Monthly Archives: May 2012

Diamond Jubilee: Battenberg Cake

I’ve just come back from central London, and the old city is looking rather glad, with bunting string across streets and Union Flags hung from just about everything you could imagine. All very, very British.

And this bring me to the Battenberg cake. This is just about the most British-looking cake you could probably imagine. I mean, what other nation would come up with something that has squares of different-coloured cake all wrapped up in marzipan?

That said, in all my years, I have never, ever, seen anyone actually make a Battenberg Cake. It seems that Mr Kipling has the market cornered on this one, and if you want one, you usually buy one. So today, I’m taking on the challenge.

As you might suspect, this is also a cake with links back to royalty. The name itself is a bit of a giveaway. Battenberg…sound familiar? Well, it’s clearly German, but let’s flip it round (so we’ve got Berg-Batten) and then translate it into English (Mountbatten). Sound familiar now? Yes, this it the family of Price Philip, the Queen’s husband. So basically, it’s a royal wedding cake.

The Battenberg Cake was originally created by chefs in the palace for the wedding of Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine (how’s that for a title?), a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, to Prince Louis of Battenberg. So that is where the name comes from. And to make the link clearer, these were the grandparents of Prince Philip, so that’s were the surname comes from (even if it is now Mountbatten-Windsor). The marzipan link is apparently due to a British admiration for the German ability to turn this simple sugar-and-almond paste into works of art, and when called upon to impress royalty, they wanted to use it as a key part of the wedding cake. With that, a British afternoon tea classic was born.

So at the weekend, I got out my sieve, almond extract and marzipan, and tackled this cake. Before I started, I was a little apprehensive – I’ll freely admit that I’ve got a manifest preference for making things that should have a sort of rough rustic charm to them. If it consists of equal layers, right angles and smooth surfaces, that all seems…well…might it might not turn out too well.

So how do you make sure that things do turn out well? The secret seems to be not so much how you make the sponge, but how patient you are. Wait until it is completely cool, and you’ll be able to cut the cake into neat pieces to stick together with jam. If you can’t wait, and start slicing too soon, you’ll end up with lots of crumbs and a rather rougher (might I say rustic?) appearance. I found this helpful video by the Hairy Bikers, and I would urge you to follow their tips. I glued the cake together with apricot jam, but then brushed it all over the rolled-out marzipan. It worked, but it was  little but sticky to work with. Trust the men with beards!

I’m glad that I tried making this cake – it does take quite some time, but the result is a lovely, moist sponge with a delicate almond flavour and nice, rich coat of marzipan. Perfect for a fancy afternoon tea.

To make a Battenburg Cake (makes 10-12 slices)

For the cake:

• 175g butter
• 175g caster sugar
• 3 eggs
• 50g ground almonds
• 130g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
• red natural food colouring

For the decoration:

• 250g apricot jam
• 400g marzipan

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a 20cm square tin with greaseproof paper. Make a divider in the middle of the tin with more greaseproof paper (we’re going to make half plain and half pink sponge, so you need a divider for this).

Put the butter and sugar into a bowl. Mix well (best to use an electric beater) until light and fluffy.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs, then add, a little at a time, to the butter mixture, beating well after each addition. Add the salt, vanilla and almond extract. Fold in the flour and almonds and beat gently until smooth.

Put half the batter into another bowl. Add a little red food colour to tint the batter pink. You won’t need very much – I used one teaspoon, and the colour was very intense.

Fill one half of the cake tin with the plain batter, and the other half with the pink batter, separating with the greaseproof paper divider.

Bake the cakes for around 30-40 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool completely.

To assemble the cake:

First, I recommend watching the Hairy Bikers video (if you’re able to get access). It should explain all!

To put the cake together, take out of the tin and remove the greaseproof paper.

Put one cake on top of the other, and trim the long edges to that they are the same size and form a square shape. Next, cut each piece lengthways, so you have four long rectangles of cake – two pink, two yellow.

Next, put the jam and a tablespoon of water into a saucepan. Heat gently until just boiling, then pour through a sieve – you’ll need to use a spoon to push everything through, and you’ll end up with a smooth jam “glue” to use on the cake.

Now is time to assemble to cake. Brush one long side of a piece of cake with jam, and attach to another piece. Repeat with the two other slices of cake. Next, brush the large side of one of the “glued” cakes, and put the other on top. You should now have a cake “loaf” with the alternating squares of sponge cake.

Take the marzipan and roll out on a surface sprinkled with icing sugar. Aim for a rectangle as wide as the cake is long, and long enough to go once round the cake. It should be around 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thickness.

