#267 Nut Cake

I needed to test out my oven’s baking capabilities so I thought I would go for a tried-and-tested pound cake. There are five pound cake recipes in English Food and this nut cake is the final one. They all have the same basic recipe, but this one being a nut cake, required two ounces of chopped nuts (I went for walnuts) as well as two tablespoons of strong coffee or rum (I went for coffee) extra. A pound cake needs icing and Griggers suggests making the one that is given for the walnut cake recipe from many moons ago. However, there is such an exciting selection of frostings available in American supermarkets that I had to try one. I bought a vanilla. Talking of vanilla, I got to test out the concentrated vanilla sugar from the last post and used half vanilla and half normal sugar.

#267 Nut Cake. This was a good cake – the vanilla sugar was very successful I thought. Although never the most exciting, pound cakes don’t disappoint either, so all was good. It was a bit dry, but I think I over-did mine a little, so it isn’t Griggers’ fault. 6.5/10.

#231 Seed Cake

In my humble opinion, one of the most therapeutic things one can do is spend a few hours baking in the kitchen. Last Saturday I definitely needed therapy – stupid Microsoft wiped a load of my work; I shall not go into the boring details. Baking this cake helped me a bit; though in all honesty, getting completely pissed later on that night helped rather more.

This recipe is a variation on the basic pound cake (see here) and there have been a few of these baked by yours truly (see here). Pound cakes are very easy to make – they’re an all-in-one batter recipe, so not technique is atually required. I would advise you to use a hand mixer over any other type of mixer, which produces a better, lighter cake. Follow the recipe for the pound cake and just add a dessertspoon of caraway seeds. Easy.

#231 Seed Cake. The best of the pound cakes thus far. Not necessarily because it’s the best recipe, but because I think I’m getting better at making cakes. This was deliciously moist and didn’t need any buttercream or anything. The caraway seeds went very crispy inside. To ensure a good cake, I should say again that you should use a hand mixer and that you should also put a dish of water in the bottom of your oven if it is a fan-assisted one to prevent the cake drying out. Anyways, a great cake 7/10.

#135 Butterscotch Cake

I was a little bored on Tuesday evening so I thought I’d bake a nice cake for Cake Wednesday at work. I knew there had been no takers this week with it being close to Easter. Plus I’ve not made a normal cake for ages. This one is a variation on the pound cake – I’ve made them before (here is the blog entry) so I won’t go through it. The only difference is that caster sugar is substituted for soft dark brown sugar which gives it a richer, denser molasses flavour. The exciting thing being the butterscotch icing – I’d bought a sugar thermometer recently and not used it yet. I went a bit wrong with icing. Because I was in a rush, I heated it too rapidly before the sugar dissolved properly. Plus I accidentally heated it to the firm ball rather than the soft ball stage, which meant it went a bit too stiff. Hey-ho. If you try it, remember that slow and steady wins the race here. A little practise is required I feel. Any hints and tips are happily accepted!

For the icing (do as I say, not as I do…):

Slowly heat 6 ounces of soft dark brown sugar, an ounce of butter and two tablespoons of double cream until everything had dissolved. Now raise the heat and boil until the sugar reaches the soft ball stage using a sugar thermometer (turn the heat off as it approaches the temperature, as it keeps on a-rising!). Allow to cool until ‘tepid’ and beat. I’m not sure what it’s meant to turn into, but mine was a very stiff blob of sugar. I managed to spread it over the cake top with a wet palette knife and everything looked okay.

FYI: In case you were thinking that butterscotch doesn’t sound very English, but rather Scottish, you would be a fool (as I was). Scotch is a ye olde English word for score as proper butterscotch is hard and needs to be scored before it is broken.

#135 Butterscotch Cake – 6.5/10. I liked the cake as it was piled with dark brown sugar, so it could not be bad, but it was a little dry. I have a feeling that it was overcooked though – I still haven’t got to grips with the old fan oven and sponge cakes. I remember getting a handy hint from Anthea (a sometimes commenter on the blog) that you should put a some boiling water in a roasting tin and place it in the bottom of the oven to stop it drying the cake out. Needless to say, I forgot to. Oh well. The butterscotch topping was very sweet and very tasty, even though it didn’t quite turn out as expected…

With great wisdoms comes great agony (and #49)

First off all I should apologise for my total blog tardiness of late; I have been very busy at University recently and so I’ve been working and cooking tried and tested recipes from (sharp intake of breath) OTHER cookbooks. I feel like I’ve been unfaithful to our Jane…

Today found out that I will be having my wisdom teeth out on the 15th May, which is the day Greg goes on his cruise and is also my Mum’s birthday, so I don’t know if I’ll have anyone to go with me! Not being able to eat however, will somewhat hamper my cooking, so expect a reduction in blog action! I am calling for help from you, the beloved blog reader – I need recipes for food that requires no chewing. I will obviously be making good use of my ice cream maker next week.

