Tag Archives: cake

Royal Baby: Petits Fours

Hurrah, after all that waiting, the royal baby has arrived! Even if you were not following the event closely, the atmosphere in London was exciting – one of the hottest days of the year, giving way to excitement in the warm evening as the news emerged. The media went into meltdown, getting more and more excited as we got to see the first pictures, then the news and the newborn was to be called HRH Prince George.

Never one to shy away from a bit of baking in honour of a national event, I’ve made a batch of little cakes with a suitably regal theme. Little blue petits fours flavoured with almond and topped with silver.

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Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that I made these little cakes just ahead of the birth, and hedged my bets by decorating some of them blue and others pink. I had planned to post the right colour on the day, but in the end I think they all look rather sweet so you get to benefit from the blue and silver look, as well as pink and gold.

For some reason, I had it most firmly in my mind that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would be having a girl. I even took a £5 hit on our office sweepstake where I went for the name Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Frances…maybe next time!

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Petits fours are one of those things that can seem like a lot of work, and I agree they are hardly the sort of thing that you can whip up in less than an hour. However, I think there is something quite satisfying about tackling something a little more complex when you have a few hours to spare. All the more so when you are in the middle of a heatwave – after each stage, you can pop out into the garden to bask in a little sunshine, which allows you to make sure you do not get too much exposure to the sun in one go.

If you’re keen to try making these, you’ve got two choices. I used a recipe from Martha Stewart to make thin layers of almond sponge, then sandwiched them together to make the cakes. However, there is a simpler way – get any sort of dense cake (like pound cake), then trim off the darker crusts and cut into cubes (or go crazy – use round or heart-shaped cutters to get creative). In all honesty, this latter option is a lot easier and ideal if you want to try making these little cakes with children. They tend to want to minimise the time between cake-making and cake-eating. You could still go for a fancy effect by using a marble cake as your foundation.

When it comes to the filling, this is entirely up to you. Jam would be traditional, with raspberry providing a slightly tart contrast to the sweet icing. Otherwise, try a firmer fruit jelly made with pectin if you want thicker layers of summery sweetness. However, I happened to have a pot of almond jam from Mallorca lurking at the back of the cupboard, and it was just perfect here (and fittingly – I bought it the week before the Royal Wedding in 2011). The flavour was nutty rather than sweet, with a dash of cinnamon and citrus to round out the flavour. To keep the almond theme going, I added a little marzipan square on top of each cake.

When it comes to icing, again Martha came to the rescue. I’ve tried simple water icings in the past, but they tend to be too thin, take too long to set and don’t give a great finish. The perfect – and traditional – option is to make sugar fondant, then melt it using sugar syrup. However, this is a bit of a faff, and I tend not to have an amazing hit rate when it comes to working with sugar syrup and getting things to set. The third way seemed like something I would work with – fill a large bowl with icing sugar, add liquid glucose (the nearest thing we have in the UK to corn syrup), water and any colouring, then warm in a bain marie until smooth. This went on like a dream and set fairly quickly.

So there you have it – pretty little petits fours which I might dare to suggest are fit for a prince. I would just make sure he has access to enough outdoor space to run around after all that icing!

For the cake recipe, see Martha’s recipe here. This was a great simple almond sponge so recommended whenever you need a thin layer sponge.

If you fancy making a pound cake, my butter-rich version is here.

Martha’s icing recipe is here, and there is a great video showing the technique here. It’s worth checking it out before having a go yourself! When I was making this, I found I needed to add a little water from time to time to keep the icing at the right texture. If it gets too thin, just pop back over the bain marie to warm and it should sort it out.

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Independence Day Cake

It’s the Fourth of July, so here is a little cake in honour of US Independence Day! It’s my take on a recipe for the late 1700s – based on a bundt cake, and finished with gold in honour of the big day.

