Monday, 30 January 2012

Wholemeal Sultana & Apricot Rock Cakes

Recipe Number One Hundred & Firty Two:  Page 333.

These rock cakes sounded far too healthy to feature in a baking book! As they contain both dried fruit AND wholemeal flour I decided that these little cakes must be good for me. I could eat as many as I liked without a trace of guilt!! I regularly made rock cakes as a child; they were one of my reliable bakes. I always stuck with Mary Berry's recipe but I'd never tried this variation before. As these little cakes do not keep well I hoped that they would be tasty, as we'd obviously have to eat them all in one day!

One of the great things about rock cakes is that they take little time to prepare and cook, so they are ready in next to no time. I glanced at the clock before I commenced baking and estimated I'd be stuffing my face with rock cakes in just over half an hour – how wonderful!

As I collected the self-raising and wholemeal self-raising flour from the shelves I realised that I'd already made a mistake! What I'd thought to be wholemeal was in fact light brown flour. It says on the packet that it is lighter than wholemeal; I hoped it wouldn't make too much difference. I weighed the flours in equal quantities into a bowl, swiftly followed by a good helping of baking powder. The amount of butter required was perhaps a little more than I might have expected. Although it wasn't a great deal it did make me re-evaluate my healthy theory! It’s been a while since I've used the rubbing in method. It is a messy job but I find it to be rather therapeutic. After a minute or two my butter and flour had combined and resembled fine breadcrumbs. Now it was time to add some sweetness in the form of light muscovado sugar. I had to double check the quantity to be sure that I had read it right. The amount was surprisingly small. This meant that I could happily put the rock cakes back to being healthy. Of course, the addition of dried fruit would help to sweeten the mixture even more. Our kitchen scissors had recently gone to scissor heaven and have yet to be replaced. I had to slice the apricots up with a knife. This takes far longer than snipping them with scissors. I didn't seem to have much apricot in the mixing bowl; I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed. At least sultanas would make the rock cakes a bit fruitier. I couldn't resist nicking a few as I measured them into the bowl. They are quite addictive! An egg mixed with a little milk was all that was left to include. I found I required a splash more milk to bring the mixture together. With a couple of teaspoons I heaped mounds of the mixture onto several baking trays. It was tempting to smooth the mixture down into neat piles. However I resisted, as rock cakes are meant to have a rough appearance. I placed the full trays into the oven. They only needed 15 minutes to cook. I was worried about them burning so I stayed close by so that I could peer through the oven door every few minutes. From experience I know that rock cakes can become very dry if left in the oven for just a couple of minutes too long.

I was so pleased with the rock cakes when I extracted them from the oven. They were a light golden brown and looked very appealing. They didn't take long to cool on the rack, so it was soon time for a tasting session! After just one bite I knew that I would be making them again very soon. They were very light and had a slight nuttiness to them thanks to the light brown flour. To be honest, I am glad that I didn't have wholemeal flour as I wonder if it would have made these rock cakes a bit too heavy. The apricots and sultanas offered a welcome sweetness and extra bite. I can't fault these little cakes; we all loved them. Isaac in particular seemed rather fond of them. As they don't contain much sugar I think they make for a reasonably healthy treat.
Yummy rock cakes!

Iced Gingerbread with Stem Ginger

Recipe Number One Hundred & Fifty One:  Page 83.

With each passing week I'm finding it ever harder to pick out which recipes to make. The choice is becoming rather limited. While I flicked through the Baking Bible trying to make a decision I realised I'd neglected the 'Spiced Cakes' section of the book. Mary is obviously partial to the odd slice of ginger cake as there are numerous recipes. As I'd only made a few gingery cakes I thought it about time I cracked on and made another!

I have so many ingredients clinging to the kitchen shelves; packets of flour and sugar often fall off on their own – it certainly keeps the dustpan and brush busy! It therefore took a while to see if I had all that was required for the gingerbread. My rummage revealed that I was short of golden syrup; a trip to the shop was needed!

We headed into town bright and early as Neil's car had to go in for its MOT. We hit the shops while we waited and a lovely morning was had by all. On our way to collect the car I realised I forgotten the golden syrup – whoops! Unfortunately the car wasn't ready and would have to stay in the garage over the weekend. Thankfully we were given a courtesy car – it was so small we barely managed to wedge Isaac's giant pushchair in but we were glad to be able to get home!!

As we'd arrived home later than planned, the cake making was pushed back in favour of a cup of tea and a sit down. Once the caffeine was coursing through my veins, I felt ready to visit the village shop. I almost shouted for joy when I saw the tins of golden syrup – I'd convinced myself they wouldn't have any. Not only did they have the precious syrup, but the tins were huge and would last for ages. Another thing to add to the overflowing shelves!

Once Isaac was in bed I went into the kitchen to start baking. I had been late taking the butter out of the fridge, so it was still a bit on the firm side. I decided to add it to the bowl as it was and not attempt to soften it any further. To the butter I added the same quantity of light muscovado sugar along with a couple of eggs. Now came the sticky part! I gingerly tipped the thick dark treacle into the bowl and then moved onto the huge tin of golden syrup. I foolishly tipped the syrup straight into the mixing bowl, forgetting that not only was it a large tin but also that it was full to the brim. Golden syrup gushed from the tin at great speed and I let out a shrill shriek! I quickly moved the tin away from the bowl before I added too much. Due to my haste there was a very sticky thick trail down the side of the tin and across the kitchen worktop. Thank goodness for the kitchen towels; I required several sheets to wipe up the mess!!

With freshly washed hands I collected a balloon whisk from a drawer. So not to wake Isaac I decided to forgo the electric whisk and do it manually. This was a mistake; it not only took ages but also the butter didn't combine properly. It obviously wasn't soft enough! I had tiny lumps of butter bobbing about in the runny black mixture. It did NOT look good! I hoped that the addition of flour might help. I read the instructions and saw that I should sieve the flour and spices together first before adding them to the bowl. I grabbed the plain flour from the shelf and tipped it straight into the bowl – WHOOPS!! I didn't think there was much point in sifting the ginger and mixed spice so I also added it straight to the mixing bowl. Very carefully I folded the flour and spices into the dark treacly mixture and prayed it wouldn't go lumpy. The next task was to stir a small amount of bicarbonate of soda into a few tablespoons of milk. I half imagined that the mixture would fizz up but, rather disappointingly, it did absolutely nothing! Now I just needed to pour the milk into the mixing bowl and stir to combine.

Sadly the little butter lumps had not disappeared and were now joined by tiny lumps of flour – deep joy! I felt I had little choice but to sieve the mixture into the awaiting tin. It took a little while for the mixture to work its way through the tiny holes as they quickly blocked with butter. This meant I had to work it through with a spoon – by this point I had little hope for this cake, surely it would be tough and chewy due to all the over handling?

I placed the doomed gingerbread into a moderate oven to cook for just over an hour. The smell of the cake cooking was out of this world – it really is a delicious smell. Once out of the oven the gingerbread looked perhaps a little flat but otherwise rather yummy with a lovely sticky top! As gingerbread keeps so well, I decided to ice it the following day.

