The Best Banana Bread I’ve ever made

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My Bestest Banana Bread

I’m going to let you into a secret. I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen, trying new combinations of flours and flavours to make some tasty, healthy (ish) cakes using up food that would otherwise go to waste. And what did I conjure up? My bestest banana bread recipe, with coconut, pistachio and rye. Additional bonuses include an extra cake! This recipe is enough for 2 cakes, so you can freeze one for later or give it to a friend who needs a nutritious energy boost. It’s also low in sugar and gluten. (You could choose gluten free flour if you prefer.)

Bonus Banana Bread

Bonus Banana Bread

When my bananas are on the turn and almost ready for the bin I throw them in the freezer in their blacken skins to save for a later date.  (Yes you can freeze bananas. Feel free to peel them first and pop them in a tupperware container first if you want to use them from frozen for smoothies or milkshakes, then you don’t even need to add ice cream for a chilled drink).

Once I have 3 black bananas stockpiled I whip up my Banana Bread. Leave your bananas to defrost for an hour or so before you peel them to make your banana bread, as if they’re too cold it will make your butter solidify and could give you denser cake and an uneven bake.

This is really quick to make. Basically beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Followed by your bananas, vanilla and eggs, then the combination of flours and baking powder. Finally beat in a handful of sultanas and chopped walnuts. This takes about 15 minutes with an electric mixer.

I use two 6 inch round tins to bake this recipe, or you could bake one large banana bread loaf if you prefer. Liberally sprinkle the cakes with chopped nuts (whatever you have to hand is fine). I use pistachios which gives you gorgeous green flecks singing out in between the flaked almonds and hazelnuts.

As the cake bakes the batter rises up and supports the nuts, holding them in place for the final cake. It’s also the perfect way to disguise any uneven finishes on your cake, if like me you have an unpredictably hot oven.

My initial experiments involved using 100% coconut flour, but this ended in disaster. I think coconut flour needs to be balanced against other nuttier flours (I like using rye flour but spelt or wholemeal would work well too) to absorb some of the natural oils and sugars and avoid the quick to burn, blackened mess that I made.

In less than an hour (50 minutes at 150 degrees c to be precise) you will produce two beautifully moist banana cakes, that are perfect accompanied by a large mug of strong tea, perhaps after a bracing stroll by the coast. I’m drooling just thinking of that sweet sponge and nutty crunch of a cake. Wonder how many bananas I have lurking in my freezer today…

Perfect Cake spot: A blustry day by Alnwick Castle

Perfect Cake spot: A blustery day by Alnwick Castle

 Things I used to make my Bestest Banana Bread

  • 125g margarine (or butter)
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 3 over ripe bananas
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 100g coconut flour (or finely ground dessicated coconut if you can’t find the flour)
  • 90g Rye Flour (or spelt or wholemeal) -NB: Spelt and Rye flours are not gluten free but may be more suitable to those who have a wheat intolerance. Use a wholemeal gluten free flour if you want to avoid gluten in this recipe.
  • 60g plain flour (feel free to use gluten free flour)
  • 3 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp ground cassia (or cinnamon or mace)
  • Handful of chopped sultanas
  • Handful of chopped walnuts
  • * Topping: (2 handful of chopped/flaked nuts: almonds, pistachio, walnuts, hazelnuts
  1. Beat together sugar and butter until fluffy
  2. Beat in bananas
  3. Beat in eggs one by one
  4. Beat in vanilla paste
  5. Beat in coconut, plain, rye flours and baking powder and spice
  6. Beat in sultanas and walnuts
  7. Pour into 2 greased 6 inch round tins (or one large loaf tin)
  8. Cover the top of each cake entirely with a layer of chopped nuts
  9. Bake for 50  mins at 150 degrees c (or until a skewer comes out clean)

My other banana based recipes are Fanny and Otto’s Fijian Banana Cake

The Alternative Gingerbread House – Gingerbread Cave and Christmas Tree (or how not to make a gingerbread igloo)

The gingerbread Christmas Tree and Cave with the Bear and the Hare

The gingerbread Christmas Tree and Cave with the Bear and the Hare

I had a grand plan to bake a Gingerbread Igloo for this year’s Gingerbread House Challenge to raise money for The Sick Children’s Trust. In my mind this would be wonderfully easy. Simply slap a circle of gingerbread dough on a greased upside down pyrex bowl and bake. Easy?

Melted ingerbread mess

Melted gingerbread mess

Perhaps if I had given myself enough time to chill the dough before baking it or used ribbons of greaseproof paper to line the outside of the bowl I might have managed to salvage the igloo. But as it happens I did none of these helpful things and ended up with a lot of gingerbread on the floor of my oven instead.

Taking my sharpest knife I hacked away the excess gingerbread leaving a rather rugged (and uneven edge). Returning it to the oven for a second bake ‘to crisp it up’ was an equally bad idea as the gingerbread then firmly welded itself onto the bowl. Once cooled it then had to be chipped off the bowl. Leaving behind a cave-like gingerbread construction instead.

The first gingerbread igloo/cave

The first gingerbread igloo/cave

‘Who lives in a cave?’ I asked Chris. ‘What can I make this this gingerbread mess?!’ ‘How about the Bear and the Hare from that John Lewis Christmas advert?’ He suggested. I took the idea and ran with it. Whipping up thick white royal icing to cement my cave onto my cake board and adding extra for support. But this gingerbread was far too thin to hold it’s own weight, even with internal gingerbread scaffolding it self destructed over night.

Collapsed gingerbread cave - yet another gingerbread mess

Collapsed gingerbread cave – yet another gingerbread mess

I had now really committed to the idea and already fashioned some fondant animals so I had to construct another cave. A new and improved cave.

Using a half sphere cake tin I layered up gingerbread bricks (or rectangles of rolled out dough) about 3mm thick on the inside of the tin after greasing it heavily. I also included 2 ribbons of greaseproof paper laid (like a hot cross bun cross) inside the tin to act as lever and help me remove it later on. I decided to use a pastry technique and ‘blind bake’ the dough by filling it with a layer of greaseproof paper and kidney beans to hold it in place and avoid disastrous meltage. It worked!! I put it all in the freezer to chill it before baking and help it hold it’s shape. Then 15 minutes in the oven with the beans and 5 minutes baking without the beans led to a good solid cave!

Almost finished Gingerbread Cave

Almost finished Gingerbread Cave

I also experimented with a cave baked on the outside of the half sphere tin, but this spread and looked more like a tortoise shell… Perhaps another alternative gingerbread house for the future!

With the leftover bits of gingerbread dough I thought I best bake some emergency-if-it-all-goes-wrong gingerbread houses. Making it up as I went along (as who has time to make precise templates and measure things?!) armed with a palette knife and a pizza cutter I cut out 3 large (similar size and shape) triangles to make the walls of my wigwam.

This wigwam was then magically transformed into my Christmas tree. It didn’t really look substantial enough to be a house in it’s own right, after I had joined the triangles together to make a 3d wigwam shape. (Using just a line of royal icing on the inside join of each triangle). Inspired I added food colouring to my royal icing and zig zagged the pine needles in place using a  piping bag with the end trimmed off. (Not too large a hole or too much icing gushes out!) Returning with red and yellow coloured icing to dot on baubles. With a generous sprinkle of glitter a rather festive gingerbread Christmas tree had arrived. Once the icing had set I carefully prised the tree from it’s resting place (on a baking tray lined with cling film) with a cocktail stick and plopped it onto even more royal icing on the cake board.

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree how lovely are your baubles

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree how lovely are your baubles

To decorate the cave I whipped up a batch of royal icing, using merriwhite (pasteurised egg white powder that you can buy from cake shops, so you don’t have to use raw egg whites if children or pregnant women might eat your baking). I smeared a good rough layer of royal icing all over the board to cover the silver foil and give a snowy effect. This is then the perfect base for glueing the gingerbread cave in place. I then piped more ‘snow’ around the the edges of the cave, all along the join between the cave and the board to hold it in place, but also to suggest a snow build up. I let the icing flow freely and smoothly to give as natural an effect as possible.