Brush the whole cake with jam, then place on one end of the marzipan. Roll the cake along the marzipan, pressing lightly to make sure that it sticks properly. Keep rolling until the marzipan overlaps along one side.

Use a sharp knife to trim the marzipan until even, and then put onto a serving plate, with the seam on the bottom.

Before serving, cut a thin slice of either end to show the pattern of the sponge cakes.

Worth making? I was utterly stunned with just how amazing the home-made version of this cake turned out. The coloured part was perhaps a little too red, but it had a lovely moist texture, fragrant almond flavour and looked the part.

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Filed under Afternoon Tea, Recipe, Sweet Things

Diamond Jubilee: Queen Cakes

Today’s regal bake-fest involves dainty little morsels called Queen Cakes. In spite of their very grand-sounding name, they are actually rather simple, and they are the perfect addition to an afternoon tea spread or to serve at a street party. However, I must confess that I don’t know the origin on the name – some suggest they were created for a queen consent, others suggest they were seen as the height of refinement (the “queen of cakes”) or that this was just a generic name for small, individual cakes before the rise of the cupcake.

These are simple small sponge fairy cakes that have been livened up with some sultanas or other dried vine fruit. No glaze, no icing, no mountains of fluffy pink buttercream. If you want to make them look fancy, just dust very lightly with icing sugar. I suppose you could think of them as the dignified understated and queenly addition to the tea-table in comparison to the cupcake’s gaudy courtesan or the scheming French court ambassadress as typified by the macaron.

I was pleased as I started to make these cakes that the eggs I had bought had decided add a crown stamp to the shells. A nice touch, yes?

The recipe here is very similar to Victoria sponge and would traditionally have required a large bowl, strong arms and a fearsome command of the hand whisk. Baking powder is a relatively recent invention, so the cook in olden days had to rely on getting lots and lots of air incorporated into the mixture. Fortunately, we can rely on creaming the butter and sugar, then adding the eggs and flour, but letting the baking powder in the self-raising flour take the strain. Whew!

These cakes would, in the past, have been baked in special pans, and if a heart shape was used, they were called heart cakes. Luckily, we live in a more modern world, and the convenience of the paper case makes these cakes a breeze, but I think they would still be rather nice if you can find some appropriately shaped silicone moulds.

As I mentioned, this is quite a straightforward recipe that does not need much adornment. However, if you want to make these cakes a little more fancy, I would suggest adding a dash of spice (nutmeg or mace would hint at the Regency kitchen), or soak the sultanas overnight in rum. Alternatively, you could prepare a simple water icing and brush over the warm cakes. Anything more might be a bit too flashy, and that would never do, would it?

As you can see, the finished results look rather nice when piled up high on the tea-table. These are what I’ll be contributing to a Jubilee weekend picnic, along with a couple of pitchers of Pimm’s punch. Cheers!

To make Queen Cakes (makes 16):

• 110g butter
• 110g caster sugar
• 2 eggs
• pinch of salt
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
• 110g self-raising flour
• 50g sultanas

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a muffin tray with small paper cases.

Put the butter and sugar into a bowl. Mix well (best to use an electric beater) until light and fluffy.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs, then add, a little at a time, to the butter mixture, beating well after each addition. Add the salt and vanilla. Fold in the flour, then stir in the sultanas.

Divide the batter between the cake cases and bake for around 15 minutes, until golden and risen, and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool, then finish with a dusting of icing sugar.

Worth making? These are lovely little cakes, and make a change from very fancy, rich cupcakes. Great with a cup of tea mid-afternoon.

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Diamond Jubilee: Edinburgh Tart

For most of us, the Queen has always been the Queen. Always there, changing only very slowly. Stability. Certainty. Continuity.

However, while it may at times seem hard to believe, the Queen has not always been the Queen. Back in 1947, she was newly-married and know as HRH The Duchess of Edinburgh. So today’s Jubilee-related foodie frolic honours this earlier part of the Queen’s life. This is a sweet treat called the Edinburgh Tart.

The obvious question is what is an Edinburgh tart? I’ll admit that it’s not one of the most famous pieces of Scottish baking (that title clearly belongs to our national biscuit shortbread). This tart has a puff pastry shell and is filled with a custard-like filling made with butter and sugar, candied peel, sultanas and eggs. It’s similar to certain other Scottish tarts like Border Tart or the Ecclefechan Tart, but with more of a citrus, sunny demeanor (of which more later).

I was thinking for a while how I would be able to make a foodie link to Edinburgh, and it came down to this tart and the less refined Edinburgh rock. Edinburgh rock is like “normal” seaside rock, but made with cream of tartar, so that it becomes very soft and crumbly…which is rather odd, when you consider that Edinburgh is built on the very hard stone of an extinct volcano…anyway, I though that the tart looked simpler and would be a lot more sophisticated.