Icing sugar is no friend of mine so I didn't feel very enthusiastic when I came to ice the gingerbread! Once I had sifted the icing sugar and enveloped myself in the sugar cloud, I moved on to measuring in a few tablespoons of stem ginger syrup and a little water. I wasn't happy about the idea of mixing in some chopped stem ginger as I didn't think it looked very pretty! I was left with a spreadable but lumpy icing to pour over the gingerbread. Thankfully I'd remembered to place the cake on a wire rack set over a baking tray. Most of the icing seemed to skid straight off the sides of the gingerbread and onto the tray!!!

I was a bit worried about trying this cake as I feared it might be almost inedible. It was perhaps a little on the chewy side but still had a pleasant texture. I found the flavour of treacle to be a little overwhelming; it certainly gave the gingerbread a kick! The icing helped to calm things down so, despite the mess, it was worth it. Neil said he really enjoyed this gingerbread and liked the strong flavour. So, after a somewhat forgetful day, things turned out alright in the end – phew!
Gingerbread with dribbly icing!! ;-)

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Cherry & Almond Traybake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Fifty:  Page 183.

This was another popular choice on my Facebook Poll. I'm clearly not the only lover of cherries and almonds! Another of Mary's wonderful all in one recipes, it promised to be quick and straightforward to make – my kind of cake.

I retrieved a mixing bowl from the kitchen cupboard and measuring spoons from a drawer. As I lay my ingredients out in front of me I couldn't help but smile! I was about to start my 150th recipe. I felt so pleased to have come so far; I am now well over half way. Wow – I really have eaten a lot of cake. It explains the double chin!!

I have somewhat neglected my traybake tin of late, so I was pleased to be putting it to good use. It is so easy to line it with greaseproof paper. That’s why I love it so much! Once the tin was lined I could turn my attention to the cherries. Although I can eat cherries like sweets (this explains all the dental work) I am not a fan of chopping and rinsing them. As I required just over a tub of the super sweet delights, I was chopping for some time. Mary insists that rinsing cherries stops them from sinking to the bottom of the cake. However, I don't think it makes any difference. Nevertheless, I followed the instructions. Disobeying Mary Berry just wouldn't feel right!!! While my quartered and well rinsed cherries dried off on some kitchen towel, I started to weigh out the other ingredients.

To my bowl I added some self-raising flour along with some baking powder for extra lift. Next on the list was butter. It is always a worry when almost a whole packet of butter is used – it was surely already making its way to my hips! After adding the same amount of sugar, I started to wonder if I should perhaps stick to a VERY small slice. Next, I needed to grate the zest from not one but two lemons. Obviously the juice that escaped from the lemons attacked any tiny cuts on my hands, but at least it made the kitchen smell nice! I opened up a brand new packet of ground almonds. As I've mentioned before, I can't stop buying the stuff; it has turned into an unhealthy obsession. Every time I go shopping at the supermarket I can't resist buying at least one packet. My reasoning is that our village shop doesn't stock it and I'd hate to run out! The quantity of ground almonds that landed in my mixing bowl seemed an awful lot; I hoped it wouldn't make the cake too dry. I should have learned by now never to doubt Mary, as the next ingredient was five eggs! That amount should certainly stop the cake from being dry. I don't think I've used so many eggs in a simple traybake before.

Now that everything had been weighed into the mixing bowl, I had to whisk the mixture for a minute. I still don't own a timer, so I counted the minute out loud. Of course I counted too fast and had to whisk for a little longer to make sure the mixture was smooth. At this point I very nearly forgot to add my mountain of cherries. That would have been a bit of a disaster as they are rather crucial to the recipe! I grabbed the cherries from the worktop and carefully folded them into the lemon scented mixture. I then had to scoop it into the waiting tin. Once spread out the mixture looked rather pretty with the red of the cherries poking through, but it still required a finishing touch. Several handfuls of flaked almonds were needed and, thankfully, I had just enough. As they are not the sort of thing I use regularly I keep mine in a jar to keep them fresh. The jar often makes a bid for freedom and has leapt from the shelf more times than I care to remember. How it is still in one piece I'll never know!!! After sprinkling a generous quantity of flaked almonds over the top of the cake, I placed it in the oven. It would need about forty minutes to bake. As my little boy was having his nap, I took the opportunity to sit down with my lunch and a cup of tea – bliss! The washing up could wait. One thing was for sure - it wasn't going anywhere (more’s the pity).

After the forty minutes was up, I retrieved the cake from the oven. It was a lovely golden brown and looked very appetising. I was very disappointed that it had to cool in the tin. How cruel to make me wait for so long! I couldn't put the washing up off any longer, so I used the time to get on with my most favourite job. I then had to clean the kitchen worktops as my beloved cherries had left their sticky mark!

Eventually the cake was cold and I could turn it out of the tin. It was so moist that it was impossible to cut into neat squares. Also, some of the cherries fell out so I felt forced to eat them; I couldn't let them go to waste! Speaking of the cherries, almost all of them had sunk to the bottom! As soon as the important picture had been taken I immediately dived in for a slice. My first thought was how sweet the cake was; it almost made my jaw ache! The lemon flavour was lovely but it almost outshone the almonds. Maybe I would use just one lemon next time. This traybake was simple to make and it tasted simply delicious. I don't see myself eating just one small slice! My little boy had just recovered from what seemed like his millionth cold and this really perked him up. By the way, should I be worried that he has already learned the word 'cake'?!
The leaning tower of cake!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Buttermilk and Honey Cheesecake

Recipe One Hundred & Forty Nine:  Page 382.

I think this should be renamed as ‘Cheat’s Buttermilk and Honey Cheesecake’! Mary says to use a ready-made sponge flan case for the base. I was shocked! I had hoped to make this cheesecake well over a month ago. We had purchased a large flan case only to find that it was too big for the recommended 8 inch tin. I thought that the edges of the flan were necessary, so I stored the case away and kept my eyes peeled for a slightly smaller size. If I had taken the time to read through the recipe, I would have seen that Mary says you can cut it to size! I frequently have moments when I feel somewhat thick and this certainly was one of them! Now that I was aware of this important nugget of information I could finally make the cheesecake – hooray!

Even though using a ready-made sponge flan case made life easier for me, I couldn't help but wish I'd made my own. As I unwrapped the flan from its packaging, I could immediately see and feel how dry it was. At least it was easy for me to cut it to the size of my tin. There must be something wrong with me, as I ended up picking at the trimmings whilst telling Neil how horrible it was!! I emptied almost a whole tub of soft cheese into a bowl and gave it a good beating. When it was lovely and soft I could beat in some egg yolks. I placed the whites into a separate bowl; they would be put to use later on. To the cream cheese and yolks I measured in a little sugar and a few tablespoons of honey. I LOVE honey – I could eat it all day every day. I've always thought it would be great to have a bee hive in the garden so that we could collect our own honey. However, my fear of bees might be an issue! Another great love of mine is almonds, so imagine my delight when I tipped a good quantity of ground almonds into the bowl. This cheesecake was sounding more and more promising.

