Easter Simnel

Simnel, circa 1655

Wotchers!

We’re back to the history books this week, with an original Simnel recipe from the 1650s. And yes, I’m exactly a week late, since they were originally enjoyed on Mid-Lent Sunday, which has, over the years, segued into Mothering Sunday/Mothers’ Day. Still, they were popular throughout the Easter celebrations, so there’s still time to rustle some up if you feel inspired.

Three regions of Britain lay claim to strong Simnel traditions: Devizes in Wiltshire, Bury in Lancashire and Shrewsbury in Shropshire. The Devises Simnel is recorded as being star-shaped and without a crust, and the Bury Simnel is traditionally flat, but the Shrewsbury Simnel was the most popular and which went on to develop into the Easter cake we know today.

The Shrewsbury Simnel of 350 years ago was much different to the traditional almond-paste-filled cake made today. Originally, it was an enriched and fruited yeast dough wrapped in a plain, yeasted dough,and then boiled before being baked, in a method similar to the way modern bagels are made. There are similarities with today’s Scottish Black Bun, the difference being both the use of unleavened pastry and the much richer filling of the northern version.

Shrewsbury Simnels

Shrewsbury Simnels, from The Book of Days, Robert Chambers, 1863, Volume 1, p336

 

15thC simnels

Overhead and side view sketches of an early Tudor Symnelle (from A Pictorial Vocabulary of the 15th Century, in “A Volume of Vocabularies” by Thomas Wright, 1857, p266)

Whilst descriptions and images of what Simnels looked like are well known, recipes have, to a great extent, been either extremely vague or pretty much guess-work, as all the original recipes have vanished over the years.

Until now.

For, as I was browsing through the digitised 17th century manuscripts of The Wellcome Library, I found a recipe for a Simnell. It’s made in the traditional manner of first boiling then baking, and someone has subsequently crossed it out, but it’s still legible and much older than anything I’ve been able to find until now, so in terms of authenticity, that’s good enough for me.

Manuscript Simnel Recipe

Simnel recipe from The Wellcome Library’s digitised manuscripts collection

It’s a little sparse on quantities and details such as cooking times and temperatures, but there was enough for me to muddle along with my own interpretation. Interestingly, there’s no mention of the traditional saffron flavouring, these cakes being ‘gilded’ with egg-yolk glaze only, so maybe the use of this spice was a later development.

It also fails to mention what size these festive cakes were. There’s anecdotal evidence from several 19th century sources, that claim Shrewsbury Simnels were made in all sizes from miniature up to cushion size, and also of them being sent all over the country as gifts. One account tells of a bemused recipient using hers as a footstool, not being aware that there was a delicious cake within the double-cooked crust. I opted for pork-pie-sized cakes for a couple of reasons:

  • The recipe says to “take it upon the back of your hand and pinch it” – difficult for a large sized cake.
  • The baking instructions are “bake them as cakes or small bread” – so bread roll size rather than loaf sized.
  • Mention I found of cymlings or simnels in the notes of early American settlers on the local vegetation.
    • In 1690, the Reverend John Banister recorded in his Natural History [of Virginia]

    We plant also Cucumbers & Pompions, the common, & the Indian kind with a long narrow neck, which from them we call a Cushaw. Of Melopepones or the lesser sort of Pompions there is also great variety, all which go by the Indian name of Macocks; yet the Clypeatae are sometimes called Simnels & because these others also from the Lenten Cake of that name which some of them very much resemble.

    • Earlier, in A Description of New Albion (1648), Beauchamp Plantagenet (what an AWESOME name!) observed “strawberries, mulberries, symnels, maycocks, and horns, like cucumbers” on Palmer’s Isle (now called Garrett Island)  at the northern end of Chesapeake Bay.

The vegetable they both refer to is nowadays more commonly called the pattypan squash.

Pattypan Squash

Pattypan Squash

The recipe below will make four, individual-sized Simnels. Feel free to enrich the filling for the dough even more by adding extra fruit, spice peel, sugar, butter and eggs. The mix below, however, will make a delicately spiced and fruited tea bread that is delicious on its own as well as spread with butter and/or toasted. Provided your Simnels don’t burst their seams during baking, the hard outer dough will ensure that they keep very well for a couple of weeks.

