No-Bake Christmas Cake

No-Bake Christmas Cake

Wotchers!

A rich, fruited cake at Christmas is traditional: crammed with dried fruits, candied peel and spices, and liberally doused with alcohol, before being encased in the equally traditional marzipan and white icing.

Delicious.

But there’s a huge elephant in the room when it comes to Christmas Cake recipes which no-one ever seems to mention – and that is the lengthy, fretful and agonisingly nerve-wracking extended baking time. And it IS just as stressful as it sounds, because the cake ingredients are not cheap, and so any mishap is going to prove expensive. If the oven is too hot, the outsides of the cake will burn and any exposed fruit will char to bitterness. If the oven is too cool, there’s a real risk of the inside of the cake ending up anything from gummy underdone-ness to out and out raw – and this is only likely to be discovered when the first slice is cut. And even if it is baked properly, failure to maintain sufficient moisture in the form of soaking it in alcohol between baking and consuming will result in an overly dry cake of sawdust texture. Not to mention the expense of having the oven on for so long.

So here I am, not just mentioning the elephant in the room, but naming/shaming/kicking it out.

Because this recipe requires no baking at all, and will only take maybe 15 minutes of your time.

Essentially, this is a fridge cake, with the wonderfully festive mix of fruit, spices and alcohol held together with biscuit crumbs and a little butter. It certainly looks the part and, as the photo demonstrates, it cuts beautifully – I do so love a clean, sharp slice! The biscuits should be Rich Tea – the rest of the ingredients need their dryness and plainness in order their flavours to shine. Sidebar: how much of a misnomer is Rich Tea? They’re the un-richest biscuit out there, just one step up from a water biscuit, and no hint of the taste of tea at all. Nevertheless, when you need a plain ‘canvas’ on which to display your more exotic ingredients, they can’t be beaten. NB Although breaking the biscuits into pieces is fine for recipes such as Chocolate Salami, the biscuits here should be blitzed to fineness in a food processor. This fineness is key in ensuring your cake holds together well with no unsightly air pockets, so please take the time over this one detail. Be more Edna.

Edna says: No Lumps!

ANYHOO…

Back to the cake. The texture is actually very close indeed to that of a well-moistened traditional cake, but the taste is extraordinary. In bypassing the hours and hours in the oven, the flavours of the fruit, peel and nuts are bright and fresh with no hint of dryness or burn. The alcohol is also more prominent, so if you’re planning on it being offered to children, perhaps reduce the quantity and substitute apple or pear juice to make up the overall amount of liquid.

There is also the freedom to make the mix of fruit, peel and nuts just to your liking. I don’t like angelica – or at least, the lurid dyed-green angelica found in the shops, so I don’t add it in. Glace cherries might be your absolute bête noir, in which case leave ’em out. As long as the overall weight is observed, the proportions can be made up of whatever you like. The mix below gives a ‘traditional’ flavour, but you could also choose a mix of, for example, dried mango, pineapple, papaya, coconut ribbons and white rum for a tropical flavour. The same goes for the spices. You might like them to be a little more robust that the quantities given. You’re only limited by your imagination. Go wild.

No Bake Christmas Cake

These quantities make a small, round, family-sized cake of diameter 15cm and a depth of around 5cm. A tin of larger diameter will result in a shallower cake. If you’re catering for only a few, consider halving the recipe and perhaps using a square or loaf tin for easier slicing, or even pressing the mix into cupcake or deep tart tins for mini individual portions.

For a Gluten-Free version, substitute GF Rich Tea biscuits.

For Vegans: Substitute the butter for the fat you prefer. It should be one that is solid at room temperature.

60g prunes – chopped
60g mixed, candied peel – chopped
75g raisins
75g sultanas
75g glace cherries – halved or quartered
1/2 nutmeg – grated
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 rounded tbs liquid sugar[1]
80g unsalted butter
75ml alcohol – a mix of cream sherry and brandy is nice, or 25ml each of these plus dark rum. Substitute fruit juice if preferred.

75g walnuts – chopped
250g fine Rich Tea biscuit crumbs

  • Put everything except the nuts and the crumbs into a pan.
  • Heat, gently stirring, until the butter has melted and the fruit is warmed through.
  • Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside to allow the fruit to plump up (30 minutes-1 hour).
  • Put the nuts and crumbs into a bowl.
  • Add the cooled fruit mixture and toss to combine. The mixture should now resemble damp sand, and stick together when pressed. Adjust spices if necessary, and add more crumbs/alcohol/juice if required.
  • Line your tin with plastic film.
  • Pour in the mixture and press flat. I find the base of a glass tumbler is excellent at achieving a smooth surface.
  • Cover the top with plastic film and chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.
  • Decorate with almond paste and icing as per a traditional cake.

 

[1] Ooh, a footnote! Haven’t done one of these in ages! The liquid sugar can be whatever you have to hand: honey, golden syrup, agave nectar, maple syrup, treacle or molasses if you’d like a dark cake, glucose if you don’t want to add another flavour to the mix.


Paradise Slices

Paradise Slices

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something glu…ten-free

Wotchers!

Bit of a bumper-fun bonus this week, with not one, not two, not three but FOUR recipes, each named Paradise Slice. Initially I was just going to make a post with two contratic recipes, but I got a bit carried away.