This tart has two links to Edinburgh. The most obvious is that it shares its name with Scotland’s royal capital. The second is via one of the Queen’s royal ancestors. The story goes that this tart was first baked in honour of Mary, Queen of Scots, upon her arrival in Scotland for the first time. Given that she was arriving from warm France to freezing Scotland in the 1500s, I suspect that she was in need of as much cheering up as she could get. The luxury of the ingredients would probably have tasted incredibly decadent to the middle ages palate. Faced with bowls of lukewarm porridge, I’m sure the Edinburgh tart would really have looked rather appealing.

My own verdict? I think this is a lovely tart, with a rich, citrus flavour, and it’s a shame it’s not more widely known. It reminded me a little of Portuguese custard tarts (the flaky pastry, I think). It makes a nice large tart, but I think it would also work well if you were making individual tarts.

To make an Edinburgh Tart:

• 75g sugar
• 75g butter
• 1 tablespoon marmalade
• 75g chopped candied peel

• 50g sultanas
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 tablespoon whisky
• pinch of salt
• 1 sheet rolled puff pastry (yes – I’m lazy!)

Preheat the oven to 230°C. Lightly butter a loose-bottomed flan dish (23cm diameter).

Put the butter and sugar into a saucepan. Heat gently until the butter melts. Add a generous tablespoon of marmalade, the candied peel and sultanas, and stir until well-combined. Allow to cool until just warm, then add a tablespoon of whisky, the eggs and salt. Stir well.

Roll out the pastry and use to line the flan dish. Prick the base with a fork. Add the filling, spread it out, and bake for around 15-20 minutes until the pastry is puffed and the filling is golden. Watch the tart while it is baking – the base might start to puff up with steam – if this happens, quickly open the door, pierce with a skewer, and the pastry should sink back down.

Once cooked, remove from the oven, allow to cool complete and serve with cream or ice cream.

Worth making? Simple, quick and very tasty! This tart is straightforward (if, like me, you just buy the pastry and don’t make it) and looks spectacular, has lots of flavour but is not too sweet.

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Diamond Jubilee: Regal Cola

You might have noticed that I’ve got yet another new header. It’s all about HM The Queen, and the regal theme is a not-very-subtle hint that the next few posts are all going to be about the Diamond Jubilee! And it’s not just me that’s going for it – shops are brimming over with Union Flag bunting, crown-themes cakes and treats and the nation is getting giddy about the prospect of four days of festivities next month.

So how to kick off this series? I thought about this for a while, and decided to start with this recipe for home-made cola. Now, I realise that “regal cola” is not perhaps one of the most obvious things to begin with, but I can assure you that there it a little method to my madness. Allow me to explain.

First of all, home-made drinks suggest summer and fun. This is all the most important as the weather has been lousy. London has been in a technical drought. I say technical because we have had below-average rainfall for around two years. However, you should never underestimate the capacity for the Great British Weather to surprise, and we’ve just emerged from three months of pouring rain and soggy feet. Today, for the first time in a while, it has been proper summer weather. The air is warm, the skies a crystal-clear blue and we’ve had lots and lots of sunshine!

Anyway, while we were in the dark, cold, days of the phoney summer, I decided to make some retro summer drinks to bring a little sunshine into our lives. Last year I made a lot of lemonade and this time I have decided to turn my hand to cola. I’m not a frequent cola drinker, as we tended not to drink soft drinks when I was younger. I’m pretty sure that as kids we used to ask for them, but they were rarely in the house and as such I’ve never really developed a taste for them. Pleasant on a warm day, but I just don’t get those folk that drink eight to ten cans per day. Having said that, when I do drink certain well-known brands of cola, I have tried – like many others have done – to  identify the flavours in there. I appreciate that this is at trade secret, and I don’t think that anyone in Atlanta will be losing much sleep, but I think that I’ve variously picked up hints of cinnamon, citrus and vanilla in there. There were obviously others, but I wasn’t really able to identify them.

So imagine my surprise when I finally stumbled upon this recipe for home-made cola. It’s essentially a combination of citrus, spices, sugar, vanilla and (for some reason) dried lavender. As I looked through the list, each of the flavours set of a little bell in my head – yes, there could be nutmeg in cola. Ginger notes, for sure. Lemon, lime, orange? All possible. Given that I had most of the ingredients lurking in the spice cabinet or my fruit bowl, I decided to cast caution to the wind and mix up a batch. I also though that it would be a fun addition to the local street party that is being held in the ‘hood for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. It’s home-made, so has that pleasing retro touch, and I think appearing with a batch of syrup I made myself will go down very well in free-thinking Stoke Newington, where many folk will be keen to cock a snook at The Real Thing. Me? I’m just very curious.

