Beetroot cake

Beetroot cake might seem like an odd concept, but it’s not so far fetched when you consider its cousin the carrot cake. While I’m not into sticking root vegetables into cakes purely for the sake of it (I once saw a recipe for cake with carrot, parsnip and potato in it, which seemed like some sort of afternoon tea alternative to a roast dinner), beetroot does make excellent cake. It lends an earthy flavour that is not dense or cloying like carrot cake can be, and the cake itself comes out a beautiful shade of deep pink. It’s moist on the inside, crispy on the outside, and as you bite down on your second slice you can contemplate how eating vegetables is a pretty good, all other things considered.

What I love most about this cake is its simplicity. Aside from the minor faff of grating the beetroot (I actually wore a latex glove when doing this as I didn’t want pink hands for days afterward) it really is a case of chucking everything in a bowl. If you like you can add sultanas, walnuts, lemon juice, cream cheese icing or (apparently) it’s nice with rosewater buttercream. But to me, mucking around with it would spoil its appeal – it needs no special ingredients (other than the beetroot, of course, which is plentiful at this time of year), takes a minimal amount of washing up afterwards, and best of all you can eat it straight from the oven. This cake is positively rustic, yet all the more charming for it.

250g self-raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
150g dark brown soft sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
3-4 medium beetroots, peeled and finely grated
150ml vegetable or corn oil
2 medium eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 180C, and grease an 8-inch springform or loose-bottomed cake tin
2. Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl
3. Beat the eggs together then mix them into the oil
4. Add the beetroot and eggs/oil to the dry ingredients, stir it all up with a wooden spoon, then pour into your prepared tin
5. Bake for around 40 minutes – you may need to put a tinfoil hat on your cake to stop the top browning too much. It’s done when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean

Best enjoyed cosying up with a cup of tea – definitely the antidote to autumn blues.

Coffee bundt cake

I had had a special request for a coffee cake from my lovely mother-in-law, and I am always happy to oblige such requests. Naturally I decided a bundt cake would be best because, well, bundt cakes are just superior, and what better way to spend a random sunny day off work than baking and enjoying a lovely piece of cake out in the garden?

Bundt cake just chillin' in the garden

Delia provided my starting point but the recipe obviously needed bundtifying (totally a word), not to mention leaving out the faffing around with walnuts and syrup (I can make a beautifully moist cake without dousing it in sugary coffee, thanks Delia). I also upped the coffee I put in the cake because, this being Delia, I just assumed it could do with cranking up a notch or two.

For the cake:
2 tablespoons instant coffee, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
175g self-raising flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
175g granulated sugar
175g butter, softened
3 large eggs at room temperature

For the icing:
200g mascarpone
50g icing sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

For the cake:
1. Grease your bundt tin well and preheat the oven to 160C (fan oven) / 170C
2.  Stick all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth (it’s important that your butter is really soft, or this won’t work terribly well). The mixture should be soft and drop off a spoon when you rap it against the side of the bowl – if not add a little water
3.  Pour into your prepared bundt tin and bake in the oven for 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the deepest part of the tin comes out clean
4. Invert the bundt tin over a large plate and leave to cool – the cake should drop out of its own accord. If not, carefully slide a spatula around the outside of the tin and the hole in the middle then invert again and leave the cake to do its thing.

For the icing:
1. Beat all the ingredients together with an electric mixer until smooth

Once the cake is completely cool, dollop the icing on top and spread it around with a spatula. Then present it to your mother- and grandmother-in-law and earn mega brownie points😀


Chocolate and peanut butter cheesecake

Henry is away in Sweden, so I decided to make him a nice welcome-home cheesecake…. well… okay I admit it, I wanted cheesecake! BUT I did decide to make a sort of Henry-themed one as a kind of “you’ve been away nerding out and eating junk food for five days, now have some cheesecake” sentiment. See? I had everyone’s best interests at heart.

Now, a couple of weeks ago he asked me to make some sort of pumpkin and bourbon cheesecake concoction. Luckily tinned pumpkin, one of the chief ingredients, is not readily available in the UK. At least, none jumped out at me as I was browsing the peanut butter shelves in Sainsbury’s. Obviously, I had thought about what alternate flavour Henry might like, and quite quickly settled on peanut butter. That wasn’t hard, seeing as he has been known to eat spoonfuls of the stuff as a snack. (He claims it’s a nutritionally sound snack, secretly I think it’s one of those things you eat because you were never allowed to as a child; for example, cereal for dinner – in fact cereal for every meal, and snacks too – or coffee and hula hoops for “brunch” on a weekend.) Of course it had to be peanut butter and chocolate, because, well, why would you not add chocolate?

chocolate peanut butter cheesecake

Clearly, things are better when there are layers.

