Tag Archives: cake

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.


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.

Giant French Fancy

Ah, bank holidays. After a three day week that felt like it would never end, what better way to pass the time than making a giant version of a Mr Kipling classic? Henry and I decided last week that this was something that had to be done. This is undoubtedly not the way most people would consider spending their bank holiday but hey, that’s just the way we rock and roll.

Due to immense skill luck with the sizing of the pan (which, might I add, I bought specially), the proportions turned out just right. See him there with his baby brother? He’s 96 times larger – the regular size measures 1.5″ square and 1″ tall. Ours was 6″ square and and 4″ tall – not including the dome of buttercream topping – a total of 144 cubic inches of cake. Nice.

For your pleasure here is how we did it:

For the cake:
450g butter
450g granulated sugar
8 eggs
420g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
50g cornflour
9 x 13 inch deep baking pan
Plus a really big mixing bowl (imagine trying to fit 100 French fancies in your mixing bowl… that’s how big it’s got to be. Incidentally, if you halve this recipe you can make a lovely 8 inch layer cake)

For the buttercream topping:
80g butter
3 tbsp semi-skimmed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
350g icing sugar

For the outer icing:
1 packet ready-roll icing
red or yellow food colouring
A couple of tablespoons of buttercream and some milk to dilute

1. Eat a regular French Fancy so you are au fait with what you are trying to recreate.

2. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 180 (160 fan). Grease and line the pan – I used a non-stick baking sheet that stuck out over two sides of the pan – this really assisted in getting the cake out in one piece. Cream the butter and the sugar in the large bowl. Mix together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl then add the eggs in twos, alternating with the dry ingredients until all are used up. Finally, mix in the milk. Pour into the pan, smooth out and bake for around an hour, turning during cooking. You may need to cover the top with foil to stop it browning too much (mine rose more than I was expecting and got close to the element, so the top was very brown). When done, a knife inserted into the centre should come out clean.

3. Lift the cake out of the pan and leave to cool. Cut into two 6 x 6 inch squares. Do whatever you see most fitting with the spare cake.

4. Make the buttercream: Soften the butter (but don’t melt it), then cream with the milk, vanilla and half the icing sugar. When smooth, beat in the rest of the icing sugar.

5. Assemble the cake: Put the bottom layer of the cake on whatever you’re planning to serve it on. Spread with a thin layer of buttercream, so the top layer will stick. Put the top layer on – careful now! Because of the way mine rose I turned the top layer upside down and put it on so that the risen corners were diagonal to each other, giving a nice flat top to the fancy.

6. Add the buttercream topping: Dollop on to the centre of the cake then smooth into a nice round dome. Keep back a couple of tablespoons for the lines of icing on the top. Pat down with a spatula (or clean hands) for a smooth finish.

7. Put on the outer icing: Knead in the red colouring until you achieve the desired colouring. It helps to have the original to compare. Roll out as big as you can get it and drape over the cake. Mould around the buttercream topping so it’s smooth on top, then smooth around the sides. I couldn’t get mine big enough as it was getting quite thin and falling apart, so I had to do a couple of the sides separately. You can spend an age trying to smooth it all down and get it perfect if you like, or you can decide enough’s enough and move on when it’s satisfactory.

8. Dilute the buttercream you savedfrom step 6 with a little milk, until it’s fairly runny. Pipe or drizzle the stripes on.

I have to say, the giant version is definitely an improvement on the regular size. Not only does it taste better, but did I mention it’s 96 times larger? A pretty good use of an evening I think!

Birthday bundt

It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago, so as is the tradition it was on me to provide cake for my colleagues (small price to pay as they got me some lovely presents). Naturally I decided on a bundt cake, as I am still pretty excited by my new bundt tin, and there just seems to me something festive about bundt cakes – particularly when you add stars and sprinkles. Happy birthday me!

Birthday sprinkles
I used my favourite vanilla cake recipe, adapted from the Primrose Cafe cupcake book, which I perhaps could have scaled up as the tin could definitely have been filled a bit fuller, which would have had the added bonus of making a bigger cake. 
Get that bundt in the oven!
Vanilla bundt cake
225g butter, at room temperature
225g sugar (supposedly caster sugar; I used granulated as I don’t have loads of space in my cupboard for multiple sugar varieties – it worked fine)
210g self-raising flour
25g cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla exract
3 tbsp semi-skimmed milk, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 160C (fan) / 180C and greaser your bundt tin well
Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until pale and fluffy.
Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
Alternate adding the eggs with 1/4 of the dry ingredients, mixing well after each addition. 
Add the milk and vanilla extract and give it one last mix
Pour the mixture into the bundt tin and bake for 30-35 minutes until risen and golden brown (a skewer inserted into the deepest part of the tin should come out clean)
When cool enough, carefully turn out onto the plate you are planning to serve on (this is where you find out how well you really greased your tin…)
Chocolate glaze
For the chocolate glaze, I did a bad thing and did not write down what I did to make it. I knew I was doing a bad thing at the time but the truth is that I had a godawful cold (yes, in August) which had me off work sick that afternoon, so all I had done was come home, sleep on the sofa, get up to make the cake, nap again, glaze it. I will work it out again as it was pretty damn tasty. 
For now, accept that I used good-quality 100g dark chocolate, maybe 3-4 tbsp sour cream, ditto golden syrup. Melt all together in a saucepan over a low heat, add more golden syrup to taste – I like mine quite tangy but if you like it sweeter then cut a bit of the sour cream (or use regular cream).
Cool so it’s not completely runny then drizzle over the cake, then add sprinkles. 
I want the biggest piece
For my birthday, I got this:
Engagement ring
Yes… Henry and I are getting married =) Hence why this update is so late, as I have been busy writing guest lists and visiting venues and thinking about dresses and flowers and centrepieces and a cupcake wedding cake! (More on this to come, no doubt. I am definitely making it myself :D)