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There is a little bit of a story behind this recipe. I found the original in one of my cookbooks, which features cake recipes from around the world. Among them all was a gem of a recipe of Herculean proportions and with little by way of directions. The limited information was all down to the fact this recipe originated in the late 1700s. Rather than just updating it, the author cleverly presented in all its glory, with original directions as follows:

Independence Day Cake by Amelia Simmons (1796)

The Cake:

• 20 pounds flour
• 15 pounds sugar
• 10 pounds butter
• 48 eggs
• 1 quart wine
• 1 quart brandy
• 1 ounce nutmeg
• 1 ounce cinnamon
• 1 ounce cloves
• 1 ounce mace
• 2 pounds citron peel
• 5 pounds currants
• 5 pounds raisins
• 1 quart yeast

Topping

• crushed loaf sugar
• box cuttings
• gold leaf

Sadly, the temperature of the baking oven was not given, but I would imagine it would need to be cooked slowly. If you do try and succeed do let me know.

And you know what? It was that last sentence that got me. This was not a “tested” recipe of the sort we’re all used to…but…what if I were to take that recipe…convert into measurements that are not so voluminous, and try to make this into a cake? With that, a challenge was set.

Before I could convert this lot, I was faced with a few decisions that were going to test my culinary knowledge. First off, I had to get the types of ingredients right. The butter was pretty easy (it’s a safe bet that the butter we have today is not unlike the butter available back in the 1700s), but the sugar was less clear. Should it be white or brown? While I like to use muscovado sugar in baking, this was supposed to be a celebratory bake, so I opted for sparkling white caster sugar. Next, the flour. In cakes, it should be plain flour. However, when making yeasted doughs, I use strong white flour that gives a light, springy texture. I didn’t know which to go with, so given this was more cake than bread, it would be plain cake flour. Luckily the spices, citrus peel and dried fruit did not require much thinking, otherwise I would have been in the kitchen all day fretting!

The method also presented something of a challenge. I started by weighing everything out into bowls, and then I was own my own – pure guesswork territory. I creamed the butter and sugar, added the eggs, then the flour and the yeast mixture. After that, the fruit was worked into the batter, and I left the cake to rise for a few hours.

Sadly…the cake had other ideas, and decided that it didn’t really want to puff up as I had hoped. Instead, it remained dense. All in all, a bit of a failure.

I was deflated but not defeated. A few days later, I had another go at the cake, but this time embraced the fact that the world of baking has moved on since the 1700s, and we now benefit from a magic substance called baking powder. I could skip the whole yeast thing, and instead rely on the white stuff to do the job. And this time, the cake worked like a dream. The crumb is tender and moist, and the cake has a rich, velvety texture that works very well with the spices, citrus peel and dried fruits.

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Now, we also need to keep in mind that this is a cake to celebrate Independence Day. The original recipe suggests loaf sugar, box cuttings and gold leaf. I’ll freely admit that I have no clue was is meant by box cuttings (leaves from the box hedge plant?), and I didn’t have loaf sugar to hand. So again, I improvised – a simple glaze, drizzled in loops on top of the cake, and then finished, as was intended, with some flakes of gold leaf. Very celebratory!

So what do you think? Suitably impressive for the Fourth of July? I’d like to think so, and I hope that Miss Amelia Simmonds would too.

To make an Independence Day Cake (modern version!):

• 4 tablespoons rum
• 60g citrus peel, chopped
• 90g currants
• 90g sultanas
• 190g butter
• 280g sugar
• 2 eggs
• 350g self-raising flour

• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon mace
• 150ml milk

For the glaze

• 85g icing sugar
• 4-5 teaspoons double cream
• gold leaf

1. Put the rum, raisins, sultanas and citrus peel into a bowl. Mix, cover and leave to sit overnight (or if you’re in a hurry, heat quickly in the microwave and leave to sit on the kitchen top for an hour).

2. Prepare a cake pan. If using a bundt pan, brush with melted butter, then dust with plain flour. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

3. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the spices and mix well.

4. Combine the flour and the baking powder. Add half of the flour mixture and half of the milk to the batter, and mix until smooth. Repeat with the rest of the flour and the milk. You should have a smooth batter that drops slowly from the back of a spoon.

5. Finally, fold in the currants, sultanas and citrus peel.

6. Spoon the mixture into the cake pan and bake for around 45-60 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Once baked, remove from the oven, allow to cool slightly, then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

7. To finish the cake, make the glaze by combining the icing sugar and cream. Mix until smooth – it should be soft, but not runny. Drizzle on top of the cake, then add flakes of gold leaf to finish the cake.

Worth making? In spite of all this history and the fact I’ve had to convert this cake into modern quantities, this is a great cake – spicy and fruity, but not heavy. This would make a great and lighter alternative to traditional fruit cakes.