What I do love is the sheer range of things that go into this mixture. Each ingredient on its own is aromatic and something that I like, so I was intrigued how they would affect each other. Indeed, some of these flavours were very strong, and often overpower other flavours, so it was interesting to know just what they would taste like together, and whether the total would be greater than the sum of its parts.

And this all brings me to the second reason that I think makes this a fitting recipe to begin with. Yes, home-made drinks suggest summer street parties, but this particular recipe involves a lot of ingredients that recall many of the Queen’s realms. For HM The Queen is not just monarch of the UK, but also 15 other realms (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, and Saint Kitts and Nevis). I reckon that the various ingredients in this recipe cover off rather a few of her realms, so it’s actually something of a celebration of the flavours of the world. The aromas you have while making it from scratch (anise, vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, citrus) are so much more rewarding that just pulling the tab on a can.

In making this recipe, I did make a couple of tweaks. Firstly, I did not have any caramel colouring, so I used 50/50 white and light brown sugar, and used some of the white sugar to make a little caramel. It provided a reddish-brown shade to the syrup, but I think the colouring is essential if want the resulting drink to be dark brown. Otherwise, make do with a pale yellow. The taste is still there, but I guess it depends how much you like to eat (or drink) with your eyes.

I also skipped the citric acid. I’m not entirely sure what this does (but I suspect it helps preserve the syrup), so I just used lemon juice. It’s easy, it’s natural and it saves trekking round the shops looking for a novelty ingredient.

With the syrup made and cooled, it was time to take the taste test. First, I made it up using still water and served it on ice. It was a pleasant enough drink, but there was something missing. It was a sweet spiced-citrus drink, but I had a vague niggle in the back of my mind. I think it was the fact that it tasted like cola, and it seemed to have gone flat. No fizz. So to remedy that, taste test number two involved soda water. Now this was where the flavour magic happened. It was a cola. It tasted like cola. Amazing! So it was literally the fizz that gave this drink its fizz!

And finally…to give it that proper Jubilee look, I served up the first soda-based batch in souvenir ERII glasses that I picked up in a Brussels vintage shop. Look pretty good, don’t they?

All in all, I spent about an hour minutes making this syrup, but really, it was just prep work, let it simmer, strain and let the sugar dissolve, so very much a taste that you can dip in and out of. I have ended up with about a pint (500ml) of syrup, which should make for about five pints (2.5 litres) of cola…which is probably just about enough for a street part over the Jubilee weekend! And now…I’ve made up a jug and I’m sneaking to sit in the sunshine and read the day’s papers. Cheers!

To make cola syrup:

• 500ml water
• Zest of 2 oranges
• Zest of 1 lime
• Zest of 1 lemon
• 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/8 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
• 1 section star anise, crushed
• 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
• 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
• 4cm piece vanilla pod, split
• 1/4 teaspoon citric acid or 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 250g white sugar
• 200g brown sugar

Put the water and all ingredients except the sugars into a saucepan. Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, make some caramel to add a bit of colour – put three tablespoons of the white sugar in a small saucepan. Heat gently until the caramel is a deep golden colour (but does not smell acrid!). Pour onto the rest of the sugar – this will stop the caramel cooking any more, and it will also set to make it easy to handle.

Once the spice mixture is done, remove from the heat, and pour the liquid through a cheesecloth into the sugar mixture. You can give the cloth a good squeeze to get all the flavour out, but you might want to hang it from a cupboard handle to drip into the sugar and allow the spice mixture to cool.

Stir the sugar from time to time, until it has all dissolved. It might take a while for the hardened caramel to properly dissolve, but it will happen.

The syrup can be stored for 2-3 days in the fridge in a clean jar.

Worth making? This is an amazingly easy recipe, and it really is surprising how you get a genuine cola flavour from a bunch of very un-cola like ingredients.

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Mizuna Potato Salad

I was walking out the front door yesterday, and bumped into the lady who lives downstairs. She told me she had a glut of mizuna in the garden, and if I wanted some, I was welcome to it.

This is the same lady who had kindly offered me a selection of windfall pears last autumn. I had no idea what to do with those pears, but ended up with a lovely pear jelly. So I was not going to let the fact that I had no idea what mizuna was stand between me and an offer of free goodies. There is always something you can make with it, right? A few hours later, I found myself in her garden, scissors in hand, hacking away at the vegetable patch and avoiding some truly enormous insects that were hiding in there.

