Tag Archives: apricot jam

Lamingtons

In years gone by I had traditionally written about something from Scotland in honour of Burns Night which falls on 25 January. This year I thought I’d do things a little differently. As Australia Day falls on 26 January, how about something Antipodean instead?

If we’re doing Australian, it just has to be lamingtons. This is not a cake that I see very often, even in a city like London with a decent Aussie population, but I do remember seeing them on Neighbours when I was young and being introduced to the concept of the “lamington drive”. This involved making and then selling lots of these little cakes, and it was pretty much the way of raising money for a good cause. From what I knew, they were pieces of sponge, dipped in chocolate icing and coated in coconut.

They were apparently named either for Lord Lamington, who served as Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901, or after his wife, the surprisingly named Lady Lamington. You can understand why they used his title when looking for a cake name, as his full name (Charles Wallace Alexander Napier Cochrane-Baillie) didn’t really trip of the tongue.


So I set about making a batch of lamingtons. First question: is there some single authentic recipe for making them? It would seem not. There are various different recipes for the sponge (such as genoise, Victoria or pound cake) and chocolate glaze ideas range from a smooth proper ganache to something sweeter and more obviously icing-like. I ignored suggestions to use pink icing on the basis I never saw the Robinson household or anyone else in Ramsay Street making them that way.

I settled on genoise, but then had to decide if I would try to make a deep cake and cut it into pieces, or would I try to include some jam element? Again, I don’t remember seeing jam on Neighbours but I think the right tangy, fruity jam is a good complement to sweet chocolate icing. I decided to make one large thin sheet of cake, which I would cut in two and sandwich the pieces together with apricot jam. That decision was based on what I had in the cupboard, but I think anything that has some sharpness to it would work well, such as raspberry or blackcurrant jam. Something more muted like strawberry would just add more sweetness but no contrast, but if that’s what you like, then go for it.


Many of the recipes that I did see suggested not using cake which was very fresh – you want the cake to be ever so slightly stale (whatever that means) and apparently this was best done but wrapping the cake in cling film and letting it sit in the fridge overnight. I’m not sure whether this really made a difference, or just ensured that the cake really was properly cooled, but it did cut neatly and cleanly into pieces. Given you will be glazing these guys and rolling them in coconut, neat slicing is not really that important as icing can cover a multitude of sins, but I was happy that the pieces didn’t just start falling apart. I took this as a good sign for when I was going to ice them.


For the glaze, I quickly discounted the idea of a ganache. While I have not been to Australia (yet), it is fair to assume it is a warm place for most of the time, and so it would be rather daft to make a cake with an icing that would melt easily in warm weather. So the icing I came up with is made from a warm mixture of milk, butter, dark chocolate and cocoa powder to which you add the icing sugar, then keep the lot warm over a pan of hot water. This keeps the icing smooth and makes it easier to coat the cakes, but then it will set fairly quickly after you’ve rolled the cakes in coconut. While most recipes use just cocoa powder, I also added some dark chocolate to the icing which seemed to help get a good colour and flavour.

The actual glazing process was quite fun – not something I would want to attempt in a hurry, and the first couple of lamingtons took a bit of time to get right. I found it easiest to gently drop one into the icing, then used a spoon to pour glaze over the cake. Once it is coated, you just slip a fork underneath, then allow the extra icing to drizzle off the cake. Then comes the fun part – you need to quickly transfer the cake onto the desiccated coconut, which you have on a large plate right next to you. Then you have to use your hands to form a coconut mountain around the cake, and press it a bit so the coconut sticks to the glaze. Then you need to flip the lamington over, so that all sizes are covered, and then move it to a wire rack. And all the while, the glaze is a bit soft, so you will probably have to fix the shape a bit with your fingers so it looks presentable. After you have done a few of them, you’ll defiantely develop a “lamington technique”.


