67. Peruvian Corn Cake

The imperfect yet delicious Peruvian Corn Cake

The imperfect yet delicious Peruvian Corn Cake

So not all cakes are perfect. Despite the rather rustic appearance this Peruvian Corn cake it is extremely delicious. It’s traditionally eaten in coffee shops with enormous amounts of whipped cream and adorned with cherries. As I was transporting this to Cake Club at The Cookhouse I had to make do with squirty cream in a can…

Squirty cream in a can masks all manner of sins

Squirty cream in a can masks all manner of sins

You’d think by now, 67 bakes in to my around the world in 80 bakes challenge I’d be getting pretty good at this baking malarkey. Alas I still have the odd disaster and ruin a cake or two.

Is it because I can’t resist tampering with the recipe?  Is it because I’m slap dash in the kitchen?  Or is it because the sultanas all sank to the bottom welding the cake to the tin meaning I had to hack at it with a sharp knife to prise the last half from it’s bundty prison?

Perhaps I was a bit too roough with the Peruvian Corn Cake?

Perhaps I was a bit too roough with the Peruvian Corn Cake?

I guess it’s a combination of all 3 to be honest. Nevertheless I took it to cake club to share with my friends and enjoyed an enormous slice of it smothered in whipped cream. Which hides a multitude of sins and disguises the broken bits.

Shhh no one will notice it's a cake of two halves

Shhh no one will notice it’s a cake of two halves

The Peruvian Corn Cake is infused with Star Anise and stuffed full with coconut and plump sultanas.  It’s a perfect crumbly cake to accompany a strong cup of coffee.

The stars of the show - Star Anise seeds and Pink Himalyan Salt ready for grinding

The stars of the show – Star Anise seeds and Pink Himalyan Salt ready for grinding

Cornmeal gives the cake a wonderful golden yellow hue and an interesting texture.  Light yet crumbly to the touch with bursts of sweet moisture from the sultanas.

I’m a big lover of fruit cake and bundt cake and coconut and spice so this is an absolute winner for me. I bet if you soaked the sultanas in a little rum beforehand it would be sublime.

If you’re not a dried fruit fan feel free to leave the sultanas out (and you might have more joy getting the cake out of its tin!)

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy

Being lazy I whacked everything into my kitchenaid knowing full well that if you want to distribute your dried fruit evenly you should roll it in a little flour first and fold it into the batter. Alas I was hasty and missed this step so I had sunken sultanas.  Although the cake batter is very fluid so I doubt it would suspend sultanas throughout the cake. Gravity is inevitable.

The beaten batter

The beaten batter

I adapted this recipe from a wonderful book which could have literally been made for me. Cakes from Around the World.

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Things that I used to make my Peruvian Corn Cake

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 30g butter or margarine (butter would be better if you have it)

Step 1: Beat together the sugar and butter until fluffy

  •  3 eggs

Step 2: Then beat in the eggs one at a time adding a little of the flour if it starts to spilt.

  • 240g Fine milled corn meal (not to be mistaken for corn flour which is white not yellow). If you only have coarse corn meal blitz it in the blender to make it fine milled.
  • 20g (2tablespoons) Baking powder
  • 40g plain flour
  • Ground star anise (I used 6 seeds from whole star anise or you could use 1/2tsp of ground star anise powder)
  • 40g desiccated coconut

Step 3: Measure all of the flours and spices together. Beat in a third of the dry ingredients followed by a third of the oil.  Repeat until all of the flours and oil is incorporated into the batter. Don’t forget to scrape the sides of the bowl down too!

  • 80ml olive oil (it’s supposed to be corn oil which I didn’t have but sunflower oil would also be a good substitute)

Step 4: Roll the sultanas in a little flour and fold them gently into the batter. (or of you can’t be bothered to dirty another spoon beat them in gently with your mixer there’s so much baking prefer in this cake it’s bound to rise so you probably don’t need to treat it too delicately worrying about keeping the air in the batter. )

  • 220g sultanas (golden if possible but they’re more expensive so I just used normal ones)

Step 5: Pour your cake batter into a thoroughly greased bundt tin.  You could add a little flour too for good measure.

Step 6: Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 45 minutes at 190 degrees Celsius (fan).

Step 7: Allow to cool before attempting to coax it from the tin. Slice and smear with whipped cream. Eat enormous wedges with strong coffee!

 

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64. Curly Churros

Curly Churros

Curly Churros

Considering how many small fires I’ve started in my kitchen recently I surprised myself by not inflicting any further injuries whilst venturing into deep fat frying for the first time. Churros have been on my got-to-bake list forever.

Going all in at San Churros, Sydney. Churros, Dark chocolate dipping sauce, ice cream, milk chocolate dipping sauce AND a giant chocolate milkshake, just for good measure. (I ate the lot!)

