#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.

#266 Concentrated Vanilla Sugar

Several recipes for cakes and other desserts require vanilla sugar. I have already made one of the two vanilla sugars in the book and this is the second. The best thing about this one is that not only is it concentrated, but it is also instant.

Whenever you are baking do try to use real vanilla pods, or at the very least the Madagascan vanilla extract. Don’t ever use the essence. If you do, I’ll come over to your house and smack your arse. Although Madagascar is the main producer of vanilla these days, it is actually a Mexican plant; an orchid in fact. Mexico had the monopoly on vanilla production because, although it is easy to grow the plants, fertilization of the flowers was only possible in Mexico itself. This is due to the symbiotic relationship between the vanilla plant and its pollinator; the Melipona bees of the area. It wasn’t until a 12 year-old slave discovered a way of artificially pollinating the flowers with a bamboo stick could vanilla farming leave Mexico. I wonder if the lad got a handsome reward. I doubt it….

Anyway, I have prattled on enough….

To make this vanilla sugar, cut two vanilla pods into one centimetre bits and put them into a blender along with four ounces of caster sugar. Whiz the mixture so that you get a grey-looking powder. Cut your vanilla sugar with eight ounces of caster sugar and keep it in an air-tight container. You’ll probably need to cut it further when you come to use it for recipes – this all depends on how much vanilla flavour you like. FYI it was thought of as an aphrodisiac, so don’t go crazy, unless you want your dinner party to turn into a scene from Eyes Wide Shut.

#266 Concentrated Vanilla Sugar. It’s hard to give this a mark really as it’s an ingredient rather than an actual food. We shall see when I come to use it in future recipes

#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!

Stocking Up, #36

Popped to Chorlton yesterday in the hope of buying some exciting things from Unicorn etc. and wasn’t disappointed! Seville oranges are still in season – get making marmalade peeps – and broad bean have come in. Will make some nice desserts and soups. I’m looking forward to seeing how the new seasonal produce changes over the coming months. Also got hold of the ingredients for bread-making. I was hoping to do hot cross buns, but I think they may be a bit advanced so I’m starting at the start of the bread section in Ms. Grigson’s book. Also, I’m going to try my hand at ice cream making this week, now that my ice-cream maker is fixed. Hurrah! I also need to get my finger out re: meats. Need to get hold of a veal knuckle. Any ideas anyone? W H Frost in Didsbury sells veal, but has run out of said knuckle! Also I have prepared (#36) Vanilla sugar. It simply involved putting four vanilla pods and a bag of caster sugar in a storage jar. I just need to do a recipe with it in. I also hear that a teaspoon of vanilla sugar in warm milk is nice as a bedtime drink. I also need to add my own recipes that I’ve been doing; haven’t done that in a while…