Any road, I did do some cooking – or, in fact, baking – again at the weekend. I am all enthusiastic about bringing back the old tradition of high tea. There was a spot on the BBC’s Breakfast programme with Prue Leith talking about how people don’t know what Eccles Cakes or parkin and other British fayre are, never mind not baking them themselves! I am on a one-man mission to bring it back. I shall open up a lovely tea shop…

I did (#49) Orange cake and invited Joff round again. I had an orange in and wanted to try the pound cake again from last week; the recipe is exactly the same, except the grated zest of an orange and the juice of half is added to the mixture. This time I baked it for only 30 minutes and it came out perfect. I suppose no one – not even Jane Grigson – is perfect. The best bit of the cake-making was the butter cream. 4 ounces of sugar and the juice of the other half of the orange were boiled until the sugar had reached the soft-ball stage. I didn’t have a sugar thermometer, but managed to do it by dropping small amounts into cold water and feeling it between my fingers. Easy. Thank goodness for my ever useful Larousse Gastronomique. This was whisked into 2 whipped egg yolks until thick and fluffy. When warm, 4 ounces of very soft butter was whipped in until even more thick and fluffy. Yum. Hopefully Greg and Joff think I have improved on the previous ones – hopefully they’ll mark it highly!

#49 Orange cake – 8/10. A fine cake indeed! I’m not going to mark it higher, because, although very good, more extravagant cakes, like the parsnip cake or divine treats like sticky toffee pudding beat cake hands down! I think I’ve nailed the pound cake now!

#47 Pound Cake and #48 Buttercream II

As well as the lovely orangeade, I thought I’d make a cake. As much as I love cooking and cake, I don’t often make them. So I thought I’d go for the basic plain sponge cake – a pound cake being the easiest because so you put all the ingredients in a mixer in one go. What could possibly go wrong with that!? The parsnip cake was very good, but seemed very easy; I reckon the only way to tell if one is a good baker is to make a basic cake very well. My favorite filling for sponge cake is butter cream, and I’ve always used my Mum’s recipe, which is simply icing sugar and butter (in fact, being a child of rationing in the UK, she uses margarine). There are two butter cream recipes in English Food, but the first requires a sugar thermometer and since I don’t have one of those (but if anyone fancies buying me one…), I went for (#48) Butter cream II.

The whole idea behind the original pound cake is that the ingredients all weigh a pound EACH! This is of course overdoing things in the modern home, I think the original recipe must have been for housekeepers making cakes for households. Therefore, nowadays all the ingredients weight a pound altogether: 4 ounces each of softened butter (if you keep it in the fridge, put it in the microwave on a medium setting for 45 seconds), sieved self-raising flour and vanilla sugar (see previous entry), along with 2 medium eggs (which should be 4 ounces). Add a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of ground almonds, which apparently make the final cake more moist, plus a level teaspoon of baking powder. Put all the ingredients in a food mixer and beat until a smooth mixture forms. An early recipe from Hannah Glasse in 1747, says that beating the mixture by hand takes an hour! No thank you, lady. Add to a lined 23cm long loaf tin and – here is where I may disagree with Grigson – bake at 180 oC for one hour and 5 minutes. When I baked mine I checked after 45 and it was overdone! I think that 30 minutes may be enough, though my loaf tin, although 23cm long, does seem quite wide.

The butter cream is a custard-based one, which sounded very nice. It was quite easy too, now that I’m sufficiently experienced in the art if custard-making. My amounts differ to Jane’s because I didn’t have enough butter, or the right sized eggs, but it made enough for a middle and top layer to the cake:

In a food mixer, whisk 2 egg yolks and 2 1/2 ounces of sugar until it becomes fluffy and very pale. Meanwhile boil 90 mls (a generous 2 fluid ounces). When it comes to a boil, beat it into the egg mixture. Quickly return to the pan and stir on a low heat of a couple of minutes – it should thicken very rapidly. It was hard to judge as the was so much foam; however, as it cooled and the foamy bubbles began to pop, it became noticeably thicker. When the whole thing begins to get cooler, but it still warm, gradually whisk in 5 ounces of very soft butter cut into small cubes. I then added a few drops of vanilla extract. When it is properly cold, use as required!

I simply cut the cake lengthwise in half and added a thin layer of raspberry jam and a thick layer of the butter cream and sandwiched the two halves together, then I spread the rest of the gooey cream on the top.

#47 Pound cake – 6/10. Little disappointed in the cake. It was very tasty, but rather dry. However, this may be my own fault as I haven’t got used to my new oven yet. The vanilla sugar that I’d made a cuople of weeks earlier, also gave the sponge a nice, sweet scent.

#48 Butter cream II – 8/10. A lovely creamy, but not overly sickly alternative to normal butter cream. I loved it, and shall be definitely doing it again!