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Queen Victoria

Oh we Brits love a bit of royal history. Henry VIII and his six wives, the rivalry between the stoical English Elizabeth I and her rather more flirty Scottish cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, the scandalous relationship between King Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson (where rumour has it that her unsuitability was as much about being an American divorcée as being an American divorcée), the Madness of King George III, the tragedies of Princess Charlotte (the queen who never was) and Margaret, Maid of Norway (Queen of Scots for only four years and who died young before she could set foot in her kingdom), the Union of the Crowns, the English Civil War, the restoration of Charles II…it goes on! Even today, stick a picture of certain royals on the front of a magazine and you’re pretty much guaranteed an uptick in sales. And in about five weeks, I’m pretty confident that this country’s media will be going into overdrive…I’m sure you can guess why!

What is also clear is that the world of British food also has many links to royal history, with a range of dishes associated with various monarchs. It is probably a bit of a stretch to suggest that any of these were actually made by any of them, but such recipes would tend to be made either to commemorate a special occasion (such as the famous checked Battenberg cake created for a royal wedding) or, as is the case with the subject of today’s post, the Victoria Sponge, were a favourite of a king of queen. Here it is in all its jammy glory!

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This cake is part of a classic afternoon tea – it’s a fairly simple sponge cake, flavoured with vanilla if you like, then filled with jam and finished with a dusting of caster sugar. You could dust with icing sugar, but the caster sugar adds some sparkle and a little crunch on top.

Where there is some debate is what exactly the filling should be. I like raspberry jam and nothing else. However, it’s not uncommon to see whipped cream or even buttercream in the middle of this cake. I think that makes it all a bit too rich, but to each his own. If you were to add the cream, then I would just caution you and suggest it should be added at the last minute, so that the cream does not make the cake go soggy (or cheat – coat the top of the base and the bottom of the top cake with jam, which should stop the cream getting to the cake).

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There is also a bit of mythology about this cake. It was said to get its name as it was a favourite of Queen Victoria. It is also rumoured that the Victoria Sponge, while straightforward to make, is fickle to bake, and thus making it the perfect cake with which to test in new ovens. There must be an appliance manufacturer out there making a lot of cakes…

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The method I’ve used here is essentially the all-in-one technique. You can do it the hard way (cream butter, beat in the sugar, mix in the eggs, fold in the flour…), but I’ve tried both approaches, and the all-in-one produces great results with minimal fuss. The secret to getting this cake as light as possible is to use self-raising flour, and then to boost it with some baking powder. I’m willing to guarantee that if you follow the recipe, perfect results can be yours!

If you’re not sold on the idea of keeping things simple, you can try different types of jam, or even use lemon or orange curd. Citrus zest or a handful or currants can be added to the batter too, but as for the topping – go with the simple sprinkling of sugar. Do that, and I’m sure Queen Victoria would approve.

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To make a Victoria sandwich:

• 225g white caster sugar
• 225g unsalted butter, softened
• 4 large eggs
• 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 225g self-raising flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• raspberry jam (around half a jar)
• caster sugar, to finish

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Butter two 20cm (8 inch) sandwich tins, coat with flour and line the base with greaseproof paper.

2. Cream the butter in a mixing bowl until soft and fluffy. Add the caster sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour and baking powder, and mix well until just combined (don’t over-beat). Divide the mixture between the two sandwich tins. Smooth the tops with a fork.

3. Bake the cakes for 25 minutes until risen and golden, and an inserted skewer comes out clear. Allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then remove form the tins, place on a wire tray and allow to cool completely.

4. To assemble the cake, remove the greaseproof paper from the bottom cake. Trim any peak if necessary, then spread generously with jam. Remove the paper from the bottom of the second cake, and place on top. Sprinkle lightly with caster sugar. Voila!

Worth making? This is a simple, but always-popular cake, which is easy to make. Highly recommended with a cuppa!

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Queen Elizabeth Cake

Today is sixty years since the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Last year we had the festivities of the Diamond Jubilee, marking sixty years since her accession, but today marks the anniversary of the great celebration in Westminster Abbey which provided such memorable images to the world. And in comparison to the rather wet day we had last year, today London is basking in sunshine.