It all started with me reading a recipe in a small, vintage paperback pamphlet from the S.W.R.I. of Shapinsay, in Orkney. Their Paradise Slice comprised a rich, almond sponge, studded with dried fruits, candied cherries and baked in a shortcrust pastry case. Lovely, I thought. Baked it, and decided it needed tweaking a little, so made it again, this time with my crisp, cornflour shortcrust, which makes for a delicious contrast with the rich, buttery almond sponge, and also swapped in some confit fruit I’d bought on holiday in France.

Then I discovered a much-requested Paradise Slice in the Los Angeles Times, which was very different indeed: dark, rich, chewy and studded with pecans. Lovely, I thought – right up until I read how many calories it had per serving. So I did some tweaking and also reduced the batch size, making a slice now only 200 calories as opposed to, originally, over 500.

Then it occurred to me that I shouldn’t forget people with gluten intolerances. So I adapted a recipe from Sainsbury’s magazine that used as its base a mixture of popcorn and rice cereal. With a few more tweaks I managed to get each slice of this particular paradise down to less than 100 calories. Lovely, I thought.

Finally, being inspired by all these delicious contrasting bakes,  I decided to create my own Paradise Slice. I wanted it to have similar tropical ingredients, but be a different texture and flavour experience. I took the topping from the Hungarian Cheesecake and added lime and orange zest and juice, because the acid in the citrus juice reacts with the condensed milk to make a cheesecake-like mixture without all the faff. I mixed in some crushed pineapple and desiccated coconut and also stirred through a little creme fraiche for sharpness. I poured this onto the base from the L.A.Times recipe and left it to set in a cooling oven before chilling in the fridge. The result is fantastically tropical, fresh-tasting and not overly sweet.  It cuts beautifully, as the coconut takes up excess moisture as it sets in the oven, and can be enjoyed as a dessert or as an accompaniment to coffee. Best of all, it too is a storecupboard recipe, especially if, like me, you have a bag of Seville orange zest/juice cubes in the freezer (I cannot recommend this highly enough, so useful to have their tangy, bitter/sharp flavour on hand throughout the year).

Bloody lovely, I thought!

Shapinsay Paradise Slice – Makes 16 slices

Shapinsay Paradise Slice

The original recipe called for sultanas, raisins and glace cherries in equal measure. Nowadays we have a much wider selection of preserved fruit, so I heartily encourage you to go wild with whatever combination you fancy – mango, papaya, apricots, candied peel – whatever seems like paradise!

Cornflour shortcrust pastry – recipe here

115g unsalted butter – softened
115g caster sugar
2 large eggs
60g self-raising flour
60g ground almonds
a little milk for mixing

100g dried/candied fruit
2tbs cornflour

4-5tbs jam – I suggest apricot, but anything slightly sharp will be suitable also.
1tbs caster sugar

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Roll the pastry out thinly (3mm) and line a greased (and lined if liked) baking tin of dimensions roughly 18cm by 28cm. Prick the base with a fork.
  • Line with baking paper and beads/rice and bake for 12 minutes.
  • Remove the baking paper and beads/rice and bake for a further 8 minutes for a total of 20 minutes.
  • Brush the hot pastry with jam and set aside while the rest of the filling is prepared.
  • Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Toss the fruit in the cornflour until thoroughly coated. Tip into a sieve to remove the excess cornflour.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well each time.
  • Fold in the flour and ground almonds.
  • Stir in a little milk until the mixture is of a dropping consistency – that is, it drops freely from a spoon.
  • Spread half od the mixture over the pastry case.
  • Stir the fruit into the remaining half of the mixture, then drop in spoonfuls over the plain mixture. This method will help prevent the fruit immediately sinking to the bottom of the sponge.
  • Smooth over the top and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the sponge is springy to the touch and nicely browned.
  • Sprinkle over the caster sugar whilst hot.
  • Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
  • When cold, slice into serving portions with a sharp knife.
  • Store in an airtight container.

San Diego Paradise Slice – Makes 16 slices

San Diego Paradise Bars

Adapted from the recipe of Bread & Cie, printed in the L.A.Times.

For the base
85g unsalted butter
85g wholemeal flour
75g dark muscovado sugar

For the topping
200g dark muscovado sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
20g wholemeal flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
100g unsweetened desiccated coconut
125g pecans

  • Preheat the oven to 175°C, 155°C Fan.
  • Line a baking tray with parchment. I used one of dimensions 20cm x 28cm, but anything roughly that size is fine.
  • Put the base ingredients into a food processor and blend until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Muscovado sugar can be a bit clumpy and this is a speedy and efficient way to break down the lumps.
  • Spread the mixture into the prepared tin. Pack it down firmly – use a flat-bottomed glass tumbler or similar to get a really smooth, firm surface.
  • Bake the base for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
  • Mix the flour, baking powder and salt.
  • Whisk the sugar, eggs and vanilla until creamy (about 5 minutes).
  • Stir in the flour mixture, the coconut and the pecans.
  • Pour this mixture over the base and smooth over.
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes until set.
  • Cool in the tin.
  • When cold, cut into 16 bars,.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Popcorn Paradise Slice – makes 32 gluten-free slices

Popcorn Paradise Slice

This paradise slice is a variation on the rice krispie bar but with the added flavour of popcorn. I’ve decided to use air-popped popcorn, to reduce both the sugar and fat content. Air-popped corn uses no fat in the pan, just the heat from the stove to make the corn pop. I also tweaked the original recipe to include more fruit. The quantities below are to be seen as guidelines only – use whatever mix of fruit and nuts takes your fancy, just keep to the overall weight of fruit/nuts to no more than 250g.