Going all in at San Churros, Sydney. (left to right) Churros, dark chocolate dipping sauce, vanilla ice cream, milk chocolate dipping sauce AND a giant chocolate milkshake, just for good measure. (I ate the lot!)

I first tried Churros in Sydney in the bohemian district of Glebe. San Churros is a late night chocolate cafe offering half a metre long cinnamon sprinkled churros, thick hot chocolate and ice cream. AMAZING. Newcastle needs one of these.

Dippy churros

Dippy churros

Churros are traditionally Spanish but also very popular in Mexico usually dipped in liquid chocolate for good measure. You could also add some chilli to your chocolate (or chocolate to your churros – substitute some flour for cocoa powder) if you want an extra kick.

Glossy chocolatey churros

Glossy chocolatey churros

The process for making churros batter is very similar to profiteroles. Heat the water, butter and sugar in a pan until the butter melts.

churros recipe Heat the water butter and sugar in a pan

Heat the water butter and sugar in a pan

Take the pan off the heat and using a wooden spoon beat in the flour and salt until it comes together into a thick lump.

churros recipe Beat in the dry ingredients

Beat in the dry ingredients – best not use a whisk opt for a wooden spoon…

Then beat in the eggs one by one until it’s a smooth and shiny batter.

churros recipe Beat in the eggs

Beat in the eggs – wooden spoon is a much better option

This is quite a precise process so it’s worth setting up your workstation to make it as stress free as possible.

  • Keep a damp tea towel to hand to wipe your hands when you’re covered in batter.
  • Line a plate with kitchen paper and keep it close to add more layers when needed to drain the churros on.
  • Fill a shallow and wide dish with cinnamon sand to roll your churros in whilst they’re still hot.
Roll the churros in cinnamon sugar whilst hot

Roll the churros in cinnamon sugar whilst hot

To prepare the chocolate dipping sauce, heat the water and milk in a pan until approaching boiling and point. Take it off the heat add half of the chocolate. Stir until melted. Then stir in the remaining chocolate until smooth and shiny. Pour your chocolate soup into a pot ready for dipping.

churros Chocolate dipping sauce

Chocolate dipping sauce

Heat the vegetable oil in a deep pot about 400ml in a 8 inch round stock pot will give you about 2 inches of oil to fry the churros in. Make sure the oil is hot enough before piping your churros in. Just pop a blog of batter in and if it sizzles you’re good to go. You will need a slotted spoon to turn the churros with and to scoop them out when they’re cooked.

Use a slotted spoon to scoop the churros out of the boiling hot oil

Use a slotted spoon to scoop the churros out of the boiling hot oil

Although the batter is thick it should be free flowing. Scoop it into a piping bag with a star shaped tip. Don’t overfill the bag as it becomes really unwieldly (gushing batter from both ends). You need as much control as possible when piping into boiling hot oil as you really don’t want to get splashed.

Scoop the batter into a piping bag. Stand your bag up in a tall cup - churros recipe

Scoop the batter into a piping bag. Stand your bag up in a tall cup

I’ve watched street food vendors preparing churros and they have special batter dispensers that cut off the flow and deposit long sticks of churros into a deep vat of molten oil. Great method but probably not something that you’ve got in your kitchen at home. TV Chefs have also demonstrated perfectly straight churros. Nigella piped hers into boiling oil using scissors to cut the flow from the bag. She made short churros. Jamie Oliver made a firm dough and rolled his churros and then fried them. My batter was very liquid and difficult to control so I mostly ended up with it all over my hands and in my hair but I did manage to get some of it into the pot.

Multi tasking with an upturned piping bag to stop the batter spilling all over the place and flipping the sizzling churros with the other hand

Multi tasking with an upturned piping bag to stop the batter spilling all over the place and flipping the sizzling churros with the other hand

My lack of precision and being covered in batter meant I piped rather curly churros into the pan which instantly puffed up into curious shapes. The batter has a mind of its own and using a shallow round pot does have some limitations. Despite their irregular appearance they’re pretty damn tasty.

Some weird looking churros curling into the pan

Some weird looking churros curling into the pan

They sizzle instantly as soon as they reach the oil (watch out for sizzly splashes) and take minutes to cook, about 2 minutes each side turning a golden brown.

A good cinnamon sand coating is required churros recipe

A good cinnamon sand coating is required

With your kitchen roll at the ready you can pop your churros straight from the pan onto the paper to blot any excess oil before transferring them to the cinnamon sand (caster sugar and ground cassia/cinnamon) for a good sugary coating.

Mountains of Curly Cinnamon Churros

Mountains of Curly Cinnamon Churros

Keep piping churros into the boiling oil, flipping them, scooping them out, blotting them off, rolling in sugar until you’ve exhausted all of your batter. This makes an enormous amount of churros, so you may need to friends to help… Be careful not to leave the oil on the heat for too long, for example if you’re messing around taking photos. Without any churros to absorb some of the heat the oil will continue to sore in temperature and scorch the next churros you pipe into the pan. Also make sure you scrape out any scraps from the oil before piping the next churros in to avoid burnt bits attaching themselves to your fresh batch of churros.