I prettymuch used the recipe I used for the one a day cheesecake:

Biscuit base:
220g digestive biscuits
100g butter

700g cream cheese
120g granulated sugar
3 eggs
75g smooth peanut butter
100g good-quality dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, melted

You will also need an 8 inch diameter cake tin, either spring-form or one where the base comes out.

1.  Grease the cake tin very well with butter
2. Crush the biscuits in a bowl with a rolling pin, or blend in a food processor until they are all crumbs. Melt the butter and add to the biscuit crumbs
3. Stir well, then press into the greased cake tin and put in the fridge while you make the rest. Preheat the oven to 160C
4.  With an electric whisk, cream the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each and taking care to scrape down the sides of the bowl
5. Pour half of the mixture into a bowl
6.  To one half, add the peanut butter; to the other half, add the melted chocolate
7. Pour the peanut butter layer onto the base and smooth it out with a spatula, then pour the chocolate layer on top and smooth that out too
8. Wrap the cake tin in foil from the bottom upwards, then bake in a bain-marie (the foil is so that no water leaks into the cheesecake) for 35-45 minutes – until the cheesecake is mostly set but still with a wobble in the middle
9.  Allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature, then remove it from the tin onto a plate and put it in the fridge to set for a few hours

The finished article:

Ignore that tiny crack that I just pointed out (on the plus side, this was a result of careless manhandling rather than it cracking while baking).

Total deliciousness… I had my first helping with a sliced banana, then my second helping on its own. The third helping was a pre-dinner snack (it’s good for you). I expect Henry will enjoy his washed down with a glass of milk. I just hope, when he does get back, he doesn’t mind that a significant portion is missing.

Macaroons vs. Macarons

I recently bought Jill Colonna’s Mad about Macarons, figuring that there had to be some basis to the extreme fashionableness of macarons these days. These are most certainly not to be confused with macaroons. I remember the macaroons my mother used to make (erm, that makes it sound like she’s dead or something – she’s decidedly not, but now I don’t live in my parents’ house any more I don’t really keep up with what they’re cooking). These macaroons had no fancy flavours or colours. Just pure almond deliciousness (don’t get me started on coconut macaroons. One word: abomination) , and I would always try to choose the one with the most rice paper. I think that was what made me want to try them in the first place – the fact that they were baked on paper, and it was paper you could eat, and it was delicious.

macaroons(just to confuse matters, I photographed these on our French placemats…)

So. Macaroons. Rustic, humble, I-need-to-use-up-egg-whites macaroons. A world away from these Parisian macarons with their jewel colours and fancy fillings. This is absolutely reflected in the ingredients and method for each. I am not even going to write out the recipe for the macarons, firstly because you can find it in the book, secondly because it would take an age, and thirdly (most importantly) because I didn’t really rate them that highly. Suffice it to say that it involved ageing my egg whites in the fridge for four days (talk about the antidote to instant gratification – award another point to the macaroons), sifting various things, beating egg whites to firm peaks only to later use the end of a spatula to press out all the air (um, what?), piping out the macaron shells, leaving to set for half an hour, baking in batches, cooling, piping on ganache, and finally sandwiching two halves together. I might add that you need a perfectly flat baking tray (something I apparently lack), or they slide a bit and become misshapen when they bake. Finding two halves that were similarly misshapen just added another level of complexity.


The macaroons, however… Well, the recipe speaks for itself. I used the recipe from the BBC food website, which called them marunchinos. I like this: it sounds kind of cute, like an odd Italian pet name (“Hello my little marunchino, how is your baking today?” – Henry, take note). It actually is the word for Sephardi macaroons, which apparently are popular at Pesach. I changed it slightly – they say to use almond slivers on the top, but my mother always used whole almonds so of course I did too.

1 egg white
175g ground almonds  (freshly ground is best, but you can use pre-ground ones)
125g granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp almond extract
whole almonds for the tops
rice paper (optional)

1. Line a baking tray with rice paper or a silicone liner. Preheat the oven to 180C
2.  Whisk the egg whites until frothy, then add the almonds, sugar, salt, and extract
3. Mix it all up, then roll into walnut-sized balls and squash flat and put on the baking tray
4. Press an almond into the centre of each macaroon, then bake for around 20 minutes until lightly coloured

Easy as that.


Now, it sounds like I don’t like macarons at all. This is not true. They were very tasty. But, in my mind, they were no more tasty than the macaroons, and considering the former took an evening of sifting and electric whisking and piping and baking in batches and sandwiching, after all of which the recipe suggested I don’t actually eat my creations right away but wait at least 24 hours, but ideally 36, before tucking in (apparently this improves the taste. My opinion after a taste test: no difference), not to mention that afterwards the kitchen looked like I’d tried to find an innovative way to get icing sugar everything and used every piece of baking equipment in the process; while the latter can be whipped up in about 45 minutes and only require a large bowl (yes, I know you’re meant to whip the egg whites until foamy, but if you really can’t be bothered it’s actually not a big deal if you don’t), AND there is no icing sugar so I don’t have to wipe down every surface in the kitchen afterwards. Not to mention I am slightly obsessed with chewy things, and these are practically the definition of the delicious chewiness I so adore.  It is most definitely a case of resource/reward.