Shrewsbury Simnels

For the plain dough:

250g white bread flour
0.5tsp salt
0.5tsp mace
0.5tsp nutmeg
0.25tsp cloves
1/2 sachet easy-blend, fast-action yeast
warm water to mix

  • Sift the flour, salt, spices and yeast into a bowl.
  • Slowly add enough warm water to bring the ingredients together into a firm dough.
  • Knead for 10 minutes.
  • Put into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic film.
  • Set aside to rise for 1 hour.

For the filling dough:

250g white bread flour
0.5tsp salt
0.5tsp mace
0.5tsp nutmeg
0.25tsp cloves
1/2 sachet easy-blend, fast-action yeast
1 large egg
60ml double cream
50g butter
2tbs sugar

100g raisins
100g currants

2 large egg yolks for glazing.

  • Sift the flour, salt, spices and yeast into a bowl.
  • Cut the butter into small pieces and put into a pan with the cream and the sugar.
  • Warm gently until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved
  • Whisk the egg and add to the warmed ingredients. NB Make sure they aren’t so hot that they cook the egg.
  • Add the liquid ingredients to the flour mixture and knead for 10 minutes.
  • Put into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic film.
  • Set aside to rise for 1 hour.
  • Put a large pan of water on the cooker to boil. I use my preserving pan. Do it now because it will take practically the whole hour to come to heat up.
  • When the dough has doubled in size, knead in the raisins and currants.

To assemble the cakes:

  • Divide the plain dough into 8 even pieces and roll each piece out thinly (3mm).
  • Line 4 small deep pie/tart tins with cling film. This will help turn out the finished cakes.
  • Use 4 pieces of plain dough to line the tart tins. Leave the excess dough hanging over the edge of the tins, as it will help in forming a good seal around the cake dough.
  • Chill in the fridge together with the remaining pieces of dough, which will form the lids, for 20 minutes. This chilling will firm up the dough and make it easier to form the crust on the cakes.
  • Divide the fruit dough into four and knead until firm and smooth. If you’ve added extra fruit or your tins are on the small side, you may need to reduce the size of the dough balls.
  • Remove the chilled dough from the fridge. It is best to form one cake and then place it in the hot water immediately. If left to one side while you make the other cakes, the dough will warm up, rise and potentially burst its seals.
  • Place a ball of fruit dough in each tin.
  • Moisten the edges of the dough with water and cover with one of the dough lids.
  • Press firmly and pinch together to form a seal around the fruit filling. Trim any excess dough.
  • Crimp the edges of the cake according to your own design.
  • Fill a large bowl with cold water.
  • When the water is simmering, place each cake on a skimmer and slowly lower into the water. It will sink to the bottom of the pan initially. When the cake rises, use a skimmer to gently turn it over so that the lid cooks for about a minute.
  • Lift the cake from the hot water and lower it gently into the bowl of cold water.
  • When cooled, set the cake  onto a silicon sheet (so that it doesn’t stick) to dry.
  • Repeat for the remaining cakes.
  • Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  • Place the Simnels onto the baking sheet.
  • Brush with beaten egg-yolk to glaze.
  • Bake for 45-50 minutes until firm and golden. They should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Don’t be tempted to take them out too early, even with the dip in the hot water, these will take a relatively long time to bake.
  • Cool on a wire rack.


Brunch Borek

Breakfast Borek

Wotchers!

If you’ve got a copy of my book – no pressure – you might have read in the acknowledgements my thanks to all ‘The Lads’ at Offmore Road Garage. They look after my black cab and are very good at doing that little bit extra at no extra charge, like picking it up/dropping it off, topping up the screen washer, jump-starting it when I’ve forgotten to turn off one of the interior lights *ahem*. They’re also willing taste-testers and consumers of bakes in general if I have made too much to cope with at home.

Several recipes both here and in the book (still not got a copy? It’s fine. Really. *sulks*) have been given their collective thumbs up; all the Sausage Inna Bun ideas, Cheese and Sausage Breakfast Scones [in the book], Eliza Acton’s Mince Pies Royale and Filo Mincemeat Cigars to name but a few. These last were voted favourite of all the different mince pie variations, so I got to pondering what else could be done in a similar vein, and here we are.

