Saturday, 30 July 2011

Apricot & Almond Birthday Cake

This simple and gorgeous recipe doesn't have to be saved for birthdays, but when I baked it earlier in the week to give my dear friend Kate a birthday tea it went down a treat. Fresh ripe apricots give the delicious cake real oomph and juiciness. This is supposed to feed 8, but Kate, Mr Eve and I managed to eat three quarters of it within the space of a few games of bananagrams. What can I say, the combination of old friends, bananagrams and apricot and almond cake is more than a tad addictive.

Serves 8

Adapted from Nigel Slater's lovely Cake for Midsummer recipe, from his website. See the recipe here. I swopped his raspberries for extra apricots, and gave it a great zesty tang to balance the sweetness of the fruit by adding the finely grated zest of half a lemon.

For the base:
8 small apricots (maximum 400g), halved, stoned and chopped into small pieces
zest of half a small lemon, finely grated
175g butter
175g plain flour
175g caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g ground almonds
2 tablespoons milk

1. Turn the oven to 180C (160C fan ovens). Grease and line a 20cm cake tin.

2. Mix the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until pale and smooth.

3. Add the first egg, and beat well before adding the second into the mixture. Beat again, before throwing in the ground almonds and grated lemon zest.

4. Next sieve in half the flour and the baking powder, and stir gently with a metal spoon until well combined.

5. Sift in the rest of the flour, after which spoon in the milk. Continue stirring gently and then add the chopped apricots, mixing into the the batter briefly.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin and place in the oven for approx 40 minutes. You'll know it's done when the top bounces back under your finger, and a skewer comes out clean.

7. Leave the cake to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, before turning it out onto a wire rack or plate.

For the topping:
1 or 2 tablespoons icing sugar
2 small apricots

8. When the cake has cooled, sieve the icing sugar ontop, perhaps also tying a ribbon in a bow around the cake for decoration.

9. Halve and quarter a couple of extra apricots, and place the quarters in a circle over the cake.

This cake was idly baked to the sounds of John Coltrane's album Blue Train

Monday, 25 July 2011

Gluten Free Rose & Lemon cupcakes

This simple recipe is my own creation, and I'm very pleased with it. The rose and lemon evoke turkish delight in delicate cupcake form. I should say that cupcakes satisfy the girly, romantic side of me, there's something so wonderfully, enjoyably frivolous about them. They're very quick to make and lots of fun to eat, just watch out for the sugar rush as you take your first mouthful of the cream cheese icing! These are both gluten free and nut free. If you'd like to go a step further and make them dairy free as well, then replace the butter in the cake batter with a dairy free margarine, and leave out the cream cheese icing, opting for a simple drizzle made from icing sugar and a few tablespoons of rose water or lemon juice instead.

Makes 12 medium muffin-sized cupcakes

125g gluten free self raising flour (Dove's Farm recommended)
1 teaspoon gluten free baking powder (Barkart recommended)
125g unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
125g caster sugar
finely grated zest of 1 small lemon
1 tablespoon rose water

1. Turn the oven to 180 (160 fan) and place large cupcake cases in a 12 muffin baking tray. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl, until smooth and fluffy.

2. Add the eggs one at a time and beat in. Then pour in the lemon zest and tablespoon of rose water, stirring well.

3. Next sieve the flour and baking powder into the mixture, stirring gently until the batter is combined.

4. Spoon the batter into each cupcake case, until they are approximately two-thirds full (you want to leave enough room for the cakes to rise).

5. Place in the oven for 20 minutes. You'll know the cakes are done if a skewer comes out clean.

6. Take out of the oven and leave for a few minutes, before moving the cupcakes in their cases to a wire rack or plate to cool.

for the icing:
1 or 2 teaspoons of rose water
100g butter
100g cream cheese
410g icing sugar
food colouring tint pastes (I used Dusky Pink and Grape Violet, both by Sugarflair)

7. Combine the butter and cream cheese. Stir in the teaspoon or 2 of rose water and mix together. 

8. Sift half the icing sugar into the mixture, and stir thoroughly, before adding the other half and continuing to stir until it is a thick paste. Take care stirring the icing sugar, as this is a bit messy, I tend to wear an apron as I've been known to accidentally drench myself in it when stirring too vigorously!