I was surprised to find that I needed a little plain flour as I've never used it in a cheesecake before. I started to wonder what the texture would be like. Now it was time to add in the important buttermilk. I rarely use buttermilk, so I felt quite excited to add in a whole container! As I beat everything together I was amazed by how many ingredients were in this cheesecake, and I hadn't finished yet! The egg whites were still waiting to be used. I whisked them until nice and stiff and then whisked in some sugar which turned the whites all glossy; it looked just like a meringue. Very carefully I folded the sweet and fluffy egg whites into the cheese mixture. Now all that was left to do was to pour the filling on top of the flan case and sprinkle with flaked almonds. I don't think I have ever made such a large cheesecake before. It was MASSIVE! It would take a while to cook in the oven, so I got on with making our dinner. There is no rest for the wicked!

We had eaten and digested our dinner by the time the cheesecake was cooked. I took it out of the oven to admire its sheer size. I had to slap myself on the wrist as, in my excitement, I had forgotten that cheesecakes should be left in the oven to cool! I quickly 'threw' it back into the warmth of the oven and left the door ajar. Some hours later my cheesecake was cold but had also lost some of its height. However, rest assured - it was still of gigantic proportions! As I knew it was full of a lot of my most favourite things, I was champing at the bit to cut a large slice. First of all, though, I had to heat up a small amount of honey and brush it over the top; this gave a lovely shiny glaze.

One of the bonuses of using a sponge base is that I found it very easy to transfer from the tin onto a serving plate. It was also easy to cut. The texture of this cheesecake was very smooth and mousse like. The base wasn't as dry as I might have feared, but I do prefer a biscuit base. The taste was out of this world, so delicious. I could clearly taste each flavour. None outshone the other. It was very different to what I'm used to making, but simple to do. It made a nice change from perhaps the more standard lemon or vanilla cheesecake!
Love this cheesecake!

Quick Boiled Fruit Cake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Forty Eight:  Page 65.

Although I'm still recovering from all the fruit cake I greedily consumed over Christmas, I really needed to crack on and make another. The Baking Bible is packed full of fruit cakes and I still have so many to make!

I had never heard of boiled fruit cake before and, to be honest, it didn't sound very appetising. The word boiled does little to inspire! I had to buy a deep 7 inch tin especially for this cake. As I did not expect to use this size very often I risked buying a cheap tin from the supermarket. I hoped I didn't live to regret my hasty decision!

I was enjoying a lovely lazy day and the idea of moving from my comfortable position on the sofa wasn't particularly tempting. However, the promise of cake was just enough to spur me into action. As we'd polished off my previous baking efforts so quickly, we hadn't eaten any cake for two whole days; the shakes had set in!!!

Lining tins has to be one of my least favourite jobs, after washing up of course! I wasn't happy that I not only had to line the base but also the sides of the tin. Although it is a faff, I realise that it's worth doing for a fruit cake. It would help to keep the cake moist and, I hoped, stop it from burning whilst in the oven. Proceedings were slowed considerably by my little boy who insisted that we should play his favourite game. Each time he trotted into the kitchen I had to exclaim “Mr. Speedy”. He’d then run giggling back into the living room only to reappear a few seconds later! This game went on for some time. Once my battle with the tin was complete, I could move on to the fun part – making the cake! The first ingredient was condensed milk. Using condensed milk in a fruit cake is a new one for me, but it's always fun to try something new. I grabbed my largest saucepan from the cupboard and poured in the sweet milk. When it came to weighing out the butter, I discovered to my horror that the scales were dead! The cake making came to an abrupt halt at this point. I was dressed in my scruffy baking clothes and my hair was stuck up on end, so Neil kindly saved my embarrassment and ran to the shop in search of the crucial battery. I think Neil must have batted his eyelashes as, for some reason, he was given the battery for free!!!! My desperate plea had been answered and the scales sprung back to life – PHEW!

It was good to have things back on track and I was soon weighing out the butter and adding it to the saucepan. It was then time to add the raisins, sultanas and currants. I was delighted also to include a generous quantity of glacé cherries. To me a fruit cake just isn't a fruit cake without glacé cherries. Naturally I couldn't resist pinching one or two! I placed the by now very full and very heavy saucepan onto the hob and turned the heat to its lowest setting. Once the butter had melted, I could let it simmer for a few minutes whilst stirring all the time – I didn't want it to stick. The aroma wafting from the pan was absolutely delicious. It smelled just like warm Christmas pudding. I was tempted to dive in with a spoon! The mixture needed to cool for ten minutes, so I used this time to follow the rest of the instructions. I tipped the flour and spices into a clean mixing bowl. I half expected that I'd need to reach for some sugar. Of course this wasn't necessary as the condensed milk would provide the required sweetness. Lastly I added in a couple of eggs and the slightly cooled heavily fruited mixture. I found it took a while to mix in the flour; I kept finding pockets of uncombined mixture. With straining muscles I lifted the mixing bowl and scooped the mixture into the awaiting tin. The tin was only just sufficient in size! I placed the full tin into the oven where it would stay for just over two hours.

Once I felt certain that the cake was cooked through I extracted it from the oven. The top of the cake was bumpy and messy. However, it had a certain charm. I was a bit annoyed though, as it looked overdone. I find it so hard to judge when a fruit cake is cooked; the sides and top always seem to burn. Once cold it was time to cut into the cake and have a taste. Cutting the cake was tricky and I wondered if using a saw might have been better than a knife. It had a rather tough crust! However, the inside of the cake was lovely and moist and I have to say it tasted delicious. The flavour of condensed milk came through and it had an almost toffee taste. Neil loved it and said it would make a fine Christmas cake. Thankfully neither of us has false teeth, so we can cope with the chewy crust!
Crunchy on the outside - moist in the centre!!!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Crunchy Orange Syrup Loaves

Recipe One Hundred & Forty Seven:  Page 306.

Oranges do not feature much in the Baking Bible, so I was particularly looking forward to trying these loaves, it would make a nice change. Mary's first choice of citrus fruit appears to be the lemon; quite a few of her recipes require its zingy fresh flavour. I could just picture the oranges jostling for position in her fruit bowl, “Pick me! Oh pick me!” only for Mary once again to reach for a lemon. I agree that I do have a very odd and over active imagination! I wasn't the only one excited by these loaves. When I announced on my Facebook page that I would be making them, I received so many positive comments. Maybe the similarities to a lemon drizzle is the reason for their popularity. I think everyone loves a drizzle cake. One thing for sure was that there was a lot of expectation resting on these little loaves!

As I had visitors arriving early the following day, I decided to make these loaves in the evening. I hoped they would still be fresh for the morning. Multi tasking always seems to spell disaster for me but I was left with no choice as I had so much to do in a short space of time! Looking at the recipe for the orange loaves, I thought I might just be able to pull it off as they looked so simple. I got our evening meal on the go; as long as I remembered to stir it every once in a while I should be ok!