75g popping corn
75g gluten-free rice cereal
200g mixed, tropical fruit
50g coconut ribbons
300g marshmallows
50g unsalted butter

  • Put the popping corn into a clean, dry saucepan and cover with a lid.
  • Put the pan over medium heat and shake it vigorously to keep the kernels from burning before they pop.
  • When all the popping sounds have ceased, tip the popped corn into a bowl to cool. Wipe the pan with a clean cloth.
  • Pick out any un-popped kernels.
  • When cool, add in the rice cereal, fruit and nuts and mix thoroughly.
  • Line a large baking tray (24cm x 36cm-ish) with foil and grease lightly with either spray or butter.
  • Put the marshmallows and butter into the pan and heat gently until both have melted. Stir thoroughly.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the pan and stir well, ensuring as even a coating as possible for all of the ingredients.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and press down firmly. If you prefer to use your hands, cover the mix with some greased cling film first.
  • Chill in the fridge until completely cold, then cut into 32 fingers.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Coconut Pineapple Paradise Slice – makes 16 slices

This is possibly the easiest, in terms of effort, of all four recipes, as it is mostly just letting the oven or the fridge do all the work.

Coconut Pineapple Paradise

It is another of my Lego™ recipes – stick a bit of recipe A onto recipe B, add a little something-something and, as Jeff Goldblum would say…

You can use any two citrus fruits you like, but I don’t recommend two of the same, as then they tend to gang up on the other ingredients and overpower them. And definitely not two Seville oranges – the bitter is too much for the pineapple. I’ve also tried this with fresh pineapple for an even fresher taste, but the juice content didn’t allow it to set as firmly as I’d have liked. Were I to try this again, I’d sprinkle the chopped pineapple with sugar to help draw out as much moisture as possible.

For the base
85g unsalted butter
85g wholemeal flour
75g dark muscovado sugar

For the topping
1 x 400g-ish tin crushed pineapple in juice
1 x 400g-ish tin sweetened condensed milk
100g low fat creme fraiche (or thick sour cream)
zest & juice of 1 lime
zest & juice of 1 orange – Seville if you have it
100g dessicated coconut

  • Preheat the oven to 175°C, 155°C Fan.
  • Open the tin of pineapple and tip it into a sieve over a bowl. Leave to drain for about an hour – you want as much of the juice to drain out as possible.
  • Mix the condensed milk, creme fraiche and citrus together and stir thoroughly.
  • With a spatula, press the pineapple firmly to extract as much juice as possible. Yes, even after an hour’s draining. Repeat several times as necessary. When no more juice can be squeezed from it, add it to the condensed milk mixture and mix well.
  • Finally, stir in the coconut and set aside until required.
  • Line a baking tray with parchment. I used one of dimensions 20cm x 28cm, but anything roughly that size is fine.
  • Put the base ingredients into a food processor and blend until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Muscovado sugar can be a bit clumpy and this is a speedy and efficient way to break down the lumps.
  • Spread the mixture into the prepared tin. Pack it down firmly – use a flat-bottomed glass tumbler or similar to get a really smooth, firm surface.
  • Bake the base for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned.
  • Pour the filling over the cooked base and smooth over.
  • Return the tin to the oven and switch off the heat.
  • Leave the tray in the now cooling oven for two hours, then remove and leave to cool, if necessary.
  • Finally, chill thoroughly in the fridge (probably another 2 hours).
  • Cut into slices and serve.
  • Store in the fridge either covered or in an airtight container.

In case you missed it: This week over on DejaFood – Apricot Dream Slice


Frozen Fruit Cake

Wotchers!

Mention fruit cake in conversation and many people’s eyes will glaze over at the image of dark, heavy, dried fruit cakes of wintertime, but with this recipe you can make a light, fresh, sponge cake with a burst of freshness in every bite.

Regular listeners will recall my long quest for the perfect Apple Cake, as detailed in (shameless plug) MY FIRST BOOK – and the proportional recipe I found proved not too wet or heavy, lightly cakey, and with a real flavour of the fruit shining through.

This is the soft fruit version of that cake and has the added versatility of being able to be used as a base recipe for lots of different kinds of soft fruit.

It is adapted from a recipe for Blackcurrant Cake in Mrs C.F.Leyel’s Cakes of England (1936)¹. The original recipe called for fresh blackcurrants, but in the 21st century, not as many people have their own fruit bushes, or even access to a PYO fruit farm.

What we DO have access to is frozen fruit, picked and preserved within hours to maintain their quality. As well as bags in supermarkets, many farm shops also have ‘scoop your own’ fruits and berries in their freezers, to which you can help yourself to as much or as little as you like.

Whilst the cake in the above photograph is, indeed, made with blackcurrants, my experiments have confirmed that this recipe can be used with a whole range of soft fruits, and those fruits can be fresh, frozen or even canned.