9. When the icing is combined, the only thing left to do is to colour it. If you're making more than 1 colour icing as I was, then divide the icing into 2 bowls and colour each accordingly. With colour tint pastes you only need to add a pin prick amount before stirring it in to give the icing a beautiful pastel colour.

10. Get a pint glass (or 2 if you're icing 2 different colours, in which case just follow the same method for each individual colour). 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.

11. Pipe the icing over the cupcakes and add any sprinkles or sugar flowers you fancy to decorate. To pipe a rose, you start piping in the middle of the cupcake and work outwards. To pipe a classic swirl, you start piping at the outer edge of the cupcake and work inwards.

These cupcakes were idly baked to the sounds of David Bowie's Singles Collection, the Space Oddity and Ziggy Stardust years.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Rhubarb Crumble

The fruit patch is really taking off. Not only have we had gluts of blackcurrants and wild strawberries, we've also seen the first of our rhubarb doing rather well. The arrival of some dear crumble-loving friends gave me the perfect excuse to create the first crumble made with our own fruit.

It's a testament to the freshness of the rhubarb, and the deliciousness of Nigella's recipe, that we fell on it when it came out of the oven, and it was only after we'd started helping ourselves to the dish that I remembered to take a photograph for this blog!

Serves 4-6

When giving this recipe Nigella states that it serves 10 people, most uncharacteristically assuming very small portions. In my experience this serves 4 with very big appetites and many second helpings, or 6 people with a little more self control.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe in Feast. Buy the book on Amazon
As she states in her brilliant book, this is the best crumble you may ever taste. Not wanting to mess with perfection, all I've done is add some oats to the topping to make it even crunchier.

for the rhubarb base:
750g/900g rhubarb chopped into small pieces
(shop bought rhubarb will be bright pink; home grown tends to be a much paler pink and green)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cornflour
50g caster sugar

1. Turn the oven to 190C (170C fan oven). Find a good sized pie dish.

2. In a saucepan, heat the chopped rhubarb over a medium heat with the butter, vanilla extract, cornflour and sugar, stirring every so often for five minutes, or until the rhubarb has softened into the melted butter.

3. Spoon the rhubarb mixture into the pie dish, making sure all the buttery juices from the pan are poured in too. If you are preparing this crumble in advance, now is the time to cover the dish and place it somewhere cool until you're ready to make the topping and bung it in the oven.

for the crumble topping:
110g unsalted butter, chopped into pieces
110g self raising flour
40g rolled oats
3 tablespoons demerara sugar

4. To make the crumble topping, put the flour and butter in a large mixing bowl and rub the two together with your clean hands, until the mixture is the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add the oats and demarara sugar and stir gently until well combined.

5. Then spoon the crumble ontop of the rhubarb, covering all the fruit well and pressing the topping down with the back of the spoon. It's worth placing this dish over a baking tray before placing it in the oven, as this catches the crumble juices that drip down when it bakes.

6. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes. If it hasn't browned enought for you after 40 minutes, then you can place it under the medium heat of the grill, but only for a minute as it will burn very easily.

7. Serve straight out of the oven, with some cream and/or ice cream.

This crumble was idly baked while chatting to our mates Sean and Jules in the kitchen.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Peyton & Byrne's Elderflower & Poppyseed Cake

I first made this gorgeous loaf cake in april, and it has remained a firm favourite ever since. Light, delicate and moist, it has such a lovely fresh elderflower flavour. Using duck eggs, which are richer and bigger than normal eggs, makes this cake extra special.

Serves 8-10
Barely adapted from the recipe in the brilliant British Baking by Peyton & Byrne. Buy the book on Amazon

for the cake:
2 duck eggs, room temperature
30g poppyseeds
100g golden caster sugar
170g unsalted butter, room temperature
1 and a half tablespoons elderflower cordial
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200g self-raising flour
140ml whole milk
Finely grated zest of 1 small lemon or half an orange

1.Turn the oven to 170C (150C fan oven). Grease a 2 lb loaf tin and line the bottom with baking paper.

2. Cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl. Then add the first egg, and beat well, before adding the second one and beating until smooth.

3. Throw in the lemon zest, poppyseed, elderflower cordial and rosewater or vanilla extract. Stir into the butter mixture, before adding half of the flour, and half of the milk. Stir gently until combined, before adding the rest of the flour followed by the last of the milk. Gently mix with a metal spoon.

