Best lemon cake ever

Well, IMHO anyway. I’ve been making this for years. And years. Originally tore it out of a magazine. It’s by Nigel Slater so that already tells you it’s going to be good but not overly fancy. I’m a big fan of Nigel’s writing and recipes – he does simplicity so beautifully. I’m not a cake decorator – my usual attempts tend to look somewhat messy, I haven’t really ever progressed past the fluffing up of buttercream with a fork and sprinkling over some decorations, so for me this is the perfect cake – plain looking but delicious nonetheless.

Lemon Drizzle Cake

Ingredients:

200g butter
200g caster sugar
zest of two large or three small lemons
200g self raising flour
3 free range eggs

125g demerara sugar
juice of the lemons

Preheat oven to 180C/ 160C fan or GM4

Line a 20cm round tin ( I have also made this in a loaf tin but you will need to increase the cooking time by a further 15 minutes).

Cream together the butter & sugar till fluffy. Add the lemon zest and stir well. Add the eggs one at a time with a spoonful of the flour and then fold rest of the flour into the mixture.

Spoon into the cake tin and smooth the surface. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, measure out the demerara sugar and add the lemon juice to dissolve the sugar. As soon as the cake is baked and removed from the oven, stab the cake all over with a fork and pour over the lemon & sugar mix. This will soak into the cake whilst it’s hot and form a lovely crust.

Leave cake to cool in the tin, then turn out and eat. Perfectly delicious plain, it’s also rather nice with a dollop of creme fraiche.

Variations on a theme:

This recipe also works well using a whole orange instead of the lemons. I also make a gluten free version, using 3 limes and adding in 3 large tablespoons of plain yogurt to counteract the more drying quality of the gluten free flour, and also adding 2 heaped tsp of gluten free baking powder. See also the alternative Christmas cake recipe posted on this site – using spices and clementines.

Do try it. It’s super easy and I’ve never known anyone not like it, yet!

Picture of lemon cake

Lemon Drizzle, not a looker but tastes fab!

Rocky Road or Tiffin Bar?

Rocky Road or Tiffin? Strictly speaking it’s a matter of interpretation, though some sources suggest the difference it is the addition of marshmallows that turns a Tiffin bar into a Rocky Road one. Whichever is your preference, these sinfully rich fridge cakes of chocolate, biscuit and other assorted goodies are super easy to both make AND eat.

I’m placing the blame for this post squarely at the door of Daisies & Pie (@DaisiesandPieUk), a great blogger about food and family life who I follow on twitter. She recently posted a link to her recipe for Salted Pistachio Rocky Road Bars, complete with mouth watering pictures – go to www.daisiesandpie.co.uk for her recipe.

This got me thinking about fridge cakes and my favourite combinations. I’m not a fan of marshmallows but I do love salt and sweet together, so I was resolved to make a tiffin bar version.  I also wanted to have a go to see whether I could make this treat without breaking the bank. Toddling off to Sainsbury’s (it is literally opposite my house), I picked up their value range dark chocolate (still 52% cocoa), value range salted peanuts, value range unsalted butter, value range rich tea biscuits and found two bars of Walkers creamy toffee (not so much creamy, more toothbreaker but more of that anon). Total spend on ingredients £3.20. I already had golden syrup in my cupboard, but in the interests of costings, let’s add another 20p for that. £3.40 so far then. Once made, this quantity yielded 18 pieces, but could have easily been cut slightly smaller to get round 25. That works out at about 15 to 18p per piece. Cheaper than a chocolate bar and a lot tastier!

So the recipe below is for the salted peanut/ toffee combo I trialled, but I think I might change the toffee for chopped apricots next time. Despite being billed as “creamy”, this toffee needed serious bashing with a rolling pin to get the shards I wanted and even then, I’m a little wary of biting into the bar and losing a filling! I think I’d like to explore making my own caramel or using some of my vanilla fudge in this recipe too. I’ve also started thinking about cherries, almonds and coconut ice….

Totally Terrific Tiffin

Ingredients:

125g unsalted butter

300g dark chocolate

4 tbsp golden syrup

100g salted peanuts

180g rich tea bisuits

100g toffee shards

1/2 tsp of sea salt flakes

Method:

Line a baking tin with foil – 9 inch square ideal but if not a rectangular one of similar dimensions will do.