Dippy churros

Dippy churros

Eat immediately! The longer they sit, the more oil they absorb so they lose a little of their crispiness. You’ ll not be disappointed by these churros. I shared these still warm and cinnamon scented to my friends at a picnic and with my family. Every single one disappeared. They’re light and fluffy on the inside and just crispy enough on the outside, (with the added texture from the sugar) to be oh so moreish.

Glossy chocolatey churros

Glossy chocolatey churros

I quite like the contrast of the dark chocolate against the sweet churros, but my 3 year old nephew winced at the bitterness despite the addition of some milk to my chocolate soup. You could use a lighter chocolate or milk chocolate if you prefer more sweetness in your life.

Things I used to make my Curly Churros

Churros Batter

  • 470g/ml water
  • 45g butter
  • 45g caster sugar

Melt in pan then remove from heat

  • 440g plain flour (or if you want to make chocolate churros substitute 420g of flour and 20g cocoa powder)
  • 2g salt

Beat in with a wooden spoon

  • 2 eggs

Beat in with a wooden spoon

Pour the smooth batter into a piping bag with a star shaped tip

  • 400ml vegetable oil

Heat oil until sizzling hot. Pipe in Churros. Cook them for 2 minutes (ish) on each side. Remove from oil and to drain on kitchen paper

Cinnamon Sand Ingredients

  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2-3 tsp ground cassia (or cinnamon powder)

Roll warm churros in cinnamon sand

Chocolate Soup Ingredients

  • 60ml water
  • 20ml milk

Heat liquid til just before boiling, remove from heat and add half the chocolate. Stir til melted

  • 100g good quality chocolate
  • optional sprinkle of chilli powder for extra kick

Add the remaining chocolate and stir until melted.

Dip your warm churros in your chocolate soup and enjoy!

62. Russian Black Bread

If you suggested that I put chocolate, coffee and onions into a loaf of bread a year ago I would have probably checked if you were feeling ok. It sounds vile doesn’t it? But then often the most unexpected ingredient combinations produce the most interesting results. Intrigued by the traditional Russian Black Bread I stocked up on espresso, caraway and fennel seeds ready for this strange bake.

Russian Black Bread recipe

Russian Black Bread

I was not disappointed. This is an extremely flavoursome and dark loaf. I found this recipe originally in a Jamie Oliver magazine but adapted it (as per usual) to fit my ingredients. It was supposed to be for 2 loaves. As I was expecting this bake to be a bit on the odd side, I wasn’t convinced that I could consume 2 entire loaves of it. So I scaled it down. (Feel free to double the ingredients if you would like to stockpile Black Bread.)

Russian Black Bread recipe

Who wouldn’t love a slice of Russian Black Bread?

Considering how much sourdough bread I’ve been baking recently I have transferred some of my newly acquired bread skills into this bake as I like to split my bread baking into manageable chunks to fit in around work and enjoying life. Using the fridge to prove my dough overnight is a great help. This means the flavours develop slowly and deepen. it also makes the dough easier to handle, especially if the dough is a wet and sticky or enriched with butter. Fridge proving produces a firmer more pliable dough, that needs very little kneading! Result!

Russian Black Bread Recipe

  • 7g instant yeast
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp/70g treacle (molasses)
  • 40g butter
  • 40ml espresso
  • 13g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
  • 350ml water
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 30g strong wholemeal flour
  • 200g strong white flour
  • 200g rye flour
  • 70g bran
  • 10g salt
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 small shallot (diced)
  • * approx 100g Rye Flour (you may need more or less) to help bring the dough together if it’s too sticky when kneading

Russian Black Bread Method

1.  Heat butter, espresso, treacle, and water in a pan until butter is melted

Heat butter, espresso, treacle, and water in a pan until butter is melted

Heat butter, espresso, treacle, and water in a pan until butter is melted

2.  Add cider vinegar

3.  Measure all of the yeast, flours, bran, salt, sugar, diced shallot and seeds into a large bowl.

Russian Black Bread: Measure all of the yeast, flours, bran, salt, sugar, diced shallot and seeds into a large bowl.

Measure all of the yeast, flours, bran, salt, sugar, diced shallot and seeds into a large bowl.

4. Pour in the chocolate liquid and mix together either with a wooden spoon or electric mixer. You may not need to add all of the liquid, or if the dough becomes too sticky, gradually add a little more rye flour until it comes together into a ball, (or a slightly less sticky mess.)

Russian Black Bread: Mix the wet and dry ingredients together, adding more flour as necessary before kneading for 10 minutes

Mix the wet and dry ingredients together, adding more flour as necessary before kneading for 10 minutes

5. Knead for 10  minutes (by hand or using an electric mixer – I used my Kitchenaid dough hook).

6. Cover your dough in a large bowl with cling film and prove either overnight (up to 24 hours) in the fridge or at room temperature for 1-2 hous until it’s doubled in size.