4. Pour into the loaf baking tin and bake in the oven for 40-45 mins. You'll know it's done when a skewer comes out clean and the cake springs back under your touch. The loaf will be golden and have a beautiful split down the middle.

5. Remove from the oven and leave the cake in its tin for 15 minutes before carefully turning it out onto a wire rack or a plate to cool.

for the icing:
4 tablespoons elderflower cordial
125g icing sugar
a handful or two of poppy seeds
elderflower blossoms to decorate (optional)

6. To make the icing, mix the cordial and icing sugar and whisk with a fork until it is smooth and thick. My hand slipped with the cordial, meaning a little too much went in so my icing ended up a bit watery. Still yummy though, so it's entirely up to you how thick or thin you wish the icing to be. When the cake is cool, pour the icing onto the cake so that it drips down the sides. Scatter the poppyseeds ontop and decorate with fresh elderflower blossoms if you like.

This cake was idly baked to the sounds of the Kitty, Daisy and Lewis album Smoking in Heaven

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Summer Berry Clafoutis

Clafoutis is one of those brilliant puddings that fulfill all the idle baker's criteria, being remarkably quick and easy to make, very beautiful, and totally delicious. The batter and fruit idea comes from France, where they traditionally use cherries, but nowadays people are baking clafoutis using any soft fruit that's available.

Here I've made it following the dictats of Stephane Reynaud's brilliant tome Ripailles, to use up our garden berries: ripe gooseberries, raspberries and blackcurrants. The slight bitterness of the berries works well adding bite to the sugary batter, but you can equally try this with sweeter fruit such as peaches or nectarines if you'd like a milder flavour. Whatever fruit you use, baking this clafoutis in the oven will cause the kitchen to smell incredible, and the pudding to taste of summer. Second helpings all round.

Serves 4-6 depending how greedy you are

Adapted from the recipe in Ripailles by Stephane Reynaud. Buy the book on Amazon

450g/500g berries - I used gooseberries, raspberries and blackcurrants
125g plain flour
50g caster sugar
250ml milk
2 large eggs
1 tbsp icing sugar or caster sugar, to dust
1. Turn the oven to 180C (160C fan oven). Butter an ovenproof dish.

2. Wash any shop bought fruit, and top and tail any with stems.

2. Put the flour into a large mixing bowl, and add the first egg, stirring well. Next add the second egg and beat until combined.

3. Stir in the caster sugar, and then add the milk. Mix well until the batter is smooth and liquid.

4. Place the prepared fruit in the ovenproof dish. Bake in the oven for approx 25 minutes, until the batter looks bounces back under your finger and the edges are golden brown.

5. Take out of the oven, and sieve the sugar over the top.

6. Leave the clafoutis to cool a bit. It can be served either warm or at room temperature.

This clafoutis was idly baked while laughing at BBC Radio 4's programme I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Idle Cheat's Blackcurrant Coulis Icecream

Ok, so this shouldn't strictly be included in my idle baking journal as there's neither cake nor oven in sight, but the weather is beautiful, the living is (relatively) easy, and the first of our blackcurrants have been picked from the fruit patch. We only started the fruit and herb patches this January, so you can imagine my excitement this week when it came to picking our first ever produce. I decided there was nothing for it but to make my first ice cream as well, featuring the blackcurrants as the stars of the show.

But I hadn't counted on how quickly they would age. Even with refrigeration, the blackcurrants only lasted 3 days before they were about to turn bad. So, without the right ingredients in the house to make the icecream I had planned, I turned to plan B: a blackcurrant coulis. That way I could cook up the berries quickly and then integrate the sauce into the shop bought icecream that was already in the freezer. Voila the idle cheat's Blackcurrant Coulis Icecream. A lot less work than actually making icecream, and delicious to boot.

Serves 4
Inspired by Nigel Slater's recipe at BBC Food Website

1 bowl of blackcurrants or another berry fruit
3 tbsps water
2 tbsps caster sugar
450ml or 500ml tub of vanilla icecream (or a dairy free alternative, such as Worthenshaw's Freedom dessert range)
small carton of single cream to serve, plus extra blackcurrants, both optional

1. Take the icecream out of the freezer and leave it in its tub, with a plate underneath, to start melting.

2. To make the coulis, first wash the blackcurrants and pull the stems off them.

3. In a small saucepan over a high heat, bring the blackcurrants, sugar and water to the boil.  Then simmer for 5 minutes. Once the blackcurrants are bursting their juices, bring the pan to a boil for another 2 minutes.