Put peanuts into a metal bowl or pan and bash with the end of a rolling pin or use a pestle and mortar to smash them up. Set half aside for topping the bars.

Add the rich tea biscuits to the bowl and batter them into rough chunks and crumbs with the rolling pin (or put in a plastic bag and batter). Great anger therapy this process!

Same with the toffee pieces – I found this was best done with the pestle and mortar. Toss peanuts, biscuits & toffee shards together. Set aside.

Break chocolate into squares into a glass or microwavable bowl. Add the butter, cut into slices, and the golden syrup. Pop in microwave on high in 30 second bursts until the chocolate and butter has melted together. Remove from microwave when there are still a few lumps of chocolate visible and stir well, they will melt. Alternatively, use the bowl over hot water method.

Pour half this molten chocolate sauce over the broken “bits” and mix well. Spoon into the prepared tin and smooth out using the back of a spoon. Press down well and don’t hang about – it’s already setting as you work. Pour over the rest of the chocolate and tilt the tray to get all the surface covered. Scatter with the reserved peanuts from earlier, and sprinkle with the salt flakes.

In theory, at this point, this goes in the fridge for 2 hours to harden before cooking. In reality, I stuck it in my freezer for 20 minutes before turning out and chopping… Greed is a marvellous impetus for improvisation!

Can honestly say that they are fantastic. Thank you Daisies & Pie for the inspiration and sudden expansion of my dress size…

picture of single tiffin bar

Terrific Tiffin

 

Celebrate Welsh food!

St David’s Day is the 1st March, and a great day to celebrate the glories of Welsh food & drink. Whilst perhaps not having the most well known cuisine in the world, Wales can be justifiably proud of the quality of its produce. Welsh lamb is legendary, and their beef is pretty spectacular too.  A great chunk of Wales is coast, so not surprisingly, the seafood is excellent, often served with Laverbread – a type of seaweed, which is also added to a traditional Welsh breakfast. Sea salt, harvested in Anglesey, was recently given protected status by the EU, lining it up beside Champagne, Prosciutto di Parma and Stilton as a product  only allowed to be identified as genuinely originating in that region. Check out www.halenmon.com for details of their lovely sea salts, including  smoked, vanilla, celery & plain.

Cheese is another fabulous Welsh product – Gorwydd Caerphilly – a citrussy, mild cheese; Organic Perl Las – softly blue and creamy; Cenarth Brie – a buttery brie ; Snowdonia Extra Mature Cheddar – rich creamy & salty; & Harlech  – flavoured with horseradish and parsley; are just some of the delicious cheeses produced here. Have a look at www.liverpoolcheesecompany.co.uk for details of their Welsh selection. Of course, cheese leads me onto the wonderful Welsh dish – Welsh Rarebit aka posh cheese on toast.  I make it old school style, melted in a pan and then poured over the toasted bread and browned – see below for the recipe.

What would St David’s Day be without a leek? A traditional symbol of Wales, this lovely onion relative has a milder flavour and is the main component of the velvety textured Vichyssoise soup, made with leeks & potatoes and served chilled in summer. As summer is yet some way off, I’ve given a recipe for a hearty leek & potato soup instead!

Bara Brith is a traditional Welsh tea bread, made with dried fruit and tea, and sometimes yeast but I confess to a weakness for Welsh cakes, a sort of griddle scone with spices and fruit, best served warm with lashings of butter…

Recipes:

Welsh Rarebit

Ingredients:

25 g butter

25g plain flour

100ml strong dark beer (Welsh)

150 g mature Cheddar, grated (try the Snowdonia)

1 tsp English mustard (yes, English.. sorry!)

1 egg

Melt butter in a small pan, add the flour and cook over a gentle heat until it’s starting to go golden. Slowly add the beer, stirring well to prevent lumps, and then add the grated cheese. Take off the heat and stir until all the cheese has melted into the beery sauce. If it’s not melting, put back on heat but don’t let it boil. Add the mustard and mix well. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then add the egg, well beaten.

Toast 4 slices of bread on both sides, then spread the cheese mixture over the bread and put back under the grill until golden and bubbling.