So…mizuna…what is it? A quick search on Google revealed it is Japanese and the name means “water greens”. It belongs to the brassica family, which was apparent from the fleshy stalks and sunny yellow flowers that topped the stalks. The flavour is hinted at by the alternative name of Japanese Mustard – it is a little like rocket, but the leaves I had were peppery with, indeed, a strong mustard taste, as well as a hearty “leafy” flavour. As you can see below, they also look rather attractive – young leaves are long, slim and elegant, and mature to large, serrated leaves with a purple tinge.

I started to look for some recipes to use up my haul, and quickly discovered that most recipes that call for mizuna seem to require the young stems, when the leaves are soft, feathery and tender. At this stage, they look like rocket leaves, and go well in salads and as a peppery garnish. However, the stems that I came to possess looked quite different. How come? Well, this is  bunch of mizuna that has enjoyed a mild British winter, then a brief burst of sunshine in March, before being soaked for about two months, and then getting a little more warmth in the last week. As such, it is less “soft, feathery and tender” and more like a triffid sitting out in the back garden, growing at an alarming rate.

So basically, I didn’t have the baby leaves, I had the grown-up plant, and this means the leaves are a little more “robust” in terms of flavour, making them better suited to cooked dishes. With this in mind, I came up with two recipes. One is the subject of today’s post, and you’ll just have to trust me on the other, and the fact that it was delicious.

This recipe is a simple German-style potato salad, with a little shredded mizuna added to the still-warm mixture and then letting it cool. While the mustard-like flavour of the mizuna leaves is strong, possibly even too strong on its own, it mellows with soft new potatoes and olive oil. I did not add any mustard to the sauce, so as you bite into the potatoes, the mizuna leaves add a little bite and piquancy. All in all, a very tasty way to use up these leaves.

Now, in case you are wondering what else I made with my robust and fiery-tasting leaves, they went into a mizuna and tofu stir-fry with a black-bean and chilli sauce. Peppery, spicy, hot and delicious!

To make mizuna potato salad:

• 750g new potatoes
• 40g (two handfuls) mizuna leaves
• 2 shallots or 1/2 small red onion
• 2 tablespoons vinegar
• 6 tablespoons oil
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoons ground pepper
• pinch of sugar

Put the potatoes into a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for around 15 minutes, until tender. Drain and leave to cool slightly.

In the meantime, peel and finely chop the shallots. Wash and shred the mizuna leaves.

Now prepare the dressing – put the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and sugar into a jam jar, and shake vigorously until you have a smooth sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Cut the still-warm potatoes into chunks and put into a salad bowl. Add the shallots, mizuna and dressing, and toss gently. Serve while still warm, or allow to cool.

Worth making? This is a simple but tasty recipe and is a great way to use up greens that might otherwise to too strong to eat in a salad.

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Sachertorte

After dinner at Kipferl and Styrian pumpkin oil, I’m continuing with my little fling with Austrian food.

I’ve had a go at making probably the jewel in the crown of Viennese cakes – the Sachertorte. This is a rich chocolate sponge cake, filled and coated with apricot jam, and covered in a smooth, dark chocolate icing. This is decadence, pure and simple.

I have enjoyed this cake several times on visits to Vienna, and on a chilly winter day, there are few things as satisfying as taking a seat in a grand café, ordering from a prim waiter, and receiving a slice of this chocolate cake with a cup of Wiener Melange coffee. It’s not light and it’s not healthy. It doesn’t pretend to be, but it’s a vital part of any visit to the Austrian capital.

So…how easy was it to make at home?

I was quite keen to have a go at this cake for a few reasons. Mainly, I’ve been working like a mad person recently, and needed a little project that would let me switch off for several hours, and focus on things like whether almonds had been properly ground, had I whipped the egg whites properly, and just how do you line a cake tin without all the paper collapsing. So on that front, it worked like a dream. And it also provided a bit of a diversion from the fact that it’s wet and cold outside, with occasional hailstorms…great British weather and all that…

I was also keen to try this cake because while I’ve tried to make Sachertorte a few times in the past, those attempts have tended to be a bit too dense and a bit too lacking in jam. I think the sponge needs to be light, there should be lots of sticky apricot jam between the cake and the icing, and there needs to be a good, thick layer of smooth, dark chocolate icing. I am sure that many Austrians have a view on exactly what a “proper”, but I am sure that it does not involve a dense cake. So it was time to sort that out once and for all.