4. Next take the saucepan off the heat and leave it to cool.

5. When the icecream has almost melted, spoon it carefully into a large mixing bowl.

6. Pour two thirds of the blackcurrant coulis into the icecream, and stir them together, which will turn the mixture a lovely marbled pink colour.

7.  Spoon the pink coulis icecream back into the icecream tub. Then pour the remainder of the coulis on top of the mixture, before stirring it in gently.

8. Put the lid back on the icecream tub and place back into the freezer. Use within 1 month.

9. Serve with extra blackcurrants, and some single cream if you're that way inclined.

If you'd like an even quicker dessert, just make the coulis, leave it to cool, and then drizzle it over the shop bought icecream scoops when you come to serve them, perhaps with some fresh berries and madeleines.

This coulis icecream was idly made to the sounds of PJ Harvey's album Let England Shake

Friday, 8 July 2011

Gluten Free Ginger Layer Cake

This is a lovely sophisticated cake that actually tastes better after a day or two, which means it's a particularly good one to make days in advance if you've got friends coming to stay the weekend and want to be socialising rather than baking. The rich ginger flavour of this cake makes it one for the adult rather than the child's taste buds: dark, moist and decadent.

Serve 8

Inspired by the loaf recipe by Annie Bell at
I've added orange zest, stem ginger, crystallised ginger and walnuts to the recipe, turning it from a loaf into a double layered cake.

Cake base ingredients:
225g gluten free plain flour (Dove's Farm or M&S recommended), sifted
50g walnuts, broken into small pieces
110g dark muscovado sugar
110g golden syrup
110g black treacle
110g unsalted butter
80g stem ginger, chopped finely
1 tsp stem ginger syrup
1 and a quarter tsps ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
half a teaspoon gluten free baking powder (such as Barkart)
grated zest of half an orange
2 large eggs
2 tbsps milk

1. Turn the oven to 180C (160 fan oven). Grease and line two 18 or 20 inch round tins.

2. Beat the eggs in a small bowl and put to one side.

3. Put the butter, sugar, syrup, treacle and orange juice into a saucepan and place over a low heat until mixed, whisking gently with a fork.

4. Combine the sifted flour, baking powder, grated orange zest, ginger, cinnamon and stem ginger syrup to the butter mixture, and stir well.

5. Add the eggs and milk and beat firmly until the mixture is smooth.

6. Tip the chopped stem ginger and broken walnuts into the batter and stir gently until all is combined.

7. Pour the batter into the 2 prepared baking tins, and place in the oven for approx 50 minutes. They will be done when a skewer comes out clean and the tops bounce back when you touch them with your finger. Take out of the oven and leave in the tins for 15 minutes, before carefully turning the cakes out onto a wire rack to cool.

For the icing:
4/5 tbsps orange juice (approx 2/3 squeezed oranges)
300g icing sugar, sifted
crystallised ginger pieces

8. To make the icing, combine the icing sugar and freshly squeezed orange juice together.

9. Spoon the icing over the bottom cake, then place the second cake ontop.

10. Spoon the leftover icing over the top cake. I like my cakes to look a bit messy and bohemian, so I add a lot of icing, leaving pools around the cake. If you'd like a smarter, neater looking cake, just be careful to add less of the icing.

10. Finally, place the crystallised ginger pieces around the cake. Leave the cake for at least an hour before eating to allow the icing to settle.

This cake was idly baked to the sounds of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' soundtrack for the movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Monday, 4 July 2011

Seaside Madeleines

Madeleines are delicious little bites of shell shaped genoese sponge cake, perfect for taking to the sea, or on a walk or picnic, as they travel well and don't feel heavy on the stomach. Yesterday I ate 3 of these before jumping into the sea! A french cake, they remind me of the time in my early twenties living in Paris, when I was addicted to snacking on them. One word of warning though, you do need a special madeleine tin to make these properly - I tried making small fairy cake versions and they were yummy but not the same. I got my silicone tin, and this recipe, with the magazine Baked & Delicious. I think their madeleine edition is still out now so if you hurry you can buy one at most UK newsagents. You'll thank me when you taste these gorgeous tiny cakes!

