

Now cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case at 190C for 25 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

While your cooked pastry case is resting, turn your oven down to 150C / 130C fan / gas 2 and make your filling:

Cream the butter and sugar together using a whisk if at all possible, if you don’t own a stand or hand mixer you can do this using a wooden spoon, but it’s hard work. Now add the vanilla extract, ground almonds, plain flour, baking powder and beaten eggs and beat well until thoroughly combined.

Spread the jam over the bottom of the baked pastry case in a thick and even layer. Pour the filling over the top and gently even it out using a spatula or pallet knife. It should sit at a level slightly below the lip of the pastry – as it cooks it will rise and expand to form a gentle dome.

Now bake your tart for 30 mins. After this time, take it out of the oven and you should see that it has domed and is starting to go golden; sprinkle the flaked almonds all over the top and return to the oven for a further 20-30 minutes. The tart is cooked when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave it in the flan-case to cool completely, after which you should be able to remove it cleanly.