Hearty Leek & Potato Soup

Ingredients:

50g butter

1 small onion, chopped

3 large leeks, cleaned well (!) and chopped into quarters, then slices

3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

900ml of chicken stock

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (1/2 tsp if using dried)

salt & pepper

100ml double cream

Melt the butter in a large pan, and add the onion and leeks. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring to keep from browning, until the leeks and onions are softening. Add the thyme and chopped potatoes, stir well and add the stock and bring to a simmer. Put a lid on the pot and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender. Take off the heat and use a potato masher to break up and thicken the soup (you can use a hand blender if you prefer a smoother texture). Add the cream and adjust seasoning to taste.

Welsh cakes  (recipe from: www.visitwales.com/explore/traditions-history/recipes/welsh-cakes)

Ingredients:

225g plain flour

100g butter

75g caster sugar

50g currants (or mixed dried fruit)

½tsp baking powder

¼tsp mixed spice

1 egg

A pinch salt

A little milk to bind

Sift the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, mixed spice) together into a mixing bowl. Cut up the butter and rub into the flour. Stir in the sugar and fruit, pour in the egg and mix to form a dough, use a little milk if the mixture is a little dry. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about the thickness of a biscuit. Use a pastry cutter to cut out rounds. Cook the cakes on a greased bake stone or griddle until golden. The heat should not be too high, as the cakes will cook on the outside too quickly, and not in the middle. Once cooked sprinkle with caster sugar and serve with butter.

Sticky Ginger Cake

For those of you unfamiliar with the word, parkin refers to a soft textured cake flavoured with ginger, treacle or golden syrup and brown sugar. Particularly Northern in origin, parkin is made in Yorkshire – where it tends to be slightly drier in texture and is made with black treacle; and also in Lancashire, where it tends to be stickier and made using golden syrup. Here in Merseyside I’m really a Lancastrian plus I’ve only got golden syrup in my cupboard so that’s the version I’m going to make.

golden syrup tin, jug with milk, oats

ingredients

I’ve adapted this recipe from The Camper Van Cookbook by Martin Dorey & Sarah Randall.

Ingredients:

200ml milk
3 tbsp golden syrup
100g butter
75g plain flour
200g dark brown sugar
125g porridge oats
4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Method:

Preheat oven to 150C/ GM2. Lightly butter a shallow square cake tin, approx 20cm diameter.

Put milk, syrup & butter in a small pan and gently bring to the boil, stirring until all the syrup and butter has melted.

Sieve flour and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl and mix in the oats, sugar, and spices. Pour over the melted butter & milk mixture and mix well into the dry ingredients.

cake batter

Pour into tin

Pour/ scrape into the prepared cake tin and level the top. Place in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and leave to cool in the tin until completely cold. Cut into 16 pieces and put into an air tight tin or box. They will keep very well for at least a week, and actually improve in flavour and stickiness after a day or two!

parkin in tin cooling

Sticky ginger parkin cooling

 

 

Meantime your home, like mine, will be deliciously scented with sweet ginger baking. An instant mood improver!

pieces of parkin

Put the kettle on!

Creative Cranberries

Cranberries have long been used in Scandinavian and American winter cooking, with many Brits joining the berry party after Delia featured them in several recipes in her Winter Collection book. At this time of year, there are both frozen and fresh cranberries available on the shelves of most supermarkets, yet I frequently see the fresh ones marked down in the bargain section.  I picked up  four bags  of fresh cranberries recently for 25p each! This led me on to some experimentation – I make curds throughout the year, including using seasonal fruits like strawberries and blackberries, so why not a cranberry version?

Cranberry Curd

450g cranberries

115g unsalted butter

450g caster sugar

4 large eggs

Put the cranberries and 150ml of water in a saucepan and cook on a low heat until they have popped and become tender.  Use a stick blender to process into a puree. Sieve into a large microwavable bowl. Add the butter and sugar and microwave on full power for about 2 minutes until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.

Whisk eggs together and add to the cranberry mixture. Continue cooking in the microwave in 1 minute bursts, stirring each time, and reducing the length of time to 30 seconds as the mixture thickens. Once it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon

jar of cranberry curd

Cranberry curd

(and you can draw a finger through it, leaving a channel), sieve again to remove any cooked egg bits and put into jars – this will make about 900g – so will fill 4 or so small jars.