Adapted from the one given in Baked & Delicious Magazine, edition 9.
Serves 4/ Makes approx 16.

65g unsalted butter
65g caster sugar
65g plain flour
half a tbsp cornflour
2 eggs
half a teaspoon vanilla extract
half a teaspoon almond extract
icing sugar to sprinkle
1 tbsp cocoa powder (optional)

1. Turn the oven to 190C (170C fan ovens).

2. Carefully melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat, making sure it doesn't burn. Once all melted put the saucepan to one side to cool (and cover it with a plate if it's hot sunny weather like it is here).

3. Whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and almond extract in a large bowl over a bain mairie, which is a pan of almost simmering water, until the mixture is foamy, thickened and tripled in size. You'll need to use an electric whisk unless you have incredibly strong wrists as this takes a lot of beating! Remove bowl from pan and continue beating the mixture until it has cooled.

4. Sift the flour with the cornflour. Then sift half on to the egg mixture. Fold it in with a metal spoon, lifting gently.

5. When combined, sift the rest of the flour on top and next add the melted butter, stirring gently until combined.

6. For the classic madeleines, simply spoon the mixture into a 9 cake madeleine tray, smoothing the tops before placing in the oven for 10-12 minutes. Put the bowl with the remaining mixture in a cool place covered with a lid or plate and leave for a minute.

7. You'll know the madeleines are cooked when the tops are golden and springy to touch. Let them sit in the tray for 10 minutes before gently turning them out onto a plate or wire rack.

8. Clean the madeleine tray, and wipe dry.

9. To make the next batch, I chose to create madeleines au chocolat. To do this, sift a tablespoon of cocoa powder into the remaining mixture and gently stir until well mixed in.

10. Repeat the process of spooning the mixture into the tray, and baking in the oven for 10-12 minutes, before taking out and leaving to cool as before.

11. When all the madeleines are cool, place them on a couple of plates and sieve icing sugar over the top. These little cakes taste great with a glass of cold white wine, or as an accompaniment with icecream. The chocolate ones are particularly tasty with a cup of coffee.

Madeleines were so evocative for Marcel Proust that he wrote many pages about them in A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu. Volume 1, Swann's Way, Within a Budding Grove. Here's an extract where he takes his first bite:

' mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?'

This cake was idly baked to the sounds of Jeff Buckley's album Grace. For me a Proustian accompaniment, as I saw Buckley live in the 90s at Reading Festival and he was absolutely incredible.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Gluten Free Wild Strawberry & Orange Cake

This simple summer cake is my own creation, designed to showcase the the wild strawberries that grow in the sunniest patches of the garden. Wild strawberries are natural beauties, too frequently ignored in favour of their large watery domestic cousins. The tiny fruit jewels have a stronger, more intense berry flavour, and they taste amazing thrown into salads as well as used in cake toppings or fruit compotes. Have a forage around your local hedgerows or woodland and you can easily spot them; don't wash them before use or you'll drown them. You can of course create the glaze topping with large domestic strawberries, just be prepared to use more of them to create as much flavour as the wild variety.

Serves 8 -10

200g unsalted butter, room temperature
200g golden caster sugar
200g gluten free plain flour (Dove's Farm or M&S recommended), sieved
1 tsp baking powder
1 or 2 tbsps ground almonds
grated rind of half an orange
juice of half an orange
3 eggs

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

2. Cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Add 1 egg, the orange juice and rind, and beat well. Add the 2nd egg, plus the baking powder and a third of the sieved flour and combine. Finally, fold in the 3rd egg along with the rest of the flour and all the ground almonds. Mix gently until the batter is totally combined.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and put in the oven for approx 50mins. It will be done when a skewer comes out clean and the top bounces back when you touch it with your finger. Take it out of the oven and leave in the tin for 15 minutes, before carefully turning it out onto a wire rack to cool.

For the glaze topping:

1 small bowl of wild strawberries
quarter of a cup of golden caster sugar
juice of half an orange
carton runny cream to serve (optional)

4. Mix together the topping ingredients in a large bowl and then spoon over the cake. Serve straight away with runny cream.

This cake was idly baked while thinking about Wild Strawberries, my favourite Ingmar Bergman film and a real classic. Here's one of the more whimsical bucolic scenes as an old man looks back at his youth. Have a peek while eating the wild strawberry cake.