Before delving into the baking, it’s quite interesting to learn about the history of this cake. The Sachertorte, like all pieces of classic baking, has rather an interesting story behind it. It was originally created back in the 1830s by an apprentice baker, Franz Sacher, who had been instructed by a prince to make something that would not bring shame on his employer. We can only guess what would have happened if he had disappointed his master, but the dessert did indeed prove to be a source of pride, and went on to become a favourite of Viennese café society.

However, unlike the coffee, things got bitter when the Demel bakery and the Hotel Sacher got into a bit of a spat about who could claim to make the original Sachertorte. This was all sorted out, but not before they had engaged in two decades of litigation. All over a cake. So…you can see why Austria celebrates National Sachertorte Day on 5 November. It’s a serious business, and many, many slices of this cake are consumed each year by visitors and locals alike.

The fact that people fought about this cake for 20 years tells you that the recipe is a closely-guarded secret. This means the recipe I have used is probably not authentic, but I think it comes pretty close.

I’ve used finely ground almonds in the sponge, which means that the cake is more moist than one made just with flour. I’ve also added a little very strong, cold espresso into the mixture. This might sound a little odd, but believe me, it works – it just adds a little extra something to chocolate recipes.

The batter is also supposed to rise all by itself thanks to the air incorporated into the creamed butter and sugar as well as the whipped egg whites, but I cheated. I was worried that I wouldn’t get the desired lift, so I used self-raising flour instead of plain. As there was not too much flour in there to begin with, it wasn’t a major change, more like a tweak, and I think it turned out just right.

Now, I’ve mentioned the jam, and on this point, I firmly believe that more is very much more. I cannot abide a miserable smear of jam. It just seems cheap. So get hold of the best apricot jam that you can, and use lots of it – both in a layer in the middle of the cake, as well as just under the icing. As a rule of thumb – you’ll probably want to use a whole jar of the stuff.

You might also have noticed the letters. Yes, it is traditional to write the name of this cake on top of it. I don’t know why, but it is. I’ve seen various versions over the years, usually a sweeping cursive style, but I decided to do something different. With a nervous hand, I attempted something that recalled the Wiener Werkstätte style of lettering, albeit one that probably owes more to Glasgow’s Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Willow Tearooms than Vienna’s Hotel Sacher…but I like it!

After all that, how was the cake? I’ll admit that this does not have the perfect look of a cake that you can buy, but that aside, I was frankly chuffed to bits with how this turned out. With a dollop of whipped cream on top and a cup of coffee, this did bring back a few memories of chilly days in old Vienna (the current London cold snap providing the necessary chill for the time being).

I’ll just finish off by saying two things about making a Sachertorte. First, it’s not a recipe that is particularly difficult, but it is a little bit time-consuming. This is not something that you can whip up in about 10 minutes, but it is suited to a rainy day when you’re nipping in and out of the kitchen, and you’re mind is on a few other things at the same time. Second, this is a recipe where you want to use an electric beater or a KitchenAid. There is a lot of effort needed, and you’ll otherwise end up with very sore arm muscles!

To make Sachertorte:

This looks like quite a complex recipe, but it isn’t – I’ve just set out the various steps to follow, and hopefully it’s actually quite easy!

For the cake (sponge adapted from Mary Berry’s recipe):

• 140g plain chocolate
• 140g butter
• 115g caster sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 teaspoons cold espresso
• 5 eggs, separated
• 85g ground almonds
• 55g self-raising flour

For the filling:

• 300g jar of good apricot jam

For the icing:

• 175g dark chocolate
• 15g salted butter
• 250ml water
• 75g sugar

For the “Sacher”:

• 50g milk chocolate
• double cream

To make the cake:

Grease and line a 23cm / 9in cake tin. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir from time to time until it has melted completely, then leave to cool slightly. We want it to be just warm (and not hot).

In a bowl, beat the butter until very soft. Stir in the sugar, and whisk until light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla and cold coffee. Add the melted chocolate, and mix well – the mixture should be very light and fluffy by now.

Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. By now, the mixture should be really light and fluffy. Combine the flour and ground almonds in a bowl, then fold this into the chocolate mixture. The mixture will be getting quite thick by now.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until you have stiff peaks. Add one-third of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture, and mix well – this will loosen the mixture and make it easier to add the rest of the egg whites. Now fold in the next third, then fold in the final third. By the final folding, try to be as gentle as possible to keep as much air as you can in the mixture.

Pour the mixture into the lined cake tin and use a spoon or spatula to smooth the surface. Bake for 45-50 minutes until the cake is risen and the surface springs back when you press lightly (if you press too hard, the cake acquires dimples). Otherwise you can insert a skewer – the cake is done if it comes out clean.

Remove the cake and leave to cool. Cover the top with a clean tea towel – this will capture some of the steam and keep the top of the cake moist.

