Sunday, 26 June 2011

Cherry, Almond & Coconut Cake

At the request of several readers, here's my adaptation of the wonderful old fashioned Cherry & Almond cake that I mentioned in my introduction 'a word on idle baking'. The only cake I knew how to cook until this spring, the one that started me on my idle baking odyssey. Fingers crossed it may inspire you to dip a toe into your own.

Serves 8

Adapted from the cake recipe in Joanna Isle's lovely little book from the 1980s, A Proper Tea buy the book on Amazon  
I've simply added coconut and flaked almonds to create a tasty crunchy nutty topping. The topping is adapted from a recipe at 

For the cake:
225g glace cherries
90g self-raising flour
pinch of salt
170g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
90g ground almonds
170g butter
half a tsp almond extract

1. Turn the oven to 160C (140C fan oven). Grease and line a baking tin (anything from 18 inch to 23 inch round tin should work).

2. Halve the glace cherries and roll them in a little extra flour, before putting them to one side. Rolling them in flour may stop them from all sinking to the bottom of the cake when it's baking (although, being an idle cook, I don't worry about that sort of thing).

3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until creamed.

4. Add the first beaten egg to the creamed mixture, then sieve in a little of the flour and stir gently before adding the other 2 eggs, and the rest of the flour, salt, and almond extract a bit at a time.

5. Throw in the cherries, and ground almonds. Stir the cake mixture until the fruit and nuts are well combined into the batter. Don't do what I did this time and absent mindedly put the mixer speed on high, thereby breaking up some of the cherries. Stir them very gently by hand with a wooden spoon instead!

6. Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin and bake for approx 1 hour, until the top has browned and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave in the tin and put to one side for a moment while you quickly make the topping.

For the topping:

8 and a half tbsps demerara sugar
4 tbsps cold butter, chopped into smallish pieces
4 tbsps flaked almonds
3 tbsps dessicated coconut
extra glace cherries as decoration, optional

7. Mix the sugar and butter in a bowl. I used my fingers to rub them together, but then I like being messy. When the mixture is crumbly, fold in the coconut and almonds.

8. Back at the oven, turn the grill to medium. Spoon the topping onto the hot cake.

9. Carefully place the cake under the grill for 1-2 mins, until the topping is golden brown. Keep checking the cake under the grill - the topping will move from browning to burning very quickly. Alternatively you could place the cake back in the hot oven and continue baking until the topping is done.

10. When the topping is golden brown, take it out from under the grill and leave the cake to cool in its tin for 5 mins, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool for longer before serving. Put a few extra glace cherries ontop of the centre of the cake if you like.

This cake was idly baked to the sounds of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, combined with birdsong and newly hatched grasshoppers jumping in through the open window.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

8 miles on Exmoor, walking off the cake

Gluten Free Blueberry & Hazelnut Muffins

Now here's something healthy, naughty and tasty which can be eaten at breakfast, lunch or tea! I love muffins, they're the ideal (or should that be idle) way to bake for a lazy, messy cook like myself. I've added some hazelnuts to your traditional soft and juicy blueberry muffin to give it an earthy crunchiness, and made the recipe gluten free by using special flours. Simple and scrumptious.

Makes 12 muffins

Recipe adapted from The Bake-A-Boo Bakery Cookbook by Zoe Berkeley
buy the Book on Amazon

50g hazelnuts
150ml milk
2 large eggs
200g blueberries
1 tsp vanilla extract
125g caster sugar
200g gluten free self raising flour (Dove's Farm or M&S recommended)
75g butter

1. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan oven), and line a 12 hold muffin tray with paper cases,

2. Line a baking tray with baking paper and lay the hazelnuts on it, then toast them in the oven for approx 10 mins. Leave them to cool for a few minutes before rubbing them with a paper towel or just your clean hands to get rid of the skins, before chopping them into three with a sharp knife. Put them to one side on a plate.

3. In a small bowl beat the eggs until frothy. Then heat the butter over a low hob until melted.

3. Once melted, pour the butter into another bowl and add the vanilla extract and milk, mix well before whisking in the beaten eggs.