7.  Knock back the dough after it’s first prove. Knead it on a lightly floured surface and shape into a smooth ball

Russian Black Bread: Knead it on a lightly floured surface and shape into a smooth ball

Knead it on a lightly floured surface and shape into a smooth ball

8. You could prove it directly on a baking tray if it’s firm enough so it won’t spread too far. I wanted to make mine pretty so I proved it in my round banneton basket, which I coated with wholemeal flour first.

9. Cover your loaf with a shower cap or oiled cling film and prove for 2 hours at room temperature.

Ready to prove in the fridge over night

Ready to prove in the fridge over night or at room temperature for 2 hours

10. Pre heat the oven (and a casserole pot with a lid) 30 minutes before the end of your loaf proving time at 250 degrees C. (See the Hot Pot sourdough method for more details)

Russian Black Bread: Second prove done. Ready for baking!

Second prove done. Ready for baking!

11. Sprinkle the bottom of the hot casserole pot with ground semolina and gently tip the proved loaf from the banneton into the hot pot. Use a razor blade to score a design into your loaf to help it cook evenly. (I went for a heart shape but you could try a few other designs.)

Getting creative with the razor blade. Heart shaped Russian Black Bread

Getting creative with the razor blade. Heart shaped Russian Black Bread

12. Bake with the lid on at 250 degrees for 20 minutes. Turn it down to 220 degrees for the final 40 minutes. Check that the bread is baked by tapping the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow it done. If not, pop it back in the oven in the pot with the lid on for 5-10 more minutes.

Russian Black Bread baked in a hot pot

Russian Black Bread baked in a hot pot

I love how the wholemeal flour (that I used to dust the banneton with when proving the dough) bakes into the loaf, providing the perfect contrast against the rich brown bread peeking through the heart pattern. It even holds onto it’s circular imprint.

Russian Black Bread

Russian Black Bread

Apparently Russian Black Bread is best served with lashings of butter or caviar! The Russians sure know how to live! This bread is soft, pillowy and very rich. It’s a very unusual bread with hints of aniseed and licorice from the caraway and fennel seeds. The treacle also adds depth to the licorice tones without making the bread overly sweet.

Russian Black Bread recipe

Who wouldn’t love a slice of Russian Black Bread?

It’s a wholesome, fluffy and filling bread. The bran, rye and wholemeal flours are balanced with a dash of white flour giving an unexpected light texture. I could imagine this bread being a perfect accompanyment to a hearty stew or soup with a thick coat of butter. It is very rich so, as predicted, I didn’t manage to finish the loaf this week, it’s resting in the freezer for my next round of extra special sandwiches.

Pickled herring and seaweed caviar on Russian Black Bread

Pickled herring and seaweed caviar on Russian Black Bread

It just so happened that I purchased some pickled herring and seaweed caviar (a much more affordable caviar at £2 a pot!) from Ikea last weekend so I had to hand some pretty impressive sandwich making ingredients. In hindsight, pickled herring may be a bit of an extreme pairing for Russian Black Bread which is almost a entire feast all by itself. The herring overpowered the flavours somewhat, but the caviar works very well indeed.

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

Cooker Chaos and the Fiery Beast in my Kitchen

An Armenian Gluten Free Orange Cake with Orange Blossom icing and candied peel

An Armenian Gluten Free Orange Cake with Orange Blossom icing and candied peel

January has been a busy month filled with baking and frustration with the new-to-me-yet-old-to-our-house oven which has no temperature or oven settings remaining on it. Leaving the delicate science of oven temperature in the lap of the gods or in my case the sizzle of the grill.

This month I have successfully

  • set fire to my oven gloves and a pan lid!
  • grilled a puff pastry pie
  • charred a cake that took me 4 hours to make
  • threw 5 inedible cakes away – even Super Hans turned his nose up at them and he has been know to eat raw sourdough starter when it’s been dropped on the floor
  • and sobbed silently at the oven window glued to my newly purchased thermometer checking the temperature hasn’t yet reached ‘towering inferno stage’ and frazzled my Madelines.
Grilled pie anyone?

Grilled pie anyone?

I must admit I considered throwing the fiery beast in the bin, but the bin isn’t quite big enough… so back to patiently burning my cakes and starting over, and over, I went.

I guess this oven is a bit like baking with an Aga? (Having never used an Aga I may be making this up) I put my limited Aga knowledge to good use and attempted to control the heat by placing extra baking tins in the oven, to protect my precious cakes from the uncovered elements in the oven and ward off the extra hot spots. Adding tin foil hats to my cakes wherever possible to guard against the scorch. If you have any suggestions on how to bake in a small, yet very hot, electric fan oven please send them my way!

