Sunday, 29 April 2012

Plum, Almond & Pear Flan

This is the most gorgeous flan, cinnamon laced plums and pears nestling in a plump almond batter. Perfect for an idle baker, it looks much more work than it really is. By baking this as a flan, rather than a tart, you cut out all the fussy pastry making and introduce a delicious biscuit base that adds a satisfying depth and crunch to the taste. It's also one of those puddings that can be made in advance, and brought out to much acclaim when it's time to eat, leaving you free to relax and enjoy yourself rather than slaving over a hot oven.

Adapt this recipe to accomodate whatever fruit you have in the house, using plums or pears alone if you like. If I'd had them I'd have added more plums, as they taste particularly good and look stunning against the almond filling.

Adapted from the one online that I printed out years ago, and can't find on the web now
Serves 8-10

for the flan base:
200g digestive biscuits, crushed
85g butter, chopped small

1. To crush the biscuits, seal them in a plastic bag and hit them with a rolling pin. Then place the crushed biscuits on the weighing scales to measure out the right amount.

2. Gently melt the butter over a low heat, before stirring the crushed biscuits into the pan and stirring until they're well combined.

3. Press the mixture into a 9 to 12 inch tart case with a removable base, as you would for a cheesecake.

for the filling:
100g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
85g self raising flour
100g ground almonds
2 or 3 drops of almond extract
4 or more large plums, halved and cored
1 pear, halved and cored (and peeled if you wish)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
vanilla sugar, to sprinkle
2 tablespoons red or purple plum jam
3 handfuls flaked almonds, toasted

4. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl for approx 3 minutes until light and fluffy.

5. Beat in the eggs one by one, followed by the drops of almond extract.

6. Next add the flour, milk and ground almonds, mixing well until smooth.

7. Pour the filling over the biscuit base in the tin, and smooth it down.

8. Roll the fruit in the cinnamon on a plate, before placing the plums and pears into the filling. You can either chop them finely and arrange them in concentric circles, or for a more rustic flan like mine you simply place the fruit halves into the filling, pressing them into the batter.

9.  Sprinkle a little vanilla sugar ontop, and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until the filling looks pale golden and bounces back under your thumb.

10. Take out of the oven and leave to cool a little, before taking out of the tin.

11. While the flan cools, warm a couple of spoonfuls of plum jam over a low heat and then strain through a sieve. Brush the flan with the strained jam juice, before scattering with flaked almonds.
I didn't bother, but you could also sift a little icing sugar over the flan if you like.

12. Serve warm or cold, with creme fraiche or cream.

This flan was idly baked while listening to London Calling by The Clash

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Gluten Free Mini Orange & Chocolate Chip Whoopie Pies

For my birthday recently, my dear friend Caroline gave me Claire Ptak's gorgeous Whoopie Pie Book and a mini whoopie pie baking tray, opening my eyes to a world of whoopie deliciousness hitherto untasted and unknown.

Here I've baked a gluten free adaptation of Ptak's chocolate chip whoopie cake recipe - adding my twist of orange zest and juice to the sponges, plus Green & Black's Maya Gold to the delectable marshmallow chocolate icing. The little pies are bite size chunks of chocolate orange. I don't know why they're are called pies - they're sweet little cupcake sandwiches and very addictive. Thanks Caroline!

Adapted from Claire Ptak's recipe in The Whoopie Pie Book. Buy the book on Amazon here

Makes 12 mini whoopie pies

for the pie batter:
140g gluten free mix flour (Dove's Farm or M&S recommended)
half a teaspoon gluten free baking powder (Barkart recommended)
pinch of salt
65g unsalted butter, room temperature
50g golden caster sugar
50g light muscovado sugar
half a large egg
30ml milk
30ml natural yoghurt
1 squeeze of a fresh juice from an orange
2 teaspoons of grated orange zest
100g plain chocolate chips

1. Grease a couple of mini whoopie pie baking trays, or grease and line a couple of flat baking trays.

2. Cream the butter and sugars in a large bowl for at least 3 minutes until light and fluffy.

3. Add the egg, and beat well.

4. Next combine the milk and yoghurt in a measuring jug, stirring to make a quasi buttermilk.

5. Pour the buttermilk into the bowl, and then add the orange juice and orange zest. Stir well to combine.

6. Sift the gluten free flour, baking powder and salt into the batter, and beat again.

7. Finally, gently fold in the chocolate chips with a wooden spoon.

8. Place the bowl full of batter into the fridge for half an hour to chill.

9. Turn the oven to 180C (160C fan ovens), and leave to come to temperature as the batter is chilling.

10. When ready, place spoonfuls of the chilled batter into the pie baking tray, or dollop small spoonfuls onto the lined baking trays.

11. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes only. You'll know the pies are done when your finger leaves an indent on the top of one of the pies.

