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.

29. Messy Macaroons – France

In Hiroshima, I spotted shop windows stylishly displaying towers of tantalisingly multicoloured circular sandwiches, of every colour in the rainbow. At this point, a couple of yearrs ago now, I had never even heard of Macaroons, let alone tasted one. I kept promising myself one, but with all the other amazing food I never got round to it! Returning home I realised I was macaroonless.

Hello Hiroshima

I then heard more and more about Macaroons, they were everywhere, from Gossip Girl to Lorraine Pascale. (Think Blair Waldorf eating an entire box of pistachio macaroons in the bath.) Then The Great British Bake Off with Edd Kimber’s fabulous macarons. The more I heard about them the more I wanted to try them. Newcastle is not the Macaroon (or macaron – you choose which spelling you prefer, English or French?) central of the world. However my Mam happened upon them in Betty’s Tea Room and bought me an entire box! How decadent and divine, so light and sweet. I sampled the lot,  lemon, pistachio, chocolate and strawberry glossy and smooth macaroons filled with delicious jam and buttercream. They feel like something French aristocrats would enjoy on a daily basis.

Betty’s Tea Rooms Handmade Macaroons – note the glossy exterior, feet and lift!

I had to attempt them myself. They are a French invention, but it seems quite a few other countries have their own variation and have adopted them too. We used to make coconut macaroons with my Mam, but they are something entirely different. (But I have bought some rice paper to have a go myself soon…)

My Messy Macaroons

You can use the Italian meringue method (which uses hot sugar syrup to cook the egg whites before drying out the meringue in the oven. I used it to create my Key Lime Pie) or the French meringue method (where the raw meringue is cooked slowly in the oven)  to make the macaroon shell. I opted for the French method, as it seemed easier! However upon further research the Italian method may be more tricky but it supposedly produces more consistent results. (Next time I’m up for experimenting a bit more with this!)

I learned a few things along the way when making these. They are quite technical and a bit tricky but essentially they are a meringue and like when I made pavlova and mini meringues they require ‘drying out’ or cooking in a low temperature oven.

I chose a classic macaroon recipe to follow and adapted it to suit the flavours that I had in my cupboard. Which meant that I ended up with pink lemon flavoured macaroons. This kind of messes with your mind a little.

Whisking the egg whites

I started by whisking the egg whites and a tablespoon of lemon juice with an electric mixer for quite some time until it becomes stiff. Then gradually whisked in  the rest of the lemon zest and sugar until it was fully incorporated. I also added some powdered red food colouring at this point until I reached my desired pinkness. It’s probably best not to use liquid food colourings here as you don’t want to disturb the consistency of the egg whites too much… Runny egg whites make for one flat and merged meringue. (I should know I’ve already been there and done that.)

Adding the pinkness

It can take 10 minutes or so to whisk the egg whites until they are shiny. Then you known they’re ready for the ground almonds. Using a metal spoon I carefully folded in the ground almonds, so as to keep as much air  in the meringue as possible.

I spooned the meringue paste into a piping bag with a plain round nozzle and piped freestyle. Some people like Holly Bell, who are far more prepared than me, use a template of equally spaced circles (or other shapes) under their greaseproof paper to pipe equal amounts onto the tray.  I however was in a baking frenzy and choose to guess. Therefore my  results are somewhat less than consistent. My piping was supposed to produce little delicate rounds of meringue onto the baking tray lined with grease proof paper. Occasionally little meringue peaks formed on my macaroon circles. I quickly flattened them down again with a slightly wet finger. Good news however! There’s no need to grease the paper before piping, which is always a nice treat.

Piped onto the baking paper – all shapes and sizes

Now here’s my lesson at this point I wish that I had

a)    Gently banged the tray on the worktop to make sure the bottom of the macaroons were flat.

b)    Left the macaroons for 20 – 30 minutes to dry slightly and form a skin on the top before putting them into the oven. (I have since discovered that you get a more glossy finish by doing this and it helps the macaroons to form their characteristic ‘feet’(the little rugged ridge around the base of the shell) and lift up from the tray in the oven.

c)    Blitzed my ground almonds in the food processor before using them to make sure they were really fine. This is supposed to help ensure a smooth and glossy finish. I may have even sieved them if I could have been bothered.

d)    Used icing sugar! The recipe just called for caster sugar. Other recipes I’ve looked at use powdered sugar to get a smoother finish.

e)    Froze the first batch before I filled them. Apparently freezing macaroons helps to make them look and taste even better.

Just baked macaroon shells – oh so many I ran out of trays to pipe them on! (oh and I dropped a wooden spoon on that one in the middle before it made it to the oven…)

But this is all fine and well in hindsight. I didn’t have this wisdom then. I was pleased that they held their shape (whatever shape that may be)  in the oven when I baked them for 40 minutes at 150 degrees C with the oven door slightly open. However they didn’t develop the little feet or lift that they are supposed too so they weren’t as sophisticated as I hoped. They were most definitely not smooth, glossy or shiny either, but more of a pumice stone texture. Thankfully they didn’t taste like pumice stone! They were chewy in the centre and crisp on the outside, just how I like them. (I couldn’t resist trying a few straight from the oven.)

I left them to cool completely before filling them with a generous smudge of my home made lemon curd and a sneaky layer lemon buttercream. Then sandwiched two shells together.