I was looking for a recipe in honour of this day, and I was rather surprised that there were not more cakes and bakes that were associated with great event. Perhaps everything else has been overshadowed by the famous Coronation Chicken? Undeterred, I kept searching and finally came across the curiously-named Queen Elizabeth Cake. This is a tray cake made with dates and nuts, finished off with a caramel glaze and topped with coconut. So far, so good.

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This is a cake with quite an interesting story. The tale goes that Her Majesty used to enjoy dabbling in home baking from time to time, and would make this recipe herself, in the Buckingham Palace kitchens, to be sold for charitable purposes. In fact, this was the only cake she would make. With this sort of regal endorsement, I just had to try this recipe. Incidentally, I’m sure the Queen would appreciate the Great British Bake-Off – but what would she make of this cake featuring as part of the technical challenge?

The technique was new to me – the cake has a lot of dates in it, but rather than just throwing them in and hoping for the best, they are soaked briefly in hot water with bicarbonate of soda. This soda, in addition to helping the cake to rise, gives the batter greater saltiness which combines with the sweet dates to enhance their flavour. The overall result is light, airy and delicious. With the caramel glaze, it probably makes you think of sticky toffee pudding.

When it came to assembling the cake, and with the utmost respect to Her Majesty, I departed from the original recipe. My cake did rise in the oven, but it was about 2 1/2 cm in depth. I wanted it higher, so I cut the cake into two slabs, and used half of the glaze as a filling, and so ended up with two layers. If you’ve got lots of people coming to tea, just go with one layer, but I think the double-layer approach looks quite nice. When it comes to the coconut, I would go for the white stuff rather than the golden toasted coconut. Nothing to do with flavour, but the white coconut looks great against the caramel.

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Now, time for a reality check. Is this cake really a secret from Buckingham Palace? Well, we do know that the Queen is very practical and hands-on when she is at her summer home, Balmoral Castle in Scotland, and from her days in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. I have no doubt she would be more than capable when it comes of baking. This also seems like a very traditional cake to me – the dates and walnuts give it an old-fashioned flavour, and I felt the air of post-war austerity over the ingredients, jazzed up with exotic coconut, all of which lends an air of plausibility to the story of this recipe coming from a newly-crowned Queen in the 1950s.

However, a few things make me cautious. This recipe does seem very close to the very British dessert of sticky toffee pudding, so perhaps it’s just that with a better story? Also, lots of the versions of this recipe featured online from yellowing scraps of paper found in attics from American sources, with references to terms like “frosting” and “pecans”. We don’t frost cakes in Britain, we ice them (and if you’ve had the pleasure of a British wedding cake, you might think we plaster them). Pecan nuts are traditionally less common than good old-fashioned walnuts over here. So on balance, if I were asked to come down in favour of a “yay” or “nay”, I would need to plump for “nay”, but even so, there is a nice story behind this cake, and if Her Majesty were to be coming round for afternoon tea, I don’t think she would refuse a slice. Congratulations Ma’am!

To make Queen Elizabeth Cake (makes 12 pieces):

For the cake:

• 175g soft dates, finely chopped
• 240ml boiling water
• 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• 200g soft brown sugar
• 120g butter
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 egg
• 140g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 60g walnuts, chopped

For the glaze:

• 75g soft brown sugar
• 75g double cream
• 25g butter
• pinch of salt
• 30g desiccated coconut

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (300°F). Line a 23 x 31cm (9 x 12 inch) rectangular baking tray with greaseproof paper.

2. In a heatproof bowl, mix the dates, bicarbonate of soda and boiling water and set aside.

3. In another bowl, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix well, then fold in the flour and baking powder until just combined.

4. Add the nuts and the date mixture (the dates should have absorbed a lot of the water, but the mixture will still be very wet – it should be lukewarm, not hot). Stir with a light hand until smooth.

5. Pour the batter into the tray and bake for around 25-30 minutes until the top is a rich brown colour and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool.

6. While the cake is baking, make the glaze – put the sugar, cream, butter and salt into a saucepan, and keep stirring until the mixture comes to the boil. Remove from the heat and put aside until cold.

7. To finish the cake, cut in two equal slabs. Spread half the glaze onto one piece, then place the other on top of it. Spread the remaining glaze on the cake and sprinkle with the coconut. Trim the edges for a neat finish and cut into pieces.