The first hurdle to overcome was that I only have one 1lb loaf tin and I needed two! I had thought that I could cook one cake and then use the tin again for the second. My plan was scuppered as the cake had to cool completely in the tin. It would not have been a good idea to leave the other half of the mixture to sit around for that long. I decided I would have to use a 2lb loaf tin as well. I used a loaf tin liner and shoved a ball of foil into one end of the tin to shrink its length. It was still going to be a bit wide but it would have to do! Now I could move on to making the cake. I tipped the flour and baking powder into a bowl and then added in the sugar. There seemed to be a lot of sugar, especially as I knew that more would be added later. I was pleased with myself for remembering to leave the butter out of the fridge all day. That makes a change! As I measured the soft butter into the bowl, I was surprised not to be using as much as I had expected; maybe this cake could be classed as low fat – well almost!!! I heaved the unopened six pint bottle of milk from the fridge. With a shaking hand I tried carefully to measure out three tablespoons. A little extra splashed into the bowl for good measure; the bottle was ridiculously heavy and I had little control! I cracked in a couple of eggs and then moved on to the very important orange. It was at last its time to shine! The cake mixture required just the zest, but the juice would be put to good use later. Mary says to beat the mixture for two minutes. Two minutes doesn't necessarily appear that long until you come to time it. Earlier I had spent ages cleaning the kitchen worktops. I felt sure the mixture would leap from the bowl as I whisked, so I stood away from the sparkling worktops and held the bowl with my left hand and the whisk with my right. It didn't matter if it landed on the floor as I had yet to clean it! After about a minute my left arm ached, so I ended up standing on one leg with the bowl perched on my knee! After concluding my clumsy impression of a stork, my mixture was now smooth and rather prettily flecked with orange. Now it was ready to be poured into the mismatched tins and enter the heat of the oven.

The cakes should only need thirty minutes to cook, so this gave me enough time to tuck into our slightly burnt dinner. After twenty-five minutes I checked on the two loaves but they still looked a long way from being cooked through. I calculated that I could quickly scrub the downstairs bathroom while I waited; my back was aching at this point! Feeling hot and bothered from the cleaning session, I headed back to the kitchen to make the crunchy topping. I sliced in half the now bald orange and squeezed out the sweet smelling juice. Yet more sugar was needed. However, this time I reached for granulated. I mixed the juice and sugar together and then it was time to extract the loaves from the oven before they ended up burnt. Mary says to pour the syrup straight over the steaming hot cakes. I resisted the urge to pierce holes in the cake first as I would normally do! The syrup soaked cakes had to cool in the tins, so it would be a long wait until we could try some. I am amazed by my self control; I stored them away overnight and resisted stealing a slice. There is a first time for everything!

The next morning it was finally time to dive in and have a taste. I hoped they would live up to my high expectations. As I quickly moved on to a second slice I think that speaks for itself! The cake was so orangey and sweet in flavour. The texture was very light and fluffy. As with a lemon drizzle, the best bit has to be the sweet flavourful crunchy topping. The taste of orange literally burst out and danced on my taste buds! My visitors had soon eaten their offering and Neil declared it as “his kind of cake”. He is very keen for me to make it again! As Mary says, these loaves are not madly exciting – it’s true they are very plain but looks can be deceiving. So far on this challenge I've realised that the simplest, plainest recipes are often the best!
Simple but SO tasty!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Bath Buns

Recipe Number One Hundred & Forty Six:  Page 319.

I can spend a long time in a bakery trying to decide what to choose. More often than not I end up opting for a substantial bun. I tell myself that it is just a sweet bread; in my mind they're almost healthy! When feeling particularly virtuous, I'll choose a Bath bun as it appears to be relatively plain with no sweet icing. I've never made my own before. I couldn't help but worry that they might not be as 'healthy' as I had imagined!

Mary says that Bath buns are distinguished by their coarse sugar topping. This sounded like a key ingredient and not something I could do without! As they are not the sort of things I would usually buy, Neil kindly popped to the shop. Alas he came home empty handed. Not one to give up, I decided to have a go at making my own sugar lumps! I tipped some sugar onto a plate then added a tiny amount of water and mashed it with a fork. I had no idea if I was doing the right thing, but very much hoped that I was! The sugar soon formed into tiny little lumps, so things were looking promising. By this time, my little boy was up from his nap and ready to play. This meant that the buns would have to wait until before I went to bed; it was going to be a long day!

Once Neil and Isaac were asleep I went into the kitchen to make the Bath buns. I quite like baking late when the house is quiet and I can get lost in my thoughts. I consider buns to be in the same vein as bread simply because they both contain strong flour and yeast! As I added these two ingredients to the bowl I felt on familiar ground. I've made a fair amount of bread lately, so I was happily in my comfort zone. After adding a little salt it was time to tip in some sugar to sweeten the mixture. Next, I needed to melt some butter. I decided it would be quicker to do this in the microwave. It certainly was quick as I made the mistake of melting it on the highest setting! I had to race back to the microwave at breakneck speed when I heard an eruption! The butter had to be cooled before I could pour it on top of the dry ingredients. As it was boiling hot I had to wait some time. I wasn't really sure why it had to be cool, as my next task was to add in some warm milk! Once the butter and warm milk had been added, I needed to crack in a few eggs. I hadn't expected eggs to feature in this recipe but, as I don't have much bun making experience, I didn't really know what to expect! I was starting to realise that they aren't perhaps as similar to bread as I'd thought; it was certainly a much richer dough.

I measured some sultanas and chopped candied peel into the already full bowl. Not many recipes call for candied peel. However, I can guarantee that I'll need to use candied peel each year at Christmas time. A whole container is rarely used and the leftovers will usually sit around until next Christmas. By this time they are no longer any good! I combined all of the ingredients together. The resulting mixture was very soft but not as sticky as I might have imagined. After an initial sprinkle of flour to the worktop, no more was needed as the dough was so easy to work. After five minutes of kneading it was springy and elastic. Now it was time for the dough to head back to the confines of the bowl to rise for about an hour. The heating had long gone off and the house was feeling rather chilly, so I resorted to turning on our little heater. I stuck both myself and the bowl in front of it. An hour doesn't feel so long when you have lots of cake books to look through!

I hauled my tired body from the sofa when the dough had doubled in size, and gathered it up. The dough required another knead before I could divide it up into 18 pieces. We'd certainly have to share these buns with our neighbours. There is no way we could eat all of them and the freezer was full to bursting! I laid the buns out on the baking trays and placed some oiled cling film over the top. It was of course time for another rise – this time for half an hour. On this occasion I could place them next to the oven which I'd turned on to pre-heat. Sadly I am too large to perch next to the warmth of the oven, so I had to huddle back in front of the heater. By this time I was too tired to read and it was a struggle to stay awake! Thankfully the half an hour soon passed and I was able to move onto the exciting part of using my makeshift sugar lumps! First of all I had to glaze the puffed up dough with some beaten egg and then I could sprinkle over my crushed sugar. It worked so well! I'll know in future to make my own and save a bit of money! Now into the oven went my Bath buns. I didn't think it wise to head back to the seductive comfort of the sofa so instead I busied myself with the washing up. Oh how wonderful!