Undeterred I continued and eventually managed to bake some edible and rather lovely cakes, although I had to admit defeat on some of the more delicate bakes. It seems I shall be baking only robust cakes and breads that can withstand the heat until I can get to grips with the animal in my kitchen.

This month I’ve taken the opportunity to recreate some of my most favourite around the world in 80 bakes with a slightly new twist. Mainly that I have crammed as many international elements and Middle Eastern flavours that I could possibly think of into one cake. And the result? My 4 layer Iranian Pistachio Cake with cardamom; home made lemon curdTurkish Delight and Rose Italian Meringue. Which means I finally conquered the ever elusive Turkish Delight using a very good Rachel Allan recipe. I even treated myself to 2 new cake tins that are the same size! Unheard of in my house, so now I can actually make cakes that sandwich together. Hurrah! I predict there will be many more layered cakes in my future.

Cramming many international elements into one cake: A 4 layer Iranian Pistachio Cake, with homemade lemon curd, Turkish Delight and Rose Italian Meringue

Cramming many international elements into one cake: A 4 layer Iranian Pistachio Cake, with homemade lemon curd, Turkish Delight and Rose Italian Meringue

I also re imagined my Armenian Gluten Free Orange and Almond Cake into a bundt cake with ribbons of orange blossom icing and home made candied peel. Much less syrupy than my last attempt with thick piped glace icing which gave a great sweet contrast to the slightly bitter orange and almond cake.

An Armenian Gluten Free Orange Cake with Orange Blossom icing and candied peel

An Armenian Gluten Free Orange Cake with Orange Blossom icing and candied peel

Thanks for reading and I hope January is treating you well. I’m looking forward to hopefully baking not burning some new and exciting international recipes very soon.

51. The Legendary Crack Pie (concocted the lazy way)

Legendary Crack Pie - no actual crack is involved in this baking process

Legendary Crack Pie – no actual crack is involved in this baking process

Crack Pie the most addictive pie you’re ever going to eat. It even sounds legendary before you even know what’s actually inside it. It hails from New York so apologies this is yet another American bake in my around the world adventures. But I’m sure you will understand why I just HAD to bake this. It was originally invented by Momofuku Milk Bar’s very talented pastry chefs and coined Crack Pie due to it’s extremely moreish quality.

A slice of gooey Crack Pie

A slice of gooey Crack Pie

I’ve been waiting for an excuse to bake this pie. This excuse came in the form of the Private Pie Club. The theme for this months Private Pie was Film Pie. I managed to shoehorn my Crack Pie in under the banner of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ as the most drug fuelled film I could think of , although with it’s final dusting of floral icing sugar the pie appears much more sweet and innocent than it’s name suggests… (If you like pie you should also come along to Private Pie club and meet other pie enthusiasts!)

Fully iced Crack Pie

Fully iced Crack Pie

The original epic recipe is merely concocted from a few store cupboard essentials. This means you will probably have all of the ingredients ready to hand to bake this pie. So what are you waiting for?? Get baking! Although there is a LOT of everything in it so you may need to invest in a few more eggs…

Blending sugar, salt and flour together the lazy way

Blending sugar, salt and flour together the lazy way

The homemade oat cookie base is well worth the extra effort of making a cookie just to crumble it up and reconstitute it into a pie crust. The pie in total consists of an entire block of butter, almost 500g of sugar (brown and white) 8 egg yolks and cream! This is a gloriously decadent pie for the hungry. It’s so popular I’ve heard that they sell for $45 a pop and are couriered across the states to feed the Crack Pie habit of the nation.

Beat in the butter

Beat in the butter and egg

To start with I got the method a bit backwards. Despite my lack of reading ability it turned out pretty well so you too can follow my lazy method. I forgot to cream the butter and sugar together and instead whacked all of the dry ingredients together into the mixer and beat them until crumbly.

Then beat in the butter and egg to make a thick cookie batter.

Splodge the cookie batter roughly onto a baking sheet and smooth down

Splodge the cookie batter roughly onto a baking sheet and smooth down

The best bit about baking this kind of cookie is it doesn’t need to be pretty and you don’t even have to bother rolling and cutting it out! Music to my lazy baking ears. Basically whack it all onto a greased baking sheet, press it down with your fingers and bake it for 20 minutes. Job done.

The baked cookie base

The baked cookie base

The rough cookie will be a lovely golden hue after 20 minutes in the oven at 160 degrees C. Technically you should let it cool down before crumbling up the cookie but I couldn’t wait.

Blend the crumbled cookie together with even more butter and sugar

Blend the crumbled cookie together with even more butter and sugar

All of the other recipes I’ve found instruct you to blitz up the cookie in a food processor, but frankly that involves unpacking my food processor from the jenga game that is my kitchen cupboard and even more washing up , so I didn’t bother. I threw the roughly crumbled cookie into my mixer and beat it into submission along with an additional 55g butter, 20g brown sugar and 1/2 tsp salt.