The fruit makes this cake lovely and moist, and the sweetness of the cake itself contrasts deliciously with the sharp bursts of flavour from the berries. Due to the high levels  of moisture, it is not a cake that should be baked in a deep tin, as this runs the risk of being undercooked and having soggyness in the middle. A relatively shallow square tin, or traybake is ideal.

A further insurance against a soggy cake is to toss the fruit being used in a little cornflour. During baking, the cornflour will thicken any fruit juices that are released and prevent them from flooding the rest of the cake, and the cunning division of the dough means that your fruit will be evenly distributed throughout the finished cake, no matter how plump and juicy it might be.

Bonus: This cake is delicious as is, but can also be served warm as a pudding with a little cream or custard.

Frozen Fruit Cake

Mrs Leyel’s instructions begin ″Take equal quantities of flour, sugar and fresh blackcurrants. Rub the butter into the flour″, thereby being both unhelpfully vague and omitting mention of butter in the ingredients altogether. Nevertheless, after some experimentation, these quantities make a reasonably-sized cake. If you decide to increase the quantities, then increase the cooking time appropriately.

150g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
150g butter
150g caster sugar
150g fruit – fresh, frozen or if canned, drained
3tbs cornflour
2 large eggs, whisked
A little milk (maybe)
caster sugar for sprinkling

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line a 18-20cm square tin with parchment.
  • Put the flour, baking powder and butter into a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Tip into a bowl and stir in the sugar.
  • Stir through the beaten eggs to form a dough. If the mixture seems a little dry, add enough milk to make a soft, scone-like dough.
  • Add HALF of this mixture to the tin and spread out.
  • Sprinkle the cornflour over the fruit and toss gently to coat.
  • Fold the fruit and any remaining cornflour into the remaining dough and transfer to the tin. Smooth over lightly. It should be about 4cm deep. NB This dividing of the dough wll help ensure the fruit is evenly distributed through the cooked cake. As demonstrated more familiarly with cherry cake, fruit has a tendency to ‘slide down’ through the cake mixture and congregate on the bottom of the tin. Adding a layer of fruitless mix in the bottom of the tin will not prevent this, merely slow the downeard progression of the fruit long enough for the cake around the fruit to cook and thus hold it in position.
  • Bake for 50-55 minutes, turning the tin around after 30 minutes. NB Don’t be tempted to remove the cake too early. As already mentioned, the fruit lends quite a lot of moisture to the mix, so be sure that the cake is thoroughly cooked through before removing it from the oven by testing with a cocktail stick that the cake mixture is cooked and observing that the cake as a whole has shrunk away from the sides of the tin and is nicely browned on top.
  • Sprinkle with caster sugar and allow to cool in the tin. NB The moistness of the cake means that it is very fragile when first baked, and trying to remove it from the tin whilst warm runs the risk of it breaking apart.

¹ A fantastic collection of national and regional cakes. Recommended!

 

In case you missed it: Orange & Walnut Garland Cake on DejaFood.com


Molehill Cake

Molehill Cakes
Wotchers!

It’s been a while since I posted a cake recipe, so I thought I’d cheer up the chilly weather with a cakey treat.

And it’s fabulous!

I was initially a little conflicted about this cake: on the one hand it tastes amazing, but then it also falls into the category of my pet hate of ‘food looking like something that isn’t food’, even though it is achieved almost by accident. In the end the ease of baking/construction, coupled with the amazing flavours persuaded me to bend my own rules and I hope you’ll be as delighted with the result as I am.

It’s very straightforward, based on a chocolate sponge, and takes almost zero skill to put together. Huzzah!

I found it on a Romanian version of Pinterest, and it appears to be something Romanians can create from a Dr Oetker box cake mix.

However, there’s no need to resort to box cake mixes, no matter how convenient they might be. Hands up anyone who has eaten one and thought “Oh my! This tastes so convenient!”.

Quite.

So this is a hand-made version, which is only marginally less convenient but with added fresh, natural ingredients. I call it the very best kind of clean eating. I might start a food trend…..

ANYHOO….

Requiring just 2 bowls – one if you rinse it out after mixing the cake – it also requires practically zero washing up! Bonus!

The cake is my go-to, one-bowl chocolate yogurt cake, so easy you could mix it with just a spoon – although I recommend a balloon whisk. Once baked and cooled, the cake is hollowed out and the bottom filled with whole (or as whole as possible) bananas, then a creamy filling mounded on top. The cake that was hollowed out, plus any excess you cut off to level the top, are blitzed to crumbs and patted onto the mound of cream and voila! Something that resembles a molehill but with a much more appetising taste!

You can make one large cake, or, as I managed, one large and several small, individually-sized versions.

The filling can be as simple as sweetened, whipped cream, a custardy diplomat cream (crème patissière + gelatine + whipped cream) or, my favourite, a combination of cream cheese, crème fraiche and double cream, whipped to firmness with a little vanilla paste and icing sugar.

Also optional is whether or not to include some chocolate in your creamy filling. My daughter voted for chocolate chips in an earlier version (she also preferred diplomat cream), however I went for hand-chopped chocolate. Other options might be pure chocolate sprinkles or indeed none at all.

The comforting combination of the richness of the chocolate sponge, the freshness and sweetness of the banana, the creamy topping and the novelty of the overall appearance have immediately shot this cake into my top five list. In fact, the only downside of this cake is the time spent waiting for the cooked cake to cool down before you can fill it!