At least the gorgeous smell wafting from the oven kept me awake; even though it was about to strike midnight my mouth watered! The buns only required fifteen minutes in the oven so I didn't have long to wait. I had half expected the crumbled sugar to melt in the oven. It was a lovely surprise to see that all my sugar lumps were still intact. The buns hadn't expanded as much as I'd hoped, but they were a lovely golden brown. I couldn't resist a little taste before bed! I could really taste the candied peel and the sweetness of the crushed sugar. The texture was perhaps a little chewier than I would have liked; I wonder if I had over worked the mixture. The next morning the buns were a little past their best but, when spread with butter as Mary suggests, they really were rather special.
Yummy buns!

Special Shortbread Biscuits

Recipe Number One Hundred & Forty Five:  Page 234.

I consider shortbread to be a real treat and something to be savoured. I often enjoy it over the Christmas period; I find it an ideal time to indulge in some rich buttery shortbread! It did feel a little over indulgent to make some just after the festive season. I have no excuse other than that I just fancied it!

I'm such a fan of shortbread; it amazes me how something so delicious can be made out of just three ingredients. I already had everything needed in stock, which makes a nice change! It was a glorious day, so I felt a little disappointed that a trip to the shop wasn't necessary. Not wanting to miss out on the sunshine, we decided a walk around the village was in order. Our little boy insisted on walking, so we didn't progress at a fast pace but it didn't matter, there was no rush. We were glad we made the effort to go for a wander as a bright green shiny tractor trundled past and made Isaac's day! We arrived home with rosy cheeks and icy fingers; it was a relief to get back into the warm. Some shortbread and a hot mug of tea would make for an ideal afternoon treat – I just needed to make it first!

I retrieved the plain flour from the top of the fridge. I use every spare inch of space to store my ingredients! Once the flour was in the bowl I added in some light muscovado sugar. I'd never considered using anything other than caster before, so I wondered what difference a darker sugar would make. Last of all I measured in the butter. I was surprised not to be using more; it didn't seem very much in comparison to the other ingredients. First of all I rubbed the butter into the flour and sugar and then attempted to work it all together to form a ball. However, the dough had other ideas. It was so dry and crumbly – my ball kept falling apart! To avoid adding more flour and potentially making things even drier, I rolled the dough out on greaseproof paper to prevent it from sticking. It really was hard work as the dough kept breaking and this made me rather fraught! I admit that I'm not used to rolling out shortbread; I normally press it straight into the tin. I think I know which method I prefer! Finally it was time to cut out the biscuits. My cutter was a little larger than the two inches Mary suggests, so I didn't make anywhere near the suggested amount. Maybe that was a blessing! I placed the fragile shortbread biscuits onto two baking trays and pricked all over with a fork. For an added crunch, and of course sweetness, I sprinkled some Demerara sugar over the top. This made the biscuits appear even darker. My full trays went into the oven where they stayed for about twenty minutes. One tray of biscuits ended up a little over done; I always manage to burn my biscuits!

After a few minutes cooling on a wire rack the shortbread was ready to be tried, hooray! They were very tasty and the light muscovado sugar offered a hint of toffee to the biscuits. The texture was very short and they crumbled in the mouth. I was a bit cross with myself for over cooking a handful of biscuits, as they were too crunchy! Although I was pleased with the outcome I prefer the lighter flavour of caster sugar in shortbread and I think they look prettier too.
The dark side of Shortbread!!! ;-)

VARIATION: Cherry Shortbread Biscuits

For this recipe the sprinkling of Demerara sugar was omitted. Chopped cherries are used in its place.

This was an easy variation to follow but the cherries stuck to my fingers as I tried to press them into place!!

A very tasty variation and I have to say I preferred it to the original. The cherries made the biscuits a little bit chewy and lovely and sweet. I may be a little bit biased as I ADORE glacé cherries!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Chocolate Victoria Sandwich

Recipe Number One Hundred & Forty Four:  Page 43.

I used to make this cake for my sister's birthdays. She, like me, is unashamedly addicted to chocolate, so this was always her choice. The chocolate Victoria sandwich made a reappearance year after year. I felt a little sad not to be making it for my sister once again, but her chocolate habit has deepened over the years. I doubted that this light cake would hit the spot quite like it used to!!!

I felt a trip to the park was needed before I made a pig of myself and scoffed too much cake. There seems to be little point in trying to diet whilst carrying out this challenge. I've come to the conclusion that exercise is the key; I can tone up the extra layer of fat!!! My little boy weighs two stone. Add on to this a heavy pushchair and some decent hills and I have myself a workout! By the time we arrived at the park I was overheated and out of breath. There was no chance for a breather as Isaac was keen to escape from the confines of his pushchair and go for a toddle. Although the pace was barely faster than an elderly snail it was still hard work. Trying to steer a small person in a direction they do not wish to go is rather exhausting!! My legs were aching by the time we arrived home and I was in desperate need of a pick me up. Neil came to the rescue and made me a very welcome cup of tea, hooray!

After a brief period of sitting to enjoy my tea it was time to gather up my Baking Bible and get cracking. I wish I'd read through the recipe before Neil had made tea, as I required three tablespoons of boiling water. Apart from a few drips the kettle was empty! I boiled some more water and measured what was needed into my mixing bowl. Now I had to add the crucial cocoa powder. I stirred the hot chocolaty mixture until smooth and well combined. I left it to cool for a few minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients. For a change I'd actually remembered to take the butter out of the fridge, so it was lovely and soft. Normally, using almost a whole packet of butter would have filled me with horror. However, on this occasion I was rather pleased! Several weeks ago I'd been positively ecstatic to find butter on special offer in my local supermarket; I, of course, purchased numerous packets. It was now time to put my bargain to good use! Next, I added the same quantity of sugar and flour to the mixing bowl along with a good amount of baking powder. Thankfully I only needed four eggs as two of the six had cracked tops. They were fine when we bought them, so goodness knows what had happened. I just hoped they weren't trying to hatch!!!! Once all the ingredients were in the bowl, I could move on to mixing it all together with my trusty electric whisk. I noticed that some of the chocolate had stuck to the bottom of the bowl, so I had to pay extra attention to make sure that it incorporated into the rest of the mixture. When it was smooth and chocolaty I divided it between my two lined sandwich tins and then placed them into the hot oven. Once the cakes were showing signs of rising I called Isaac over to take a look. He peered through the oven door for approximately two seconds before he got fed up and looked for trouble elsewhere!!!