Worth making? An easy recipe, but gives a rich, moist cake which cuts easily. Perfect for coffee mornings or afternoon tea. Recommended, and with royal approval!

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De Zeeuwse Knop

What, you may be wondering, is a Zeeuwse Knop?

The names translates as the “Zeeland button” and is a traditional piece of jewellery from Zeeland, the most south-westerly provide of the Netherlands. The button could be worth either as a collar tie for men, or in the hair of women. The shape is also very distinctive – a central ball, with fine metalwork and a ring of smaller balls around it, but with myriad variations on the basic design reflecting different regions. While it isn’t seen very much today, it does appear in more modern guises, either as cuff-links and jewellery, or in more unexpected places like the tops of bottle stoppers or baking trays. Yes, baking trays, of which more later.

I’m telling you all this because I was recently in Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland. The city is wonderfully preserved, with much of the ancient centre still intact. It has the typical ornate buildings on the main squares, but one feature that I found particularly charming was that most of the old houses had the name of the occupant painted on the front, as well as some sort of symbol to identify the house. Perhaps this was for a time when people didn’t know how to read and write, but they would be able to offer directions based on the “golden sheep” or “red rose” or my particular favourite, the “pomegranate”.

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During my visit, I popped into a shop called De Keukenkroon (meaning “The Kitchen Crown”). They had a vast array of culinary delights, from pots and pans to cutlery, tea-towels and crockery, but one thing really caught my eye. Yes, it was the knop reinterpreted for the modern age in the form of a cake tin. I was determined to come away from the city with something local and rather special, and this was going to be it.

I’m generally not a big fan of moulded tins, mainly due to a fear that the cake will stick and I’ll never get the thing out in one piece. However, the lady in the shop assured me that rubbing the tin with lots of butter before baking should do the trick. I asked what sort of cake the pan was good for, and she gave a very direct (typically Dutch!) reply: oh, make a boerenkoek – just mix 200g of butter, sugar and flour, and 4 eggs. Flavour according to taste. So there we had it – a tin and a set of instructions. I was on my way with everything I could need to make my very own edible Zeeuwse Knop.

A few days later and back in London, I stood in the kitchen, just me and the pan. We were going to make this work. I had the pan, I had the recipe, I had….well, I realised I had no clue how to approach the cake, no method, no baking time. However, that recipe rang a vague bell – the idea of equal weights of things made me think of pound cake, so I used that method. I got busy creaming the butter and sugar, added the eggs, then some self-raising flour. For flavour, I used vanilla and some fresh lemon zest – I wanted this to be something quite simple.

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However, before all that beating, I had done as the lady in the shop instructed. I got the pan ready by popping it into a warm oven for a moment, then removed it and started to rub generously with butter. After a light sprinkling of flour to coat the butter, and a shake and a bang of the tin to remove the extra flour, we were ready to go.

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The batter went into the tin, and I smoothed the top, being careful not to disturb the lovingly-applied butter coating that was going to ensure this cake come easily out of the pan. We were taking no chances here!

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With the batter done, I popped the cake into the oven and waited patiently. Once it was baked, I let the cake stand for fifteen minutes to cool, and then came the moment of truth – when I turned it out, would it look perfect or would it split in half, with part of the cake clinging to the inside of the pan? Nervously, I lifted the pan…and…out it slipped, intact! Perfectly intact! I’ve had mixed  experiences with “non-stick” pans in the past, but this was an absolute dream. The surface was a golden colour and the details of the pan were clearly visible.

To serve the cake, I dusted it very lightly with icing sugar – and there you have it, a boerenkoek (farmer’s cake) in the shape of a Zeeuwse Knop!

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If you’re keen to buy this tin for yourself, you can contact De Keukenkroon here.

To make boerenkoek:

• 200g butter
• 200g caster sugar
• 4 eggs
• 200g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• zest of 1/2 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Prepare a tin (either butter and flour a shaped mould, or line the base of a 20cm diameter (8 inch) round tin with greaseproof paper and butter the sides generously).

2. Cream the butter until soft, then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Fold in the vanilla and lemon zest. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour, and mix until just combined.

3. Transfer the batter to the prepared tin. Bake for around 45 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. If the top is darkening too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil.