4. In a larger mixing bowl, combine the flour, pinch of salt and the sugar. Add the butter mixture gradually in 3 stages, before throwing in the blueberries and chopped roasted hazelnuts. Gently stir the batter to make sure that it is combined.

5. Using a tablespoon, spoon the batter evenly into the 12 cases and cook in the preheated oven for 25 mins, until golden and a skewer comes out clean. Once cooked, leave to cool in the tray for 5 mins before turning out onto a wire rack or plate. Serve warm or cold, ideally with a warming cuppa of your choice.

These muffins were idly baked to the sounds of Cinematic Orchestra's album Ma Fleur

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Chocolate & Blackberry Cake

We know that green foods such as spinach and brocolli are vital to our diets, but it's sometimes forgotten that the purple ones are just as important and often more fun to eat! Purple berries like blackberries, blueberries and blackcurrants are high in antioxidants which guard against ageing, joint inflammation, eyestrain, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Dark chocolate, too, contains antioxidants which are supposed to help diabetes and blood pressure.

My dad has some health issues, so when it came to celebrating Father's day this sunday, I decided to make a special cake which would combine the healthiness of the purple berry with the deliciousness of chocolate. This chocolate and blackberry cake was born. It's a wonderful concoction that can be decorated in a number of ways using different fruit, flowers or candles, and would work well as a celebratory cake for birthdays and any special occasions.

Serves 8-10

Adapted from the Easy Chocolate Cake recipe by Rachel Manley given on the BBC Food website

For the cake:
2 medium eggs
250ml milk
125ml vegetable oil
225g plain flour
350g caster sugar
85g cocoa powder
1 & a half tsp baking powder
1 & a half tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp vanilla extract
250ml boiling water

1. Grease and line 2 loose-bottomed sandwich tins (20x8). Turn the oven to 180C (160 fan ovens).

2. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients except the boiling water, and beat the batter with an electric whisk until well combined.

3. Add the boiling water gradually, a little at a time, until the batter is smooth and runny.

4. Pour the mixture evenly into the 2 prepared cake tins, and put in the oven to bake for 25-35 mins. You'll know it's done when the top is firm and a skewer comes out clean.

5. Leave the cakes in their tins to cool completely.

For the icing:
200g plain chocolate, broken into pieces
200ml double cream
2 or 3 punnets blackberries
icing sugar to dust
wafer butterflies

6. Warm the chocolate and cream in a saucepan over a low heat hob and stir until the chocolate melts.

7. Remove from the saucepan and beat the mixture in a bowl so that it becomes thick and glossy.

8. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave it to rest and cool for 1-2 hours, or until it's thick enough to be spread on the cake.

9. When the cakes are cool and the icing rested, carefully take the cakes out of their tins, peel off the baking paper and place them on a wire rack or a couple of plates.

10. Spread half the icing over the underside of one cake, and sprinkle it with blackberries and a little sieved icing sugar before sandwiching the second cake on top. Ice the top of the second cake, then add the rest of the blackberries, lightly dusted with a little icing sugar. Finally scatter with wafer butterflies or any other decoration. Once made, it's worth keeping this cake in the fridge to keep the blackberries fresh.

This cake was idly baked to Arcade Fire's album The Suburbs

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Lavender Shortbread Fingers

There are times when I want to bake something speedy and easy to eat, and no fuss shortbread fingers are the perfect choice. They remind me of my childhood, of taking tea with my granny and grandad in their pretty South London garden, and of munching shortbread with my little brother as we watched Blue Peter on the telly after school.
We've got some beautiful lavender plants growing in the herb patch, so I decided to add a few florets to the shortbread recipe. Don't worry, there's lots left for the bees to enjoy! If you don't have any lavender to hand, you could add a little lemon, rose or vanilla flavouring to these instead.

This is my mum's recipe, originally from Elizabeth David she thinks.
Serves 8

2 tbsp fresh lavender florets
60g ground almonds
170g unsalted butter, at room temperature
84g caster sugar
170g plain flour
56g rice flour or corn flour
vanilla sugar for optional extra sprinkling

1. Turn the oven to 155C (135C fan oven), and get out a good sized baking tray.

2. In a large bowl mix the soft butter into the flour, adding the rice flour or cornflour in stages when the butter gets sticky.