The cakes were cooked in just over twenty five minutes and were well risen. They were a very light brown and didn't look very chocolaty. I left them to cool on a wire rack whilst I washed the well licked out bowl, whisk and spoons! This cake has a plain white butter cream, so I had to deal with the dreaded icing sugar. A cloud of sweet dust engulfed me as I sieved it into a mixing bowl. Even though my mouth was shut, I could still taste the sugar! I required a much smaller amount of butter than I expected but I also used a little milk so maybe that would help bring it all together. As I started up my electric whisk yet another layer of icing sugar landed over my clothes and the worktop. I had a white outline of the kettle and toaster!! I kept whisking for a good three minutes to make sure the butter cream was light and fluffy. It appeared that I was somewhat lacking in butter cream; I hoped there would be enough to sandwich the cakes together and cover the top. Thankfully I had just enough but there certainly wasn't any left to spare! The last job was simply to grate some chocolate over the top of the cake. Believe it or not, I still had a bar of chocolate in the fridge from Christmas. I'm glad it was cold as it stopped it from melting in my hands.

The finished cake looked rather pretty with its contrasting colours. I greedily cut myself a large slice and tucked in. The cake was just as I remembered it to be. Light and sweet with a faint taste of chocolate. Richer chocolate cakes might taste more spectacular but, after one or two bites, a wave of queasiness is sure to strike! With this cake you can happily eat the whole slice as it is so light. However, I'm not really sure that's a good thing?!
A yummy and addictive cake!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Petits Fours aux Amandes

Recipe Number One Hundred & Forty Three:  Page 218.

The title for this recipe is a bit of a tongue twister. To simplify things I've renamed them 'posh biscuits'; I find it a lot easier to pronounce! Even though the recipe is within the fancy biscuit section, the instructions are surprisingly short. However, I soon realised why they are considered to be fancy; the mixture has to be piped. I felt a sense of doom. I am not a neat piper and I doubt I ever shall be!

My quest to start making biscuits was immediately halted as my scales had vanished. Admittedly the design is slim and flat but surely it wasn’t possible to misplace them?! I spent at least ten minutes hunting for the elusive scales. I was so fed up I was close to tears! My mood quickly changed when I noticed my scales peeking out from underneath the Baking Bible which had been placed on top of them – oh dear! After wasting so much time searching I could now relax and make a start.

First of all I needed to whisk several egg whites until they were stiff. This didn't take long with my electric whisk switched to top speed. Next I measured some ground almonds into the bowl. I am always buying ground almonds much to Neil's bewilderment. He constantly insists that I already have plenty - which I always deny! Rather annoyingly he was proved right when he discovered lots of half used packets, whoops! At least this recipe helped me to use up the abandoned ground almonds. I think this means I can start buying them again with a clear conscience! I tipped some caster sugar into the bowl. I didn't notice until too late that some of the sugar had formed into rock hard little balls. I mashed all the lumps I could find with a spoon and believed that the problem had been solved. Last of all I added a few drops of almond essence. I was perhaps a little heavy handed and a few extra drops made their way into the bowl! I carefully folded the mixture together until I had a thick and sticky paste.

Now it was time for the much dreaded piping. I scooped the thick mixture into a piping bag which I’d fitted with a large star nozzle. I tried very hard to pipe onto the lined baking trays. The mixture was only exiting the nozzle from one side. It was clear that I had a blockage! I tried to clear it but it proved impossible. I realised that I must have missed a large lump of sugar; I was not best pleased with myself! I piped the mixture back into the bowl and then cleared the sugar lump from the nozzle. My second attempt proved much more successful but my piping was still terrible – the biscuits looked so fragile and messy! I dotted the centre of each biscuit with a small piece of glacé cherry. This cheered things up considerably! Now it was time for me to place my poor little biscuits into the warm oven and hope for the best.

It was soon time to retrieve my biscuits from the oven and I was pleased to see that they had puffed up a little whilst cooking and had turned a pretty light golden brown. I peeled each biscuit from the paper and, while they cooled off a little, I mixed up the optional glaze. All that was needed was a little sugar and milk. As Mary says, the glaze does offer an attractive shine. As for the taste, I thought them to be a pleasant but very sweet mouthful. They were crisp on the outside with a slight chewiness in the centre. They are perhaps something to be enjoyed every now and again. They would make a great gift for a loved one or perhaps a dainty treat at a dinner party. They could of course be made whenever it takes your fancy; if you like piping, then these are the biscuits for you! However, their jaw aching sweetness could have you visiting your dentist a little sooner than you had hoped!
My messy biscuits!!

Honey-glazed Walnut Bread

Recipe Number One Hundred & Forty Two:  Page 289.

Mary promises in her recipe header that this bread is really quick to make; she says it needs shaping and rising only once before baking. I was eager to try my hand at this recipe as the long process of bread making does tend to put me off. I wasn't sure I could believe that just one rise would be enough to produce a light and delicious bread but I hoped to be proved wrong!

Before turning my attention to my afternoon of baking, we headed into town for supplies. It was not an enjoyable experience due to the crowds of people desperately searching for a bargain in the January sales. I'm just too lazy to join the queues; being elbowed in the ribs isn't my idea of a good time! We only wanted a few little things but it took us ages to squeeze our way in and out of shops. By the time we stumbled through our front door armed with bread flour, walnuts and Neil's swanky new jeans, we had almost lost the will to live!

After a rejuvenating cup of tea it was time to summon what little energy I had left and trot into the kitchen. My first job was quite relaxing and a nice way to ease into a spot of baking. I find it quicker and more fun to break up walnuts with my fingers rather than chopping them with a knife. I did have a fair few to work through and, by the time my mission was complete, I was left with a little mountain of broken walnuts. I needed both granary flour and white strong bread flour in equal quantities. As a small child I hated granary bread due to all the bits; now I consider them to be the best part! I sprinkled a sachet of dried yeast over the flour and added a little salt. I've never used treacle in a bread recipe before, so it felt a little odd taking my unloved tin of treacle from the shelf. It was obvious that it hadn't been used for a while as the lid was glued on and it took a while to prise it open with the help of a spoon handle. The treacle inside still looked edible, so I decided to risk it! My poor Baking Bible has suffered some rough treatment and is looking more than a little worse for wear. I didn't help matters by placing the sticky tin of treacle on to the open page, whoops! I added a couple of glugs of olive oil; then it was time to add the warmed milk. I ended up with a bowl of milk with lumps of flour merrily floating on the surface. It did not look good. There was nothing left for it but to stick my hands in and give it a good mix – my goodness it was a messy job!

Finally I managed to work the gloopy mixture together and form a sticky dough. It was hard to knead it on the worktop at first but, after ten minutes, it was smooth and springy; my biceps felt sore by the time I'd finished! The broken walnuts were not to be forgotten as they had to be worked into the dough. I was also in need of a large quantity of sunflower seeds; this was going to be a very virtuous bread roll! Working in the walnuts and seeds proved to be a tricky task as they kept shooting off the worktop in all directions. I think most ended up on the floor! Some minutes later the dough was bursting with Vitamin B and essential fatty acids and ready to be shaped into two good sized rolls! I placed them onto separate baking trays and put each tray into a carrier bag. I should mention that I first checked to be sure the bags were clean! Mary mentions that it can take as little as 30 minutes to over an hour for the rolls to double in size. I turned on the oven and sat my rolls alongside it. It took about forty five minutes for the beauties to inflate! As if they weren't pretty enough, I had to glaze the rolls with some beaten egg and honey before sprinkling yet more sunflower seeds over the top. It was a perfect finishing touch. I placed the rolls in the oven to cook for around 25 minutes. Of course the bready smells that wafted through the house were heavenly. Maybe they should bottle the scent; it would make for an irresistible perfume!!