Mini Molehill Cakes

Molehill Cake

Chocolate Sponge Cake

150ml vegetable oil
150ml plain yoghurt
60ml golden syrup
170g caster sugar
3 large eggs
225g plain flour
50g cocoa
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
  • Line the bottom and sides of a deep 20cm cake tin with baking parchment.
  • Put oil, yoghurt, syrup, caster sugar and eggs in a bowl and whisk together until well mixed.
  • Sift flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the bowl. Mix well.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.
  • Bake in the oven for 60-75 minutes, until the cake has shrunk away from the sides, no bubbling sounds can be heard and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Yes, it does seem a long time, but the low temperature means it really needs the full allowance. The result is a beautifully-textured cake that actually improves on keeping, if you want to make it ahead. Additionally, the low-and-slow cooking means it is invariably gently and perfectly rounded on top and without any cracks.
  • Cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Filling

300g cream cheese at room temperature
300ml low-fat creme fraîche
1-2tsp vanilla paste
2-3tbs icing sugar
300ml double cream
100g good quality chocolate – white, milk or plain – chopped fine

  • Mix the cream cheese, vanilla paste and creme fraîche thoroughly.
  • Add icing sugar to taste.
  • Add the double cream and whisk until firm.
  • Stir through the chopped chocolate.
  • Cover with plastic and chill until required.

To Assemble

cooled cake
4-5 bananas
cream filling

  • Cut the cake horizontally at a height of 4cm. If the cake has risen a lot, you might be able to cut it in half and make 2 large molehill cakes. Alternatively, you can cut out circles of sponge from either one or both halves using a baking ring to make individual-sized portions.
  • Cut a circle 2cm deep around the edge of the cake, 2cm from the edge.
  • Hollow out the middle of the cake so that the remaining sponge resembles a tart case. Be careful not to cut through the bottom of the cake. Reserve the cake scraps.
  • Lay whole bananas in the hollow, making sure they cover the whole of the bottom of the cake.
  • Pile the cream filling on top, using a palette knife to shape it into a tall mound.
  • Blitz the cake scraps to crumb and press lightly onto the sides of the cream until completely covered.
  • You can serve the cake immediately, but it does benefit from being wrapped in foil and thoroughly chilled in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Overnight is ideal.
  • Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before serving.

Meringue Cake

Meringue Cake

Wotchers!

I wasn’t sure whether to put this up as a recipe as it seems a little ordinary, but then again, not everything in life has to be complicated. Especially if it is delicious. As this undoubtedly is.

This actually started out as a cake of a much different pedigree, and I’m going to show you the recipe that initially caught my eye: A version of the famous Kiev Cake. I’m not going to steal the author’s content, so you will have to click on the link to see all the stunning photographs. And they really are spectacular. AND the author has included step-by-step photos. I even made the cake as described. I just didn’t like it.

My reasons, which I freely admit are entirely subject to my own fickle tastes, were that it was too sweet, I found the nuts unnecessary and the sponge cake itself was too dry, even with the soaking syrup. If you have a sweet tooth and a love of nuts, you will adore the Kiev cake and the linked recipe is certainly a stunner, it was just not for me.

However, I thought the general idea had merit and so went through the creation of several versions, trying to refine the flavours and textures. In the end, the simplest idea was the best: sponge, cream, fruit, meringue.

Essentially, this is a Victoria Sponge filled with Eton Mess, but it is also extremely versatile in that this basic idea can be used and re-used in a multitude of ways, by simply varying the flavours of the cake and the fruit. In the summer months, it can take advantage of the range of fresh soft fruits and berries available either in the shops or to pick yourself. In the colder months, it can be whipped up using fruit tinned in either light syrup or fruit juice. In fact, a store-cupboard with a tin of fruit and a pack of meringue nests and a pot of cream in the fridge renders this cake a treat that can be enjoyed in about an hour from start to finish.

Hang on a minute, I hear you say – an hour? To make and cook a whole cake? Why yes – because it doesn’t HAVE to be a large cake – see below.

Mini Meringue Cakes

Vwa – as they say – la!

The perfect combination of soft sponge, crunchy meringue, sweet-sharp fruit and fresh, billowy cream.

NB If you’re using fresh fruit, then you will need a little preparation in order to bring out their best flavour and also avoid the tricksy problem of juice. See recipe instructions below.

Meringue Cake

Much of this recipe depends on the size of cake you want to make. Choose quantities accordingly. The amounts given are for a medium-sized single cake.

Victoria Sponge

170g unsalted butter, softened
170g caster sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract/paste
200g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
milk

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line your tin with parchment paper.
  • Beat the butter until light and fluffy.
  • Add the sugar and beat for 5 minutes.
  • Add the eggs one by one, whisking thoroughly before adding the next.
  • Sift the flour and baking powder together, then add to the other ingredients, mixing only enough to combine.
  • Stir through milk until the mixture achieves a dropping consistency.
  • Pour mixture into the prepared tin and smooth over.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes until risen and golden, and beginning to shrink away from the sides of the tin.
  • Allow to cool in the tin for 10m minutes before removing and transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Fruit

You can choose almost any fruit that takes your fancy, in whatever quantities you like, because any extra can be served alongside your cake as an added bonus.