4. Remove the cake from the oven, and leave to stand for 15 minutes, before turning out onto a plate. Serve as is, or dust lightly with icing sugar.

Worth making? This is a nice easy recipe that yields a simple but delicious cake. If you want to make it into something fancy, you can split it and fill with jam, cream, buttercream or lemon curd.

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Sally Lunn Buns

You may well be sitting there wondering who, exactly, is this Sally Lunn lady?

Well, before we get to the “who” part, we’ll deal with the “what” part, by which I mean her buns. What is undeniable is that these buns are made from an enriched yeast dough, similar to brioche, and are an utterly delicious teatime treat with a strong association with the fine city of Bath in Somerset. In addition to these buns, Bath is famous for its remarkable Georgian architecture hewn from honey-coloured Bath limestone and its Roman thermal spas which give the city its name (as well as a more modern spa drawing on the same warm thermals, complete with a warm rooftop spa pool).

It was that thermal source that was a major draw for the British aristocracy during the Regency period, where society ladies and gentlemen would descend upon the city to take the waters. I’ve been to the modern spa, and it’s great fun to bob around in the pool, especially when you can see the spires of the old town while floating in the open-air naturally heated pool. I’ve also tried the waters, and they were, frankly, disgusting – clean, but with a lot of minerals. I can imagine Regency ladies in their fancy costumes drinking this stuff and expressing how well they now felt, all the while dreaming of something that tasted, well, nicer….such as a slice of hot, toasted and buttered slice of Sally Lunn bun!

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In the truest traditions of British baking, the real story is shrouded in some mystery, with various tales claiming to be the real deal. The first story claims the buns were created by a French Huguenot lady in the late 1600s called Solange Luyon (hence Sally Lunn), who whipped them up based on her knowledge of French brioche. The next is that the name is a corruption of “soleil et lune” (sun and moon) due to the shape of the buns. The third suggestion is that this is just rhyming slang, with Sally Lunn being a term for buns. Of the three, I like the first story most. It’s rather charming to think of Mademoiselle Solange arriving off the boat, making her way to Bath, the locals being unable to pronounce her name, re-naming her Sally and taking her to their hearts on the basis of her tasty buns. Whatever the story, these are now a firm part of the British baking landscape.

However, Sally Lunn buns are not one of those traditional recipes that comes from a particular place but which has since gone generic. Oh no, for when I visited Bath a couple of years ago, although I knew the name, I had never tried Sally Lunn buns, so we went to the original Sally Lunn shop where they bake them to a recipe that they claim to trace back to Mademoiselle Solange herself.

Well, I had something different in mind when I came to try them! It turns out I was expecting something known as the “Bath Bun” which is a completely different sort of bake. The Bath Bun is sweet, with the original versions using sugar and caraway and more modern versions featuring currants and pearl sugar on top, whereas the Sally Lunn bun is a rich bread to take with tea. Very confusing for visitors! Just in case I have whetted your appetite for British baked goods, we’ll be tacking Bath Buns another day. However, back to my experience, and I was rather taken aback when I was presented with a large (size of a head) bun, split and toasted, with various topping options. And by “options” I mean lots of butter and jam. On a cold, crisp winter day, there are few things as wonderful as a rich toasted snack with a cup of Earl Grey tea. The outsize sliced and toasted bun only adds to their charm.

The recipe I have used below is an older one that I found, and reasoned that it was a fair bet that it should work, but I must add that this isn’t the original (the one from the Sally Lunn Teashop is known to only six people, and I’m not one of them). I’ve converted the recipe to more modern measures which are the ones I used when baking it, so rest assured – the recipe has been properly tested!

Now, I’ve also seen various references to these buns as a Regency treat and a Jane Austen favourite. However, I’ve also read that Miss Austen was not entirely partial to Sally Lunns, believing them to be rich and heavy, and that they were bad for her digestion. Whatever Miss Austen used to fuel her narratives across those two inches of ivory, it must have been something other than these buns (too bad Mademoiselle Solange!).

The versions I’ve had in Bath were large – I recall around 20cm in diameter – but I’ve also tried making some into smaller buns and they work an absolute treat. While the larger buns are undeniably impressive, the smaller versions might be more practical if you’re looking to serve these to a group of people for breakfast. If it’s just you, then feel free to make the large one and devour alone!