3. Next add the almonds, lavender and sugar and mix well.

4. Once the the mixture is smooth, roll it onto a lightly floured surface. Carefully roll out the mixture using a rolling pin, until the paste is approx 1cm thick.

5. Cut into fingers and place on the baking tray. Press it down lightly and prick with a fork to make rows of dots in the fingers if you like the traditional shortbread look.

6. Place in the low heated oven to bake for 75 mins until a light gold biscuit colour. Leave to cool on a wire rack, but before the shortbread is cold cut it into small wedges or fingers. Once cooled, they can be sprinkled with a little vanilla sugar if you like them especially pretty and sugary.

This shortbread was idly baked to the sounds of BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Gluten Free Sticky Spiced Nectarine & Poppy Seed Cake

You've probably worked out by now that I love baking with fruit. It's a win-win situation: delicious and healthy are qualities that every cake should aspire to. My favourite cakes are the ones I can enjoy eating with gusto rather than guilt. The below was made with the first nectarines of the year, and if that isn't cause for celebration then I don't know what is.

By the way, the glitches with the Google comment system seem now to be resolved which means that I can respond to your comments. Do keep writing to me as I love to read them and am happy to reply if I can.

Serves 8

Adapted from a recipe given on an old leaflet from the Abel & Cole fruit and veg box company. For similar ones see their cookbook Cooking Outside The Box. Buy the book on Amazon
I've added an extra egg, swopped the lemon in that recipe for an orange and a lime, and added poppy seeds to give a sweet crunchiness to the taste.

3 nectarines, cored, halved and thinly sliced
4 tsp ground cinnamon
125g gluten-free mix self-raising flour (I use Dove's Farm gluten-free)
1 tbsp fresh orange juice
2 tsps grated orange peel
1 tsp lime juice
100g & 3 tbsps light muscovado sugar
1 tbsp poppy seeds
150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 eggs

1. Turn the oven to 180C (160C fan oven). Line and butter a 23x7inch tin.

2. Beat the butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Add 100g of the sugar and beat until smooth.

3. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, then add the orange juice, orange peel, lime juice and poppy seeds. Add the flour and mix until well combined.

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Arrange the nectarine slices on top in concentric circles to cover the top of the cake and press them lightly into the batter.

5. In another bowl combine the cinnamon and the left over 3 tbsps sugar, then sprinkle them evenly over the cake.

6. Bake for approx 1 hour until golden. Let it cool for 10 mins before carefully cutting around the cake and placing it on to a plate. Serve at room temperature with tea, or while still warm with ice cream or cream as a dessert cake. The rose from the garden is an optional extra topping.

An idle tip - for a lighter version of this cake, just swop the light muscovado sugar for caster sugar. This will create a paler cake topping showing off more of the pretty nectarine circles.

This cake was idly baked to the sounds of Florence and the Machine's album Lungs

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Gluten Free Marshmallow and Almond Cupcakes

I'm having a bit of a raspberry and almond moment, I just can't get enough of the combination. There's something about the sharp sweet-sour berry flavour that balances a buttery almond cake so brilliantly. And not only do raspberries look beautiful but they're full of vitamin C!  Here I've used them simply as decoration to add glamour and a touch of zing to some very tasty marshmallow and almond cupcakes.

These make a great choice of cupcake for those among us who are gluten intolerant as both the flour and the marshmallows are gluten free (note that most marshmallows contain cornflour, and it's worth checking out the ingredients on the packet if you're unsure whether you can eat them).

Makes 12 large cupcakes
Adapted from tootsievalentine's lovely post at:
Where the above recipe calls for vanilla notes, and simple pink writing icing with raspberry, I've chosen to make mine a little more grown up by using almond flavouring, and a naughty cream cheese icing, extra marshmallows nestling with the raspberries on top.

175g caster sugar
175g butter
350g gluten-free self-raising flour, I use Doves Farm gluten and wheat free (or you can use normal self-raising flour if you're not gluten intolerant)
3 tbsps milk
Approx 24 small marshmallows, or 12 large ones
1 tsp almond extract (or vanilla)

1. Fill a 12 hole muffin tray with large cupcake cases and turn oven to 180C (160 for fan ovens).

2. In a large bowl, mix the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy.

3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well.