12. Pop out of the baking trays and leave to cool on a wire rack or plate.

for the chocolate marshmallow filling:

50g Maya Gold dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
1 and a half egg whites
75g caster sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
half a pinch of salt
2-3 drops of orange blossom extract

13. Melt the chocolate pieces in a bain mairie (a heatproof bowl over a pan of just simmering water). Stir gently, and take off the heat to cool when melted.

14. To make the marshmallow, place the pan of water back on the heat and place another larger heatproof bowl over the top. Add the egg white, sugar, syrup, salt and orange blossom water, and whisk the ingredients by hand for 10-15 minutes until the mixture has cohered and froths.

15. Take the bowl off the heat, and beat it hard with an electric beater or whisk. You'll know the filling is ready when it is white, shiny and thickened and holds its shape. Gently stir in the melted chocolate until just combined.

16. When the whoopies are cool, place a heaped teaspoon full of the filling into the centre of a whoopie, and sandwich it gently with another one. You can serve immediately, or leave for half an hour to let the filling firm up.

These whoopie pies were idly baked to the sounds of Henry Purcell's Musique Funebre Pour La Reine Mary

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Gluten Free Rhubarb, Ginger & Coconut Crumble Cake

Without hesitation, let me say this is one of the best cakes I've ever made. It tastes sublime, an idle baking must-do for all you crumble and cakeaholics out there. Made with gluten free flours and the first home grown rhubarb of the year, it has a crunchy crumble topping, sweetly tart gingered rhubarb and a soft fluffy base. If you need the cake to be nut as well as gluten free, then simply take out the coconut and replace with more gf flour and sugar. It will be scrumptious either way.

My own recipe

Serves 8-10

for the crumble:
85g gluten free plain flour mix (Dove's Farm or M&S recommended)
60g dessicated coconut
85g unsalted butter, cold
85g caster sugar

1. Turn the oven to 180C (160C fan ovens), and grease and line a deep 20/23cm springform cake tin. To make the crumble, cut the butter into small chunks and using your hands rub it in to the flour, coconut, and sugar in a large bowl until resembling crumbs. Put the crumble to one side.

for the rhubarb:
500-600g rhubarb
1 teaspoon ground or fresh finely chopped ginger
1 or 2 tablespoons caster sugar

2. Cut the rhubarb also into small chunks. Taste it for bitterness, before tossing it in another bowl with the ginger and sugar. If the rhubarb is quite sweet only 1 tablespoon of sugar is needed, but add an extra tablespoon if the fruit is a little bitter.

for the cake base:
170g unsalted butter, room temperature
170g caster sugar
3 eggs
170g gluten free self raising flour mix (Dove's Farm or M&S recommended)
1 teaspoon gluten free baking powder (Barkart recommended)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon milk

3. To make the batter, cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl for at least 3 minutes, until light and fluffy.

4. Add the eggs one by one, followed by a tablespoon of the flour after each addition. Beat well.

5. Next stir in the rest of the flour, baking powder and the ginger.

6. Then add the milk and stir gently until the batter is smooth and well combined.

7. Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin, then spoon the rhubarb in its ginger sugar evenly over the top.

8. Finally, tip the crumble topping over the rhubarb until it has covered the top of the cake, and level off. It should come to the top of the baking tin.

9. Place in the oven and bake for approx 1 hour, checking after 50 minutes. You'll know it's done when a skewer comes out clean except for a little rhubarb juice.

10. When done, take out of the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes, before placing on a wire rack or plate to cool further.

11. Serve warm, with a dollop of cream.

This cake was idly baked while listening to BBC Radio 4's programme The Listening Project

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Sweet Honey Loaf

Forgive the delay in posting, dear readers, I came down with a nasty bug after Easter, and then as soon as I'd recovered it was time to go away on holiday. It seems apt to choose a honey cake as my first bake since illness, for honey has been used for centuries for its antibacterial effect in aiding the body's natural healing. Used in this delicious, sweet and soothing loaf cake, the delicate honey and nuts are a delight for the senses and my own favourite form of medicine.

This recipe makes a cute sized little loaf, ideal when you have less people to feed, or simply fancy feeding yourself very well indeed.

Recipe my own. Makes a small 1lb loaf.
Serves 4-6

for the base:
50g unsalted butter, room temperature
110g runny honey
2 eggs, room temperature
75ml milk
125g caster sugar
50g dessicated coconut or ground almonds
150g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
half a teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

1. Turn the oven to 160C (140C fan ovens). Grease and line a 1lb loaf tin.

2. Put the butter and honey in a pan over a hob on a low heat and stir until melted. Pour it into a large bowl.

3. Add the caster sugar and eggs to the bowl. Whisk the mixture for a minute until smooth and starting to bubble. Tip in the vanilla or almond extract, and the dessicated coconut or ground almonds. Stir gently until combined.