Little and Large

This recipe was only supposed to make 15 macaroons. I ended up with well over 30, so perhaps I made slightly smaller ones than I was supposed to, but they seemed massive to me. All the more macaroon to enjoy in my opinion.

My Messy Macaroons

I took a whole box along with me on my last day in my job and they were the first thing to disappear from the buffet table, which indicates success despite their ever so rustic appearance. With the other half I wrapped the empty shells carefully in layers of greaseproof paper and stored them in an airtight container. I froze them for a month and defrosted them for my friend’s leaving do. They accompanied me to the pub in their own takeaway container.

Take away macaroons

I have a whole macaroon book to experiment with so you can definitely expect messy macaroons part 2 in the near future as I’m determined to perfect them!

Things that I used to make messy macaroons

4 egg whites (I used medium eggs)

1 lemon (juice and zest)

250g caster sugar

200g of ground almonds

Buttercream

Approx 300g icing sugar (enough to create smooth sweet paste when combined with the sugar)

1 lemon zested

1 tsp vanilla extract

250g butter

Lemon Curd

Approx 3 tablespoons of homemade lemon curd (but you can add as much or as little as you like)

Baked for 40 minutes at 150 degrees C with the oven door slightly open.

**Note to self – I also used a little splodge of the uncooked meringue mix on each baking tray to hold the greaseproof paper in place**

27. Paul Hollywood’s Peshwari Naan Bread – India

Paul Hollywood’s Naan Bread

Rolling on to India and bake number 26! (All this baking is taking its toll! I’m now increading my exercise to 15 miles of walking a week, Ashtanga yoga and the occasional spin class/torture session.) But I love food and I love naan bread, particularly Peshwari Naan but then again who doesn’t love a good Naan? And not just any Naan bread but Paul Hollywood’s, the King of bread bakers, Naan bread?

Looking for the perfect accompaniment to my home made dahl and pilau rice I stumbled across the Paul Hollywood recipe I’ve been saving for a special occasion. Any excuse to whip out my trusty food processor too! I combined the flour, yeast, salt and oil and mixed it all up using the dough hook attachment, adding water until it became a good sticky dough.

The food processor alone was not enough to knead the dough properly and the food processor was about to leap off the worksurface with the sheer effort of spinning the dough. I had to admit defeat and resort to my own hands.

Shiny Happy People – Kneady Stuff

I kneaded the dough for about 10 minutes on an oiled surface, to stop it sticking, which is so much easier than a floured surface. Until it was smooth and shiny and bounced back when pressed lightly. It’s times like these that I wish I was 2 inches taller so I didn’t have to knead the dough whilst teetering about on my tip toes to get the right force required!

Time to Prove

Whilst the dough proved under it’s oiled cling film covering I set to work on arranging my naan flavours. Paul Hollywood’s recipe called for caraway seeds and coriander. Unable to follow any recipe without substituting something or ad libbing somewhere, I decided to attempt a Peshwari Naan, guessing that I could throw some crushed garlic, spices (coriander, cumin and cardamom seeds), raisins and coconut into the mix and it would produce Peshwari Naan. Upon opening the cupboard I found dried fruit store severely depleted! My normal store cupboard staple, raisins, were nowhere to be found! (I forgot earlier in the week I bought an extra double amount to feed an entire litre of rum to for a very special future bake! All of my dried fruit is currently sitting patiently soaking up lashings of rum. All will be revealed soon!)

Naan Flavourings: Coconut, Garlic, Coriander, Cardamom Seeds and Cumin

Slightly disappointed I ploughed on with a combination of coconut, half a bulb of crushed garlic, dried coriander and cumin instead. Noting I must buy more dried fruit as soon as possible.

Risen to perfection

After about an hour of rising, (near the hot hob on the stove while I was cooking a chicken and vegetable dahl to encourage the dough to prove) the dough had doubled in size and was ready to be flavoured! I added the flavours a third at a time and kneaded them thoroughly through the dough.

Flavoured and divided

Once all the coconutty goodness was distributed evenly throughout the dough I rolled it into a fat sausage to chop it into quarters. Each quarter of dough should then be cut in half and flattened. Paul Hollywood is obviously a bit more of a perfectionist than me as he insists that a rolling pin is required to flatten the dough portions out. I can’t believe that people in India whip out a rolling pin at this point and so I decided to do all this flattening with my bare hands. Which did mean that my first attempt was more like a paperback novel than a fluffy, naan bread.

Stacks of semi flattened naan bread dough – must be flatter than this before hitting the pan!

I re-read the recipe and realised that the dough should be stretched into circles about 25cm in diameter, probably twice as big as my inital attempt! This explains the chunky naan brick that I produced.

Chunky Naan

Once flattened the dough has to be rested again for 5 minutes before plopping them (individually) into a hot pan with a splash of oil. I quite enjoyed the sizzle of the naan in the oil as the naan immediately puffed up and bubbled away happily in the pan. Then a quick flip over to sizzle it on the other side too. I was worried the coconut would all fall off as I got a bit bored whilst frying up the naans and decided to press some more coconut and coriander into the awaiting naan breads. I’m not sure if Paul Hollywood would approve of my inconsistent making-it-up-as-I-go-along approach but hey they were looking golden and lovely in the pan, so why worry about presentation and consistency now?!

Naan -ish and Golden (look at those bubbly edges!)