And speaking of coconut…I was not sure if I should use plain or sweetened coconut for this recipe, so I bought both types. As this is a traditional recipe, I thought it might be made with the sweeter stuff, but to be sure, I tested them both before using them, and this taste test told me that the sweetened coconut was not right. Yes, it was softer and seemed more tender, but it had a rather peculiar aftertaste that I did not like at all – and then I checked the ingredients, it turned out it was just 65% coconut. All that apparent “tenderness” was coming from propylene glycol. I’m not a Luddite, and looked into what this was – it’s safe for food (which I would hope, since it was in that coconut!) but the impact on the flavour meant it was going nowhere near my lamingtons, but straight in the bin. Back to good old-fashioned unsweetened desiccated coconut we went! If you want to try something a bit different, you could toast the coconut, but that’s as far as I would go. You could use chopped nuts if you’re not a coconut fan, but then I think you’re veering away from what a true lamington is.

Finally, I should say that my recipe basically recommends you have a whole packet of coconut on a plate for dipping, but you won’t use all of it. I just think that you’ll struggle to get a good finish if you try to use less, so don’t be puzzled if you have lots left over after your icing escapades.

And how were they? I was all prepared for them to be a bit naff, but I must confess I really liked them. The cake, the set-but-soft icing, the coconut and the jam come together into a really lovely cake. They also looked great piled up high on a plate, so I will definitely be making these again. And not just for 26 January!

To make Lamingtons (makes 16)

For the sponge:

• 2 large eggs
• 100g white caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 100g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 60g butter, melted and cooled
• 130g tangy jam (apricot, raspberry, blackcurrant…)

For the icing

• 120ml whole milk
• 30g unsalted butter
• 50g dark chocolate

• 50g cocoa powder
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• generous pinch of salt
• 450g icing sugar
• extra milk, to thin the icing

To finish

• 250g desiccated coconut

1. Start wit the sponge. Preheat the oven to 180˚C (350˚F). Line a 20 x 30cm tray with greaseproof paper.

2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat. Put to one side to cool. In a bowl, combine the flour and baking powder and mix well. Set aside.

3. Put the eggs, sugar and vanilla into a large bowl. Beat with an electric whisk until pale, thick and fluffy (around 3-4 minutes). Gently fold in the flour mixture using a spatula. Finally add the melted butter and gently fold it into the mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and gently level off the mixture as best you can.

4. Bake the cake for 15-20 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cover with a tea towel. Allow to cool completely, then cover with film and refrigerate overnight.

5. The next day, time to prepare the sponge. Cut the cooled cake sheet in half. Spread one piece with jam, then place the other piece on tip. Leave to rest for an hour so that the jam holds the two layers together.

6. Cut the cake into pieces – trim the edges with a sharp knife to get good, clean edges. Now cut into 4 equal strips, and cut each strip into 4 pieces. They should end up roughly cube shaped.

7. Make the icing. Put the milk, butter, chocolate, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt into a medium saucepan, and heat gently until the butter and chocolate have melted. It will become very thick. Add the icing sugar, and beat vigorously until smooth.

8. Transfer the icing to a bowl, and balance it above a pan of warm water (this will keep the icing warm, and it should set more quickly when coating the lamingtons). Now check the icing consistency – you will need to add more milk to get it to a smooth but thick icing which pours easily – you don’t need much though, I only added a further 3 teaspoons of milk.

9. Tip the coconut onto a large plate.

10. Time to decorate. Drop a piece of the sponge into the icing, then use a spoon to coat it with the glaze. When done, put a fork underneath, lift it up and allow excess icing to drop off. Wipe the base of the cake on the edge of the bowl, then transfer it into the coconut. Coat it in the coconut, then transfer to a wire rack and leave to set (allow 30 minutes).

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Pear and Almond Tart

Today is something of a fond farewell to autumn, for I’m off on holiday today, and when I get back, we should be in the early days of winter. Or put another way, I’ll be spending a couple of weeks in South Africa enjoying late spring in a particularly attractive part of the world. All in all, I’m pretty thrilled about that! Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, wine, beaches…what a perfect November!