To add the jam:

Take the cold cake, and cut in half (horizontally, obviously!).

Put the jam into a saucepan with two tablespoons of water. Heat until the jam is runny and just boiling. Pass through a sieve to remove any “bits”, then allow to cool for a moment.

Cover the cut side of the cake with around half the warm jam – it is easiest to pour in into the middle, then spread using a spoon. Put the other half of the cake on top, then pour the rest of the jam on top of the cake. Use a pastry brush to spread the jam all over the top and sides of the cake.  Leave until the jam has set.

To make the icing:

Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir from time to time until it has melted completely, then leave to cool slightly. We want it to be just warm (and not hot).

In a saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Heat until the mixture reaches the thread stage (107°C). If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test it manually – let a few drops fall into cold water. The syrup will form a “thread” but doesn’t allow you to roll it into a ball. Once you get to this stage, remove the pan from the head, put the base in cold water, and allow it to cool until just warm.

Mix the cooled syrup and cooled (but still molten) chocolate until you have a smooth, glossy icing. Allow it to cool until it is thick but still flows, and pour onto the cake. Smooth over the top, and spread a little of it down the sides to that the whole cake is coated.

Leave the icing to set overnight. The cake is also better if left to sit overnight, so you’ll just need to learn to resist temptation.

If you have a disaster with the icing (either the chocolate “splits” and becomes oily, or it seizes up and becomes grainy), you can save it by boiling four tablespoons double cream, and adding to the icing to form a ganache. Whisk together the warm cream and chocolate icing, and all should be well again.

To write the “Sacher”:

To finish the cake, melt the milk chocolate and add just enough cream to make a smooth icing. Allow to cool until it thickens, then use to pipe the word “Sacher” on top of the cake, using the font of your choice.

Worth making? If you’ve got a day to have a go at this cake, and the patience of a saint, then this is a great recipe that produces an amazing result. Well worth having a go at!

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Kürbiskernaufstrich (Pumpkin Oil Spead)

Now that is a tongue twister! But more than that, it is something very simple and very delicious from Austria.

We all know Vienna is famous for its cakes and pastries served in the grand cafés, but the region of Steiermark (Styria), in the south of Austria, is known for producing excellent white wines, wonderful fruit and…pumpkin oil. If you’re there during the summer months, you’ll see fields and fields of pumpkins. I got to know this stuff when I was staying with my friend Sigrid in her village near Graz, and she introduced a group of us to Kürbiskernöl (pumpkin oil). It is made form the pumpkin seeds, and has a rich, deep green colour with an intensely nutty aroma and flavour. It’s different to nut oils, having more of a velvety texture.

We were in Syria for a holiday, and spent a lot of time visiting local vineyards to try their wines, and lots of places had a little terrace that served eighth-glasses of their wines as well as a little selection of local specialties. One-eighth glasses might seem small, but they’re perfect if you want to try lots of different types of wine.

Obviously pumpkin oil featured in many of these dishes – drizzled on salads, as a dressing on vegetables, in as a sauce for a local bean dish, and in Kürbiskernaufstrich – pumpkin seed spread. Siggi assured us this was the traditional way to eat the stuff, but that they did things differently in Vienna.

This is probably one of the easiest things that I’ve posted for a while – I’ve tweaked this recipe according to what you can buy easily, but just take a little cream cheese, a spoonful of sour cream, pumpkin oil, salt and pepper to taste and little garlic. Mix together until smooth, and you get a thick spread with a fresh, bright green colour and delicious flavour. You can omit the garlic of you want to taste the “pure” oil, but I find the garlic gives it a welcome little kick. It’s great eaten simply on bread or toast, with a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds and, if you’re really keen, an extra drizzle of the oil.

Once we left the rural idyll of Styria and arrived back in Vienna, as promised, pumpkin oil was indeed to be found in all the fancy shops, and at a very handsome mark-up. We were rather happy to have about a litre of the stuff direct from the farm of one of Siggi’s neighbours. In one terribly chic café, they were suggesting vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of pumpkin oil on top. I had loved it on bread and salads, but I wasn’t too sure. I chickened out and went for a piece of Sachertorte instead, but I later told Siggi about this. Ah, that’s Vienna. They are different there.

I do love pumpkin oil, and if you see it, I urge you to buy it. It’s quite different from other oils, and very versatile. It makes a simple green salad into something delicious, adds colour and depth to dressings and dips, and can even be used in risotto. Sadly, I’ve been without any of the stuff for quite a while, so was delighted that I found a new source at Austrian café Kipferl, a mere hop, skip and a jump from where I live. I think I’ll be nipping in there a little more often now.