Once the naan is golden brown on both sides, it’s ready to hop out of the pan on onto a plate. I continued pan frying all 8 of the naans, piling them high on a plate ready to be devoured with daahl.

Stacks of Naan

Tea time! It smelt amazing, although a tad smokey in my kitchen as I definitely had the heat up too high on the pan. The windows had to be opened to get rid of the haze in order to see at one point. But other than my carelessness when it comes to fire safety, this recipe was a resounding success. I did slightly chargrill (burnt) one naan and created a naan brick, but I still had 6 more naans to get the technique right with. When I eventually got it right, I really got it right!

Chargrilled Naan

The bread was fluffy and light around the edges with thinner crispier bits towards the middle, where I had possibly been a bit over enthusiastic with my thinning process. I quite liked the texture and it was a good call to add an extra layer of coconut before frying the bread as it toasted on the top. Lovely! I’ve frozen the rest of the batch after we had eaten our share, to be defrosted in naan bread emergencies, of which I’m sure I will have many.

Tea Time! (The naan was so massive I couldn’t fit it all on the plate or in the photo…)

The recipe, just in case you would like to try it is…

    • 500g/1lb 2oz strong white flour
    • 10g/¼oz salt
    • 15g/½oz fresh yeast
    • 30ml/1fl oz olive oil
    • water, to mix
    • 1 tsp cumin seeds (I substituted this for – the crushed seeds of 4 cardamom pods)
    • 1 tsp caraway seeds (I used a generous 1 tsp of dried coriander and 1 tsp cumin)
    • I then added further to Paul’s recipe with 1/2 a cereal bowl of coconut (sorry its a very rough guestimate, my usual measurement unit)

You can also find the full Paul Hollywood Naan Bread recipe on the BBC Food website.

Paul Hollywood’s Naan Bread Recipe

25. Happy Birthday to me! Triple Lemon, Triple Layer Victoria Sponge – Extravagana – England

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Triple Lemon, Triple Layer Victoria Sponge

Ok, ok I’ve baked rather a few things already from good old England so it may not be that exotic to choose a Traditional Victoria Sponge. However! I know a true test of baking skill lies in the creation of a perfect sponge. I’ve never made one of these before but I sure have eaten my fair share of them. I have pondered over baking a layered cake for quite some time and debated over experimenting with a Hummingbird Bakery venture delicious although it would have been it involved too many ingredients that I couldn’t find so back to Marguerite Patten! Always wanting to try something a little bit different, and having rather a lot of home made lemon curd still to use up, I made mine a triple lemon triple layered Victoria Sponge…
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The Marguerite Patten recipe for Victoria Sponge has so many variations I think you need a Home Economics degree to put it all together! After engaging my non mathematical brain I managed to measure out in ounces (reading my scales correctly this time- I recently realised that I’ve been reading Llbs instead of ounces… This may explain why my last sponge cake went SO very wrong…)

The Many Variations of Marguerite

I used the variation for one 10 inch cake tin, the plan being that I would simply split my one cake in half and fill it with buttercream and my lemon curd.

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Whisking the eggs well

As I was making probably the biggest cake in Marguerite’s recipe options I had to increase all the ingredients from 4oz to 6oz. Simple?

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Creaming the butter, sugar and lemon zest together

I simplified the method for myself: 6oz of butter and 6 of sugar creamed together. 2 medium eggs to be whisked ‘well’. 2 lemons zest and half a lemons juice added to the butter then beat the eggs gradually into the butter being careful not to curdle the lot.

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Scrambled eggs?

Then to fold in the 6oz of plain flour and ta da we have a cake mix!

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Folding in the flour

Careful not to knock the air out of the mixture I lovingly spread it as flat as I could get it into the greased and lined tin. 35minutes at 180 degrees and I had one slightly thinner than I expected lemon sponge.

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Spread as even as possible in the tin

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One slightly sad looking thin lemon sponge

This rather sad looking sponge would be impossible split down the middle and ice. So I just had to bake another 2 layers!! It would have been a bit of a disappointing cake had I not. To speed up the process I doubled the ingredients to make enough for 2 cakes in one go. I wasn’t entirely sure this was technically the best thing to do but hey I didn’t want to be on all night. The problem being I only have one round cake tin so I had to bake one sponge at a time in order to re use the tin. This meant cooling the cake quickly and hoping the last sponge wouldn’t be airless and dry after the sponge mix had sat around waiting to be plopped into the tin.

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Citrus buttercream

Throwing an unmeasured amount of butter and icing sugar into the food processor, (probably around 1 and a half packs of butter and enough icing sugar to make a good smooth sweet texture) I whizzed it all up with a splash of orange extract and vanilla too. I ran out of lemons by this point so thought any citrus would be a good move…

I am not very good at icing cakes with buttercream. My cupcakes always look a bit sad so this was a bit of a trial by fire. I’ve watched Lorraine Pascale ice cakes and it looks easy so I do what I do best and make it up as I go along. Lorraine made a mint sugar syrup and spread it on to her layered sponge cakes before icing, so I thought this must be a good idea although it did mean deviating from Marguerite’s recipe somewhat.

Lemon Syrup

Using what I had left over from the sponges I simmered the juice from all of the zested lemons with some sugar (enough to cover the bottom of the pan) to make a lemon drizzle. When it and the cakes had cooled slightly I spread a generous sticky coating on all 3 sponge layers to add to the lemony flavour and to help keep it moist.