I love some texture to a dish, and with filo pastry, it’s crunch all the way. Savoury breakfast/brunch items are always popular with The Lads, so here’s a deliciously different way to combine the two. Basically, it’s omelette wrapped in pastry, but seeing as I love a bit of alliteration in a recipe title, I’ve decided to name them after the savoury cigar-shaped pastries from Turkey – Börek, Burek etc.

I also tried a version with just ham and cheese, but by using cheddar and without anything else to ‘bulk out’ the filling, it just melted into a cheesy puddle. A better choice would have been feta or goat’s cheese, or even cheese in the omelette, wrapped in ham. Potatoes and egg are also surprisingly great together, so a potato omelette would be both filling and satisfying. If you decide to experiment, do let me know of any winning combinations :D

Brunch Borek

For the omelette:
100g lean smoked bacon, cut into small dice
30g unsalted butter
6 large eggs
ground white pepper

  • Melt the butter and gently cook the diced bacon until just cooked. I use my 24cm saute pan, which makes the omelette slightly thicker than usual
  • Whisk the eggs with the pepper and add to the pan with the bacon.
  • You want to make a thick omelette, so as the edges of the egg mixture cook, use a spatula to draw the edge towards the middle. The cooked egg will fold very artistically, and the still-liquid egg will run into the space left behind.
  • Make sure in the drawing-in of the egg, that the bacon doesn’t all pile up in a heap – you want it to be distributed evenly throughout the omelette.
  • When there’s no more liquid egg to draw in, put a cover on the pan and turn off the heat. The residual heat should be enough to just cook any remaining ‘jiggly’ egg without overdoing it.
  • Let the omelette get cold.

 

To make the Borek
1 pack filo pastry [1]
60g unsalted butter, melted

  • Cut the cold omelette into strips 2-3cm wide and of a similar length – i.e. about 5cm shorter than the width of the filo sheet. Don’t worry if you don’t have 12 strips, you can use offcuts to make up the number required.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Dampen a tea towel with cold water.
  • Open the packet of filo pastry and lay the pastry flat upon the work surface.
  • Lay the damp tea towel over the pastry sheets.
  • Warm the butter until melted.
  • Take one sheet of filo pastry and lay it on the work surface. Re-cover the rest of the sheets with the cloth to prevent them from drying out.
  • Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the melted butter over the filo sheet. A silicone pastry brush is ideal, as the bristles don’t soak up the butter as much as a traditional brush, so the amount of butter on the pastry remains very light.
  • Lay one strip of omelette along the short end of the filo sheet, as if making a sausage roll.
  • Roll the pastry around the omelette once, until the filling is covered by a single layer of pastry.
  • Fold the sides of the pastry sheet inwards about 2cm, making two strips of folded pastry down the long sides of the sheet of filo, and covering the ends of the roll.
  • Dab a little melted butter onto the folded edges.
  • Roll the rest of the pastry around the filling.
  • Set the completed ‘cigar’ aside, with the seal underneath.
  • Repeat until all the filo sheets are used up.
  • Set the cigars onto a baking sheet covered with baking parchment.
  • Brush lightly with butter to glaze.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown and crisp. Turn the baking sheet around halfway through cooking to ensure even colouring.
  • Cool the pastries on a wire rack.
  • Serve warm.
  • Cut each cigar in half, on the diagonal, and serve a pot of ketchup/relish/salsa alongside.

Make Ahead Tip: Make and bake the pastries the night before and cool on a wire rack. The pastry will soften overnight, but in the morning, put the rack into a cold oven and turn the heat to 200°C, 180°C Fan. After 5-6 minutes the pastries will be warmed through and fabulously crisp again. Enjoy!

[1] I used Sainsbury’s own label flo, which has 12 sheets. Jusrol has fewer but larger sheets, so I’d cut them in half to use.

 


Banana Ganache Tarts

Banana Ganache Tart

Wotchers!

Here’s a very indulgent treat, just in time for Mothers Day.

I’m really rather pleased with the star of the recipe, the banana ganache. Looking at other online recipes, people SAY it’s banana ganache, but when you click on it, you find they’ve mixed it with chocolate or fruit or caramel or rum. Not that any of those aren’t delicious combinations, but I wanted something that captured the pure flavour of fresh banana, and here it is. Of course, as can be seen from the picture, I then proceeded to pour it ONTO chocolate and then slather it IN chocolate, but the ganache itself is wonderfully unadulterated and fresh-tasting.