Piles of icicles

Piles of icicles

I wanted to create icicles to dangling from the cave mouth. Once the initial layer of snow had dried I could then use this icing to ‘hook’ the icicles on to. I piped a blob of icing behing the inside lip of the cave attatching it as far in to the roof (and joining on to the snow trim) as possible. Simple strings of icing didn’t hold and didn’t look right. I found it easier to squeezed the piping bag gently letting the icing build up and then stretch the icing with the nozzle of the piping bag before you stop piping. THis means you can then shape it as you wish. You can then even add more layers to your icicles if you want to build them up further. A good sprinkle of edible glitter (white hologram glitter is my preferred choice with a hint of blue) gives it a frosty twinkle.

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As I added my Gingerbread Cave to the amazing array of Gingerbread Houses I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I had successfully managed to get it there in one piece! Here’s some of the beautiful gingerbread creations from the day. There were over 20 houses to gaze and wonder at. What a wonderful start to the festive season!

Things that I used to bake my Gingerbread Cave and Christmas Tree

  • 675g plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
  • 1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground all spice
  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 225g soft light brown sugar
  • 1 large, free range egg
  • 3 tbsp golden syrup
  • 3 tbsp black treacle
  1. Beat all the ingredients together and chill.
  2. Roll out to 5mm thickness
  3. Grease and line tin. Place dough in a spherical tin (lined with paper inside and baking beans) and chill for 1 hour in freezer. You can bake it from frozen, no need to defrost
  4. Bake for 10 mins with beans at 180 degrees c.
  5. Remove beans and bake for 5 more minutes
  6. Allow to set in the tin but remove it whilst still warm

For the Royal Icing

  • 16g merriwhite
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 6 -10 tbsp cold water (enough to create a really thick pipeable paste with a smooth shiny finish)
  • Red, green and yellow gel food colourings (if you want to colour some of the icing too)

Beat the ingredients together adding the water gradually until you get the right consistency for you. It should be shiny and thick. It might take 5- 10  minutes of beating. Keep it in an airtight container to stop it drying out.

Put a little in a separate bowl and add colourings if you wish to colour some icing. I used 3 bowls for my 3 colours and kept the white icing in the mixing bowl to fill up my piping bags as needed.

To Decorate

  • edible glitter!
  • silver lustre spray (I sprayed the bear silver)
  • gold lustre powder (I painted the hare gold)
  • fondant icing to model animals and clock
  • a fork/cocktail sticks (to add details to the animals… eg. claws, eyes, mouth, whiskers, textured fur)

Just the one Jamaican Black Cake – with extra booze!

Almost ready for eating Jamaican Black Cake

Almost ready for eating Jamaican Black Cake

Not satisfied with creating a Jamaican Black Cake containing 3 bottles of rum AND a bottle of Brandy, I have returned to my original recipe to see if I can improve it even further. It was such a success when I made it 2 years ago I wanted to make an extra special Christmas Cake and as the festive season is almost upon us now is the perfect time to start soaking the fruit in lots and lots of booze!

Soaking in the rum

Soaking in the rum

When I first tried this recipe I in dove head first without preparing myself fully, or realising that it was in fact enough to create 3 Jamaican Black cakes. This recipe is a slightly more restrained version, for just the one cake, if perhaps you don’t want to bankrupt yourself buying booze and fruit for 3 cakes. However if you have an army of Rum cake lovers or perhaps might be thinking creating a tiered (wedding?) cake the original Jamaican Black Cake recipe may be the one for you! The cakes contain so much rum they will keep very well for at least a month (and perhaps up to a year, if you can hang on to it that long!)

Soak the fruit in rum and brandy for up to 2 weeks

Soak the fruit in rum and brandy for up to 2 weeks

This cake does take a little bit of planning and preparation. I wanted to use spiced rum in the cake as a slightly different alternative to my last cake, but stumbled at the first hurdle. The shop keeper wouldn’t sell me the massive bottle of booze without my ID which was sat at home. The shop keeper wasn’t budging despite my protestations that I’m 30 and have my marriage certificate with me and that I wasn’t even going to drink the rum it was for my cake! Determined to secure my spicy rum I came back with my license and all was well! The dried prunes, sultanas, cherries and mixed peel fruit needs a good long soak to absorb as much liquid as possible. I soaked mine in the rum, brandy and angostura bitters for 2 weeks, but if you’re in a hurry you could soak it for 3 days.

Macerate the fruit - blitz it in a food processor

Macerate the fruit – blitz it in a food processor

Now with this much more sensible amount of fruit and booze I could easily fit it into my food processor bowl without it overspilling. The fruit is much softer after the addition of the booze but there will still be a little rum left that isn’t absorbed, pour the whole lot in and whizz it up into a smooth – ish boozy fruity pulp. There will still be some texture to the fruit which will give a wonderfully moist and keep the cake texture interesting in your mouth.

Beat together the butter and sugar. Whack in the spices

Beat together the butter and sugar. Whack in the spices

Beating the butter and sugar together vigorously until it’s light and fluffy adds extra rise to the cake. I like to beat mine until it’s softer and increases in volume. As there’s spice in  the rum, adding more spice here gives an even richer flavour to the cake which matures with the cake the longer it is kept after baking. I added cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla paste, almond extract and lime juice. Yum! Once the eggs are beaten into the mixture, one at a time, until the mixture increases in volume and is light and fluffy, the dry ingredients can then be folded in.

Beat the eggs in one at a time until very fluffy

Beat the eggs in one at a time until very fluffy

I didn’t have any limes in my house so I grabbed the only orange that I had left, any citrus fruit would work well, but limes are the traditional fruit to use. Fold in the flour, baking powder and zest.

Brown the sugar

Brown the sugar

I’m lucky that I have a Kitchenaid mixer, so I can leave it running whilst I busy myself with the next steps. If you’re using a hand held mixer or beating things by hand, I’d recommend keeping an eye on the sugar as it browns to stop it from burning. I almost burnt mine! Heat the brown sugar in a heavy pan until it melts. Don’t stir as it will crystallise! Swish the sugar around in the pan as best you can by tilting the pan to combine the sugar and the liquid together. As it melts, gradually add a tablespoon of boiling water and allow the sugar to dissolve into a dark caramel. It might erupt like a volcano in your pan if it’s too hot, so be careful. Once it’s browned (and almost burnt) take it off the heat and allow to cool slightly before beating it into your butter and egg batter.

Beat in the browned sugar

Beat in the browned sugar

With the browned sugar fully incorporate the batter becomes wonderfully brown and shiny. It smells amazing too!

Fold in the fruit puree

Fold in the fruit puree

Long gone are the days where I’m trying to mix enormous vats of cake mixture! I could actually fit all of the batter and fruit into my mixing bowl! Hurrah! It takes a little bit of manoeuvring and scraping down of the sides of the bowl to ensure all of the fruit purée is folded in evenly.

Fully incorporated batter

Fully incorporated batter

Once fully incorporated, the batter is wonderfully golden brown with flecks of fruit peeking through. It tastes delicious too! (I couldn’t resist licking the spoon!) The kitchen had a glorious glow from the rum and my cheeks were rather rosy by this point too. This is perhaps not a cake to eat and then drive home afterwards.

Fully greased and lined tins

Fully greased and lined tins

Despite having reduced this recipe down I still ended up producing 2 cakes! I wanted to bake a rectangular Jamaican Black Cake, so I can cut it into chunks to give as Christmas presents.This is a brownie pan about 8 x 4 inches. I also had enough batter to bake a 6 inch round cake too. My guestimate would be this recipe would work well as one 9 or 10 inch round cake too.

Double lined Jamaican Black Cakes oven ready

Double lined Jamaican Black Cakes oven ready

The tins need to be doubled lined to help protect the cake from the heat and bake it gently over a few hours. This is easier said than done with a low sided rectangular tray. I gave up trying to double line the bottom of the tray and sides, instead opting for a tin foil lid, which worked really well. No burnt bits in sight!

Baked Jamaican Black Cake

Hot Jamaican Black Cake soaking up it’s rum

I can safely say that having sampled a slice last night this cake lives up to it’s previous promise of rosy cheeked deliciousness. It’s very moist (I may add pour less rum over the hot cakes next time) but I’m sue this will help to keep it moist ready to be dished out on Christmas Day. It has everything a spicy , boozy, celebration cake should offer. It’s warming and rich. Perfect with a glass of fizz (or I ate my piece last night with a cup of tea and glass of red wine.) Delicious!

