Category Archives: Cakes

Home made malt loaf

Recently I went to my friend Becky’s house, almost entirely unannounced (I gave her maybe ten minutes notice). And as me and my youngest tumbled into her house, all fizzed up with after-school-ness, she proffered Soreen Malt Loaf, something I’d not seen, and certainly not had, for decades.

Malt loaf is not particularly British (the Swedish have something called wort loaf which is similar), but Soreen Malt Loaf is – it was originally made in Manchester in the 1930’s and still is.

Becky sliced and buttered a few slices and I tried really hard not to eat them all. Then I went home and decided to make it. I had no idea how, or how hard it was and it’s fair to say that, like a lot of things, home made malt loaf isn’t exactly the same as shop bought. But then, what would be the point. But it’s close. I’ve given this to people who know malt loaves and they have decreed it absolutely delicious.

Malt is apparently full of B-vitamins and is meant to be good for you, but it is, at its heart, just sugar so don’t go thinking this is a health loaf. The dried fruit gives you fibre, but again with sugar. So let’s not pretend this is anything other than what it is: cake.

This is adapted from a Good Food recipe, but there are loads on the internet and Nigel Slater has a very fine malt loaf marmalade pudding if you fancy sacrificing one of the malt loaves to this.

Ingredients

150ml hot black tea

175m malt extract plus a bit extra for coating the loaves

85g dark muscovado sugar

200g dried fruit – I use prunes, apricots and then some sultanas/raisins depending on what I have in. Chop them up

2 large eggs

250g plain flour – I sometimes add a small proportion of wholemeal flour, too, but not too much

One teaspoon of baking powder

Half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

You also need two loaf tins and either baking parchment to line the tins, or loaf liners. If you use baking parchment you can get away with greasing the tins (with oil) and placing a long strip of parchment in the tin, so that it covers the bottom and the two short ends (so you also have something to lift out the cake with).

My loaf tins are about 22cm x 7cm (2lb ones). The cakes do rise; they do so uniformly and they about double so bear that in mind when you pour them into any tin you have.

Method

It is so easy that you’d better have your oven preheated to 150C.

Pour the tea into a bowl and add the malt extract; mix around then add  the sugar, the dried fruit and the two eggs. Mix gently until incorporated.

Now add the flour, baking powder and bicarb and mix together.

So easy isn’t it?

Now divide up between the two loaves. It’s fairly fluid so if you are using loaf liners careful that you don’t pour in too quickly as the liners can fold in on each other, I spoon mine in. But you do need to work fairly fast and get them in the oven.

Mine are done after 40 mins exactly but as ever, know your oven. They should be firm to the touch but not over cooked. As soon as they are out, brush more malt extract over the top, then leave to cool.

I wrap mine in foil whilst still warm (Soreen is packed whilst still warm to retain the ‘squidge’) and they are apparently even better after 1-2 days but mine have never lasted that long.

Serve, in time-honoured way, sliced, buttered and with joy.

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Pea, avocado and ricotta hot cakes (with or without poached eggs)

These are my new favourite thing. You might be able to tell this as there is no photo of the product all plated up, because I was too busy eating.

The original recipe is from Waitrose magazine (I’ve slightly adapted it) and it serves four. But you can easily make these for fewer and keep leftovers in the fridge (20seconds zap in microwave) for a really quick, tasty and nutritious lunch. They are much more filling than they seem as there’s a lot of protein and good fats in there (okay so the ricotta may not be the best fat you can get but come on).

You need:

110g frozen garden peas

250g ricotta

Half an avocado for the hot cake mixture, more for serving it with – as you like

100g self-raising flour, you can go part or whole wholemeal if you like

3 eggs, separated, but not for long

about 3 tablespoons of olive oil for the frying

Peashoots/avocado to serve.

The recipe shows this with poached eggs, which is how we had it, but I had the hot cakes warmed up two days later with just avocado for a super fast lunch (from conception to partial digestion in under four minutes as I had an interview to do). You can of course serve these with whatever you want and I can’t help thinking they’d make a good breakfast.

This is what you do:

Put a pan of water onto boil, when boiling add the peas and simmer for two minutes. Drain and cool under cold water. Tip into a food processor with the ricotta, half an avocado, flour and three of the egg yolks. Whizz up, season.