The rolls came out of the oven a gorgeous golden brown; they looked lovely and rustic. I left them to cool on a wire rack for twenty minutes before giving in to temptation! Unsurprisingly the flavour of the nuts and seeds shone through. The bread had such a light and soft texture. I was pleased to discover that it wasn't heavy at all; I certainly didn't think it required a second rise. I was surprised my little boy took a shine to it as it contains so many nuts and seeds. However, he kept coming back for more. Mary comments that the bread also makes excellent toast. I was keen to test this theory and I can confirm that it is amazing – YUM!
Lovely nutty bread - YUMMY!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Welsh Cakes

Recipe Number One Hundred & Forty One:  Page 331.

These little cakes proved to be a popular choice on my Facebook Poll. I have never made or tasted a Welsh Cake but, judging by the positive comments I received, I was hopeful of the results. Since all the over indulgence of Christmas, I am finding it hard to get back on the wagon. It has become perfectly normal to eat a chocolate bar each day without batting an eyelid! As mentioned in my previous entries, I have very limited willpower. At first glance these Welsh Cakes looked positively virtuous in comparison to all the calorific treats I've been tucking into. I hoped these seemingly light cakes would help ease me back into normality!

When I came to make the Welsh Cakes I wasn't really sure if I'd be able to find room to place a mixing bowl and perch my Baking Bible. I found Neil sitting at the kitchen worktop with his computer all set up and pieces of scrap paper by his side! He has just started a new job working from home. The last few months he has worked tirelessly converting the garage into an office. Once the carpet is fitted tomorrow it will be ready for him to use, so I couldn't really complain if he encroached on my worktop space for just one day. Besides, I was pleased to have the company!

I measured a lot of self raising flour into a bowl. These cakes were obviously expected to rise a great deal whilst cooking as they also required a generous amount of baking powder. As mentioned earlier, at first glance I thought these Welsh Cakes to be fairly healthy but, when I came to weighing the butter, I began to doubt my reasoning; it certainly looked like a lot of butter! I felt happier when it was time to tip in a much more modest amount of sugar. It seems you can't have a tasty treat without it either containing a lot of sugar or fat or, in most cases, a lot of both!! Now it was time for the important currants and some mixed spice. I hadn't realised how much I witter on to myself whilst baking. I found myself commenting on the lovely spicy smell, I questioned the quantity of currants; surely there should be more? I then remembered that poor Neil was trying to concentrate, so I endeavoured to keep my mouth shut! To the dry ingredients I mixed in a beaten egg along with a little milk. Though the dough was ever so dry at the start, I didn't rush to add more milk. With a bit of time and elbow grease the dough became firm and manageable. As I'm a very lazy cook and I especially loathe cleaning up afterwards, I use short cuts wherever possible. One of my pet hates is wiping sticky dough from a worktop. I now always roll dough out on top of greaseproof paper. This also means I don't have to use flour to stop it from sticking, another bonus!

Once the dough had been rolled out I could use a large cutter to shape it into Welsh Cakes. With a frying pan already greased and heated, I squeezed past Neil and his impossibly tall chair and placed four cakes into the pan. I cooked the cakes on a low heat for three minutes each side. Mary stresses not to cook them too quickly; otherwise they may not cook through. I'm sure you'd agree that a half baked cake is a bit of a let down, so I heeded her advice and didn't try to speed up the cooking process. I admit it was tempting as it was boring waiting six minutes for each batch to cook, especially as I couldn't very well leave them and get on with something else. Eventually my patience paid off and I had some tasty looking Welsh Cakes cooling on a wire rack. Neil was suddenly very interested in what I was doing. His eyes lit up when I passed him a cake still warm from the pan – it didn't last long!

Once the Welsh Cakes were cold, I sprinkled some sugar over them and quickly took pictures before grabbing one for myself. I was in too much of a hurry to stop and spread it with butter as Mary suggests. I thought my little cake was just perfect as it was! Although it hadn't bothered to rise very much, it still tasted light and fluffy. I found them to be surprisingly sweet and the hint of mixed spice brought warmth and comfort to each bite. The currants provided a sweet and mild flavour which didn't overwhelm the delicateness of the Welsh Cakes.

I would certainly try this recipe again. They were quite fun to make and very moreish. Although I have to admit that Welsh Cakes are not exactly healthy, I still believe them to be a healthier alternative to endless bars of chocolate!!
Simple but tasty! :-)

Monday, 2 January 2012

New Year Tipsy Cake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Forty:  Page 140.

I think you will agree that this cake had to be made to celebrate the start of a new year. Scanning through the list of ingredients, I could quite see how it got its name; a trip to the wine aisle was in order! I have never bought sweet white wine before and I was amazed how hard it was to locate. The long aisle was overflowing with its dry counterpart but it took me ages to find sweet! I also had to make a special trip to a health food shop to buy some potato flour. I had never heard of it before! Mary says to use cornflour if not available. However, I was in luck as there was plenty in stock.

By the time I had finished shopping the heavens had opened and I arrived back at my parents’ house looking like a drowned rat. I had to change my clothes and dry my hair before attempting this rather special cake.

First task was to unpack the box of eggs from a wet shopping bag! Three whole eggs and two yolks went into a mixing bowl. I was quite pleased when I lost some shell into the bowl as it gave me a chance to try out a tip I'd been given on my Facebook page. Apparently I should use the egg shell to scoop out the tiny fragment. I am delighted to announce that it worked! No more chasing it around with a finger or teaspoon - a big thank you for a brilliant tip! Next, I added the caster sugar to the bowl. I had to whisk the mixture over a saucepan of hot water until thick and moussey. The steam which escaped from around the edges of the bowl was VERY hot. This was not a pleasant experience I can assure you! The leftover egg whites did not go to waste as I needed to whisk them into soft peaks and then carefully fold into the steaming hot mixture. As the bowl was by now filled to the rim, it was quite a challenge to fold in the flours and the lemon rind. Once everything was combined I poured the very pale moussey mixture into my prepared tin and placed it in the oven to cook for about forty five minutes.