Almost ready for eating Jamaican Black Cake

Almost ready for eating Jamaican Black Cake

As I poured the rum on top of the hot cakes the top did sink slightly but this hasn’t effected the taste at all. In fact when I serve my Jamaican Black Cake I’m going to be sneaky and turn it over so the flat bottom will give a smooth top. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. So here’s the recipe for Just the one Jamaican Black Cake (or 2 small cakes if you prefer!)

Things that I used to make Just the one Jamaican Black Cake

Step 1: Soak fruit and make fruit puree

Fruit Puree Base Ingredients

  • 170ml brandy (Cherry brandy could be used to make it extra special)
  • 340ml dark rum (I used Spiced dark rum for extra flavour
  • 2 tbsp Angostura bitters
  • 170g prunes
  • 170g dark raisins
  • 250g currants 
  • 170g dried cherries
  • 85g mixed candied citrus peel

Total dried fruit required = 845g

Soak dried fruit in the booze for at least 48 hours or up to 2 weeks. Blitz into a puree with a food processor.

Step 2: Make Cake Batter

Cake Ingredients

  • 170g salted butter (For a change I used salted and it worked well, but feel free to use unsalted)
  • 170g sugar
  • 3 medium sized eggs
  • 1 tsp lemon essence or lime juice
  • The zest of 1 orange (or 2 whole limes)
  • 1 tsp almond essence
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 170g plain flour (you could also use 1/2 cassava flour + 1/2 lb rice flour for gluten-free baking)
  • 1 and a half tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

Beat together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. Fold in dry ingredients. Fold in fruit puree and browned sugar

Step 3: Brown Sugar

Browning Ingredients:

  • 170g brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp boiling hot water

Heat the sugar in a heavy based pan until it melts and then add a little bit of the water at a time until it becomes a dark caramel. Careful not to burn it, but it will come very close to being burnt to achieve ‘browned’ perfection.

Step 4: Bake! 

Pour the cake batter into a greased and lined tin. You could use a 9 inch round tin or a bundt tin. For this recipe I used a 4 inch round tin and a 9 x 4 inch rectangular pan.  Cover with greaseproof paper lid.

Bake at 120 degrees C for 3 hours until skewer comes out clean from the cake

The Final Touch

ADD MORE RUM!

Pour 100-170ml bottle of dark rum for pouring on the hot cakes whilst still in their tins. Leave to cool in the tin. Gradually add the rum until you have fed your cake 170ml in total. It should absorb rather a lot of rum at this point. The cake will get darker with the more rum that you feed it. It may take up to a day for the cake to absorb the rum but it will get there.

Storing the Jamaican Black Cake

Wait until the cake has cooled completely before removing it from the tin. Wrap your cake in a layer of greaseproof paper and a layer of tin foil to prevent air getting in. Store the wrapped cake in an airtight container.

The cake should keep for (at least) a month or even up to a year with this amount of booze going on in an air tight container. this cake also freezes really well. It will keep for at least a month in the freezer and the freezing helps to speed up the ‘maturing’ process to deepen the flavours.

Eating the Jamaican Black Cake

The cake will serve 8-12 people. Or possibly more as it is quite a rich cake so you may only want a small slice. The volume of rum and brandy will bring a healthy rose to your cheeks! You may not want to drive after eating a big slice of it…

My original blog post for this cake can be found here

Jamaican Black Rum Cake – The most alcoholic cake I’ve ever baked

Also I wrote a post about the Jamaican Black Cake that I iced along with many more decorated cake pics 

58. Spectacular Speculoos

Spectacular Speculoos recipe

Who hasn’t tried Speculoos biscuits?? Anyone?? These little beauties are often found sitting on the edge of your saucer in coffee shops and are a Dutch favourite. They’re crisp, carmelly, sweet and spicy.  Perfect for festive celebrations.  I’ve looked high and lo for the perfect Speculoos recipe and then decided to create my own. It’s very quick to make too!

Beat everything together

Beat everything together – very spicy!

All that’s required is a vigorous beating together of the butter, sugar, an egg, treacle, water, flour and copious amounts of spices (I’m always liberal with my spices) then it’s good to go. Speculoos spread is legendary in foodie circles too. I’ve even managed to incorporate it into my lazy Crack Pie too…

I finally get to try out my biscuit gun

I finally get to try out my biscuit gun

Traditional Dutch Speculoos are usually rolled out and imprinted with pretty patterns and designs. I don’t own anything pretty to imprint them with so I finally got to try out my biscuit gun! Which promises over 100 different designs… considering I bought it for £2 I was’t convinced it was going to work. Oh ye of little faith.

It needs to be a rather liquid batter to get it in the gun...

It needs to be a rather liquid batter to get it in the gun…

I knew that the traditional Speculoos recipe wouldn’t be suitable for use with a biscuit gun as the dough would be to thick to pipe through the patterned nozzles. I did what I always do and modified my recipe to my heart’s content. Adding treacle until I got the shiny, thick, gloopy texture I was hoping for.

Piped speculoos biscuits

Piped speculoos biscuits

The tricky bit is working out how to force the dough/batter into the biscuit gun. I squashed it in with a spoon and had to refill regularly as there isn’t much space in the barrel, but this gave me the opportunity to try out a few different nozzles. I quite liked the star and flowers shapes. Once the dough is in the barrel you just press down on the level and force the dough out the end onto a greased and lined baking sheet. As the dough is a bit sticky it can be a tad awkward to cut off the dough so you can pipe a new biscuit… hence some of the more ‘interesting’ shapes I produced. Occasionally I resorted to chopping the dough from the nozzle with a knife, pushing the gun into the dough and pulling it away again quickly or twisting the  gun until the dough broke naturally.

Refrigerate your piped biscuits

Refrigerate your piped biscuits

Once you’ve experimented with a variety of patterns and piped the entire contents of your dough onto baking sheets, pop them in the fridge to harden for about 15 minutes. This means that the biscuits will hold their shape whilst baking, as the butter will be less likely to melt and spread.

The baked speculoos biscuits

The baked speculoos biscuits

Don’t worry if you don’t have a biscuit gun, I also experimented with using a normal piping bag and star shaped nozzle which also worked rather well to make pretty swirls (even if I do say so myself). Or if you can’t be bothered with messing around making them look pretty and simply want to fill your mouth with speculoos goodness you could just use a spoon and whack a dollop of the mixture on the tray. Alternatively you could chill the dough/batter in the fridge so it’s much firmer (maybe overnight if needs be) and roll it out like you would normally with biscuits and cut them out with your favourite cutter. OR if that’s not enough options roll the chilled batter into a sausage, chill it in the fridge wrapped in cling film and then simply chop it into discs. Simple round biscuits with very little fuss or tidying up afterwards!

Teeny tiny speculoos

Teeny tiny speculoos

This recipe was enough to make at least 12-16 large biscuits and a multitude of mini speculoos biscuits too. (Sorry I shovelled them into my face so fast I didn’t get a chance to count how many I actually produced!)

Speculoos selection

Speculoos selection

I absolutely love these speculoos biscuits. The thicker the biscuit the more chewy they are. The blend of spices is full and comforting, which the added sweetness of the treacle makes it my perfect winter bake.  In my haste to create Speculoos, I seem to have almost stumbled onto my own lebkuchen hybrid. The biscuits have a crispy sugar coating (without the need for any icing) and a chewy rich centre. Even the mini speculoos have a great snap and chew to them.  Speculoos biscuits freeze extremely well too so you can reveal wonderfully festive biscuits at any time of the day or night when friends or family call round.

Spectacular Speculoos

Tme for tea – Spectacular Speculoos

I plan on making my spectacular speculoos again very soon. Maybe for bonfire night and also when I perfect the recipe for rolling, I’m going to make speculoos baubles to adorn my Christmas tree with!

One speculoos or two?

One speculoos or two?