Separately, whisk up the 3 egg whites until stiff, then fold into the pea/ricotta mixture.

Put a large frying pan on with some oil (you will need to do these in batches unless your pan is huge). You use one or two large dollops per cake – see how you go. Cook for about two mins. Unlike almost evert-other-thing I make like this, when you turn them the underside has actually set and doesn’t stick (or mine didn’t) and I didn’t have to chase it round the pan and end up crying.

Flip (it may swidge a bit) and cook until the other side is done – I mean this is obvious right?. Keep warm whilst you make the rest.

That’s it. Serve, as above, with poached eggs, avocado and peashoots.

Apricot and cinnamon breakfast muffins.

Of course, you can eat these beyond breakfast time. I made them because I was told I am borderline anaemic the other day, and apricots are a good source of iron. Not as good as a rare-cooked steak served with green leafy veg and washed down with a Guinness and an orange juice, but possibly easier to carry in your bag. These are very filling, not particularly sweet and keep me going if I can’t be bothered to eat lunch. Well, until about 4pm. I love how chewy the top apricot goes.

This recipe is from the free little newspaper Waitrose provides each week.

It makes 12 and you need to allow a little time for soaking the apricots.

You need:

250g dried apricots, I prefer the organic variety here as they have less stuff on them, it does mean they are quite dark though and not all zesty bright.

1 large orange, juice and zest

275g self raising flour (I used some wholemeal too)

2tsp baking powder

2tsp cinnamon

75g porridge oats, plus a bit extra for sprinkling

150g caster sugar

285ml buttermilk or kefir milk if you make it

2 medium eggs

50g butter, melted

3 tablespoons of apricot preserve

You also need a muffin tin lined with muffin cases.

Method

Reserve 12 of the apricots. Roughly chop the rest and put them to soak in the orange juice and zest. I do this the night before, but 30 mins is fine.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Mix together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, oats and sugar. In a separate large bowl mix together the buttermilk, eggs and butter and add the soaked apricots sand orange zest/juice. Now add the dry ingredients and mix until must blended.

Divide amongst the paper cases – you’ll find the mixture is quite up to the top but don’t worry as it doesn’t rise much (despite the self raising flour AND baking powder). If you like use those fancy tulip-shaped muffin cases that look like someone artfully folded some baking paper, the ones that cost about £20 for ten (exaggeration).

Place a whole apricot atop each muffin and sprinkle with some porridge oats (this makes the muffins look good!). Cook in the oven for 18-20 mins. When still warm, mix the apricot jam with a tiny bit of boiling water and brush over the top for a lovely glaze. I wish I could tell you my children loved these. They didn’t. But my partner did!

 

White chocolate and amaretti cake

I don’t often have cake failures. I’ve been baking since I was seven. But when I do, they hit me hard.

The first time I made this – a Donna Hay recipe – it went wrong. It looked fine, coming out of the oven, but when you cut into it there was a hole running the whole width of the cake, so that each slice had a hole right through it. The sort of thing which, if you’d tried to achieve, would have been impossible.

It tasted delicious, but it was a failure. I whizzed the whole sorry thing up in a food processor and froze the crumbs. They will be delicious on some ice cream, as a topping, or put in milk shake mix ins.

I had a rare afternoon nap and then it came to me: I had forgotten to put the milk in. I had made it in a bad mood, and got distracted. The original method is also a ‘bung it all into the food mixer’, which is where I also went wrong as I lost track of the ingredients.

This is a simple cake – simple to look at, simple to make, but the ingredients add up. It has nearly £5 of white chocolate in it. Of course, you could put any old white chocolate in it, something cheap, but I think good quality white chocolate makes a difference. I use Green and Black’s white cooking chocolate. Then there’s the amaretti. The rest is regular baking fayre: butter, eggs, flour. Oh and milk.

I have adapted this so it’s all done by hand. I felt I got a better result. If you want to, you can bung everything save the amaretti crumbs into a food mixer and mix away until smooth, then rejoin the recipe at the putting into the tin stage.

Because this recipe contains amaretti – almonds – it is not suitable for anyone with nut/almond allergies.