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To make Sally Lunn (or Solange Luyon) buns:

Makes two large buns or 12 small buns:

• 450g strong white flour
• 280ml whole milk, scalded
• 60g butter
• 40g caster sugar
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 teaspoon instant yeast
• 1 teaspoon salt

1. Put the milk in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Add the butter, and leave until lukewarm.

2. Add the lukewarm milk mixture to the beaten eggs and mix well.

3. If using a bread machine: throw everything into the machine and run the dough cycle. If working by hand: pour everything into a large bowl, and mix to a dough. Knead for around 10 minutes until elastic (it will be very sticky). Cover and leave to prove until doubled in size.

4. Once the dough has risen, knock it back. Either divide between two round cake tins (18-20cm diameter) or divide into small balls to make individual buns (line the tins with greaseproof paper). Cover loosely with cling film and leave somewhere warm until doubled in size.

5. Bake at 190°C. Allow around 12 minutes for smaller buns, 30-40 minutes for larger buns. If the buns are browning too quickly, cover with tin foil during baking.

6. Once the buns have been baked, remove from the tin and put in a plastic bag to cool. This will make sure the crust is soft.

Worth making? This is a lovely and very easy recipe. The result is rich like brioche, but the simpler shape makes it easy to slice and pop into the toaster. The flavour is excellent hot, spread with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

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Eye Bar (Noord, Amsterdam)

I’m just back from a few days in Amsterdam, and of course that meant I had the pleasure of wandering along picturesque tree-lined canals and peering across the water at pretty, tall houses. But sometimes, it is also interesting to find yourself in a part of town that might not be on the list of tourist hotspots, but which is changing and which brings with it a distinct buzz. In my case, I went to the “new” northern quarter of Amsterdam.

Noord is a corner of the city that is clearly about to change. Years ago, a trip to Amsterdam involved arriving at the main station, and heading south towards the charming old buildings and leafy canals as soon as you could. North? Oh no. The mighty river IJ (pronounced “eye”) marked the end of the city and beyond was terra incognita as far as the visitor was concerned, most probably unexciting territory won from the water. In short – not promising territory for those more interested in Dutch Masters and vintage flea markets.

But the times are changing. The city is building a new metro line to connect this quarter with the rest of the city. I’m sure it’s quite a feat as they have to deal with all those canals. As part of the renovation project, a new film museum has already opened on the north of the river. It gleams like a sleek yacht belonging to an unknown millionaire and has a cladding that is something of a nod to Dutch artist MC Escher, made from tessellating trapeziums (isosceles trapezoids, if you’re keen on geometry…I think).

But there is no need to wait years for the metro to be finished – just jump on the (currently free) boat behind the main station (which leaves every 5 minutes) and you’re on the other side of the IJ in, well, the blink of an eye. So what does this place offer the visitor? Besides some rather grand architecture of the building itself, there is a rather fantastic little cafe and restaurant, the Eye Bar-Restaurant.

I have to confess that it took me a moment to work out the clever name – it’s a play on the fact that it’s a cinema, and it’s on the River IJ, so the whole complex is called the Eye. In my case, it clicked after about 10 minutes. I like it.

The decor is wood and lots of black and white (a nod to the history of film) and the Eye has large glass windows offering vistas of Amsterdam. Now, let’s be honest, Amsterdam seen from here is not exactly picturesque. However, you do get to enjoy big skies and lots of sun dancing on the water. It’s actually all really rather lovely.

I didn’t arrive at the Eye at the right time for lunch, but I can recommend it as a place for coffee and cake. During my visit, they had only three sweet options on offer, which might seem a little bit thin. Just apple, lemon and chocolate.

However, what there might have been lacking in quantity was more than made up for in quality. The lemon and chocolate cakes came from Patisserie Holtkamp, and the apple tart (appelgebak) was from Patisserie Kuyt. A promising start!

Now, I need to confess that my picture really does not do this applegebak justice at all. It’s very much a tart – a buttery, crumbly base with generous amount of apple slices, currants, flaked almonds and cinnamon. Absolutely delicious.

I wondered if this was a healthy apple tart? Probably it was getting there, apart from some sugar and the rather heroic swirl of whipped cream along the side of the tart. But to have had it without the cream? Well, it probably would not have been the same experience. If you arrived flagging and ate a slice of that with your coffee, you’d leave happy and ready to take in more of the city.