Tinned fruit can be found in both juice and syrup. Both are fine and have the advantage of no juice problem, once drained. If your meringue/cream/fruit mixture needs a little sweetening, or it’s a bit stiff, you can add a little juice/syrup rather than raw sugar.

Fresh fruit is equally delicious, but requires you to address the problem of juice. This isn’t such a problem for small berries that you can tumble into your filling whole (blueberries, raspberries, etc), but for fruit which requires slicing (strawberries, peaches, apricots, nectarines, mango, etc.) the juice problem will become apparent as soon as it is cut. If you add chopped fruit directly into the meringue/cream mix, the juice will start to seep into the cream and will eventually turn your filling runny and unstable. Aside from the natural ooziness, the sugar in the meringue will actively draw more juice from the fruit, so in order to prevent this, you need to draw out the juice before mixing it into your filling. This is easily done by first preparing the fruit in small, bite-sized pieces, then sprinkling over 3-4 tablespoons of sugar and gently mixing. Set the fruit aside for 1-2 hours, and you will find that the drawn juice has created a delicious syrup and the fruit has softened and sweetened indulgently. Drain the fruit thoroughly from the syrup before adding to the meringue and cream. Use the syrup to sweeten the mixture, or soak the cake, or not at all.

Meringue

If you have egg-whites to spare, then you can always whip up a batch of meringues yourself, but I’ve found that the extended shelf-life of ready-made meringues make for a great store-cupboard stand-by. I’ve used both meringue nests and tub of meringue ‘kisses’ and, provided you don’t assemble the cake too far in advance, they both provide the sweet, textured crunch the filling requires. In terms of quantities, it is very much to your own personal tastes, but as a rough guide I would suggest 4 meringue nests or 1/2 a tub of meringue kisses for a cake serving 6-8 people.

Cream

You can use double or whipping cream, however I find that double cream whips up firmer and adds just the right amount of stability to get a good,clean slice when serving. 300ml is probably sufficient, but whisk up more if you think it might be required.

To assemble the cake

  • Drain the (tinned or fresh) fruit from the syrup.
  • Slice the cake horizontally.
  • Soak the cut surfaces with syrup from the fruit (optional).
  • Whip the cream.
  • Add the fruit and crumbled meringues to the cream and fold in.
  • Taste and add more fruit syrup if required.
  • Spread over the bottom half of the cake and add the top layer of cake.
  • Dust lightly with icing sugar and serve.

Rainbow Cake

Wotchers!

Regular listeners might remember, back in October (2016), my oven died a week before my daughter’s birthday, which ended up resulting in a six-month wait for an entirely new kitchen. I promised to make her a birthday cake when the new kitchen was  installed, and the request was put in for a rainbow cake. A few glitches here and there, meant that I only got around to it a couple of weeks ago.

This is not that cake. That cake I didn’t photograph. That cake was just for her, and consumed at all times of the day and night, including breakfast, until she waved the white flag in defeat. The idea for this cake came out of that cake.

It also gives me an opportunity to have a bit of a rant over a pet peeve of mine, namely food colouring. Yes, in a post about rainbow cake, I’m going to complain about food colouring.

Regular viewers might remember previous rants including making-stuff-look-like-stuff-it-isn’t, featuring the infamous Come Dine With Me chocolate shoe incident. A few weeks ago, I revealed my dislike of over-the-top recipes. Rainbow cakes are now part of the Things-Which-Induce-Much-Gnashing-And-Grinding-Of-Teeth.

ANYHOO…

The usual way to make a rainbow cake involves seven layers of luridly-coloured sponge cake, interspersed with dollops of unnaturally-white buttercream. Then the whole is smothered with more highly-coloured sweets or fondant or buttercream, etc, etc. Sometimes the brightly-coloured sponge is mixed together in blobs, but in general the format is pretty standard, and it all involves So. Much. Food. Colouring.

But none of this is a patch on the über villain when it comes to coloured cakes, the Red Velvet Cake.

What originally started out as a reddish hue from a reaction between the cocoa and the vinegar/buttermilk has, in the 21st century, turned into a virulent-red chocolate cake dyed with food colouring. Bottles of the stuff. Modern, concentrated gel colours mean that not as much, by volume, is required, but still. It’s a chocolate cake, people. And it’s red. Bright red. Think about that. Enough colouring to turn a chocolate cake red.

And with both red velvet and rainbow cakes, the cake itself doesn’t strike me as being particularly nice, quite apart from the American penchant for making them up using *Matilda Response*[1] box mixes.

 

Moving on…

I wanted to see if it was possible to make a rainbow cake using the bare minimum of food colouring, that actually tasted nice, and so here we are.

The answer lies in the classic Joconde Imprime, which you may well remember from the Great British Bake Off Season 2 and my  Chocolate & Orange Mousse Cake and the miniature Strawberry & Rhubarb cheesecakes from my Finale showstopper: A coloured, pound-cake paste is used to draw a design onto baking parchment, then frozen. A light, almond sponge mixture is then poured over and smoothed out, before baking in a hot oven for 5-7 minutes. When the cake is turned out, the pattern is visible on the underside of the sheets, which can then be used to make entremet-style desserts. ‘Course, back then, an orange squiggle or a red stripe was considered pretty cutting edge. Nowadays it looks tame.