This is one of my, what I like to call, Lego™ recipes. I take a brick from this recipe, and a brick from that recipe and click them together with some new bits and bobs to make a new recipe. In this case I’ve taken the mirror glaze recipe from the Sicilian Seven Veils Cake, and the chocolate pastry from the Midnight Meringue to make this very rich and delicious dessert. If you have some Crepes Dentelles biscuits, you could make the base out of the Feuilletine recipe (also from the Sicilian Seven Veils Cake) for a quick, no-bake recipe, or go cheap and cheerful with either cornflakes or rice crispies mixed with melted chocolate.

I’ve used a nifty trick to make individual servings by making a thin tray-bake and then using a flower-shaped pastry/biscuit cutter to cut out the un-glazed-but-set ganache. The mirror glaze is then poured over the top and makes for a seamless and wonderfully glossy finish.

I’m hoping some of you might try this for Mothers Day, but you can just as easily keep everything simple as a tray-bake. Another alternative is to use just the ganache either dipped in tempered chocolate or rolled in either cocoa or dessicated coconut to make bite-sized truffles. You could  also use the ganache in/on a cake, but plan ahead, because it does need several hours in the fridge to firm up before it is spreadable.

Banana Ganache Tart

Chocolate Pastry
100g plain flour
15g cocoa powder
60g caster sugar
60g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 tbsp milk

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C 180°C Fan.
  • Grease and line with parchment a rectangular baking tin. You want something quite large, so the pastry and ganache layers will be thin. I used a roasting tin of dimensions 20cm x 30cm. If you’re not going to cut individual portions, a 24cm loose-bottom, spring-form cake tin is another option.
  • In a food processor, mix flour, cocoa and sugar.
  • Add butter, cut in small cubes. Blitz.
  • Add the tablespoon of milk and blend again until mixture resembles coarse, damp sand.
  • Press the mixture into the base of your tin. Keep the layer thin – no more than 5mm before baking – otherwise it becomes to clunky for a delicate dessert.
  • Prick the pastry thoroughly with a fork and bake for 10 minutes.
  • Check pastry for done-ness (always a little tricky with chocolate pastry, but it will be firm to the touch and have shrunk from the sides a little when filly baked). Return to the oven until fully baked if necessary.
  • Allow the pastry to cool in the tin on a wire rack.

Banana Ganache
275g banana – about 3 ripe bananas
25ml syrup [1]
140ml double cream
400g white chocolate
45g unsalted butter

  • Mash the bananas to a smooth puree. I’ve found the best way is to break them into pieces and then use an immersion/stick blender to get rid of all lumps. Alternatively, mash them by hand then pass through a sieve.
  • Put the banana puree, syrup and cream into a small pan.
  • Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a bowl.
  • Bring the puree mixture to a boil, stirring continuously, then pour over the chocolate.
  • Leave for 5 minutes to melt.
  • Stir gently until thoroughly combined. Set aside to cool
  • When the banana mixture has cooled to 35°C add the cubed butter and use the immersion/stick blender again to whisk it in. The combination of the butter and the vigorous whisking will help to emulsify and thicken the ganache.
  • If making the tarts/tray-bake, pour the ganache over the chocolate base and set aside to cool. Cover lightly with a flat sheet of parchment only – using plastic film at this point will trap condensation which will then drip onto your ganache – ew.
  • When completely cold, cover with film and chill in the fridge.

Chocolate Mirror Glaze
4 leaves (8g) gelatine
175ml water
150ml double cream
225g granulated sugar
75g cocoa powder

NB If you’re making the tray-bake, halve these quantities. If glazing individual tartlet portions, you’ll need the full quantity.