Would I go back? Most certainly. The service was good, the coffee and cake excellent, and the Eye Bar has a spectacular terrace that allows you to make the most of a sunny day, or large windows to let in lots of light while protecting you from the elements. It’s also an area that is sure to change in the near future, so I’m sure I’ll pop back in if I’m in the neighbourhood.

Eye Bar-Restaurant, IJpromenade 1, 1031 KT Amsterdam. Tel: +31 (0)20 589 1402.

LondonEats locations map here.

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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

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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Koninginnedag: Ontbijtkoek

I’ve already featured a fancy recipe if you’re in the mood to celebrate Dutch Queen’s Day, so today I’ve gone to the other end of the spectrum and made something super-easy. It’s called ontbijtkoek which literally means “breakfast cake”.

You can think of this as a very simple gingerbread recipe, but one that’s on the healthy side. Yes, there is some sugar in there, but no eggs and no butter (just milk to bind it), so it’s low in fat. Heck, there is even rye flour in there! This does mean, of course, that it’s actually rather well-suited to being spread with butter and topped with jam or honey. I realise this defeats the object of making such an otherwise healthy loaf, but then – if you’re going to celebrate Queen’s Day by jumping up and down on a canal boat while dressed from head to toe in orange, all that energy is probably essential.

This is something that I used to buy a lot when I lived in Belgium, as I went to the Netherlands rather often. This is something that people tend to buy rather than make these days. However, given how simple the recipe is, there is no reason not to give it a try, especially if you don’t have easy access to the commercial versions or you want to be free-and-easy with the spices.

The only real “prep” work is to scald the milk and then let it cool before mixing for a more tender loaf (and even this step can be skipped if you’re in a rush). Then you just mix everything together until you have a smooth – but still thick – dough, scrape into a loaf tin and bake. You’ll be rewarded by a rich, spicy aroma during baking, but if you want to dive right in, you’ll sadly need to hold off – this needs to be left to cool, then stored for a day. This means the loaf will be soft and slightly sticky on top. It also cuts easily and keeps really well, so it is perfectly suited as something to nibble on during the week for breakfast, but it’s also tasty enough on its own to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee as an afternoon snack.

I’ve mentioned the spices, and here I’ve gone with a rather traditional mixture that includes a lot of cloves, plus cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. However, you can tweak them to your heart’s content, adding more of what you love and less of what you’re not so keen on. You might like to try other Dutch spice mixtures like speculaaskruiden used in traditional biscuits, or perhaps omit the cloves and use more cinnamon and nutmeg. You can also add nuts, dried fruit or preserved ginger. I think these could all work really well, even if they would mean that you’re getting a little away from the traditional recipes. But by all means – experiment away!

So I hope you’ve enjoyed these little Dutch delights! If you’re still curious about the cuisine of the Netherlands, you can have a look at my recipes for poffertjes (mini-pancakes) or apple tart, as well as aniseed sprinkles and aniseed milk.

To make Ontbijtkoek

 • 120g self-rising flour
• 130g rye flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 100g brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

• 1 pinch salt
• 80ml golden syrup or other syrup

• 1 teaspoon treacle or molasses
• 240-300ml milk, scalded and cooled(*)

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line a loaf tin with paper and grease with butter.

Put the flours, baking powder, sugar, spices and salt in a bowl. Mix well. Add the syrup, treacle/molasses and enough milk to make a smooth batter (it should be soft but certainly not runny). Add any dried fruit, nuts, ginger etc. if you’re using that.

Pour into the tin, and bake for an hour. Once baked, cover loosely with a clean tea-towel. When cool, wrap in cling film.

(*) This means bring the milk to the boil, then let it cook. I makes for a softer loaf. You need to let it cool because if you add the hot milk to the mixture, the baking powder will get to work before you can put the mixture into the pan. If you’re in a hurry, just use cold milk.

Worth making? This is a nice, easy recipe that gives you a lovely spicy cake. I think the flavour is spot on, but of course tweak the spices to taste. This is also a good one to make with kids, as the recipe is quite easy, and the lack of eggs means that they can lick the spoon and the bowl as much as they want to.

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