Usually, the Joconde paste is piped into the desired pattern, but once cooked it can make for a rather clunky contrast with the sponge (pound cake mix vs light, airy Joconde). One solution would be to use a teeny, tiny piping tip but then it takes sooooooo looooooong to fill the parchment with a design.

I mixed a small batch of the joconde paste and divided it into seven, colouring each portion with food-gel colouring and white powder colour. I painted rainbow stripes on one parchment sheet, and two designs for the top of the cake on the other sheet. You could pipe the paste, but the thickness of the colour paste when painted on was extremely thin, leaving most of the vanilla sponge uncoloured and delicious as can be seen below. All the colour, with none of the bulk.

Cake Profile with rainbow colours

The inside of the cake can be whatever you like. This one is filled with two layers of strawberries in a cream-cheese cream, with the offcuts from the sponge being fitted together, jigsaw-style, to make a middle layer. Alternatively, you could make it a mousse or cheesecake or Eton Mess  or buttercream – the possibilities are endless – although something that will ‘set’ will help the stability of the cake once it is removed from the mould.

You can make the rainbow pattern any design you like, however the stripes are very easy to match up, which helps to hide the join – see below. This 19cm diameter cake needed a strip of sponge almost 70cm long to form the sides – impossible to bake in a single strip.

A few more tips:

  • You can make the sponge any flavour, but I got by far the best results (in terms of colour) from vanilla.
  • Chocolate joconde makes the colours very muted and the blue/indigo/violet were almost indistinguishable. Avoid.
  • Mixing in some white food colouring (powder) to the Joconde paste made the colours much stronger once cooked. Before baking, they are pale and more pastel in hue. Have faith!
  • Make sure the decor paste covers the parchment entirely. Early experiments piping the colours and leaving gaps between resulted in large air pockets forming and spoiling the finished pattern.
  • You can get an almost invisible join between the sides and the disc of sponge used for the top if you make sure your filling is almost to the rim and you mitre the edges of the sponges.
  • The vanilla cream decoration was piped through a piping bag striped with neat gel colouring.
  • Depending on the complexity of your design, you might want to spend time on it a day or two before you need your cake – once complete, it can stay in the freezer until needed.

Rainbow Cake Top

Rainbow Cake

Joconde décor paste
50g unsalted butter, softened
50g icing sugar
50g egg whites
60g plain flour
rainbow food colours
white food colouring powder
2tbs melted, clarified butter

  • Line two 45cm x 30cm (half sheet) baking trays with baking parchment and brush thoroughly with the melted butter. Clarified butter contains no milk solids that might scorch and spoil the colours of the design. Alternatives are cocoa butter or coconut butter.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy then gradually add the egg whites, beating continuously.
  • Fold in the sifted flour.
  • Divide into seven small bowls, 30g in each bowl.
  • Mix in the food colouring to each bowl until the desired shade is achieved. I also added about half a teaspoon of white colouring.
  • Paint your designs for the sides and top of the cake onto the two sheets of buttered parchment.
  • When finished, put into the freezer until required.

Joconde sponge
180g egg whites, at room temperature
25g granulated sugar
225g ground almonds
225g icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
2tsp vanilla extract
80g plain flour
85g clarified butter, melted

  • Preheat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan
  • Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
  • Add the granulated sugar and continue whisking until stiff peaks are formed.
  • Scrape the meringue mixture into a bowl and cover with cling film to prevent the meringue collapsing, or if you have two mixer bowls, just swap over a clean one.
  • Beat the almonds, icing sugar, vanilla and eggs in the bowl for 5 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy.
  • Turn the speed down to low and mix in the flour.
  • Gently fold in the meringue mixture using a large spatula.
  • Put the melted butter in a small bowl and mix in a cupful of the sponge batter. Pour this back into the mixing bowl and gently fold into the rest of batter.
  • Retrieve your Joconde paste designs from the freezer and lay them into your baking trays.
  • Divide the mixture evenly between the tins and smooth over. Pay special attention to the corners, where it is easy to accidentally leave the batter a little on the thin side.
  • Bake for 5-7 minutes, until the sponges are cooked and springy to the touch and have shrunk away from the edges of the pan.
  • Turn out by laying a tea towel onto a sheet of parchment, then flip the baking tray over onto the cloth. Peel off the paper to reveal the pattern, and lay it lightly on top of the sponge. Leave to cool.
  • When cooled, cut strips of sponge to line the sides of the cake tin, ensuring the pattern is facing outwards against the sides of the tin. Cut a circle of sponge to line the base and lay it patterned-side down, in the bottom of the tin. Cut a second circle to make the top of the cake and set aside.
  • Fill with the filling of your choice. Use the sponge cake offcuts to make a middle layer of cake if liked.
  • Trim the edges of the sponge ‘lid’ and the sponge sides and join together.
  • Lay a chopping board on the top of the cake to press it lightly and chill for an hour or two to firm up.
  • Remove from the tin and transfer to your serving plate.
  • Garnish as liked.

 

 

[1] No not that one. The one from the Hillaire Belloc poem: (Matilda told such Dreadful Lies) It made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes!


Dacquoise Sandwich Cakes

Dacquoise Sponge Sandwich

Wotchers!

The recipe I have for you this week is more a set of guidelines that can be adapted to whatever takes your fancy or whatever you have to hand in the cupboards.