Finally, one thing did bother me during my trip to Siggi’s place. What happened to all those pumpkins? Is Austria also famous for pumpkin pie? I remembered seeing a pumpkin strudel and I asked Siggi. She just shrugged her shoulders. Why would we eat them? I guess you could, but we really only grow them for the pumpkin seeds. So now I know!

To make Kürbiskernaufstrich:

• 250g cream cheese
• 1 tablespoon sour cream
• 3 tablespoons pumpkin oil
• 1 handful pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted in the oven
• 1 very small clove garlic, minced
• salt and pepper, to taste

Put the cheese, sour cream, pumpkin oil and garlic into a bowl. Mix well – it will turn thick, smooth and the colour of avocado. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, either chop the pumpkin seeds and mix into the spread, or put it into a bowl and sprinkle them whole on top.

Worht making? This is a delicious spread to have with lunch, or as a dip with vegetables. Definitely worth having a go at if you can get hold of pumpkin oil.

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Cardamom Buns

I’ve recently been into making a big old batch of buns at the weekend, which then serve for breakfast and mid-afternoon snacks for several days afterwards. I’ve mostly made them with cinnamon, with a brief flirtation with vine fruits and citrus over Easter, but much as I love cinnamon, it can get a little bit same-y. So what could I use instead? Simple – cardamom!

I recently saw a recipe for buns that replaced the cinnamon with ground cardamom, which is mixed into the butter/sugar filling. The moment I saw this idea I was convinced – I love the flavour of this spice. It has a lovely citrus-like aromatic flavour that complements the yeasty dough and butter filling very nicely. So I had a bash, and just adapted my kanelbullar recipe.

However…much as I like cardamom…it’s a real pain to use. You’ve got lots of little pods, usually rock-hard, that need to be picked apart by hand, and then you need to scape out the seeds and crush them. I’ve got a nifty little marble mortar and pestle that is perfectly suited to this, and it get the spices so fine that you can sieve then through a tea strainer, and get a very fine power that is ideal for this recipe (means no bigger “gritty” pieces). However, if you’re busy or don’t fancy the home grinding process, just use pre-ground. Our little secret…shhhh!

As you can see, I’ve played around with the appearance of these buns too. Rather than baking them on muffin cases on a flat try, I used arty squares of greaseproof paper pushed into a muffin tray. It looked a little like a tray of paper tulips! Certainly adds a little something when you present a tray of them, still warm, to breakfast or bunch guests. However, I made these on my own, thus lacking an audience to experience the brilliance of my creativity.

I noticed, too, that recently I have tended to veer towards pictures of finished items only. Of course, sometimes it is either interesting or helpful (or both) to see the intermediate steps in the baking process. Also, you do end up with such interesting patterns when things are formed into spirals and cut, and I love how the patterns of the buns of the tray looks.

As is usually the case for yeast doughs, you’ll think that the buns are way too small when you cut the dough and put into the tray. However, fret not, as they will expand considerably if you leave them somewhere warm.

As you can see below, they nearly tripled in size over an hour! It did help that it was a freezing day outside, and so the heating was on inside and that meant the yeast was happily bubbling away.

To finish the buns, I followed the usual steps – brushing with a little beaten egg and sprinkling with pearl sugar. Then into the oven to bake until golden-brown.

These buns were sensational. The dough is very light, and the flavour of the cardamom does indeed make them seem fresh and slightly zesty – it’s sweet, buttery, fragrant and had a note of citrus to it. They also bake in such a way that they can be easily unpicked as you’re eating them with a coffee, so good for breakfast while reading the papers. And in their little paper jackets, I’m going to be so bold as to suggest that they’ve got a little bit of the “wow” factor too.

To make cardamom buns (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
• 325g strong white flour

First thing – whisk the egg and divide in two. You need half for the dough, and half for the glaze.

If using a bread machine: put one portion of the egg and the rest of the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, nutmeg/mace and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and one portion of the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle until the dough is about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Spread with the filling, then roll up into a sausage. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 slices.

Lay each slice, cut face up, on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp tea cloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Take the remaining egg (remember that?) and mix with a tablespoon of water. Brush the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake the buns for about 10-12 minutes until golden.

When done, remove from the oven and cover with a clean tea-towel (this will catch the steam and keep the buns soft).

For the filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons ground cardamom

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until smooth.

Worth making? These buns are amazing. It’s a very unusual flavour in terms of baked goods, at least in London, so it’s nice to have something different. They’re buttery, zesty and fragrant. They also last for a few days if stored in a sealed container, so can see you through several breakfasts, mid-morning snacks and afternoon treats.

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