  • Soak the gelatine in plenty of cold water. I leave the sheets whole, as it is easier both to fish them out of the water and to shake off the excess water from them once hydrated.
  • Put the rest of the ingredients into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring, to dissolve the sugar.
  • Continue stirring and, once the sugar is dissolved, bring to the boil.
  • Simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture reaches a temperature of about 104°C.
  • Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool for 5 minutes. Keep stirring as the base of the pan will still be very hot and might burn the mixture. If you’re glazing individual tartlets, pour the mixture into a jug and prepare your tartlets (see below).
  • Leave to cool until the mixture reaches 50°C, then drain the gelatine and stir into the mixture until it is fully dissolved.
  • Let the mixture cool further until just 35°C and is beginning to thicken and set.
  • If you’re making the tray bake, pour the glaze over the cooled and chilled ganache and leave to set. Chill in the fridge. Otherwise, see below:
    • Glazing individual tarts
    • Select an appropriately-sized cutter. I used a flower-shaped cutter of diameter 8cm. Other shapes might include hearts or stars. This might sound small, but as already stated, the ganache is very rich, and anything larger is going to push the portion size toward sickly.
    • Grease the cutter, inside and out, with a non-flavoured oil. Almond oil is very mild, personally I used grape-seed oil. The ganache is very sticky and the oil will help the cutter pass easily through and, more importantly, help it pass easily out again. NB: Be sure to clean and re-oil the cutter after each use.
    • Use the cutter to cut out shapes and move them to a wire rack. Make sure they are evenly spaced out on the rack as this is where they will be glazed. If the cut tartlets are reluctant to come out of the cutter, run the point of a sharp knife around the edge of the cutter from the underside.
    • If the glaze is still too warm, put the rack into the freezer to firm up the tartlets.
    • When the glaze has cooled enough to pour, put the wire rack with the tartlets over a bowl wide enough to catch all the drips.
    • Slowly pour the glaze over the tarts one at a time. Pour onto the centre of the tart and the glaze will spread smoothly across the surface and down the sides. Don’t rush this. If you have to go back and ‘patch’, then the glaze will not be smooth. It is better to glaze 3 or 4 tarts perfectly first time, than glaze them all in one go but have to go back and patch up the missed bits.
    • The glaze that drips through the rack into the bowl can be re-used, provided it is done at once, before it has cooled too much. Set the rack aside and scrape the glaze back into the jug. Replace the rack over the bowl and continue glazing.
    • Allow the glaze to cool, and chill thoroughly in the fridge until required.

[1] I used maple syrup because I had some, but any liquid sugar will do – honey, golden syrup, agave, etc.


Oat Brittle

Oat Brittle with Peanuts

Wotchers!

This has to be one of the shortest and salty-sweetest recipes on the blog.

Deliciously simple and infinitely customisable, what’s not to love?

Salted Caramel Oat Brittle with Salted Peanuts – although it could be with anything that takes your fancy: cranberries, apricots, cashews, macadamia nuts, flax, sesame and sunflower seeds….. I could go on, but you’re already starting to doze, so I won’t.

Regular readers will know how much I love oats, and a little bit of salt with whatever you’re putting them into really brings out their toasty flavour, so salted nuts are my number one choice.

This recipe is wonderfully moreish whether you’re using the highest quality ingredients or the cheapest of the cheap from the basics range of a supermarket. I’ve tried both and the taste is awesome whatever your budget can stretch to. The world is your crustacean of choice, but 500g of sweet and salty deliciousness for about £1.20 using basics ngredients is a bargain in anyone’s book.

Best of all there’s no need for an oven – this treat can be prepared using just one pan on the hob – who needs mountains of washing up when there’s a treat waiting to be enjoyed? Actually, with this recipe, you might do – because you’ll need something to do while you wait until it’s cooled down enough not to burn your mouth, but *waves hands dismissively* ANYHOO….

Let’s get on with the recipe!

Oat Brittle

Use a non-stick pan.

150g rolled oats
225g granulated sugar
100g butter
100g salted peanuts
1/2tsp salt (optional)