This is what you need:

185g very soft unsalted butter

220g caster sugar

3 eggs

a teaspoon of vanilla extract

250g melted white chocolate, slightly cooled

300g self raising flour

310ml of milk

160g crushed amaretti biscuits

A few amaretti, crushed, for decoration after cooking.

This is what you do:

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and flour a 3l bundt/ring tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar, add the three eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla extract. Now gently mix in the melted chocolate. Then add the flour and, little by little, the milk.

Pour half the mixture into the prepared tin, sprinkle the amaretti crumbs (I pulse them in a food processor) over the cake mixture. I use a skewer to gentle feather them through the mixture, but you don’t have to. Now top up with the rest of the cake mixture.

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Bake for about 45 minutes. Check with a skewer to make sure it’s cooked. Make sure it comes out clean.

Leave to cool for ten minutes, then turn out and sprinkle a few crushed amaretti over the top if you’d like.

This cake fills the kitchen with amazing Viennese coffee house smells as it cooks. It’s even better the next day. The white chocolate gives the sponge an amazing lightness and a taste you can’t quite put your finger on. And the amaretti crumb layer is just amazing and marzipan-ish in taste (so absolutely no good if you hate marzipan).

 

Polenta ‘pizza’ with cherry tomatoes and some sort of cheesy topping.

This is not, of course, pizza. But it is delicious.

Polenta featured large in my father’s home cuisine – northern Italy. But it didn’t feature in my mum’s – southern Italy. And because my mum was the cook when we were growing up, I feel I can safely say we never had polenta. I would hear about it, but I could not get my head around what it was. Sometimes it was a powder, then it was solid, then like mash.

When I got older I tried making polenta and it was a disaster. Since then things have improved and it features in my home cuisine and I always find it comforting.

This recipe is from Delicious magazine. I like that the making of the polenta doesn’t involve loads of butter and parmesan – sometimes you want that, but not all the time. Of course you can vary the topping to have what you want on it. Because my children aren’t so keen on dolcelatte I bought some brie with truffles in it as a treat.

Anyway this is just delicious. It easily fed four of us and I had the left overs for lunch the next day (heat up for a few minutes in a dry frying pan, if you can cover it to catch the steam) and it was wonderful.

2 courgettes, sliced thinly (I used a potato peeler)

200g or so of cherry tomatoes, halve them

Olive oil for drizzling

600ml of milk

400 ml of chicken stock, either your own or made from a cube

250g instant polenta

50g cheddar, grated (or use some other cheese it’s okay)

80ml of passata

80g of dolcelatte or brie, thinly sliced

a handful of basil leaves to scatter

Method

Heat the oven to 200C. Spread the courgettes and tomatoes over a large baking tin, drizzle with the oil, season with salt and peper and roast for 10 minutes. This bit is important as you won’t be cooking the finished pizza for long enough to get the courgettes and tomatoes sufficiently roasted. When done set aside but leave the oven on.

Meanwhile, put the milk and stock in a large sauce pan and bring to the boil. Put the polenta in a jug and when the liquid boils, pour the polenta in a stream and stir continuously with a wooden spoon or large whisk. You want the mixture to thicken and bubble on the surface, like larva. Now turn down the heat and stir in the cheddar and season well.

Pour the polenta mixture onto a baking sheet (I find some baking parchment helps but is not essential), spread out thinly to a circular or rectangular shape. Spread the passata over – it will be very thin. Top with the roasted courgettes/tomatoes and the thin slices of cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden. Scatter basil leaves atop.

You can serve this with a salad but I like it on its own, with one fork, and my feet up on the sofa.

Faux Christmas trees

I have been writing, professionally, for 23 years. During that time I have learned that two things are so emotive, I don’t write about them anymore:

Breastfeeding.

Anti-wrinkle creams.

I suspect this will be an equally divisive topic.

Last Christmas, I went to my friend Louise’s house. Louise lives in a beautiful house and she had, in the entrance hall, a beautiful Christmas tree. It was only on closer inspection, that I realised it wasn’t real. “Do you think it looks okay?” she asked. “I think it looks fabulous,” I replied.