The perfect pick-me-up

I came home on Friday rather tired after one of Those weeks at work (luckily they are very rare, but this week was one of them – office politics, idiots on the phone, that sort of thing). So naturally I decided to bake something to make myself feel better, and what better than some little coffee cakes?

I used the recipe from the Primrose Bakery cookbook, tweaking a bit so I could use the espresso machine.

I love our espresso machine. It’s not the sort of thing we’d buy but it was a hand-me-down from Henry’s parents. I’m sure I drink a lot more coffee with it though, as it’s way too easy when all you have to do is press a button. And the little espresso cups are so cute!
I wanted to make small cakes too, the sort of thing you could have with a cup of tea after dinner and not feel stuffed, or that you could eat just before dinner and not spoil your appetite (but you didn’t hear that from me). So I used the little fairy cake cases, rather than the muffin cases that I use for serious cupcakes, and halved the recipe.

Little espresso cakes
Makes 12 small cakes
55g butter, at room temperature
55g demerara sugar
60g light brown soft sugar
1 egg
60g plain flour
60g self-raising flour
small espresso, or 1 tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water
60ml milk, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 160C (fan oven) or 180C/350F.
Line a cake tray with fairy cake papers.
Cream the butter and sugars until pale and smooth, then mix in the egg.
Combine the flours in a separate bowl, and the milk and espresso in a jug.
Add 1/3 of the flours and beat well, then 1/3 of the liquid and beat. Repeat until all have been mixed in.
Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling to about 2/3 full.
Bake for 20 minutes until raised and golden brown, and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Coffee buttercream
75g butter, at room temperature
175g icing sugar
1 small espresso (or 1 tsp instant coffee, dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water)
1/2 tbsp milk, at room temperature
In a large bowl, beat together the butter, milk, coffee and half the icing sugar until smooth. Add the rest of the sugar and beat until smooth and creamy.
Ice your cakes them top with chocolate covered coffee beans or dark chocolate drops.

All in all they were pretty good, though next time I think I’d add more coffee.

I was most glad of them today. Today we went canoeing with work to raise money for charity (I know, I have one of Those weeks then get up at 7.30 on a Sunday to go and spend the day with work people…)

It was all rather lovely, until we had a bit of canoe-rivalry with Henry’s canoe and ended up in the river. Well, it was fine – the water wasn’t that cold, and it was shallow where we’d capsized. So after tipping the water from the canoe and putting my socks on the front to dry, we were off again. About an hour later, after we’d just been drifting along enjoying the peacefulness of it all, we ran into rapids, and also a tree. Stabilising a Canadian canoe is hard when the water is fast and you’re desperately trying not to be beheaded, so we all fell in again. I managed to grab my shoes and skirt, and even my water bottle, but my socks were sacrificed to the river. Luckily the stones weren’t too sharp as I was barefoot and we had to go a little way down the river before we could right the canoe. (I say “we” – in reality as I was at the front of the canoe and was the lightest of its occupants, and more concerned with grabbing my clothes and oar than the canoe itself, I was a fair way downstream and played no part in righting the canoe. In fact I was rescued by some kindly strangers, who helped me into their boat and dropped me off at a nearby bank. I’m sure the water was colder second time around, so I changed into a spare top as I was getting rather chilly.

Foolish idea of course as we had barely set out again when we met more rapids, or more like a single bump in the river, which we completely failed to navigate and of course ended up in the water for a third time. At this point the water was deeper and faster, so once again having grabbed my clothes/shoes/bottle, I had no choice but to float down the river a way until I could get my footing. The other two made the executive decision to float down with the canoe until there was a good place to stop. Not willing to get on board with this idea as I was now freezing, I was saved by one of my colleagues, who had her two teenage sons on board, and was actually competent at canoeing. So for the last stretch before lunch I was sitting in the bottom of their canoe in an ever-growing puddle, holding onto my clothes for dear life. Oh, and did I mention I stripped to my bra to put on a dry fleece that my colleague kindly lent me? Well, I was shivering and my teeth were chattering.