  • Lay a sheet of baking parchment onto a chopping board or into a roasting tin, for the hot brittle.
  • Pour the oats into a coarse sieve and shake to get rid of all the oat ‘flour’ that will have accumulated.There always is some,whether you’re sing the finest steel-rolled oats or budget basics. Ideally you want the finished brittle to be a delicious contrast between glossy caramel, toasty oats and crunchy peanuts, so getting rid of this ‘dust’ can only improve it’s visual appeal.
  • Put the oats into a dry pan and toast them over medium heat to dry them out. You will be able to smell their nuttiness as they become toasted. Light or dark, your call.
  • When you’re happy with the colour, pour them into a bowl and set aside.
  • Wipe the pan clean of any dust and pour in the sugar.
  • Set it over a low heat and DO NOT STIR. It will gradually melt and turn a rich caramel brown.
  • Keep an eye on it while you’re NOT STIRRING, and shake the pan if necessary in order to move the sugar around.
  • Keep NOT STIRRING until all the sugar has melted.
  • Add the butter and stir briskly as it melts until it is mixed in, although don’t be too diligent – you don’t want the mixture to cool too much before the rest of the ingredients are added.
  • Remove from the heat and add the toasted oats and nuts (and/or fruit and salt if using).
  • Mix thoroughly to combine.
  • Tip the mixture out onto the baking parchment and arrange into artistic clumps about the size of a walnut. You don’t want there to be huge lumps, because they’ll be difficult to break apart once the mixture is cooled. And then you’d have to eat those yourself *poker face* which would be a trial, but we can’t be having any waste, so somebody has to be prepared to do that.
  • Once cooled, break apart into bite-sized pieces and store in an airtight container or ziplock bag.
  • Enjoy with coffee, tea or a good movie.

Keep Cake

Keep Cake

Wotchers!

Lovely recipe for you this week, for several reasons:

  • First off, it’s EASY.
  • It’s GORGEOUS to look at.
  • It’s almost infinitely CUSTOMISABLE (is that a word!?)
  • It’s UNUSUAL.
  • It’s VERSATILE.
  • It has EXCELLENT KEEPING QUALITIES
  • Lastly, and possibly most importantly, it’s FAT-FREE.

Isn’t it stunning? A splendid fruit cake stuffed to the gills with beautiful chunks of whole fruits and nuts, barely held together by just a whisper of rich, dark, fatless sponge. Yes, none of your pale-and-interesting, pardon me while I have an attack of the vapours *flutters handkerchief daintily* fatless sponges here. The cakey bits here have richness and darkness coming from caramel-tasting, dark muscovado sugar, which provides a wonderful backdrop to the jewel-like chunks of whole fruit it holds.

Most cake recipes like this call for the fruit and nuts to be chopped into smaller pieces, to avoid big lumps clogging up the texture. The possible exception to this is Cherry Cake, which is notorious for letting the whole cherries slip through its rich interior to lie like sulky teenagers in a heap at the bottom (Shameless Plug: Foolproof Cherry Cake recipe in MY BOOK! Buy now to avoid [my] disappointment!). This is the exact opposite! The fruit and nuts are left whole and so are so big, buxom and unashamedly ample, that they don’t go anywhere. They naturally wedge themselves together so well, it’s the cakey bit that has to insinuate itself into whatever nooks and crannies remain. And because they are so tightly packed together, cutting a slice means you cut THROUGH the fruit, leaving exquisite cross-sections scattered through the slice, and practically every slice is different.

All fruit cakes get better with age, and this is no exception. Bottom line, properly wrapped, it will keep a month at room temperature, three months in the fridge or you can freeze it for up to six months. NB ‘properly wrapped’ involves a layer of parchment/greaseproof paper, a layer of foil and a cake tin with a lid. The sugar in the fruit will keep it moist.

You can vary the fruit to your own tastes, but I’d strongly recommend keeping the ‘big four’ of apricots, prunes, dates and figs, for their striking visual and taste contrast. I’ve used green raisins ( a new ‘find’ at my local supermarket) and cranberries, but crimson raisins or cherries could add an equally great splash of red, and substituting some of the walnut halves with whole pistachios or hazelnuts would look fabulous when cut through in slices.

This cake is delicious plain with a cup of tea/coffee, but for a ‘taste sensation’ serve some slices topped with a tasty cheese – vintage cheddar is my current favourite. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, I promise! :D

Keep Cake

10 whole dried figs
15 whole, pitted dates
15 whole, pitted prunes
20 whole, pitted dried apricots
300g walnut halves
60g dried cranberries
60g green raisins