4. Next add the flour, then the milk and the almond extract. Stir until well combined.

5. Pour enough batter into the cupcake cases that they are half full. Then add 1 large or 2 small marshmallows to the middle of the case, before covering it with more batter so that the case ends up three quarters full.

6. Bake in the oven for approx 20 minutes until golden and springy to touch.

7. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Icing ingredients:
Approx 40 small marshmallows or 12 large ones
110g Cream Cheese (Philadelphia works well)
1 tsp almond extract
400g icing sugar
110g unsalted butter
Pink food colouring
12 raspberries

1. Once the cupcakes are cool, beat the cream cheese and butter together, then add the almond extract and the pink food colouring (if using colour paste just a dot of it should be enough).

2. Gradually stir in the icing sugar, mixing well until the mixture is a thick paste.

3. Get a pint glass and place a piping bag with a nozzle inside the glass, so that the nozzle is on the bottom of the glass. Fold the piping bag edges over the glass rim. Spoon the paste into the piping bag, then carefully take the bag out of the glass and twist the end of the bag so that the icing is well contained.

4. Pipe the icing over the cupcakes and add some marshmallows and raspberries to finish.

These cupcakes were idly baked to the sounds of Johnny Cash's album American IV: The Man Comes Around

Friday, 3 June 2011

Summer days

Summer is here at last. The air hot and golden, no clouds in the sky to dampen the sun's strength. Bees weave in and out of the foxgloves, butterflies flit about the garden's bloom. The apple trees in our orchard, their dark green leaves full and densely woven, offer me the only place of shade. I lie down beneath the largest tree, listen to the distant sounds of a farmer working in the hayfields nearby, and dream of my next cake.

Raspberry, Lemon & Almond Cake

So, it's time to say goodbye to Spring. The bluebells in the wood, spread out over the last month as a bright ocean of blue, have now receded to sleep for another year. The image of them in full bloom has imprinted itself in my memory, an image of hope and renewal to be treasured at times when life feels hard.

Of all the cakes I made this spring, my favourite creation was my simple raspberry, lemon and almond cake. Muddled together from a hotchpotch of ingredients, and with a tentative novice's hand, it turned out far better than I had hoped. Infact we gave it such a rave review that a friend requested a slice be sent over to London for her to taste. I posted it next day delivery with a large scrawled FRAGILE over the envelope, but still thought that by the time she opened it she would find only almond crumbs and a few broken raspberries. Not so! Apparently it arrived very much intact, and just as delicious. What a hardy little cake.

Serves 8

For the cake:
1 carton of fresh raspberries, washed
1 tsp almond extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
180g unsalted butter, room temperature
225g plain flour (or gluten-free mix flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder (or gluten-free mix powder)
180g caster sugar
Grated rind of half a lemon
2 tablespoons milk (anything except skimmed)

1. Turn the oven to 180C (or 160C for fan ovens). Butter, flour and line a 23x7cm round tin.

2. In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar, almond extract and lemon rind together until mixture is fluffy and light.

3. Gradually add the eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time. Sift a tablespoon of flour with the 2nd egg, then another tablespoon with the 3rd, folding them into the batter and beat well.

4. Sift in the rest of the flour and the baking powder before adding the milk and raspberries, and mix gently. Being an idle sort, I don't mind if the raspberries sink to the bottom of my cake, but if you'd rather they were distributed more evenly then roll them in a little extra flour before adding them to the recipe.

5. Pour into the tin and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack.

For the glaze topping:
Half a cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup of flaked almonds

1. While the cake is still a little warm, place the flaked almonds evenly on top.

2. Put the lemon juice and caster sugar in a pan, and bring it to the boil over a hob before turning the heat down to a simmer. The glaze is ready when it has been reduced by approximately a third.

3. Using a pastry brush, carefully brush the glaze on to the top and sides of the cake.

This cake was idly baked to the sounds of Laura Marling's album I Speak Because I Can