This is how the cookie crumbles

This is how the cookie crumbles

After a quick blitz with the mizer (I’m sure you could just use a spoon or an electric handwhisk if you’re feeling the strain) the cookie turn to glossy crumbs. Just moist enough to shape it into a pie crust in your 2 pie tins.

Cookie Pie Crusts

Cookie Pie Crusts

Divide the cookie crumbs into 2 and squash them into 2 pie tins giving a thin and even crust along the bottom of the tin and up the sides. If it’s not sticking you can always blend in a little more butter to moisten the crumbs. I used a 9 inch tart tin and an 8 inch round cake tin. It’s handy to use a tin with a loose bottom to help remove the pie when it’s ready for eating. But feel free to use a solid pie dish, it’ll all taste amazing anyway. Pop the crusts in the fridge to set.

Blend together your sugars

Starting the filling: Blend together your sugars and salt

Now here’s the bit where I ad lib even further from the original recipe. I admit the one store cupboard essential I don’t own is powdered milk. So I just left it out of the filling. I’m not sure what impact this had on the final flavour of the pie but to be honest I didn’t miss it. Looking for a substitute all things suggested just adding actual milk. A splash of milk and a dollop of speculoos butter later and we have one tasty Crack Pie!

Whisk into the sugar, the melted butter, double cream, vanilla, speculoos butter and a splosh of milk

Whisk into the sugar, the melted butter, double cream, vanilla, speculoos butter and a splosh of milk

I love the fact that you just have to keep adding to the one pot to make each stage of this pie. After blending together the white and brown sugar, all that’s left to do is to whisk in to the sugar the melted butter, the double cream, a splash of vanilla, a splosh of milk, and a dollop of speculoos butter. You don’t need to incorporate lots of air into this caramel custard so just whisk it until it’s smooth and everything is incorporated.

Pour the caramel custard into onto the cookie crusts

Pour the caramel custard into onto the cookie crusts

The caramel custard will be shiny and smooth taking on the hue of the brown sugar. Simply pour half of the custard onto each pie crust and bake for 15 minutes at 170 degrees C. Then turn down the oven to 160 and bake for a further 10 minutes. I baked both pies side by side, but the larger of the pies needed an extra 10 -15 minutes of solitary baking time. The pies are clearly cooked when golden all over and only a little jiggly (like a good custard tart should be!)

The just baked Crack Pie

The just baked Crack Pie

A good tip from Mary Berry to achieve an even bake is to place your pies onto a hot baking sheet. It also means your loose bottomed tin will keep it’s bottom when lifting it in and out of the oven (I have had issues in the past with my tart tin). Also if it leaks any butter (and let’s face it with all of the butter in this pie it’s going to ooze a little) you will save a lot of oven cleaning by having your pie on a baking sheet instead.

A pair of Crack Pies cooling

A pair of Crack Pies cooling

The filling will rise slightly whilst baking but maintains a lovely smooth and flat top. Once baked leave your Crack Pies to cool down in their tins. They will keep well for about a week in the fridge and I hear it tastes even better the longer it lasts… (if you can reserve yourself that is!). When I took that first bite of Crack Pie I actually ‘yummed’ out loud. In public! It’s so moist, the cookie crust almost disappears into the gooey caramel filling with the edges giving that much needed bite. It’s a perfect combination of smooth, sweet caramel and oaty crumble, with a hint of spice (from the speculoos) and a tang of salt. The slice quickly disappeared before my eyes and the whole pie was gone within minutes. Without doubt a wonderful sign of an excellent pie.

Extreme Close up of the Crack Pie. Check out that caramel custard

Extreme Close up of the Crack Pie. Check out that caramel custard

As this is a recipe for 2 Crack Pies, you could scale it back to make just the one. But I fear one will never be enough! If you have the ingredients you may as well make two and share with friends (if you like anyone enough to share your Crack Pie with them) or alternatively gorge yourself on all of the pie. (Please eat your Crack Pie responsibly) Or even more sensibly you could freeze your second Crack Pie for a special occasion. I have my Crack Pie resting carefully in the freezer, wrapped diligently in greaseproof paper and tin foil (still in it’s tin) to prevent freezerburn and   that distinctive ‘freezer flavour’ contamination. I literally can’t wait to defrost it.

How to decorate a Crack Pie?

How to dress a Crack Pie?