4. Sift the flour and baking powder gradually in 2 stages to the batter. Next pour in the milk, and beat the batter until light and smooth.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin, then bake for approx 50 mins. Bake until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

6. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 15 mins, before taking it out and onto a wire rack or plate to cool fully.

for the icing:
100g icing sugar, sifted
approx 1 and a half tablespoons water
1 teaspoon honey

7. To make the icing, gradually whisk the water and honey into the icing sugar in stages, until the icing is runny but firm and shiny.

8. Drizzle the icing in lines over the loaf, and then leave to set.

9. Serve accompanied with an equally healthy green tea.

This honey loaf was idly baked to the sounds of Laura Marling's double album version of A Creature I Don't Know

Monday, 9 April 2012

Gluten Free Chocolate Courgette Cake

This moist, dark chocolate cake is gluten free, potentially dairy free if you top with melted chocolate instead of the icing, and most importantly totally delicious. You can't taste the courgette, but it gives the crumb a lovely soft and fluffy texture, the perfect foil for some rich chocolate icing and lots of easter eggs. If you're in any doubt of the health benefits of this cake, just remember that it contains three courgettes, so that's at least 1 of your 5 a day, no?

Serves 8-10

Base recipe adapted from the one by Sandy at the All Recipes website, see it here at
Icing recipe adapted from one by Mitzie Wilson and Caroline Russell at delicious. Magazine online. See their recipe here.

175g gluten free plain flour
250g golden caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon gluten free baking powder
two thirds of a teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
3 medium eggs
230ml vegetable oil
220g grated courgette

1. Turn oven to 180C (160C fan oven), and grease and line a 20cm spring form cake tin.

2. Mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together in a large bowl.

3. Add the eggs and the oil, beating well.

4. Fold in the grated courgette, mixing until thoroughly combined.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin, and bake in the oven for approximately 50 minutes. You'll know it's done when a skewer comes out clean.

6. Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes, before placing on a wire rack or plate to cool completely.

for the icing:
100g unsalted butter, room temperature
225g plain chocolate,
142ml double cream
and/or 100g dark chocolate, optional

for the chocolate mice:
white chocolate bars, milk chocolate bars, dark chocolate bars as below

8. To make the icing, break the plain chocolate into small pieces and melt with the butter in a heat proof bowl over another bain mairie as before.

9. Stir it carefully, then when all melted beat in the double cream with an electric hand whisk. Take off the heat and leave the mixture to cool.

10. When the base and the icing are smooth, spread icing over the top and the sides of the cake. In an optional extra manouevre to make it even more chocolatey I then melted 100g dark chocolate and spooned that over the top of the cake, before leaving to cool. If you want this to be a dairy free cake, then spoon approx 150g-200g dark chocolate over the top of the un-iced cake,

11. When the melted chocolate is totally cool, decorate with eggs and chocolate bunnies and chicks. You can see how to make your own chocolate animals at my white chocolate mouse cake post here
Add sprinkles or anything else you fancy to decorate, the kitscher the better.


This cake was baked while listening to Leonard Cohen's new album Old Ideas, and was decorated by Mr Stanley Booth aged nearly 4

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Blueberry & Primrose Bakewell Cake

For my own birthday cake, I wanted to create something lovely, light and subtle, a cake to freshen the palate before the onslaught of chocolate this Easter. Ground and flaked almonds create a scrumptious Bakewell taste when laced with any berry, and here I used them to compliment fresh blueberries and the sweet tang of primrose, an edible flower in great supply in gardens, fields and hedgerows at this time of year. A little piece of Spring in every slice.

Serves 8 -10
Adapted from the recipe at BBC Good Food Online, see the recipe here

150g ground almonds
150g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter, room temperature
150g self raising flour
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp almond extract
150g fresh blueberries, washed and dried
3 handfuls flaked almonds
3 handfuls primroses picked from the garden, 10 minutes before the decoration, optional
sprinkling of vanilla or caster sugar, for decoration, optional

1. Heat oven to 180 (160C Fan) and line and grease a 20cm spring form cake tin.

2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

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

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

5. Sift in the rest of the flour and stir.

6. Pour just under half the batter over the base of the cake tin to cover it, before placing the blueberries evenly over the top. Then add the rest of the batter, spreading and smoothing down with a spatula. Make sure that all the berries are covered by the batter.

7. Sprinkle the flaked almonds over the cake, then put in the oven to bake for approx 50 minutes. You'll know it's done when a skewer comes out clean.

8. Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes, before carefully turning out of the tin to cool on a wire rack or plate.

9. Shortly before serving, pick the primroses from the garden or a park or hedgerow, and place over the cake to decorate. Sprinkle with a little vanilla or caster sugar, and serve with or without cream.

This cake was idly baked while listening to Just A Minute on BBC Radio 4