3 large eggs
150g dark muscovado sugar
1tsp vanilla extract

100g plain flour
0.5tsp salt
0.25tsp baking powder
0.25tsp bicarbonate of soda

  • Preheat the oven to 150°C, 130°C Fan.
  • Grease and line a large loaf tin (24cm x 14cm x 7cm) with baking parchment.
  • Mix all the fruit and nuts into a bowl. You might want to snip off the woody top of the figs.
  • Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla together until light and foamy – 5-10 minutes.
  • Mix the remaining dry ingredients together.
  • Gradually add the flour mix to the whisked egg mixture until thoroughly incorporated.
  • Pour the combined mixture over the fruit and nuts and stir together until everything is coated with a layer of cake batter.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and press down firmly to ensure no gaps are left. It will almost fill the tin, but this is fine, as there’s very little rise – it all happens in the spaces between the fruit.
  • Bake for 40 minutes, then turn the tin around 180° and bake for a further 20 minutes.
  • Slide a sheet of foil over the top of the cake to prevent it becoming too dark, and bake for a final 20 minutes for a total of at least 70 minutes.
  • The cake is baked when a toothpick comes out clean of cake mixture – don’t mistake, for example, moist apricot or prune flesh for uncooked cake batter.
  • Allow the cooked cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove and set aside on a wire rack to cool completely.

Hungarian Cheesecake

Hungarian Cheesecake

Wotchers!

This recipe is a bit of an enigma – a DELICIOUS enigma!

I found it while poking around in a Russian cooking blog, and even with Google Translate’s quirky services, it was so different and so unusual, I just had to give it a try. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve ever come across before, and seems to be that rare thing – a unique recipe (at least with this title), for I have been unable to find any variation of it at all, and I’ve searched in several languages!

Amusingly, for all this talk of the unusual and unique, it’s name describes exactly what it is.

It’s a cake.

Made with cheese.

It’s a cheese cake.

But unlike the more usual crust-topped-with-rich-soft-cheese, it’s a cake-texture-tempered-with-curd-cheese-with-condensed-milk-soured-cream-topping cake. And it tastes AWESOME!

The differences don’t end there either – instead of mixing the cake batter together, and pouring into the pan, the cake is made by building up alternate layers of wet and dry ingredients, and then baked in a slow oven for an hour. Finally it is topped with a sweet cream and condensed milk topping, sharpened with lemon juice.

So what does it taste like? Like a cheese cake, to be honest. The ‘cake’ is like a firm sponge or madeira cake, but the sweetness and texture is tempered by the curd cheese layers to produce a crumbly, cakey mouthful that bizarrely (in a good way!) also tastes like cheesecake. It’s not an overly sweet cake, and I like that. I also love the fierce mix in the topping of the extremely sweet condensed milk and the sharp lemon juice *drools* My mouth is watering just at the thought – yum!

You can buy curd cheese in the supermarket, or it’s very easy to make yourself using vegetarian rennet and whole milk. For this recipe the curd needs to be dry and crumbly, so however you obtain your curd cheese, drain it well in a piece of muslin and then press it with a weight for at least an hour to squeeze out the moisture.

I’d love to know more about this recipe, so if anyone can fill me in, please do leave a comment below.

Hungarian Cheesecake

Wet Ingredients
500g drained curd cheese
2 large eggs
200g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients
190g plain flour
100g unsalted butter
1.5tsp baking powder

Topping
200g sweetened condensed milk
60ml creme fraiche or sour cream
zest and juice of 1 lemon[1]

  • Preheat the oven to  170°C 150°C Fan
  • Grease and line the bottom and sides of a 20cm loose-bottom or spring-form tin with baking parchment.
  • Break up the drained curd by blitzing quickly in a food processor fitting with the cutting blade, until they resemble breadcrumbs.
  • Whisk together the sugar, eggs and vanilla until light and frothy.
  • Stir in the curd cheese. Set aside.
  • Blitz the dry ingredients together in a food processor to crumbs.
  • Scatter a layer (2-3tbs) of the dry ingredients in the bottom of the prepared tin.
  • Spread a layer of the wet ingredients mixture. This will be quite tricky, because the crumbs will cling to the moisture, but persevere. It doesn’t matter if it’s not completely smooth and even.
  • Repeat until both mixtures have been used up. Finish with the crumb mixture.
  • Bake for about an hour, turning the tin around after 30 minutes to ensure even baking.
  • While the cake is baking, mix the topping by whisking all the ingredients together. It will become quite thick.
  • Test the cake for done-ness at 50 minutes, by inserting a toothpick or skewer into the centre of the cake. If it emerges free from liquid, then the cake is cooked.
  • Remove the cooked cake from the oven and pour the topping over whilst it’s hot. Spread evenly.
  • Return the cake to the oven and switch off the heat. Leave it inside the cooling oven for 15 minutes to ‘set’ the topping.
  • Remove the cake from the oven and set aside to cool thoroughly.
  • Serve as is, or with a dollop of whipped cream.