Anyway, before that, a little autumnal treat from this side of the globe. I mentioned a few days ago that I’ve been really into pears this year. I’ve made pear jam, I’ve made pear crumble, I’ve made pear liqueur (again) and I used pears in a four-tiered birthday cake. I’ve made pear paste for cheese, and thrown them in salads with blue cheese and walnuts. All in all, a complete pear affair, but I think this little tart has really topped it all. It is one of those classic combinations of sweet, fragrant almond frangipane with pears, the lot glazed in apricot jam and looking oh-so-tempting as an after dinner treat. And the great thing is that it looks fancy but – shhhhhhhh – it’s really rather easy!

pearalmondtart

This tart looks fairly complex, but it actually a complete doddle to make. You really only need some decent sweet shortcrust pastry (use my recipe, use your own, or even just cheat and buy it – I get that some people have lives and need to do other things alongside impressing friends). The filling is just a case of mixing everything until smooth, and the only “tricky bit” is arranging the pear slices on top.

Now, in fairness, arranging those pear slices was a little trickier than I first thought. The trick is to cut the pear with a very sharp knife to get good, clean slices, then push everything so that it slides out into that fan shape. Then slide the knife under the pear fan, and carefully transfer onto the tart. It took me a couple of attempts to get it right, but nothing that you would not get the hang of very easily.

I have made a couple of little tweaks which depart slightly from the “classic” pear and almond tart, but I think that they really work. First, I spread a thin layer of pear and vanilla jam on the base. Thin, not great big spoonfuls of the stuff. It helps to add a little extra fruitness and sweetness at the bottom of the tart. I also mixed the jam with a couple of spoons of quince liqueur to add a little extra aromatic touch. If you’ve never tried it, I cannot tell you how good it is. Incredibly easy to make at home, and after a few weeks or months of resting, the result is a clear, golden liqueur that has a delicious apple-and-honey flavour. Second, I happened to have a bit of that pear liqueur left, so I added it to the apricot jam I used to glaze the tart, adding just an extra hint of fresh pear and spice to finish it off. A perfect little slice of autumn!

To make Pear and Almond Tart:

For the pastry

• 180g plain flour
• 65g unsalted butter, cold
• 65g icing sugar
• 2 egg yolks
• cold water

For the almond frangipane

• 100g ground almonds
• 50g caster sugar
• 70g unsalted butter
• 1 egg
• 1 egg white
• almond extract

For the pears

• almond frangipane (above)
• 2 tablespoons pear or apricot jam
• 3-4 ripe pears (depending on size)
• lemon juice

For the glaze

• 4 tablespoons apricot jam, sieved
• 1 tablespoon pear liqueur or brandy

1. Make the pastry – mix the flour and icing sugar, then work in the cold butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and cold water (a tablespoon at a time) until the mixture comes together. Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes. Roll out and use to line a 20 cm (8 inch) loose-bottomed flan dish. Place in the fridge while you make the filling.

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F) and put a flat metal tray in the oven. This will help ensure the base cooks properly later on.

3. Make the filling – beat the butter until creamy, then add the sugar, almonds, egg and egg white, plus a few drops of almond extract. Watch out – the almond flavour stuff can be strong, so err on the side of caution!

4. Remove the tart shell from the fridge. Spread with the jam, then add the filling and smooth.

5. Prepare the pears – peel, core and cut in half. Rub each with a little lemon juice to prevent browning. Place each pear on a board, cut side down, and slice. Push from the thin end so that the pieces fan out. Slide a knife underneath, then transfer to the tart. Brush each with a little lemon juice so that the cut sides of pear do not discolour. Repeat until you have a giant pear star on your tart.

6. Bake the tart for 50-60 minutes until the filling has a good colour. It if looks like it is browning too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil and turn the temperature down a little.

7. Once the tart is cooked, remove from the oven and make the glaze by mixing the apricot jam with the brandy/pear liqueur. Brush over the warm tart and leave to cool.

Worth making? This looks fancy, but is actually fairly easy to make, and tastes great. I made it for a party, and it was the first tart to go completely, with people coming back for seconds, so I dare say that this is a pretty good recipe!

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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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