Having said all that I will give the macarons another go. They do look very impressive, and Henry says he prefers them. I think that the recipe may have been overly complicated. I think if I bake them a little longer they will take on a bit more of the solid chewiness I so adore. I think they would make lovely gifts for people, if I were planning to make a baked gift. But I tend towards thinking that simpler is better, and this comparison has not given me any reason to think otherwise.

Caramelised plum cake

It’s plum season and I’m enjoying having a daily fix of tasty English plums.

That is, until the following hitch in my plummy plan (the following is probably exaggerated for comic effect, but this does not mean that any time Henry is sitting at his computer he does not hear a word I say):
Me (very busy): Are you ok going to the supermarket without me?
Henry: Yes, of course dear
Me: I put plums on the list… you know the plums I like? English plums? That are like this (indicating plum shape) not round?
Henry: Yes, of course dear
Later: Henry has bought the shopping. The plums are the round ones that are not so good for eating. Of course, being a dutiful wife I plan to cook with these plums and quietly buy my own ones and not say anything about it (apart from subsequently exposing the whole sordid affair on my blog. Naturally)

So. There were plums for cooking. We were going to my sister’s house in the country(ish) on the weekend, to pick the apples from the tree in the garden and have a jolly little apple factory with peeling and slicing and stewing. I said I’d bring cake, and it had to be quick to make because instead of spending the morning baking we spent the morning shopping… Well, when your husband gets rid of most of his wardrobe and declares he needs some smart, grown-up-type people clothes, I’m not one to disagree.

This is where this cake comes in. It met all the criteria. It had plums. It was quick to make. It was, indeed, a cake. And it had that rustic country feeling that I experience every time I visit my sister and her husband in the country (that is, until the novelty wears off and I wish I were back in the city).

Caramelised plum cake

For the plums:
6 plums
50g granulated sugar (or try demerara, light or dark brown soft sugar)
1 tablespoon butter

For the cake:
115g butter
100g granulated sugar
2 eggs
100g self-raising flour
50g ground almonds (you can leave these out if you are planning to feed the cake to anyone with a nut allergy)

Serves 8

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a deep 8 inch cake tin (use a springform one, or one where the bottom comes out)
2. Caramelise the plums. Put the sugar in a saucepan and heat until it starts to caramelise. Slice the plums and add with the butter, stirring to coat
3. Meanwhile, make the cake. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs one at a time, and finally the flour and ground almonds
4. Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin, then tip in the caramelised plums (don’t worry if there is still runny caramel)
5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a knife stuck in the centre of the cake comes out clean

Best served warm.

Caramelised plum cake

I think it turned out pretty well! So well, in fact, that I may buy the erroneous plums on purpose to make it again. Caramelising the plums managed to get some flavour out of them. When I first sliced them up there didn’t seem to be a drop of juice in them, or a drop of flavour either, but the cake was filled with plummy goodness – this would be very good for using up a bad batch of plums. I think you could also use nectarines, and serve with whipped cream, or sour cream, or yogurt or ice cream for a tasty pudding. Or just have it as is with a nice cup of tea, sitting in the city, daydreaming of fields and apple trees and autumn.

One a Day Cheesecake (or, hazelnut caramel chocolate cheesecake)

I never used to like cheesecake. This fact would enough to make me very sad and angry, now that I have discovered the One a Day Cheesecake, except that the recipe book it’s from (The Humingbird Bakery – Cake Days) was only recently published. So I haven’t been missing out for that long.

It was pure luck that led me to make this cheesecake. Henry bought me the book (which I highly recommend) for my birthday, then got a new job. Obviously my natural response was to bake something from my new recipe book to celebrate. The cheesecake looked so tasty – all I had to do was get Henry to use his remaining days of being a stay-at-home husband to pick up an obscene amount of cream cheese and we were good to go.

caramel hazelnut chocolate cheesecake

I have come to realise that I find it almost pathologically impossible to follow any recipe to the letter. I tend to skim read then erroneously reconstruct the instructions in my head, then read again after the relevant step to find out I’ve done it differently. Or I can’t be fussed with having two different types of butter in my kitchen. And I definitely can’t be bothered with lining things with baking parchment. I suppose I am also blessed in that the vast majority of what I make turns out fine (and comes out of the pan…) – perhaps if it didn’t I would be a more conscientious baker. But I promise you this works – so here is the glory I call the One a Day Cheesecake.