Things I used to make Spectacular Speculoos Biscuits

Prep: less than 10 minutes (if you have ground spices to hand , it will take a bit longer if you’re grinding them yourself)

Chill time: 15 -30 minutes

Bake time: 10-12 minutes

Makes: lots of spectular speculoos! (Approx 20 biscuits- more if you make mini ones too)

  • 110g margarine (is you want to use a biscuit gun marg will help!) or butter (if you want to roll them out)
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 2 tbs cinnamon
  • 1tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp ground cassis bark (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp ground star anise
  • 1/4 tsp rock salt
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Beat it all together until fluffy then beat it

  • 1 egg
  • 1 dessertspoon black treacle (molasses)
  • 1and a half tsp vanilla paste/extract
  • 300g plain flour

Pipe biscuits and refrigerate for 15 -30 minutes or chill dough then roll and cut biscuits out

Place on greased and lined tray and bake at 190 degrees c for 10- 12 minutes until firm to touch

Let them cool (if you can!) and eat with a proper cup of tea.

They will keep in the freezer for a good month or so too if you want to save some for a rainy day,

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Simply having a jam (and chutney) filled Christmas time

Do you think I've made enough...

Do you think I’ve made enough…

I’ve been very lucky this year that the sun has shone and the plants have gone into overdrive. Our wild blackberry bush has offered a new batch of berries each day. Although it’s so tall I’ve had to resort to playing ‘Blackberry Bingo’ and dragging them off the tree with a rake and catching as many as I can. This often resulted in me rather over enthusiastically climbing into the the spiky bush and getting my curls and rake entangled. Once I managed to extract myself from the bush, mostly covered in scratches, I proudly produced my first batch of Summer Jam. Blackberry and Cinnamon.

The Great Blackberry Massacre of 2013

The Great Blackberry Massacre of 2013

Turning to the old faithful Marguerite Patten cookbook for endless jam flavour combinations and recipes I attempted to use my sugar thermometer to ensure I got a good set. Unfortunately the jam bubbled so vigorously it reached the top of the pot, so no temperatures could be read. I will continue to just follow my instincts when testing if it has set sufficiently. Does it coat the back of a spoon or crinkle when poured on a plate? How beautifully obscure these testing methods seem, until you have a pot of molten jam in front of you.

The only problem with blackberries, is the seeds. They must be removed from your jam. I only own a plastic sieve and forced the jam through it with a ladle, hoping the sieve wouldn’t melt or split. It was rather more robust than I expected and survived 2 rounds of blackberry jam, one with cranberries and one with cinnamon! Can you spot the mountain of candied blackberry seeds in the background? (Recipe at the bottom of the page).

Here come the plums

Here come the plums – the beginning of a plum clafoutis

Once I exhausted my supply of blackberries and foraged far and wide, we were offered a huge bag of plums from a friend who’s tree was flourishing. Of course I said yes and made my first venture into chutney. Spiced Plum Christmas Chutney to be exact (recipe at the bottom of the page). I wanted to make something that I could give as presents to family and friends to eat with their leftover Christmas meats and cheeses. Chutney was surprisingly easy (yet eye wateringly pungent with all the red wine vinegar!) to make. I will definitely be making more.

Homemade Strawberry Jam (and a million Mickey Mouse waffles)

Homemade Strawberry Jam (and a million Mickey Mouse waffles)

So inspired by my jam efforts I spotted extremely cheap strawberries at our local market and thought I’d give Strawberry Jam a go too! Thankfully strawberry seeds are so small they don’t really have to be removed from the jam, so no arm aching sieving required for this quick and tasty jam! And it goes surprisingly well with Mickey Mouse waffles, espresso, creme fraiche and berries.

Looking Jammy

Looking Jammy

Another wonderful friend offered me as many apples as I could carry from his very successful tree. I trotted off very merrily with almost 7kg of apples! I spent one Saturday peeling and chopping (thank god for my food processor!) 5kg, transforming them into a double batch of my favourite Apple and Ginger Jam and a new Christmas Chutney, Spiced Apple. Which I can confirm does taste delicious with cold leftover meats. Pork works very well! (Recipe at the bottom of the page)

Spiced Apple Chutney

Spiced Apple Chutney

Not wanting to waste a single scrap of apple I peeled, sliced and dried thin slices in the oven on a low heat, to save for future healthy snacks and bakes. I even managed to peel, core, slice, soak in a watered down lime juice the final kg of apples to store in the freezer for a rainy day, of which I expect there will be many this Winter. I forsee a lot of apple crumble in my future.

Christmas is coming

Christmas is coming

I hope I don’t spoil the surprise but I’m stock piling all my jams and chutneys to give to my favourite family and friends for Christmas. I hope they like it! I think I’m going to need a bigger cupboard and more jars!

Chutney Recipes

Spiced Plum Chutney Ingredients

  • 1kg plums, halved, stoned and finely chopped
  • 3 onions, finely chopped
  • 100g dried cranberries or raisins, roughly chopped with an oiled knife
  • 1 tbsp finely grated ginger
  • 1 tbsp black mustard seed
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tsp nigella seeds (onion seeds)
  • 750ml red wine vinegar
  • 500g light muscovado sugar

Chutney Making Method

  1. Chop up the onions and fruit
  2. Put everything in the biggest pot you have and heat
  3. Stir til all the sugar is dissolved
  4. Bring to the boil
  5. Simmer for 30 minutes (or so) until it’s thick and pulpy
  6. Decant into sterilised jars, seal with wax discs.
  7. Put the lids on whilst still hot to keep the jars sterile
  8. Clean up the outside of the jars and label.
  9. Store in a cool dark place.
  10. Chutney should keep for up to 6 months and will only taste better with age :)
  11. Once opened keep your jar in the fridge.

Spiced Apple Chutney Ingredients

  • 1½ kg cooking apples, peeled and diced
  • 750g light demarera sugar
  • 500g sultanas
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp nigella seeds (black onion seeds)
  • 1 black of stem ginger sliced finely
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 350ml cider vinegar
  • 400ml white wine vinegar

Method as before

Eat with lashing of cold leftover meats, cheeses or whack it in a sandwich for a quick festive hit.

Jam Recipes

Some jam recipes suggest using jam sugar, but it’s so expensive I don’t bother. Instead I allow the fruit to stew first to release it’s own natural pectin to help it set. The basic rule of jam is for most fruit (depending on their levels of pectin) is to allow equal amounts of fruit to sugar, adding lemon juice if there’s a lack of pectin. Apples have a good amount of pectin in them so you can always add them to berries when making jam to help with the set too.

Apple and Ginger Jam – revisited and revised 

I previously made this recipe and followed Marguerite Patten’s recipe. You can see this post here.

  • 1000g diced apples
  • 2 Tbsp of ground ginger
  • 3 balls of stem ginger finely sliced
  • 1000g granulated sugar

Method

  1. Chop fruit up into small pieces
  2. Soak in ground spices
  3. Stew fruit slowly
  4. Add sugar and stir over low heat until dissolved
  5. Boil rapidly for 10-20 minutes (or so). The quicker the boil the better the set, but you must keep an eye on it, to stop it burning or going past it’s setting point.
  6. Jam is set when it reaches 105 degrees C (if using a sugar thermometer) or when it becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon – dripping slowly off it. Or if you drop a bit on a cold plate it crinkles when you push it with your finger.
  7. Decant the very hot jam when it reaches a good set, into the hot sterilised jars.
  8. Put on waxed paper circles and lids.
  9. Store in a cool dry place.
  10. It should keep well if no moisture gets in to the jars for at least 6 months.
  11. Once opened keep your jar in the fridge.

Strawberry Jam

  • 1kg strawberries
  • 1kg granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice (or half a lemon)

Method as above but with strawberries the fruit didn’t break down massively. You can leave your fruit whole in chunks if you prefer or if you prefer a smother jam, blitz it with a hand held blender, careful not to splash yourself with boiling hot jam though!

Blackberry and Apple Jam

  • 2 apples sliced and diced
  • 750g blackberries
  • 1kg granulated sugar
  • A splash of lemon juice

Method as above but strained the jam through the sieve to remove the seeds as I decanted it into the sterile jars.