The Terrible Trio

The exciting bit was then whacking on a thick layer of lemon curd followed by buttercream then smushing on a sponge layer (and it cracked slightly but no one will see this once I coat the entire thing in buttercream. The problem was the lemon curd started to dribble out everywhere! For the second layer I put buttercream first then lemon curd which helped hold it in place a bit better.

Layer 1! Lashings of Buttercream

Layer 2. I could stop here for a traditional Victoria Sponge…

Lemon Curding it up

Layer 3! Looking a bit rustic

It was looking enormous and slightly lopsided. I had obviously not spread the buttercream evenly but the leaning tower of Pisa look is so in right now (I tell myself). Once the third sponge layer was added I spread the remaining butter cream, around the sides of the cake, sealing all 3 layers in. Smoothing the cream round with a palette knife. I saved a little buttercream to finish it off after the entire cake had a little rest in the fridge to ‘set’.

All 3 leaning layers encased in buttercream

The cake was so massive I had to take some shelves out of the fridge just to squeeze it in! Once I smoothed on the final finishing touches of buttercream in an attempt to hide some of the crumbs that had broken off the sponges and worked their way into the cream I faced a little challenge. How to cover the leaning tower of cake up to keep it fresh in the fridge?! It was too big for any of my cake boxes and I had welded it to my glass cake stand with buttercream so it wasn’t possible to move it.

Cake Tent

I fashioned a rudimentary cake tent by selotaping cocktail sticks underneath the glass cake stand and gently folding 2 sheets of tin foil around the cake and skewering them onto the sticks. The cocktail sticks meant the tin foil didn’t touch the buttercream but would stop it all drying out in the fridge. Perfect!

Triple Lemon, Triple Layer Victoria Sponge

Once you start you can’t stop

This cake was immense!! I loved the sharp lemon flavour of the Curd combined with the gentle citrus buttercream. The sponge was probably a bit dry around the edges (hence the loose crumbs) so I would probably take it out the oven a little sooner if I was making it again. But hey for a first attempt at a layered cake I was happy. The tilt definitely gives it a certain je nais sais quais. I enjoyed the quirky take on the traditional Victoria Sponge. I took some to work and one comment was “that is the best cake that I have ever tasted’ which is high praise indeed!

Ps. This cake was perfect for trying out my lovely new cake slice!

22. Blood, Sweat and Baklava – Greece

This is without doubt the most epic bake that I have ever attempted. I’ve eaten Baklava in Greece, Turkey and Morocco. It is divine and very moreish with its honey soaked pastry. It’s one of my favourite sweet treats. I’ve been planning on attempting it for a while but was a bit hesitant to attempt Filo pastry from scratch as every book, including my Greek cookery book, said to buy it ready made pastry!

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Baklava

Undeterred I asked my foodie friends for some advice on Twitter and was very kindly assisted by @bakingelements who sent me a Michel Roux Filo recipe from his ‘Pastry’ book. Thank you so much for your help. Without those photos I couldn’t have done it!!

Filo requires a lot of time and patience. It’s really not for the faint hearted. The dough itself is quite a basic concoction, flour, water, salt mixed in the food processor with a dough hook. Seems simple enough…

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Then pour in oil while its mixing and wait until its all combined.

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It becomes rather sticky and stringy at this point.

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My new food processor was thoroughly christened in sticky dough in the process too… Cotton buds to the rescue!

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Then it required about 5 minutes of extra working on a cornfloured board. I had to add a lot of extra flour as it was SO incredibly sticky

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When it was worked sufficiently I measured it precisely (can you believe it? With scales and everything!) into 60g chunks. They had to rest in a cool place for 2hours on a floured tray covered in cling film so it didn’t dry out.

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Pain in the pistachios

This gave me enough time to de shell and husk a whole bag of pistachio nuts. (Note to self. Please buy nuts without their shells in the future.) This is 45minutes of my life I will never, EVER get back. I broke a couple of nails and showered the kitchen in shells when in desperation I smashed the nuts with the stick bit of the pestle and mortar. Not to mention the nips and cuts the little blighters gave me.

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Mixed Nuts

Into the food processor 1lb of mixed nuts I threw, the damn pistachios, whole almonds and walnuts. A quick whizz to chop them up and I added sugar, cloves, cinnamon and some pre chopped almonds.

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To help speed up the chilling process I popped the pastry into the fridge for a bit whilst prepping the pastry board and a vast supply of cornflour.

Now for the tricky and even more time consuming bit. Michel Roux had sensibly instructed me to prepare 60g balls of dough so I had manageable chunks to roll out. However I was also working with 2 separate Baklava recipes which suggested working with a round cake tin and a rectangular tray. Whilst trying to stretch this delicate pastry out I realised there was no way on earth I was ever going to get it to the length and width needed to fit such a long tray and of course roll it to the required 0.5mm thinness!!

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Still a bit too thick...

I decided to use a smaller square tin and ad lib from all 3 recipes that I was following. I greased and lined the tin in preparation.