Serves one (me) , or two at a push, for a good five days

Biscuit base:
220g digestive biscuits
100g butter

700g cream cheese
120g granulated sugar
3 eggs
50g caramel or dulce de leche (you can buy it ready made in a tin, or make your own if you are inclined)
50g good-quality dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids

More caramel/dulce de leche (if you want to be scant you can be scant, likewise if you want to be generous do so. The original recipe suggests 4 tablespoons. I just poured it on until I felt like stopping)
50g toasted chopped hazelnuts (dry fry in a pan, shaking often to toast. When they’re browning, tip onto a plate to cool. If you have whole hazelnuts, whack a few times with a rolling pin to break them up a bit)

You will also need an 8 inch diameter cake tin, either spring-form or one where the base comes out.

1.  Grease the cake tin very well
2. Crush the biscuits in a bowl with a rolling pin, or blend in a food processor until they are all crumbs. Melt the butter and add to the biscuit crumbs
3. Stir well, then press into the greased cake tin and put in the fridge while you make the rest. Preheat the oven to 160C
4.  With an electric whisk, cream the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each and taking care to scrape down the sides of the bowl
5. Take out a third of the mixture and set aside (preferably in a bowl… not just on your kitchen counter)
6.  To the 2/3 mix, add the caramel and stir well. To the 1/3 mix, melt the chocolate and stir in
7. Spread the caramel cheesecake mix onto your biscuit base, then spread the chocolate cheesecake mix on top
8. Wrap the cake tin in foil from the bottom upwards, then bake in a bain-marie (the foil is so that no water leaks into the cheesecake) for 35-45 minutes – until the cheesecake is mostly set but still with a wobble in the middle
9. (ESSENTIAL STEP)* Allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature, then put it in the fridge to set for a few hours. Remove it from its tin and top with the caramel and toasted hazelnuts

caramel chocolate hazelnut cheesecake

*I am too used to baking things that go into the oven liquidy and come out more solid. This cheesecake comes out of the oven still liquidy. Luckily I took a photo before I cut into it, but I was too keen to try it (and it was about 11pm by this time and I wasn’t going to stay up to allow for chilling time). When I took out a couple of slices, there was a sort of cheesecake landslide and it all ended up very sunken and messy. I was amazed when the next day it was all set (amazed like, “wow! I didn’t know it would do that!” because I really thought I’d undercooked it despite my oven being preheated and cooking it for the specified time). So yes, chilling time is essential, unless you are really really hungry and don’t mind having a sunken landslide cheesecake mess. It’s not that much of a disaster as it just means that it is not in a state to be seen by others as it might cast doubt on your baking prowess, so you have to eat it all yourself.

One last thing, why do I call it the One a Day Cheesecake? Because I believe I could happily eat a slice of this cheesecake every single day for the rest of my life and not get sick of it. It is delightfully textural with the creamy cheesecake and crunchy hazelnuts, and the chocolate layer really makes it something special. I did have a mini-depression when I finished it then wanted a slice after rollerskating. I missed the cheesecake… like a lost lover snatched from a dream. Though, it has put me on a real cheesecake kick, so I am excited to explore what other cheesecakey delights are out there. Watch this space.

Chocolate espresso pots

I had a hankering for chocolate espresso pots. Perhaps it was because I had been going to make a chocolate tart but then didn’t, or because we were eating al fresco and a little dessert in an espresso cup seemed fitting. The use of pancetta may also have had something to do with it. Sometimes it’s nice to make an event out of dinner on a random weeknight.

Now I was sure I had a recipe for these, but when I looked it up it wasn’t the recipe I thought. So after consulting several recipes and deciding I didn’t want to use 6 egg yolks (meringue/macaroon anyone?), I took matters into my own hands and made up my own recipe.

Serves 4

50g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
150ml double cream
1 tsp instant coffee granules
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp dark brown soft sugar
pinch salt

Break the chocolate into pieces. Add the cream and microwave for 1 minute on high. Stir until choc is melted, then whisk in the egg yolk. Once smooth, mix in sugar, salt and coffee until all smooth. Divide between four espresso cups and chill for at least a couple of hours before serving.

I very much enjoyed these. I would happily serve these at a dinner party as a mini dessert if I’d made a really big main, or even as an extra bonus dessert for people too full for the chocolate tart (or greedy enough to want both). Or for a decadent weeknight, as they really took next to no time to actually make. One egg white is not too hard to use up. I am fairly sure my cupboard will always have at least 50g dark chocolate in it. You could easily mix them up by adding vanilla instead of coffee granules, or orange chocolate, or baileys, or rum… definitely rum. I think I will be making these again very soon.