Now you don’t have to dress your Crack Pie, if you don’t want to. You could leave it naked as the day it was born if you prefer, but I wanted to make it look pretty (and hide a few of the little cracks that had appeared on the delicate crust in the process of forcibly removing it from the tin) Armed with a cake stencil, tea strainer and a box of icing sugar I liberally dusted on a floral pattern, covering the entire pie. It’s the first time I’ve ever managed to stencil anything successfully! Hurrah! Cue many self indulgent shots of stencilled Crack Pie…

The Fully Dressed Crack Pie

The Fully Dressed Crack Pie

Things that I used to make The Legendary Crack Pie 

Oat Cookie (for the crust)

  • 150g plain flour (2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon)
  • 1g baking powder (1/8 teaspoon)
  • 1g Cream of tartar (1/8 teaspoon) – This should actually be bicarbonate of soda however I got the pots mixed up! It didn’t seem to do any harm so I will be using cream of tartar in the future.
  • 2g salt (1/4 teaspoon)
  • 115g softened butter (1/2 cup)
  • 60g dark brown sugar (1/3 cup )
  • 40g  caster sugar (3 tablespoons)

Step 1: Beat all of the above together until fully incorporated

  • 1 egg

Step 2: Beat in the egg

  • 90g oats (1 cup)

Step 3: Stir in the oats

Step 4: Spread onto greased baking tray and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes at 160 degrees C (375F)

Pie Crust

Step 5: Crumble up the baked cookie and beat in

  • 55g butter (1/4 cup)
  • 20g brown sugar (1 and 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 1g salt (1/8 teaspoon)

Step 6: Split the crumbs in half and press firmly and evenly into 2 (approximately 9 inch) pie tins all over the base and up the sides to form a thin crust.  Pop the crusts in the fridge to set.

The Caramel Custard Filling

  • 270g caster sugar (1 and 1/2 cups)
  • 130g dark brown sugar (3/4 cup and a scant 3 tablespoons)
  • 1g salt (1/4 teaspoon)
  • (I left the milk powder out but if you want to put it in use 1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon)
  • 113g melted butter  (1 cup)
  • 285ml double cream (3/4 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Splash of milk (to make up for the lack of milk powder)
  • 50g speculoos butter (to make up for the lack of milk powder – you could leave this out if you prefer or even use peanut butter instead)

Step 7: Whisk all of the above together

  • 8 egg yolks

Step 8: Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time until the mixture is smooth, shiny and thick

Step 9: Pour half of the caramel custard onto each pie crust

Step 10: Bake the pies side by side in a preheated oven on a hot baking sheet for 15 minutes at 17o degrees C (350F) then turn the oven down to 160 degrees C (325F) and bake for a further 10 minutes. When golden all over and only ever so slightly jiggly your Crack Pie is ready! 

Step 11:  Allow your pies to cool and dress with icing sugar. Then reward yourself for all of your efforts with a slab of pie. Enjoy!

*The Momofuku Recipe was published by the LA Times recently if you want to see it in all it’s glory

48. Oh Canada! Oh Nanaimo Bars!

Happy Birthday to Chris  Nanaimo Bar

Happy Birthday to Chris – your own personal Nanaimo Bar

This blog has been a looooong time coming. I wanted to recreate a special treat from our Canadian travels for Chris’s birthday (last October…). My Aunty Carol in Canada recommended the quintessentially Canadian Nanaimo bar to satisfy my Canadian cravings.

Hike up Mount Doug

Hike up Mount Doug

We spent a glorious week with my family on Vancouver island. Taking in all the sites, hiking up Mount Doug, whale watching, exploring the ski slopes and of course meeting a Mountie or two.

Mountie Meeting

Mountie Meeting

Ziplining through the forests in Whistler

Ziplining through the forests in Whistler

So many beautiful sights to take in

So many beautiful sights to take in

Nanaimo bars are as popular in Canada as Tim Horton’s coffee shop. I still dream of those bear claw doughnuts. Unfortunately in England we don’t seem to know what Graham Crackers are or sell them in any shops… and they are an essential ingredient in Nanaimo Bars.

Smash up your biscuits with whatever's handy in a sandwich bag

Smash up your biscuits with whatever’s handy in a sandwich bag

My educated guess is that it’s some sort of spiced caramelised rich tea biscuit. So I did what I do best with limited store cupboard. I improvised. Smashing up a load of rich tea biscuits and adding in a combination of ginger and cinnamon to the mix.

The beginnings of the biscuit base

The beginnings of the biscuit base – combine sugar, butter, egg, biscuit crumbs, nuts and coconut

The base required a tasty combination of biscuits, melted butter, sugar, egg, cocoa powder, almonds, and coconut. It’s really quick to mix it all together. A 20 second blast in the microwave is all the butter needs to be fully runny.

Stir it all together until fully combined

Stir it all together until fully combined

Stir it all together until fully combined and comes together into a stiff mixture.

Biscuit base ready to be baked

Biscuit base ready to be baked

Once combined press the mixture firmly and evenly into all of the corners of a flat lined and greased 9 inch baking tray. Bake the biscuit base in the oven for about 10 minutes at 180 degrees C.

Whipping up the custard filling

Heating up the cream, milk and vanilla to make the custard filling

The next decadent layer is a lovely custard cream. At this point in my baking repertoire I was still yet to attempt custard concocting. Daunted yet undeterred I proceeded to my cupboard to retrieve the custard powder the recipe requires. Disaster struck when I discovered the custard powder was over a year out of date! Not wanting to poison Chris on his birthday I decided I had gone too far and didn’t have time to make another cake so I would have to proceed and whip up my own custard instead.