Blackberry, Cranberry and Cinnamon Jam

  • 500g of frozen cranberries (defrosted)
  • 500g blackberries
  • 1000g of cinnamon (or in my case cassia bark) infused sugar – stick the bark in a jar of sugar and leave to infuse for a week or so

Method as above but I strained the jam through the sieve to remove the seeds as I decanted it into the sterile jars.

47. A Thousand Layer Cake – Indonesian Spekkoek Spice Cake

Indonesian Thousand Layer Cake

Indonesian Thousand Layer Cake

I’ve had my eye on this gorgeous Indonesian Thousand Layer Cake (Spekkoek) for quite some time. With it’s perfectly symmetrical stripes of spice interwoven with ribbons of vanilla. Spekkoek or lapis legit is a rich layered cake and is very expensive to buy due to the amount of time it takes to create it, so it’s normally eaten at special occasions and celebrations such as Christmas, weddings or festivals in Indonesian.

Layers and layers and layers

Layers and layers and layers

It requires a bit of planning and preparation and a lot of hitting the pause button if you choose to watch a film whilst trying to bake it, as each layer is baked individually for 11 minutes precisely. But it’s well worth the effort.

Most recipes for a Thousand Layer cake ask for up to 30 eggs! I thought this was a bit extreme and not the most healthy of cakes so scaled it back to a mere 10 eggs. Much more affordable too. It’s definitely a special cake lavished with lots of love and attention it had to taste wonderful.

If you’re going to attempt this cake I recommend

  • You own an electric whisk – this would be quite an ordeal to whisk by hand!
  • You have at least 2 large bowls to whisk the eggs in
  • You add lots of spice!
Beat the egg yolks and 100g sugar together

Beat the egg yolks and 100g sugar together

I’m lucky that I own a Kitchenaid and it could take the strain of whisking the egg whites for me whilst I busied myself whisking the yolks. But you could do it in 3 separate stages if you like. You don’t have to multi task to the extreme if you don’t want to. Me, I enjoy adding a bit of danger to my bakes. Doing everything at once. I’ll balance my bowls on top of many ingredients on the work surfaces and hope for the best, like spinning plates, but in my case it’s batter.

Whilst whisking the egg whites with about 100g of the sugar with a hand held electric whisk I set the Kitchenaid away to whisk the egg whites until fluffy.

Whisking the egg whites until they start to stiffen

Whisking the egg whites until they start to stiffen

Once the whites start to stiffen add 100g of sugar (bit by bit) and continue to whisk until they reach stiff peaks and look glossy.

Beat together the butter, vanilla and sugar

Beat together the butter, vanilla and sugar

Then as if you’re not busy enough, beat together the remaining sugar, with the butter and vanilla extract until light and fluffy.

Mix together the butter and egg yolk mixtures in one large bowl

Mix together the butter and egg yolk mixtures in one large bowl

You’re going to need the biggest bowl that you own to incorporate all of the ingredients together. Start with mixing the egg yolk batter and the butter/sugar paste together.

All together now - butter, sugar, and egg yolks batter

Butter, sugar, and egg yolks batter all together

Once all of the ingredients are mixed well (I used my electric hand whisk) the delicate process of folding in the egg whites to the batter can begin. Using a metal spoon fold in gently the egg whites to preserve the air in the batter.

There's a lot of egg whites to fold in!

There’s a lot of egg whites to fold in!

It will start to look like scrambled eggs but persevere until the batter looks smooth.

Yum scrambled eggs!

Yum scrambled eggs! Keep going with the folding

Next up is the relatively small amount of plain flour considering how much egg and butter is in this cake! It also needs to be folded in carefully to the batter with a metal spoon.

Fold in the flour

Fold in the flour

To achieve the two tone and two flavour effect half of the batter needs to be flavoured with spices and the other half left to be as it is, with a hint of vanilla.

Fold in a vast quantity of spice

Fold in a vast quantity of spice to half the batter

Split the batter in half (you’re going to need yet another bowl here!) and fold the spices into half of the batter.

Leave the other half of the batter as it is in a separate bowl

Vanilla batter – Leave the other half of the batter as it is in a separate bowl

The spiced batter should look slightly browner in colour. this will help you to remember which layer you’re up to when it comes to cooking the cake!

Spiced batter

Spiced batter

With your two bowls of batter ready, it’s time to spoon a thin layer (about 5mm) into greased and lined baking tin. I used my new extra long German loaf tin 30cm x 10cm. Make sure you push the batter into all of the corners and smooth it down. Give it a very gentle tap on the worksurface to remove any air bubbles and pop it in the oven for 11 minutes. Some recipes say to follow this bake with a minute under the grill, however my oven doesn’t have a separate grill and oven.  The grill would have to be warmed up each time which to me seemed a bit too laborious. Instead I added an extra minute to the baking time to compensate for the lack of grilling and it worked a treat.

The first layer in the extra long loaf tin

The first vanilla batter layer in the extra long loaf tin

It’s a bit tricky to get the first layer into all of the corners as the batter is quite stiff. I wiped the inside edges of the tin round with a clean finger to remove any extra batter to avoid any smudging of the layers later on. The last thing you want is a smear of burnt batter up the sides your beautiful layer cake.

The first baked layer in the extra long loaf tin

The first baked layer in the extra long loaf tin

After 11 minutes in the oven the first layer should be slightly golden brown and evenly baked. Ready for the addition of the next layer straight on top of the hot cake. The heat from the first layer helps to melt the butter and spread the batter evenly around the tin. Remember to alternate your batters! One layer vanilla, one layer spice and repeat.

Raw spiced batter straight on top of the cooked cake below

Raw spiced batter straight on top of the cooked cake below

As your cake bakes it will probably shrink back from the sides of the tin a little, so don’t be alarmed if some of the raw batter disappears down the sides of the cake and into the layer below. A liberal dusting of icing sugar hides all manner of mishaps to a finished cake!

The second spiced layer

The second spiced layer, smooth and ready for the oven

Keep alternating the batters. Repeating the layering, spreading, baking and even more layering until you’ve no more batter left. This process is not for the time restricted or feint hearted. Baking the cake took at least 4 hours, but it’s almost like a work out, leaping up off the sofa to take the cake out of the oven every 11 minutes.

I grilled the final layer a bit for extra authenticity... It looks a bit burnt but tasted good!

I grilled the final layer a bit for extra authenticity… It looks a bit burnt but tasted good!

Let the cake cool in the tin for about 2o minutes before gently loosening the cake from the tin with a palette knife and attempting to remove it from the tin. I grilled the final layer a bit for extra authenticity… It looks a bit burnt but tasted good!

The final long layered cake out of it's tin

The final long layered cake out of it’s tin

I must admit I was a tad alarmed at how dark the cake was when I removed it from the tin. I did wonder how the initial layers would hold up after being baked time and time again. Would they be burnt and tough? I baked at least 18 layers into my cake, that’s a whole lot of oven time for the first few cms of the cake.

Indonesian Layer Cake

Indonesian Layer Cake

The liquid batter did seep under the greaseproof paper inside the tin. The cake had baked around the paper which made it a his made it a bit difficult remove, but not impossible. However this meant the top was a little uneven, so I trimmed it slightly and dusted it with icing sugar! (shh no one will know!)

Trimmed and dusted to reveal the lovely layers inside

Trimmed and dusted to reveal the lovely layers inside

The white icing sugar gave the layers an extra lift against the contrasting spice. I baked my Indonesian Thousand  Layer Cake for a special Clandestine Cake Club ‘Here comes the sun’ themed event. I was hurrying along to the cakey gathering but just had enough time to slice up some homemade candied orange and lemon citrus peel (Thank you Sharyn at The Kale Chronicles for the how to!) in long thin strips to create my very own sunburst effect, adding a trio of star anise (one of the key spices in the cake) to bring the summery spicey cake to life. As Mary Berry always says, you should include a bit of what’s inside the cake, outside the cake to whet people’s appetites.

Here comes the sun - Indonesian Layer Cake

Here comes the sun – Indonesian Layer Cake

As the tin that I used is supposed to be for bread, I don’t own a cake stand or plate big enough to house such a lengthy cake. I resorted to carrying the cake ,open topped on a chopping board instead. Note to self, icing sugar sitting on a cake will not stay there for long on a windy day. Precariously seated on my passenger seat and me also liberally coated in icing sugar we made our way to the Clandestine Cake Club!