While my cake cooked I got on with making the syrup which I would later use to soak the cake. I tipped some granulated sugar into a saucepan with a little water. Once the sugar had melted I turned up the heat and boiled it for exactly two minutes. I used my mum's kitchen timer to be sure of accuracy. Thankfully I was paying attention, as the alarm never sounded to let me know the time was up!!!! The sugary syrup needed to cool before I could add the booze, so I took the opportunity to take a peek through the oven door. My jaw dropped when I saw the cake. It had risen to dizzying heights and was at least two inches above the top of the tin. It was enormous! Rather worryingly, after only fifteen minutes in the oven, it was already brown on top. I left it for another fifteen minutes and then placed some foil over the top of the cake. I was amazed and upset that it should be burnt after only half an hour. I wondered if my parents’ oven was playing up! Finally it was time to extract the cake from the oven. I left it in the tin for the suggested ten minutes; I watched it sink with each passing minute!! While the sunken but still huge cake cooled on a wire rack I reached for the elusive bottle of sweet wine. I poured a quarter of a pint into the sugar syrup and then measured in a tablespoon of brandy. As I had made Christmas cakes a few months earlier I didn't need to buy a whole bottle for such a tiny amount. The fumes nearly knocked my head off – goodness knows what the finished cake would taste like!

A circular piece of sponge had to be cut from the centre of the cold cake. I was very worried about this as the cake was so fragile. I called to Neil and asked for help. He took pity on his wimpy wife and carefully and painstakingly cut away a lid of sponge. I poured two thirds of the potent syrup over the cake. Next, I peeled lots of oranges and filled the dip in the cake with juicy segments. I noticed that one segment contained a pip, so this meant that I had to check every single one! At this point the cake was looking reasonably healthy. This was until I piled whipped double cream on top of the oranges. There is no chance of my losing my post Christmas bulge! I placed the lid of sponge on top of the filling and then soaked the cake with yet more boozy syrup. The cake wasn't looking too pretty at this point but this was solved by covering the cake in yet more whipped cream – my poor heart! For decoration I sliced up an orange and placed the slices over the top of the cream covered cake. I felt exhausted - this cake had used up what little energy I had left.

The cut cake did look rather special as it reveals the surprise filling - my family were suitably surprised! The first thing that hit me when I took a bite was BRANDY! My goodness the taste was overpowering and I'd only used a tablespoon of the stuff! I liked the orange and cream centre. That really was very yummy. The sponge was light as a feather and almost melted in the mouth. My family enjoyed it but we all agreed that it isn't the sort of cake we would want to eat more than once a year!
Not the most attractive cake in the World!!

What a surprise!
I thought I would take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy New Year. I also want to thank you all very much for taking the time to read about my challenge. I really love to read your comments be it on here, via Facebook or Twitter. Your support means a lot to me and is very much appreciated. Have a fantastic 2012!

French Apple Tart

Recipe Number One Hundred & Thirty Nine:  Page 271.

I am still wading through my Christmas chocolates. This is not much of a hardship but I can feel myself beginning to flag. Apart from the orange in my Christmas stocking, no other piece of fruit has since passed my lips; I hang my head in shame. I was craving the healthy goodness of a crisp, juicy apple and this tart fitted the bill perfectly. I realise that this tart can't be considered to be healthy....BUT..... maybe it would help wean me off the choccies. All of those apples had to be good for me – I hope you can agree with my admittedly questionable reasoning!

Pastry is not a friend of mine; each time we meet we part on bad terms, so I wasn't overly keen to make a start on this tart! To spur myself on I took another lingering look at the photograph in the Baking Bible. Mary's apple tart is perfection personified. Succulent apple slices neatly nestled in a beautiful pastry case, my mouth was soon watering!

With regained enthusiasm I grabbed a bag of plain flour from the kitchen cupboard and weighed it into a bowl. I reached into the fridge and took hold of the cold butter. Chilled butter is the key to a good pastry, so at least I'd managed to do one thing right! As instructed, I cut the butter up into cubes and rubbed it into the flour. This took a little longer than usual as I only used one hand. This wasn't to show off, but simply to keep the other hand clean. Hopefully I would avoid getting sticky pastry all over the kitchen units and drawer handles! The last ingredient needed was a solitary egg yolk. This didn't seem to be enough liquid to bring the dough together and it came as no surprise when I had to add some water. I was worried about adding too much, so tried to be sparing and use the bare minimum. I wrapped the dry dough in cling film and placed it in the fridge for half an hour. Although the pastry was allowed some relaxation time I was not, as I needed to press on with the apple filling.

I had a fair quantity of cooking apples to work my way through but Mary says that they don't need to be peeled – hallelujah! I cut them up into chunks and placed them into a large saucepan along with some butter and a little water. I popped the lid on top and left it to cook until all lovely and mushy. This only took about fifteen minutes. Although I was grateful not to have to peel the apples, I was a bit resentful when it came to sieving the cooked apples as this added to the pile of washing up. The next instruction was to place the apple purée into a clean pan. I disobeyed instructions and returned it to the pan it had just come from; as far as I was concerned it was perfectly usable! I suspect Mary has a dishwasher!! I mixed a generous amount of apricot jam into the mushy apple, and this was swiftly followed by a modest amount of sugar. When it came to grating the lemon rind I managed to also grate my knuckle. I had to stop what I was doing to administer first aid! Injured, I struggled on and cooked the appley mixture over a high heat, stirring all the time. It took the suggested fifteen minutes before all the excess liquid had evaporated; my feet were beginning to ache at this point!

While the sweet smelling apple mixture cooled down I turned my attention back to the pastry. I felt a sense of foreboding as I took it from the fridge; it seemed so dry. When I pressed down on the ball of pastry with the rolling pin it crumbled beneath the pressure! I rinsed my hands under the tap and gathered the pastry into a ball once more. The moisture from my hands did seem to help and it became much more manageable to work with. Unfortunately bits of pastry broke off when I tried to line my tin; it appeared that I'd rolled it too thin. I was feeling weary by now so I couldn't be bothered to start again!

I had to bake the pastry case blind for about 15 minutes and then take out the baking beans and put the case back in the oven for a few more minutes to make sure it was really dry and cooked through. Now it was time to add the cold apple filling. I didn't escape peeling altogether as I still needed to peel the eating apples. Luckily only a few were required so it wasn't too bad and I was soon cutting them into very thin slices. I was supposed to arrange the slices on top of the apple purée in neat circles but something went wrong along the way as my attempt was nowhere near as neat as the photograph in the Baking Bible! Eventually I was ready to brush over a little lemon juice and sprinkle over a tiny amount of sugar and then pop the tart into the oven.

While the tart cooked I ate my way through several chocolate tree decorations! Feeling vaguely sick, I retrieved the apple tart from the oven. I gathered up my jar of apricot jam again, sieved some into a saucepan and warmed it through. Oh wonderful, more to wash up! For the finishing touch I brushed the apricot glaze over the tart. It certainly wasn't anywhere near as good as Mary’s but thankfully looks are not everything! I greedily helped myself to a large mouthful; I thought the pastry was lovely - thin and crisp. I was delighted to have avoided the dreaded soggy bottom! The apples were unfortunately too sharp; my taste-buds were all a tingle! It was a perfectly tasty tart but after all of the effort required I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed. On a happier note at least I'd managed to achieve some of my five a day!
Bit of a bodged job!!

A yummy but sharp slice of apple tart!