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The first piece of rolling was lovely, dusting it with flour and gently rolling it out. I can’t believe I actually thought ‘brilliant this is going to be fun’. I lost count of how many sheets of Filo I rolled but as soon as you kind of get it to the right size and try to pick it up, it stretches, so its too big for the tin! Then it tears! And somehow your supposed to brush it with butter evenly too whilst it crinkles up and become more of a patchwork quilt. I had to trim bit here and there and add extra bits to cover the holes but I got there in the end.

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The first fantastically even and smooth layer. Look it reaches the edges (almost)!

I realised that 60g was too much per layer so had to divide each chunk into 4 to get the right thinness and to ensure I had enough layers to go round. I have feeling you’re supposed to let the pastry rest after rolling it but I didn’t have the time. I also had to stretch each piece to fit inside the tin so it was really practicable either.

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The actual amount of dough per layer pre rolling

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Post rolling (not quite a square...)

I also missed the step in the recipe that said you’re supposed to start with 8 layers of pastry on the bottom before you add any layers of nuts and sugar. I had 2 bottom layers and there was no going back. I was in Baklava lasagna mania and only had 2 hours to finish the whole thing.

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So so thin

I’m not sure how much butter I used but I had to refill the pan 3 times along the way.

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Excuse the messy Filo jigsaw

My theory was 2 layers of pastry then a layer of nuts. I attempted to butter both sides of the Filo that was to sit on top of the nuts, which is probably totally unnecessary but the paranoia of dry Filo was setting in. Each time I added a layer I had to cover the pan in cling film too to stop it drying out too.

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The top layer with 8 layers of Filo and a generous butter coating!!

Before cooking it I took my sharpest knife and cut it into cubes

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Precarious cutting through many layers.

I popped it in the fridge (but forgot the cling film!!) then set about simmering the syrup of honey, lemon juice, sugar, water and cinnamon. I added some rose water too.

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Start of syrup.

The Baklava needed 35mins of baking while the pan simmered. I almost burnt the syrup as I wanted to reduce it further and salvaged it by dunking the hot pan into cold water to stop it cooking.

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Nicely caramalised... Definitely not burnt.

Once the Baklava was crisp and golden it was ready to be drown in thick syrup.

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Crisp and golden Baklava

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Syrup soaked

I added a garnish of chopped nuts (I still have a bag left over so probably wouldn’t make as much next time) and some more syrup to top it off. Apparently it needs 4 hours to cool so I wrapped it in a towel and carried it to my friends house for our pudding. It definitely didn’t last long enough to cool for 4 hours!!

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Toppings

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Baklava Heaven

I was hoping after all the time and effort it would be ok and it really really was. The syrup soaked into every layer making a gorgeously sticky delight! Even with less pastry on the bottom it held together and cooked all the way through!

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Piles and piles of Baklava

I’m happy with my Filo experiment. I generally hate making pastry and this almost killed me. There was a lot of energy spent in making this so I don’t feel guilty in the slightest that I ate 2 massive pieces in one go. It did take an entire day to make but what an achievement! Now I’ve made Filo once I know I can do it but perhaps I might buy some ready made if I was going to attempt it again.

I’m now going for a lie down :)

*Recipes taken from:

Filo Pastry Michel Roux – Pastry Requires: 400g plain flour; 6g fine salt; 330ml water heated to 50 degrees C; 30ml olive oil; cornflour to dust

Baklava Recipe  Requires: 1 quantity of Filo Pastry; 1lb chopped nuts, cloves, cinnamon, 1 cup of butter, 1/3 cup of sugar

Syrup: 1 cup water; 1 cup sugar; 1/2 cup honey; 1 cinnamon stick; (I added an extra sprinkle of ground cinnamon); 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and I added 1 tablespoon of essence of rose water too.

The Traditional Greek Cookery Book Toubis Edition 2006

 

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Lemon Curd – Curd is the Word

Marguerite Patten's Preserves

This is another non bake so I’m not counting it towards my eighty bakes from around the world. However I want to master the many skills that are needed to be a good baker and make things from scratch hence the curd experiment.I had a bag of lemons that needed to be made into something lovely and after reading Mary Berry’s ‘At Home’ book I realised Lemon Curd is a vital ingredient in many, many cakes. Marguerite Patten made my first venture into jam making so easy that I wanted to try another recipe from her Everyday Cookbook.

The addition of eggs scares me a little. What if I do it wrong and I poison people?! Pushing down those terrible thoughts, I put my faith in Marguerite. She’s never let me down yet and my Dad loves Lemon Curd so I’m sure he will appreciate it.

Them's a lot of lemons (and pips)

It was a relatively simple process. Grate the lemon zest and juice the lemons into a jug.  Admittedly this is hard work when you only have a little wooden juicer thing (I’m not sure of its real name) and trying to avoid pips getting into the mixture. If only I had some muslin or something to sieve the juice through… I try to avoid using the fine sieve whenever possible as I don’t like washing it but it had to be deployed here to sieve out the remaining shards of pip.

Juiced

All the ingredients, butter, sugar, lemon and eggs had to be placed in a good old bain marie to simmer. With a constant and vigorous stir to avoid lemon scrambled eggs.

Bain Marie

Looking a tad lumpy but it's all in the process...

After about an hour on a gentle heat it was the right consistency to ‘coat the back of a spoon’. I find this term a bit confusing as most things do coat the back of spoon… I think Marguerite means when the mixture is thick enough it sticks to the spoon and slides slowly off, or that’s the definition I went with.