Indonesian Thousand Layer Cake

Indonesian Thousand Layer Cake

I’m so pleased I took the time to attempt the Indonesian Thousand Layer Cake cake although technically not exactly 1000 layers it feels close enough! A challenge of the patience and my washing up ability it may be but this cake promises so much more than a frustrating time in the kitchen. It is such an unusual tasting cake, quite delicate and surprisingly light, I guess due to the sparse amount of flour and the endless whisking.

Layers and layers and layers

Layers and layers and layers

This cake is magic. There must be something in the enormous amounts of eggs that go into the batter that prevent the layers from burning or drying up to a miserable shrivelled mess. It’s moist, spicy and sweet, although not too sweet. It’s a proper grown up cake, sophisticated in it’s beautiful layers and exotic taste. It also improves with age. I had half a piece left from the Cake Club which I shared with Chris 4 days after baking it and it was delicious not dry in the slightest. I think spice cake always deepens in flavour with time. If you want to savour the cake you can even peel each individual layer and eat them separately. I enjoyed devouring it with a strong coffee. I will be baking this again when I have an afternoon to spare and maybe attempting more stripey cakes in the future. I think I’m hooked!

Things I used to make my Indonesian Layer Cake

  • 375g sugar (100g added to egg whites, 100g added to egg yolks, and 175g added to butter mixture)
  • 10 egg whites
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cassia bark
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground star anise
  • 1/4 of a grated fresh nutmeg
  • 250g butter
  • 185g plain flour
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. In separate bowl – Whisk egg whites til fluffy add 100g sugar gradually. Whisk til shiny and stiff
  2. In separate bowl – Cream 175g sugar and the butter together til light and fluffy
  3. In separate bowl – Whisk egg yolks and 100g sugar together til fluffy
  4. In a big bowl – Whisk egg mixture and butter mixture together
  5. Fold in egg whites
  6. Fold in flour
  7. Split the batter in half
  8. Fold the spices into one half of the batter
  9. Pour a thin 5mm layer of vanilla batter into tin
  10. Bake for 11 minutes at 160 degrees C.
  11. Pour a thin layer of spiced batter onto cooked layer
  12. Bake
  13. Repeat alternating the batters until all the batter is cooked.
  14. Cool, remove from tin, decorate and eat!

46. Say hello to my Brazilian Roll ~ Rocambole Cake

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Brazil is yet another country on my still to visit list. However I do have a lovely Brazilian friend who was an exchange student at my sixth form. We became firm friends over A Level Media Studies and parties. Thinking of you Gabriella when baking my Brazilian Roll or as you may call it in Brazil a Rocambole.

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This bake reminds me of Mary Berry’s Chocolate Roulade (one of my very first around the world in 80 bakes more technical challenges). Both are very similar to the wonderful Swiss Roll however the distinguishing factor of the Rocambole and the Roulade is that they use whisked egg whites to fluff up the sponge. This means it’s a fragile cake but very light. Where as the Swiss Roll is more like a sponge cake, less delicate and probably (in my opinion) a bit easier to bake and to handle.

Traditionally the filling in a Rocambole is a Doce de Leite. This is a Brazilian favourite. It’s a creamy milky toffee sauce made from slowly reduced condensed milk. (It’s quite similar to the Italian toffee sauce dolce de leche). It’s reduced down over a low heat until caramelised to produce a thick fudgey gooey paste. As the filing takes quite some time to prepare it’s best to start with this! You need to be really careful with this as if the pan is left to boil dry the can could explode and really hurt yourself (and your kitchen).

how to make doce de leit Simmer an unopened can of condensed in a pan of water for at least 2 and a half hours

Simmer an unopened can of condensed in a pan of water for at least 2 and a half hours

Take one unopened can of condensed milk (Most cans in the UK randomly contain a very precise amount of condensed milk of 395ml. Who knows why? But the process is the same regardless of the size of your tin). Place your unopened can of condensed milk in a pan of boiling water and simmer it for 2 and a half hours. Keep an eye on the pan and keep topping up the water so the water level remains.always around 2 thirds of the way up the can. Allow the can to cool for about 30 minutes before opening it.

Evaporated milk isn’t the same and unfortunately won’t work as a substitute, as evaporated milk doesn’t have as much sugar in it. Never to be defeated I have managed to make doce de leite with evaporated milk. If you’re up for an experiment and evaporated milk is all you’ve got, you could get away with adding sugar to evaporated milk and dissolving it slowly over a low heat to create your own toffee sauce. (I have free styled this recipe before and it gave a rather more liquid toffee sauce so it can be done! Just add enough sugar until you reach your desired level of toffee colour and taste.)

how to make doce de leite

The grand reveal! My doce de leite looks suspiciously like condensed milk. No hint of toffee here. Back in the pan you go

Unfortunately I failed to let the water bubble (being a little too cautious – very unlike me!) so when I opened my can it still looked like condensed milk, just a bit thicker. However undeterred I threw it all into the pan and heated it on the stove to make my doce de leite directly in the pan. It does require a bit more attention and elbow grease however…

The slightly reduce condensed milk straight from the can, the bottom revealed some thicker doce de leit

The slightly reduce condensed milk straight from the can, the bottom of the can revealed  the beginnings of some thicker doce de leit. It’s a bit lumpy so needs a good whisk

I’m a little impatient and wanted it to thicken up quickly so kept increasing the heat and whisking by hand until it bubbled, then removed the pan from the heat to allow the residual heat to continue to cook the condensed milk. You need strong arms to keep whisking continuously as the milk thickens! (My arms weren’t feeling the strongest after a full day of Yoga handstands the day before but I still managed)

Whisking the condensed milk over a low heat to make doce de leit

Whisking the condensed milk over a low heat to make doce de leite

My impatience led my doce de leite to become extremely thick and it pulled the head off my hand whisk! However a little cold milk reduced the heat of the sugar to calm the doce de leite down. It allowed me to get the sauce back to a slightly more spreadable state. To stop the cooking process I placed the hot pan into a sink of cold water. In my ‘wisdom’ I then dipped my finger into the doce de leite to test if it was cool enough to spread! It was most definitely NOT cool enough and welded to my finger. I managed to pull the molten lava doce de leite off my finger and ran it under the cold tap. Did you know a piece of frozen melon makes a wonderful cold compress to take the heat out of a burn? Clutching my melon I managed awkwardly to continue to whisk the sauce still undefeated by my blistering finger. I ended up clutching on to more frozen fruit whilst spreading the doce de leit and rolling up the cake.

After a good 5 minutes of whisking and heating it turns a golden brown colour and becomes quite thick! Add a bit of milk to loosen the mixture if it needs it.

After a good 5 minutes of whisking and heating it turns a golden brown colour and becomes quite thick! Add a bit of milk to loosen the mixture if it needs it.

The cake itself takes hardly any time at all to prepare. The whisking is the most time consuming part of the Rocambole. Like a Roulade you have to whisk the ALL of the egg whites (there’s 5 eggs in this cake! That’s a lot of egg!) on a high speed setting. (If you have an electric whisk, if not prepare your arms for a bit of a work out!) until stiff and shiny. This takes about 5 to 7 minutes. The egg whites will double in size. I love this bit!

Whisking the egg whites to make Rocambole

Whisking the egg whites to make Rocambole

One slight difference between the Rocambole to a Roulade is that the egg yolks are then also whisked into the egg whites. (With a Roulade you whisk the yolks with the sugar and chocolate then fold it into the egg whites.) The Rocambole is a bit quicker banging it all together and whisking to your hearts content. You don’t want to knock any of the air out of the egg whites, so it’s best to beat the yolks lightly first so they are runny. You can then pour the egg yolks in as you whisk.

Adding egg yolks to whisked egg whites - rocambole

Whisking in the egg yolks to the egg whites – lovely creamy yellow colour and very fluffy!