Thickening up the custard

Whisking up the eggs, sugar and cornflour

I decided a full custard recipe would be far too much for a small Nanaimo bar recipe so I adapted a Mary Berry recipe to make up my own sweet filling. As with gelato or ice cream you start off heating the cream and milk with a vanilla pod to infuse the custard. Then you whisk the eggs until fluffy with the sugar. Taking the cream off the heat and pour over the eggs. Continue to whisk until it thickens. Then return the custard to the pan and whisk over a low heat until it thickens.

Keeping whisking til the custard thickens

Keeping whisking til the custard thickens

The Nanaimo bar is quite a firm cake so I knew I would have to adapt the rather runny custard to make this work. I added the butter, vanilla extract and a lot of powdered (icing) sugar to the custard. Continuing to whisk it over the low heat until it reached the right thick consistency. You may need to add more powdered sugar to make your custard set firmly. It will end up a much paler custard due to the white icing sugar.

The baked biscuit base - nanaimo bar recipe

The baked biscuit base – look at those nuts!

Take the biscuit base out of the oven and let it cool fully. Once the custard has cooled you can then happily pour the custard over the biscuit and let it set in the fridge whilst you whip up the chocolate topping.

The custard layer setting - nanaimo bar recipe

The custard layer setting

Using a bain marie, pop the chocolate in a bowl suspended over a bowl of boiling water to allow the chocolate to melt gently. Save the last third of the chocolate back to add to the melted chocolate to help reduce the temperature of the chocolate. This tempering of the chocolate stops it from blooming or sweating when it’s cooling. It helps to keep your fingers slightly less sticky.

Gloriously gooey melted chocolate

Gloriously gooey melted chocolate

Pour the glossy melted chocolate all over the custard layer and simply let it cool and set.

The chocolate layer

The chocolate layer

But… just before it’s fully set quickly score the chocolate with a sharp knife to mark out the bar squares. You’ll thank me later. Once the chocolate sets fully it’s really difficult to cut through the chocolate and get properly portioned slices, as the chocolate cracks. (I wish I’d known this when I made Millionaire’s Shortbread!)

The scored Nanaimo Bar

The scored Nanaimo Bar

Then once it’s fully set you can take it out of the tin, chop it up and tuck in! I served Chris his for a special birthday breakfast. In hindsight it might not be the best breakfast food, but you can eat whatever you like on your birthday. That’s the rules. It’s a wonderfully sweet treat.  The coconut, custard and chocolate are a brilliant combination. That’s 3 of my most favourite ingredients all wrapped up into one cake. And even better,  it doesn’t take an age to make. I can see why the Canadians love it so.

Nanaimo Bar recipe

Nanaimo Bar

Thank you so much for the wonderful memories and for showing us the sights Aunty Carol, Uncle Malcolm , Kelly and David!

At the top - Whistler

At the top – Whistler

Things I used to make Nanaimo Bars

  • 1 cup or 250g rich tea biscuits smashed to fine crumbs (or if you have access to graham crackers go for it!)
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup or 125g desicated coconut
  • 1/3 cup or 75 g of flaked almonds
  • 1/4 cup or 60g cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup or 60g sugar
  • 1/3 cup or 75g  melted butter
  • 1 egg

Custard Cream Filling

Custard

  • 285ml milk
  • 25ml cream
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 15g sugar
  • 1 tsp cornflour

*Or alternatively use 2tbsp custard powder if you have it!

  • 1/4 cup or 60g butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups 500g icing sugar

*add 30ml milk if you’re not using home made custard

Chocolate Topping

  • 200g plain dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp butter

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!

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.

Blog North Awards 2012 Aroundtheworldin80bakes has been shortlisted!

I am so so thrilled! This week I got a surprise email to tell me that Aroundtheworldin80bakes has been Shortlisted for the Blog North Awards 2012 in the BEST FOOD AND DRINK BLOG category! 

The Blog Awards are celebrating ‘The best online writing in the North’.

How amazing is that!! I never in a million years thought that I would be nominated for an award, never mind shortlisted from over 400 blogs in the North. There is even a cash prize for the winner!

(Now that would come in very handy for more international baking and for my  wedding cake in particular which I began at this weekend. It truely is the biggest cake I have ever attempted! The first tier is already bigger than my head!)

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If you would like to vote for me (please) in the Blog North Awards you can do so on the Blog North website www.blognorthawards.com/vote 

Voting closes on 4th October with the winners announced at the award ceremony on 17th October! There are 4 other fabulous foodie blogs in the category too which are a very very good read. Also on my most recommended Northern blogs list is www.newcastleeats.co.uk and foodiesarah.wordpress.com.

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Thank you so much for reading and your support. It is very much appreciated! I will keep you posted on the results. I shall be keeping everything crossed until then!