Now it coats the back of a spoon! (and looks a lovely glossy sunshine yellow colour)

Then all I had to do was pour it into my sterilised jar (previously of curry sauce origin – lets hope this doesn’t taint the final product!) I had purchased a beautiful thick glass jar with a hinged lid for preserve making. However I managed to knock it onto the floor before work one morning and it promptly smashed into smithereens and flew everywhere! Hoovering under the cupboards before work whilst holding back a curious cat is not so much fun!

The final Lemon Curd

I saved the curd for a special occasion and cracked it open to make a couple of lemon curd tarts this week. It is beautifully sharp and sweet and just the right consistency. There was no curry like after taste either (phew!) so I had sterilised the jar very well. I may never buy lemon curd from a shop again!

Just in case you would like to make your own Lemon Curd a la Marguerite Patton here’s the things that you will need…

  • Rind of 3 lemons
  • Juice of 2 large lemons
  • 8 oz of sugar (I used granulated and got good results)
  • 4oz of fresh butter (I used unsalted real butter not margarine)
  • 2 eggs

20. Chelsea/Belgian/Cinnamon Sticky Bun Hybrid – What’s in a name? A bun by any other name would taste just as sweet

Chelsea/Belgian/Cinnamon Sticky Buns

I truly love cinnamon. When faced with the cake selection in Greggs I normally opt for a massive Belgian Bun the size of my face, oozing with icing and raisins. I’m not entirely sure what I can call this bake or which country I can say it’s from as, surprise, surprise, I made it up a bit. It started life as a Chelsea Bun recipe from the lovely Marguerite Patten, however I’m not keen on candied mixed peel and it had a distinct lack of cinnamon.

The bun is based on a sweet bread recipe and needs some time to prove and unfortunately some planning in advance.  I mixed and kneaded this dough rather late one night and then let it prove overnight in the fridge to slow the yeast development a little and I wasn’t too sure about keeping dough enriched with egg at room temperatute overnight. (Don’t want to poison anyone..) Although Marguerite didn’t seem to say anything about leaving it over night, I don’t think it did it any harm

Flour, yeast and sugar

Just the one egg

Drizzle in some milk

Proving itself

The next morning was thankfully a Saturday and I had time to play in the kitchen. So out with the pastry board, cling film and rolling pin! I rolled out the dough onto a long piece of cling film, as far as it would stretch. I definitely need more practice with a rolling pin as this tapered effort was definitely not the desired shape or size of the flattened dough.

Roll, roll, roll, your dough

I couldn’t possibly tell you how much sugar and cinnamon I threw onto the dough. (I really should pay more attention in the kitchen) I was liberal to say the least. I guessed the amount based on how brown the sugar turned and then added some more spice for good luck. Once the entire flatten dough was coated without any gaps in the cinnamon brown spicy sugar I figured I had reached the perfect sugary point.

Spicy Sugar

Then the exciting bit! To roll it all up without putting a hole in the dough. as an added precaution I brushed a little melted butter on the inside edge to help it stick before rolling it and on the final edge too. I fought with the dough carefully lifting it up with the cling film then turning the edge over tightly. The cling film had to be peeled away carefully, it wouldn’t be a very tasty accompaniment to the roll whilst juggling the pliable dough. The raisins needed a lot of attention as they were falling all over the place and dangerously poking through the dough. Patience is the key here and a gentle hand to guide the dough into a swirly log. If only I could get my roulade to roll as tightly as this…

One massive cinnamon log

Wielding a very sharp knife I sliced the log into sections and placed on a greased and lined baking sheet to prove a little more whilst I washed all the sugar out of my hair.

I’m not so sure Paul Hollywood would approve of my consistency in shape and size in this batch, but they tasted great and it meant I could eat 3 little ones instead of one enormous one.

*some teeny weeny rolls on here*

After a quick bake in the oven, Heaven had arrived! (I don’t use that term lightly either!) I’m considering making this for a perfectly indulgent Christmas morning breakfast, to permeate the house with cinnamon and loveliness! It was hard to wait for the them to cool down before devouring them! They just needed a simple icing sugar glaze, which I made in a pan and drizzled over while they sat on ther cooling rack.

The baked rolls

Then I piled them high on my plate and made a pot of tea and ate 3 in one go in front of the TV. Whatever they’re called they were divine and needless to say they didn’t last long in our house, especially when they were still warm out of the oven…. I’ve got to go, must bake some more.

Things that I used to make the Chelsea/Belgian/Cinnamon Buns

Inspired by Marguerite Patten’s Chelsea Bun Recipe

1 quantity of ‘Richer Yeast Dough’

  • 8 oz plain bread flour
  • 7g (1 packet of fast action dried yeast)
  • 3 oz of sugar
  • just under 1/2 pint of milk (at room temperature)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2-3 oz of butter/margarine
  • 1 egg

Combine all of the ingredients and after kneading allow it to prove

Filling

  •  4oz of dried fruit (I used sultanas but you could add mixed peel too if you like)
  • 2 oz brown sugar
  • Lots of cinnamon! (I must have used more than 3 tablespoons of cinnamon)

Glaze

Marguerite uses a simple honey glaze, brushed over the warm buns but I made a sugar glaze with

  • (about) 100g icing sugar
  • Enough water to dissolve the sugar into a clear runny liquid

19. Sunderland Gingerbread – How to Mackem

Sunderland Gingerbread

Years ago I bought a postcard from Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens (my favourite museum from when I was little with the Walrus head and stuffed lion that we visited on a weekly basis)  with a recipe on it for Sunderland Gingerbread. As far as I’m aware Sunderland isn’t renown for it’s Gingerbread but I guess as it was major port there would have been a plentiful supply of exotic spices to create lovely things with. It’s been pinned to my fridge for over 3 years reminding me that I need to try it out.