Then to whisk in the sugar. The traditional Brazilian Rocambole recipe doesn’t include any flavourings or spices, it is a plain egg sponge. (A bit like my Chinese Egg Yolk Sponge favourite!)  Ever the experimenter I wanted to add a bit of flavour to this bake so I used vanilla sugar. I made this really simply by shoving a leftover vanilla pod, which I had scraped the seeds from for another bake, into a bag of sugar. I then left it to infuse it’s vanillary goodness for a couple of weeks. It smells lovely and gently flavours the sugar with a hint of vanilla. It’s a good way to get your moneys worth out of those more expensive ingredients as I hate to throw the pods away. I often pop a vanilla pod into any spirit that I have in my cupboard too. Vanilla Brandy or Vanilla Rum anyone?

Then to whisk in 5 tablespoons of water into the eggs and sugar - Rocambole

Then to whisk in 5 tablespoons of water into the eggs and sugar

The eggs should be seriously expanding and threatening to overflow the bowl by this point as they inflate rapidly. You need to continue to whisk the fluffy and shiny eggs whilst pouring in 5 tablespoons of water. This takes around 5 minutes of whisking.

Fold in the tiny amount of flour and baking powder

Fold in the tiny amount of flour and baking powder

In order to maximise the air in the cake and to avoid knocking the air out of the wonderfully fluffy eggs, sift in all 5 tablespoons of plain flour and half a teaspoon of baking powder. Then using your  best metal spoon fold in the dry ingredients gently. This is probably the smallest amount of flour that I’ve ever folded into a cake. It felt a bit odd as the flour just disappeared to the bottom of the bowl, but trust in the recipe, it definitely works!

Rocambole Carefully pour the mixture into a rectangular baking tin

Carefully pour the mixture into a rectangular baking tin

Line and grease a rectangular baking tin. I used a tin 37cm long by 22cm wide and 5cm high. Use a deep tin as it will rise in the oven.  This mixture is really delicate so to avoid knocking the air out of it, hold your bowl of mixture as close to your tin as possible and pour. It’s a very liquid mixture so try to pour it into all of the corners so you don’t have to move it around too much in the tin. Gently level the mixture with a spatula to avoid an uneven bake.

A fully cooked and curled Rocambole

A fully cooked and curled Rocambole

After baking it in a preheated oven (350 F/170 degrees Celsius) for 15-20 minutes, it will become golden brown and feel slightly firm and springy to the touch. I always check that a cake is cooked by using a cocktail stick, if it comes out clean from the sponge you know it’s done. Unfortunately I was trying my Mary Berry recommended foil backed parchment paper and it doesn’t always do what it’s told. In the heat of the oven it curled up and into the cake! Maybe a wider variety of paper is needed for this tin so that it reached the edges of the tin and can be scrumpled down over the lip of the tin to hold it in place?

Carefully lift your cake from the tin and prise any baking paper out of the sponge (if needed)

Carefully lift your cake from the tin and prise any baking paper out of the sponge (if needed)

Allow the cake to cool in the tin slightly so it holds it’s shape. Then carefully lift the cake out of the tin, by the baking paper. But don’t remove the baking paper.

Spread the Doce de Leite carefully onto the sponge - try not to take the cake with you

Spread the Doce de Leite carefully onto the sponge – try not to take the cake with you

Using a spatula and a palette knife , I tried to spread  a thin layer of doce de leite across the cake. This is easier said than done whilst holding a piece of frozen fruit on your burnt finger. The Doce de leite is very gooey and if it’s as thick as mine, it could pull holes in your cake (note the holes in my sponge above…) But who is going to check the inside of your cake? When it’s rolled up no one will notice  and it’s going to taste gorgeous anyway so throw it on as best as you can.

Carefully does it ... Roll Roll Roll your Rocambole

Carefully does it … Roll Roll Roll your Rocambole (excuse my slippers)

There is a bit of a knack to rolling up a Rocambole. I decided to neaten up my slightly rough edges, trimming the longest edge as straight as possible with my very best sharp knife. It’s not the easiest cake to trim as the sponge is very moist and delicate (so it sticks to the knife!). I only trimmed one edge in case I destroyed the other side. This cake was to accompany me to the Clandestine Cake Club and I didn’t have time to make another one (or anyone condensed milk!). Trimming the cake does have it’s benefits however, I could make sure it tasted good before serving it up to my friends! 

 

Ta da! One rolled up Rocambole!

Ta da! One rolled up Rocambole! (And one pan of soapy boiling water on the stove to dissolve all of the doce de leite)

Before I even attempted rolling the cake I made sure I had loosened all of the edges from the baking paper gently with my fingers to avoid tearing the sponge. It’s best to keep the sponge on the paper so you can use the paper to coax the cake over. I started the roll off by pressing a knife into the sponge about half an inch in from the shortest edge. I then folded this lip of sponge over to start the roll and give a really tight spiral. Then to let gravity do it’s job! Lifting the paper over,  letting the cake fall into place whilst coaxing it into a roll with your hands. Once you start it’s easy to get carried away! Hence my lack of photos of this process the Rocambole was all rolled up before Chris could get into the kitchen to take a photo for me!

Rocambole recipe Gently ease any slightly stuck bits  of cake off the paper using your finger tip...

Gently ease any slightly stuck bits of cake off the paper using your finger tip…

All of the pictures I could find of a Rocambole seemed to show a cake with a very long spiral with a very thin sponge so I chose to roll mine from the short edge to the short edge, to maximise my spiral. If you wanted to get more slices out of your Rocambole you could roll from long edge to long edge and get a much longer cake.

Just rolled Rocambole - trimmed edge to the front!

Just rolled Rocambole – trimmed edge to the front!

Once you’ve rolled up your Rocambole all it needs is a liberal dusting with icing sugar and you’re good to go! I recommend eating it quick as the doce de leite has a tendency to ooze out of the sides when left for a night. But if you like this effect then see if you can hang fire for a bit for an extra level of goo.  I can confirm that this a tasty cake. It’s definitely a winner if, like me, you have a sweet tooth as most of the flavour is derived from the sugar in the cake and the milky caramel doce de leite! It’s an extremely tender sponge that almost melts in your mouth. I’ve heard very good things from my Brazilian friend, who’s Grandma makes Rocambole. She covers the entire Rocambole in chocolate buttercream and adds some texture with a fork to create a chocolate log Rocambole! Now there’s a good idea for another Christmas bake to add to my list!

Clandestine Cake Club Newcastle at Pink Lane Coffee

Glorious Cake Collection at the Clandestine Cake Club Newcastle at Pink Lane Coffee

I took my little Rocambole along with me to the Clandestine Cake Club  at the lovely Pink Lane Coffee shop in Newcastle where we were baking around a ‘New’ theme. This could mean a new recipe, new baking tin, new ingredients. This was perfect for me as pretty much every recipe I bake is new to me and a bit of an experiment. There were some amazing cakes that night, my favourite being a chocolate and peanut butter layer cake (7 layers in total!). Check out Lisa’s blog for more gorgeous pictures of the beautiful cakes from all of the bakers who braved the January snow. When there’s cake nothing will get in my way. It was immense. I must admit I took an extra sneaky piece home for later too. I was so happy that all of my Rocambole got eaten.

So if that has whetted your appetite for a spot of Rocambole here’s what I used to make mine.

Ingredients

Doce de Leite Filling

1 unopened can of condensed milk (395 ml)

Alternative fillings…

If you don;t fancy simmering a can of condensed milk down in a pan I’m sure you could put a jar of nutella or jam or guava marmalade (another traditional Brazilian Rocambole filling) to good use here too.

Cake

  • 5 eggs
  • 5 tablespoons of vanilla infused  sugar (or just normal sugar will do)
  • 5 tablespoons of water
  • 5 tablespoons of plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

Happy Christmas – The Rosca de Reyes results are in!

A very decadent Rosca de Reyes - 3 Kings Cake

A very decadent Rosca de Reyes – 3 Kings Cake

Wow what a year this has been indeed! We’ve made it over half way around the world in 80 bakes, ran my first half marathon (raising over £700 for Oxfam!), baked (and devoured) some wonderful (and some not so wonderful…) cakes AND been very lucky indeed to win the Blog North Best Food and Drink Blog Award.