I did pretty well at putting a brave face on it I think, but I was seriously cold and just wanted to go and hunch under a hand-dryer at the pub (in fact, the pub didn’t have hand dryers – probably on purpose or their electricity costs would be through the roof with novices such as myself attempting to dry off a little). Anyway, I managed to find a dry t-shirt, and put my waterproof on over the top for warmth, and wrap my towel around myself for a skirt – trying to lead a flanneling revival, don’t you know – have some food then get a lift home with Henry’s mum, who had met us for the picnic. I was certainly not about to set off down the river in that ill-fated boat for the second leg (and a good thing too, as I hear they all went in again – clearly it was not just me cursing the damn thing).

My tale of woe does not end there though. Henry had the house keys locked in the car, so we went back to get a spare set from his parents’ house… only we couldn’t find the spare set. So I decided to try and break into my own flat, as I’d left one of the windows open a little so Betty would have some fresh air. Good thing we live on the ground floor, really. Our windows are sash windows that we recently had put in to replace the old ones. They have little button things that pop out when you unlock them, so that the windows only open about 4 inches, meaning you can happily go canoeing with your windows open and know that nobody can break in.

Unless they have two sticks from your garden, that is. I couldn’t reach the buttons with my hands, but with the help of two sticks I managed to eventually press down both buttons at once and slide the window open. Success! Shall definitely keep those two sticks handy, in case of future situations where I may need to break into my own house.

Anyway, the point of all that was that finally (soaked, dried and soaked again, slightly bruised from my desperate attempts to housebreak and basically wanting nothing more than a nap), when I’d located a dry towel, made a cup of tea and was running a hot bubbly bath, one of these little cakes was just the pick-me-up I needed – only next time, sod ruining my appetite before dinner, sod feeling stuffed after dinner, I’m putting four times as much espresso in, making them twice as big, and knowing that should any sort of dire situation arise, all I’ll need to deal with it is one of these and a nice cup of tea. Or, if the situation is so dire that all I’m capable of doing is pressing a button, these cakes would go beautifully with an espresso.

Vanilla perfection

To start, then. I am a big fan of the idea that simpler is better. I like margharita pizza. I like pasta with cheese. My favourite cupcakes? Vanilla, with vanilla buttercream icing. To say that I like these would be an understatement. I don’t see vanilla as vanilla, not at all. It is such a beautiful flavour. It can add depth to chocolate and turn mediocrity to divinity. It can be sweetness and light, or heady, sexy and seductive.

Of course, you have to have the right vanilla. I made mine, and will do so again – with the amount I get through it is much better than buying those tiddly little bottles in the supermarket. Not to mention that the vanilla essence you make at home will be way ahead of anything you might find in the supermarket. (More on this later, when I make my next batch in probably the not-too-distant future.)

The thing I love about this recipe is its simplicity. I can keep it in my head and carry it round with me, safe in the knowledge that, if called upon, I could easily make a batch. It hasn’t happened yet, but maybe one day… The other great thing is that as far as my experience goes, it is foolproof. I do not say this lightly, but the first time I used this recipe I was baking with two four-year-olds, in an unfamiliar kitchen, with only one spoon and two spatulas to mix, and they turned out beautifully. The kids loved them. The parents loved them. The Venezuelan nanny loved them. I knew I was onto a good thing.

The recipe is in cups. Cupcakes are called cupcakes because the recipe originally used one cup of everything. This one doesn’t quite, but it’s pretty darn close.

For the cakes:
1 cup granulated or caster sugar
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 medium eggs, at room temperature
2 cups plain/all purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla essence (or more, if you’re me – I just pour in a generous dash)
1 tsp baking powder

For the buttercream:
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
3 cups icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla essence (again, more if you’re me)
3 tbsp full fat milk, or 2 tbsp cream

1. Preheat the oven to 180C (160 for a fan oven) / 350F. Line a cupcake tray with paper liners
2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each
4. Add the flour and baking powder, a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition
5. Beat in the vanilla. I like to do it before the milk, separately, in case for any reason it looks like the milk is going to be too much
6. Mix in the milk, again a little at a time, just in case it looks like the mixture will get too wet. It never has with me, but you never know.
7. Give it one last good mix – it should be light, fluffy and just begging you to stick your finger in. (I won’t tell if you don’t)
8. Spoon into the cases. Fill each about 2/3 full
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden. Your kitchen will smell delicious.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, vanilla, milk/cream and icing sugar together. I prefer to mix it up a bit with a spoon first before plunging in with the electric beater so I don’t get icing sugar dust everywhere. Keep beating until it’s light and fluffy and looks like a buttercream dream.

Use a piping bag to ice swirls onto your cakes once they are cool, or slap it on with a metal spatula or just use a knife. These don’t need to look good to taste it.

Of course you could endlessly mess with these cakes. You could add raisins or chocolate chips, top with sprinkles, chocolate buttercream, ganache, caramel, drizzle with lemon or berry compote…

You could, but why mess with perfection?