I am the Walrus

I was aiming to bake something special for my friend in Australia and post it out to her. As we’re both from Sunderland and therefore officially Mackems, this recipe seemed perfect. Not only because of the Sunderland connection but also because gingerbread needs to mature, which it could do as it was winging its way to her down under.

The Postcard

Customs are pretty tight in Australia so I also had to be very careful in recipe choice as there are restrictions on importing dried/fresh fruit and dairy to protect the eco system. Again Sunderland Gingerbread was a winner, as it was definitely less than 10% dairy and contains no dried fruit.

Necessary Ingredients - Baking Powder, Corinader, Ginger (of course) and AllSpice

This was my first foray into gluten and wheat free baking. I’ve never used this type of flour before so was intrigued by its white luminosity and fine texture. It reminded me of fresh snow that crunches when stepped on. Very Christmassy indeed!

Gluten Free Flour Blend

I loved making this recipe. It was so very simple, perhaps because a postcard only has space for the most basic instructions on it. It was easy to follow and very little washing up! My kind of bake! Everything was mixed together in one pan. Fantastic!

Measuring out the flour, baking powder, bicarb of soda and spices (all in one bowl saves washing up...)

Melting butter, golden syrup and sugar together

Sift in the flour and spices

Mixing it into a paste

Looking gingery

Add some milk... (I possibly should have added this sooner?)

Liquid Gingerbread

Oven Ready - Poured into a greased and lined tin

The texture was a little different to what I’m used to for this gingerbread, possibly because I haven’t tried gluten free flour before but after a couple of days of maturing it was rather nice, especially with a good dollop of ice cream on the side. (I’m sure custard would be pretty good with it too).

Baked!

All that was left was to cut into travel sized chunks and figure out how to package it up safely so it would survive up to 2 weeks in transit. Greaseproof paper and cotton string is my new favourite thing. I may have gone a little over board, but customs were very specific about their packaging requirements (I even emailed them to double check and everything :) )

The Final Slice

You may have already spotted my disastrous turkish delight post, as I was searching for other suitable non perishable things to post. As my package was not yet complete I still needed to bake one more thing… will let you know how that turned out very soon.

The Final Slice

Perfect with rum and raisin ice cream!

Just in case you fancy giving Sunderland Gingerbread a go yourself, here’s the recipe…
Ingredients:
340g plain flour
140g butter
110g soft brown sugar
225g golden syrup
1 egg
140ml milk
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tsp baking powder
How to Mackem (Directions):
      • Heat together butter, sugar and syrup in a pan until just melted
      • Sieve together dry ingredients then stir into syrup mix
      • Beat together egg and milk and beat quickly into syrup mix
      • Pour into 15x25cm greased and lined baking tin
      • Bake at gas mark 2, 150*C/300*F for about an hour (or until cooked in the centre)
      • Allow to cool in the tin
      • (Don’t worry if it sinks in the middle! – hurrah! – or cracks a little)
      • Keep for a few days in an airtight container before eating.
      • Enjoy with custard or ice cream or just with a cup of tea :)
*Recipe courtesy of Dane Stone Cards www.dane-stone.co.uk

18. Disastrous Turkish Delight (No Delight in Sight)

Marguerite Patten's Recipe...

This was an unmitigated disaster. I won’t attempt to make excuses for this one at all. It was dreadful!! The recipe supplied by Marguerite Patten (who has never failed me before!) asked for powdered gelatin which I didn’t have so I substituted for leaf gelatine. Not entirely sure if this is a reasonable substitution and I had to guess the number of leaves required too… I think the sheer amount of guess work and hoping for the best resulted in terrible Turkish Delight, I take all the blame.

Having visited Turkey many many times, it’s one of my favourite places. So hot and so beautiful! I always enjoy sampling the local delicacies, rose and mint flavoured Turkish Delight are my favourites along with the apple tea of course! I wish I could make it properly at home.

Delightful

Pancakes anyone?

The recipe asked for the

sugar and water to be melted together

Then to add the gelatin…

Bring the syrup to the boil (no problem)

Then to let it simmer until it reached the soft ball stage. This is when you drop some of the mixture into cold water it forms a soft ball. If only I had a sugar thermometer it would take all of the guess work (fun) out of the experiment…

Soft ball stage?

The recipe called for Tartaric Acid. This is something I’ve never heard of, nor seen in any shops, ever. Rummaging in my cupboards I discovered Cream of Tartar. Surely this is the same thing, right? NO, It’s really really not. As soon as I added it to the syrup it shrank back dramatically into the pan, losing its white frothiness.