Great North Running

Great North Running

And that’s not even the end of this amazing year’s excitement, it doesn’t all finish there! I’m very excited to let you know that I won the online bake off and £500 of holiday vouchers for my Rosca de Reyes 3 Kings Cake! Amazing! Thank you all so much for reading, commenting and also voting for me. I can’t thank you enough for your support and love. We will be using the £500 of Cosmos Holiday vouchers to book our honeymoon in the new year, a trip somewhere hot and relaxing will be perfect after our wintery wedding (which is taking place in less than 2 days…)! Fingers crossed the cake stays upright!

A golden Rosca de Reyes

A golden Rosca de Reyes

The lucky winner of the £50 very.co.uk voucher is Jenny B. The company will contact you directly to arrange your voucher. Thank you so much for voting!

I can’t go without mentioning the 4 brilliant bakers and bloggers, in the Rosca de Reyes bake off. They are exceptionally good bakers and I’ve been enjoying their blogs for over a year now and follow them all on twitter. I really recommend checking out their blogs, if you haven’t done so already. They are very talented and inspirational foodie bloggers.

I hope you all have had a wonderful Christmas and are looking forward to the New Year as much as me. I will be returning shortly as a married baker, with a new name and everything. Looking forward to letting you know how my biggest challenge so far pans out… my 5 tier wedding cake!

Lots of love and happy new year!

Lauren x x x

p.s Now would be a perfect time to have a go at baking your own Rosca de Reyes to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6th.

p.p.s. My golden Rosca de Reyes – 3 Kings Cake even got a mention in the The Mirror within an article about Christmas eats and treats around the world!

Experimental Chocolate Chip Polvorón – Spanish Christmas Cakes or Mexican Wedding Favours

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I adore Polvorón and wanted to have a go at creating a nut free version. What other flavours could I incorporate into this delectable sweet treat and not diverge too far from the traditional ethos of the the Polvorón which mainly consists of nuts…? What else but chocolate and cinnamon!

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Using the same method as my original Polvorón attempt I replaced the nuts with dark chocolate and added a generous dose of cocoa powder.

And here we have it… a flatter chocolatey and chewier version of Polvorón!

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Perhaps because they lack the nuts to hold them together and chocolate (unlike nuts) makes when baked, the little chocolate balls spread into perfectly round chocolate chip cookies.

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I chose to use caster sugar rather than icing sugar to enhance the crunchy texture. It also added a wonderful chewiness to the cookie, with the sugar and chocolate combining to create a toffee in the centre of the crumbly cookie! Yum! They have been very popular in my house!

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With a light dusting of icing sugar they look very Festive. The hint of cinnamon conquers up Christmas.These are would make a perfect homemade present, or to be eaten by the handful with a large bucket if tea. I really rather enjoyed making this Spanish Christmas cakes/cookie recipe up!

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I’m looking forward to my further Polvorón flavour experiments!

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Things I used to make Chocolate Polvorón

Makes about 40 small biscuits

Preparation: 15 minutes

Chilling time: 30 minutes

Baking time: 18-20minutes at 170degrees c

  • 220g butter (1 cup or 2 sticks)  room temperature
  • 250g caster sugar (2 cups or 240 grams) – rather than icing sugar to add an extra crunch that the nuts would normally add
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 250g all purpose flour (2 cups or 240 grams)
  • 100 g (1 cup) dark chocolate coarsely ground/chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • icing sugar to dust the biscuits with

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I’m entering these experimental Spanish Polvores into Chris’s Cooking Around the World Spain Round up. Pop on over to his blog for a round up of some inspirational international cooking! Thanks for reading!

43. Polvorón – Spanish Christmas Cakes or Mexican Wedding Cakes

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Polvoron – you are always on my mind

I’ve had Polvorón on my mind for some time. I read about these crunchy little biscuits bites, months and months ago and they’ve been sitting patiently in my ‘Things to bake’ pile ever since.

They are quite an unusual discovery, something I had never heard if before. Traditionally Polvorón are eaten as wedding  cakes in Mexico made with pecans or as Christmas cakes in Spain, kind of like a Spanish Shortbread. Now I’m planning my own wedding I thought perhaps now is the time to incorporate an international flair into the festivities. Intrigued I launched into my own interpretation of the traditional recipe, basically determined by whatever ingredients I have in the cupboard.

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Chopped up dried coconut

I don’t usually buy pecans or walnuts so they had to be substituted for good old almonds (a nut which is ever present in my cupboard and life…) and chunks of dried coconut roughly chopped.

Due to the speedy baking that was necessary (and seems to be happening more and more often in my house) I improvised yet again. No time to assemble to food processor so I grabbed the nearest heavy item (a glass jar), threw the almonds into a sturdy sandwich bag and hammered them with the jar until they were delightfully smushed. Feel free to use a pestle and mortar if you wish to be a tad more refined than I.

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Beating the butter to a smooth paste

The ingredients are very similar to basic shortbread, with flour, butter and sugar.

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Thoroughly whipped butter

This is another brilliant biscuit for busy bakers as I managed to whip up the dough first thing on a Saturday morning, chill it whilst I showered. I used my trusty hand held electric whisk to beat the butter and icing (powdered) sugar together. Then to whisk in the flour and vanilla extract.

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Whisking in icing sugar, vanilla and finally flour

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My combination of ground almonds, chopped blanched almonds and chopped coconut.

And finally the nuts of your choice.

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The dough looks a bit scrambled eggy to start with…

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Take a small amount of loose dough in your hand

I completely misunderstood the recipe which calls for the dough to be chilled. I shapped the dough by hand into about 35 mini golf balls.

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squash it together and hey presto you have a ball!

I popped them all onto a greased and lined baking sheet covered them with cling film and popped them in the fridge to chill.

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All the Polvoron lined up in a row – ready for chilling

(I think you’re supposed to chill the whole dough then shape it?!) But this gave me a chance to shower so in effect helped to speed up the process.

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Delicately golden Polvoron fresh from the oven

I then spaced the little balls out evenly to give them room to spread whilst they baked. I popped the tray in the oven to bake it at 170 degree C for about 18-20 minutes, until they took on a delicately golden hue, whilst I applied clothes and make up.

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Cooled and ready for a good dusting of spicy icing sugar

Just enough time to then allow the Polvorón to cool on the tray to set their shape for 5 minutes. Then to cool them fully on a wire rack to stop the butter sweating out of them and give them sticky bottoms.

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Fully coated Polvoron

Once cooled fully I rolled the Polvorón in a bowl of icing sugar swirled with cinnamon giving them a fluffy white coat. As they set the sugar absorbed slightly into the biscuit adding an extra dimension of sweetness to the treat.

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Happy Birthday Mel!

I then quickly bagged them up, tied with a pretty ribbon and dashed off with my pretty packages of Polvorón to celebrate my friends birthday! With a champagne fueled (10 minute) train journey to Durham. Followed by more food, cocktails and Polvorón.

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Obviously I had to ensure their quality before sharing them with friends… they passed the test! Crunchy and sweet Polvoron

We declared them a tremendous cocktail accompaniment (and that’s not the frozen strawberry daiquiris talking).

Polvorón are buttery like shortbread but with an added crunch as they are smaller and denser than a traditional shortbread biscuit. The almonds brought a subtle creamy yet crunchy texture along with the coconut. I expect pecans would add even more bite to the biscuit. The Polvorón remind me a little of biscotti or amaretti biscuits which I also adore. What’s not to love about a delicious bite sized treat. Even better, as they’re so small you can obviously eat a whole handful of them in one go!

Polvoron – up close

I love the method of shaping these little biscuits into balls as I find rolling and cutting out biscuits a bit laborious  I quite enjoyed this hand made alternative and I’m already inventing my own nut free recipe for my friends who can’t eat nuts as I think everyone needs a bit of Polvoron in their lives!.

Things I used to make Polvorón

Makes about 35 small biscuits

Preparation: 15 minutes

Chilling time: 30 minutes

Baking time: 18-20minutes at 170degrees c

  • 220g butter (1 cup or 2 sticks)  room temperature
  • 250g powdered sugar (2 cups or 240 grams)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 250g all purpose flour (2 cups or 240 grams)
  • 120 g (1 cup) almonds/pecans/coconut coarsely ground/chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Thank you to Sourdoughtheangrybaker for inspiring me to bake Polvoron! I had not heard of these wonderful cakes until you told me about them. Brilliant blog if you haven’t had a look already, I recommend reading.