 

 

 

I made the gloriously pink curd and then it seemed a shame not to use it in a cake, so I adapted the meringue cake found in Nigella Lawson’s Feast to create a festive version.

Cranberry Meringue Cake

125g very soft unsalted butter

4 large eggs (separated)

300g  caster sugar (plus 1 teaspoon)

100g plain flour

25g cornflour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

100 dried cranberries

4 teaspoons milk

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

150 ml double cream (or whipping cream)

150g cranberry curd (see above recipe)

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200°C/400ºF. Line and butter two 21cm 8 inch sandwich tins.

Mix the egg yolks, 100g of the sugar, the butter, flour, cornflour, baking powder, bicarb, and dried cranberries in a processor. Add the milk and process again. Divide the mixture between the prepared tins. It looks like it won’t be enough mixture, but spread it out as evenly as possible.

Whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until peaks form and then slowly whisk in 200g sugar. Divide the whisked whites between the two sponge-filled tins, pouring or, more accurately, spreading the meringue straight on top of the cake batter. Smooth one flat with a metal spatula, and with the back of a spoon, peak the other and sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar over the peaks. Put the tins into the oven for 20-25 minutes.

With a cake-tester, pierce the cake that has the flat meringue topping to check it’s cooked all through. (It will have risen now but will fall back flattish later.) No sponge mixture should stick to the tester. Remove both cakes to a wire rack and let cool completely in the tins.

Unmould the flat-topped one on to a cake stand or plate, meringue side down. Whisk

picture of cake

Cranberry Meringue Cake

the double cream until thick but not stiff and set aside. Spread the flat sponge surface of the first, waiting, cake with the cranberry curd and than spatula over the cream and top with the remaining cake, peaked meringue uppermost. Dust with icing sugar.

 

 

 

And finally, I’m including the very simple recipe I use for a cranberry sauce – which is lovely with turkey, cold meats, pates and creamy cheeses.

Cranberry Sauce

450g cranberries

110g sugar

300ml red wine

125ml port

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

zest and juice of a large orange

Put all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to a very gentle simmer. Stir well, and leave to cook very gently for about an hour on a low heat without a lid on the pan. Stir occasionally.  You will end up with a thick cranberry sauce that can be left to cool and then put in a covered bowl until needed.

 

 

An Alternative Christmas Cake

Not everyone likes fruit cake, that traditional stalwart of the Christmas afternoon tea. Or in my case, I love fruit cake but I’m not so keen on the rock hard icing and marzipan that usually accompanies it.  And, confession time, I didn’t manage to get my act together this year to make a Christmas cake in time for that slow maturation and booze feeding that makes it so delicious. So, with that in mind, I did a bit of experimenting this weekend and came up with a variation on my favourite Nigel Slater cake that ticks the boxes for Christmas flavours AND ease and speed of making.

Christmas Spiced Citrus Drizzle Cake

Ingredients:

200g caster sugar

200g unsalted butter

3 eggs

zest of 2 tangerines, 1 orange and 1 lemon

200g self raising flour, sifted

knife point of ground cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice

grating of nutmeg

125g demerara sugar

juice of 2 tangerines & 1 orange

Pre-heat oven to 175C. Grease and line a 22cm cake tin with baking paper.

Method:

Beat sugar, butter and citrus zests together until light and fluffy. Add spices to the sifted flour (by knife point, I mean literally a pinch of the spices – you want this to be subtle but feel free to change the quantites to suit your own taste) Add eggs, one at a time with a tbsp of the flour & spice mix and then fold in the rest of the flour. Make sure all well mixed in.

Shows cake mix going into tin

Cake mix into tin

Spoon into the prepared tin and smooth over the top. Place in oven to bake for 40 to 50 minutes – check with a skewer at 40 minutes.

 

Dissolve the demerara sugar into the citrus juices. Remove cake from oven and stab all over with a fork. Pour the sugar & juice mix over the hot cake, making sure to cover the whole cake.  Leave to cool and let the juice soak in. A lovely sugary crust will form on the top of the cake.

Sugar and tangerines

Cake topping

 

Remove cake from tin and decorate with sliced tangerines.

 

Picture of finished cake

Decorated cake, ready to eat!

Serve with cinnamon Chantilly cream – cream beaten with icing sugar, vanilla and a little cinnamon.

Keeps for 4 days if covered.