At this stage according to Marguerite it should be a lovely Turkish Delight consistency so you can add rose essence and pink food colouring…

Or how about a solid block of sugar? *curses*

I succeeded in making a solid block of pink sugar instead of lovely chewy transparent Turkish Delight. I refused to let this beat me, so tried to melt the block down again by adding more water. Now if I was trying to make Kendal Mint Cake, this would be perfect…

Solid Pink Sugar instead rather more like Kendal Mint Cake than Turkish Delight

Undeterred I found a different recipe for Lokum (Turkish Delight) that uses Cornflour rather than gelatin that I thought might be more traditional and easier to make. How easily deluded I am!

The alternative ingredients

A paste made from cornflour sugar and cream of tartar (looks delicious?)

Add the rose essence and food colouring once at the soft ball stage

Then supposedly once it’s reduced enough it should magically transform into Turkish Delight…

Pink rose jelly. No Delight in sight

I simply can’t figure it out! Is it me? Should I give up guessing and follow recipes properly? Should I buy a thermometer? Maybe I should give this one last try…

17. Matcha Green Tea Drizzle Cake – Japan

I love Japan. This is probably an understatement. The North East of England has slowly but surely caught on to the variety of foods that other countries can offer. For a long time we only had one sushi restaurant. I’m happy to report that we now have at least 3 that I’m aware of. Wagamama posed quite a revolution when it first opened its doors and we all queued down the street for a chance to eat some gorgeous food.

The Golden Palace

Traditionally Japanese food focuses more on savoury things rather than cakes I found this fantastic recipe for a Green Tea Drizzle Cake in the Wagamama cookbook.

A delicious slice

I went to Japan last year after dreaming about it for many, many years. I love that pretty much everything has green tea in it. I ate so much Green Tea ice cream…

My favourite ice cream parlour (this may have bee rose but I ate so much I forget)

went to a Tea Ceremony,

Me making Matcha in the Tea ceremony

Tea Ceremony

dressed up in kimono

The Full Kimono Experience

Kimono

and ate tonnes of sushi and noodles and maple leaf cakes (if I can find a recipe I will be attempting this very soon!)

The best cold soba noodles I have ever had. EVER

I’m quite adventurous when it comes to food and when in Japan of course I’m going to experiment a bit further, so yes I ate Bento boxes on the bullet train til they were coming out of my ears, (octopus legs and all)

Tasty Octopus Legs

but I drew the line at raw horse meat which was almost eaten by accident, slightly lost in translation somewhere…

No raw horse meat here!

Luckily during my Hello Kitty splurges I also insisted on purchasing Matcha (Green Tea Powder although the bamboo whisk is yet to see daylight and is still sealed in its packet at the back of the cupboard) My Asian cooking obsessions mean that I regularly purchase bizarre things from the Chinese Supermarkets, so I have a cupboard full of tapioca pearls, jasmine essence and of course gunpowder green tea.

The strong stuff

We had friends coming round for takeaway and I thought Green Tea Cake would be a perfect light end to the meal. It was quite a quick bake too, so just enough time to whip up a double batch as I wanted to bake one to take with me to my friends house the night after too.

Unlike a normal sponge cake, the sugar and eggs were beaten together in a bain marie until it tripled in size.

Eggs and sugar into the whisk

Whisk it all until it triples in size

Magic

then flour, baking powder and matcha powder were folded in.

Matcha Green Tea Powder (and flour)

I divided the batter between the 2 tins and set them away to bake whilst I brewed up the strongest green tea I’ve ever made. It goes against my tea teachings to use boiling water when brewing green tea, but that’s what the recipe called for so I followed the instructions, wincing at the bitter green tea smell.

Brewing tea

I sieved the stewed tea to separate out the leaves and then reduced the tea down to a syrup with sugar.

Dark green tea

When the cakes they had to rest in their tins until cooled. I pierced the top of the cakes with a skewer and then poured the syrup generously over the 2 cakes.

Green Tea Syrup

They needed a little more resting and then wrestling out of the sugary tins, as the syrup hardened and required some brute force to release the cakes. Normally with a drizzle cake I use a solid tin and can dunk it in hot water to release it, but as this wasn’t water tight with a loose bottom I didn’t want to drown it before we had a chance to eat it!

Drizzled

Having saved a little syrup back, I ‘spiked’ the crème fraiche with green tea.

Green Tea spiked Creme Fraiche

I usually don’t like cream on the side of my cakes, but this was divine! The cake didn’t taste anything like how it smelt, which to be honest wasn’t the best smelling cake I’ve made.  (Nor was it the prettiest!)

The Final Cake

It was clean tasting and refreshing, with a crispy coating on the outside and soft and moist on in the inside. Beautiful! I would definitely recommend this to anyone.

The cake was enjoyed by all

Bonsai Trees at Hiroshima Peace Park

 

Things that I used to make my Matcha Green Tea Drizzle Cake (Courtesy of Wagamama Cookbook) 

This will make 1 Matcha Green Tea Drizzle Cake. I doubled these ingredients and made 2 cakes at the same time. (Just in case you’re feeding a few people! The cake should serve about 6-8 people)

For the cake

  • 110 g plain flour
  • 10 g matcha (powdered green tea – you can get this in most oriental supermarkets)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 75 g butter
  • 110 g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs

For the green tea syrup

  • 2 tbsp green tea leaves (I used gunpowder loose green tea leaves to make the syrup)
  • 150 ml boiling water
  • 150 g caster sugar
  • Don’t forget to save a little of the syrup to spike the crème fraîche  with!
  • about 200 g crème fraîche  to serve