I went straight home and bought one, after doing some sums – ours cost £318 last year, before Brexit and before the pound fell, like a snowflake from the sky. That’s not an inconsiderable amount of money to sink into a Christmas tree but given we were spending £40-£50 a year on one, I wish we had bought one ten years ago.

Coincidentally, my other friend Sandra, had bought one the week before – but it hadn’t really sunk in – and she said it had made her “truly happy”. Now, Sandra isn’t the sort of person to find happiness in Christmas foliage, usually. So I knew I was onto a good thing.

My partner took a bit of persuading because, every Christmas, we go somewhere in the Suffolk countryside and choose a tree. I say we, but they all look pretty good to me and he spends AGES choosing one and I find the whole selection process really stressful, and cold. Really bloody cold. I just don’t know why I find it stressful, but I do. Anyway, we bought one, he loves it. My children, after becoming hysterical at the thought (they thought it would be really fake looking) also love it. I grew up with a faux (okay, we called it fake back then) Christmas tree which is still going strong from when it was purchased by my parents – in 1963.

When I told a few people that we were venturing into fake Christmas tree territory, they went nuts. As if we were telling them something awful. “I don’t know who you are anymore,” joked (?) my friend Jo.

Here is the case for a fakey faux Christmas tree:

No more going out to buy one and spending £40 plus on one, or whatever it is they cost. No more jostling with people for the tree that looks great.

No more cutting down live trees.

You can put it up from 1st December and no risk of leaf fall.

No more vacuuming up pine needles.

Okay, no more real tree smell but you know, you can get that in a SPRAY from Jo Malone or The White Company (you can actually get very good pine smelly things which you hang on the branches, I got some from the supermarket which cost a couple of pounds and they were, incredibly, rather good).

We got one which comes with lights IN IT. No more untangling the lights, risking electrocution and finding that none of them work anymore.

It looks good all the way through Christmas, no more sad Christmas tree.

I am not trying to convince you, but if you are thinking of going faux, then take the plunge! We love ours and are putting it up as soon as the clocks chime midnight on November.

I’m mentioning all this now cos we got ours from Balsam Hill – also where my friends got theirs from – and the quality is superb. And there’s a sale on. We got one with a not-too-huge bottom to it (I love that you can choose the width, from a narrow tree if you don’t have much room to a more full-bottomed one). Go for the most realistic ones. I know they’re not cheap, but once you’ve bought one you have it. We got the Vermont White Spruce with ‘candelight’ lights which give a warmer glow.

The pictures were of our tree last year (forgive the scaffolding outside, we were having building works done) – I tried to take a picture of it looking as ‘real’ as possible, not with any funny filters on or anything (not, ha ha, ‘spruced’ up). And here is one of the branches close up:

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You’ll see we go for a white and silver theme…

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Chicken, pesto, pasta with courgettes and peppers.

The idea for this came from the Waitrose Weekend newspaper they produce each week. I’ve said before that whomever writes the recipes for Waitrose is really rather good.

Because I wanted to get more veg in there, I changed it slightly and upped the quantities on most things, as the original was for two people. I used the pesto in this recipe, and this was also the meal, mentioned in the pesto recipe, that my youngest ate four portions of. It is really, really tasty and quick and easy, especially if you prep the veg five minutes before you need it, unlike I did.

300g fusilli. I used Napolina’s half regular, half wholemeal

2 tablespoons of olive oil

About 350g of chicken breast – use more if you want or less etc – cut into thin strips

2 red peppers, diced or cut into strips

100g frozen sweetcorn

2 courgettes – I use a Julienne cutter to cut mine into strips, but you can spiralise yours if you want, or cut it into half coins or use a vegetable peeler.

4 tablespoons of pesto

200g creme fraiche

Put a pan of salted, boiling water on and at the same time heat the olive oil in a frying pan.

Put the pasta into the water to cook for the recommended time. Fry the chicken and peppers in the oil, for about five minutes; add the sweetcorn, courgette and cook for a couple of minutes. Now add the pesto and creme fraiche and cook through for 1-2 minutes. Check the chicken is cooked. Drain the pasta and add it, give it a stir through. Put in a bowl, eat with a fork and be happy.

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