[1] Or lime. Or Seville Orange. Whatever takes your fancy.

 


Cornbread

Cornbread

Wotchers!

My local supermarket recently set aside some shelves for non-traditional items. I’m guessing it’s on a trial basis, but I’m always curious to see what’s new and exciting in the land of food retail. (Hey, you have to get your jollies where you can).

ANYHOO……..

One of the items that caught my eye was a big bag of corn meal (corn flour), and I decided I’d see if I could bake myself some ultimate American cornbread. Simple, you’d think? Well, that’s what I foolishly assumed when I began my searching, but what I discovered was it’s a real minefield out there, with devotees for variations from both north and south, sweet and salty, and with various additions including actual corn kernels, corn puree, cheese, bacon grease and chillies.

I was in a fog of indecision until I stumbled across this recipe from an old farming magazine from 1847. Several things about the recipe appealed to me, not least because it claimed the resultant ‘cakes’ would be light and honeycombed. Other details that made it stand out from the many other recipes I had been seeing were that it was yeast raised, sugar free, fat free and gluten free. In addition, unlike many of the modern recipes, it contained solely corn meal and unlike the modern gluten-free recipes, there was no additional alchemy required in the form of different flours and additives to put in.

The method varied too, with the batter being set to rise overnight using yeast, and then, once the other ingredients had been added, being poured into a cold pan before baking. Actually, the original recipe didn’t specifically say that it should be a cold pan, it just said to bake it, but since all of the other recipes were most insistent that the pan be roaring hot before adding the corn mix, that’s what I did for the first trial run. It wasn’t a success. The extreme heat killed the yeast on the edges, so while the middle rose delightfully, the edges were heavy and hard. Subsequent trial runs with a cold pan were much more successful, as the picture above illustrates. I used my non-stick, heavy 24cm diameter saute pan to bake the bread in the oven, because the handle is removable.

Excuse me for banging on, but this recipe is yet another example of why I love old recipes so much. Simple, wholesome ingredients that can be enjoyed without the need for complicated additives or specialised components. The only requirement for this particular recipe is time – remembering to mix up the corn meal and yeast the night before – or in the morning if you want to enjoy it with your evening meal.

It was delicious warm from the oven, with butter and honey, for breakfast. Other uses are as an accompaniment to, for example, chilli, gumbo, jambalaya. It’s best eaten warm, but once cold, can also be easily reheated with a quick zap in the microwave or oven. I turned the remainder into crumbs and froze them, ready to use in meatballs, stuffing and as coating for home-made chicken nuggets and fish fingers.

Feel free to customise this to your own tastes by adding whatever flavourings take your fancy, but I hope you’ll try it just once as is, in all its splendid simplicity.

Jenna in Ohio – I hope you approve! :D

Cornbread

Mixture 1
450g corn meal
1 sachet easyblend yeast
1tsp salt
warm water to mix

  • Put the corn meal, salt and yeast into a bowl and add enough water until the mixture is easy to stir. It varied, depending on the moisture content of the corn meal, but you’ll need to add between 600ml – 1200ml (1-2 pints). It will have the consistency of a loose batter.
  • Cover with cling film and leave overnight or for at least 8 hours.

Mixture 2
1 large egg
2tbs milk [1]
2tbs plain yogurt [1]
1 rounded tsp bicarbonate of soda

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Grease a 24cm deep, heavy pan or skillet.
  • Whisk the ingredients for Mixture 2 together and then whisk it into the cornmeal.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the surface.
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes, turning the pan around after 20 minutes to ensure even colouring. Check for done-ness by inserting a cocktail stick into the centre.
  • If the top seems to be browning too quickly, slide a sheet of either foil or parchment over the pan.
  • Serve warm from the pan.

[1] You can use 60ml or 4tbs of buttermilk if you prefer.

 


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