These individual cakes were inspired by a picture I saw of a Swiss cake, the Zuger Kirchetorte, which looked delightfully neat and elegant, as one might expect of the Swiss. I tried several recipes, but became increasingly frustrated by my own ham-fistedness in reproducing the elegance: the sponge was too thick, or the meringue too thin, or too soft or too fragile. In addition, it had a LOT of alcohol in it, which is nice for a special occasion but a bit much during daylight hours.

So I abandoned that idea for something smaller, which owes its composition to the Zuger Kirchetorte, but is also much more adaptable: you can dress it up or down, depending on whatever is to hand, even improvise with ready-made components if time or patience is short.

Essentially, these individually-sized cakes are sandwiches, with a dacquoise (hazelnut meringue) as the ‘bread’ and sponge cake as the ‘filling’, all stuck together and decorated with the sandwich ‘glue’ of your choice. The look substantial, but are very light to eat.

The possibilities for variation are endless:

  • Meringue: I’ve used a hazelnut dacquoise but you could swap those out for pistachios, almonds, walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts. You could even use plain meringue, or meringue shells from the supermarket. Alongside this, you can choose to flavour the meringues by adding in freeze-dried fruit powder to complement your other ingredients.
  • Sponge: literally any sponge will do, plain vanilla, rich madeira, moist almond, fatless, genoise, joconde, flavoured however you like.
  • Syrup: to make your sponge luscious and tender, you can soak it in a syrup of some kind. If you don’t want to have too many flavours, then a simple sugar syrup of half sugar, half water is fine.  Or you can add flavouring to the syrup such as coffee, tea infusions, fruit juices, spirits such as Kirch, Maraschino, Disaronno, mead, madeira, rum, brandy, etc.
  • Filling: I’ve used a dark chocolate ganache, to be honest, because I had some in the fridge left over from something else, but milk, white and caramelised are all good choices too, as are all flavours of buttercream. For simplicity, you can also use chocolate hazelnut spread, peanut butter (smooth or crunchy), spekuloos spread, even thick, smooth jams or fruit spreads.
  • Garnish: for the outsides of the cake, something that will stick on easily and match your other flavour choices. I chose nibbed and toasted hazelnuts, because I used them in the dacquoise, but you could use flaked or slivered nuts, feuilletine, crumbled biscuits, freeze-dried fruit, chocolate sprinkles, meringue crumbs, chocolate shards.

I used baking rings made from small tinned food tins (5cm diameter tins from mushy peas, in case you’re wondering) opened at both ends, but these quantities will also make one large, 24cm cake if you prefer.

Dacquoise Sandwich Cakes

Makes 8 individual sandwiches or 1 large 24cm cake.

For the Sponge

You can choose your own favourite sponge recipe if preferred. This fatless sponge recipe also happens to be gluten-free.

2 large eggs
60 g of caster sugar
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp hot water
50 g Green & Black’s cocoa
30 g of cornflour

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line your tin(s) with baking parchment. Butter the parchment.
  • Sift the cocoa and cornflour together.
  • Whisk the eggs, sugar, water and salt together over a saucepan of hot water for 3-4 minutes, until light and frothy.
  • Remove from the heat and whisk until billowy and increased in volume (about 5 minutes).
  • Gradually fold in half the cocoa and cornflour, then add the remainder and fold in.
  • Transfer to your tin(s), filling each about half-way.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes (20-25 minutes for a large cake) until firm and springy and slightly shrunk from the sides.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

For the Dacquoise

You can grind the hazelnuts finer, but I like the texture the slightly larger pieces give.

2 large eggwhites (80ml)
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp icing sugar
1 tbs cornflour
60 g chopped, toasted hazelnuts

  • Turn the oven to 120°C, 100°C Fan.
  • Draw 16 circles using your baking rings as a guide onto a sheet of parchment, 2 for each sandwich.
  • Turn the paper over and lay onto a baking sheet.
  • Whisk the egg-whites to soft peaks, then sprinkle in the caster sugar and whisk until the meringue is firm and glossy.
  • Sift the icing sugar and cornflour together and fold into the meringue.
  • Sprinkle in the nuts and briefly mix.
  • Spoon the dacquoise onto the prepared baking parchment and spread into the marked circles. Make sure it at least reaches the edges of the circles. It doesn’t have to be too accurate, as they can be trimmed after baking. Smooth over.
  • Bake for 1 hour.
  • Switch off the oven and allow the meringues to cool in the oven for 15 minutes, then prop the oven door open and allow to cool completely.
  • When cold, remove from the parchment and store in a ziplock bag until required.

For the Ganache

300g plain dark chocolate
150ml double cream

  • Chop the chocolate into small pieces.
  • Pour the cream into a small pan and bring to a boil.
  • Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and set aside for 5 minutes.
  • Stir gently with a whisk until the chocolate is fully melted and the ganache smooth and glossy.

For the syrup

50g caster sugar
50ml water
flavouring to suit

  • Put the sugar and water into a small pan and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved.
  • Add any flavouring to taste.

To Assemble

  • Select the eight meringues with the smoothest bases and set aside. These will be used for the top of the sandwiches, for a neat finish.
  • Put the remaining meringues on a tray and spoon over a layer of ganache.
  • Trim the cakes level and set onto the ganache.
  • Soak with the sugar syrup. It’s almost impossible to use too little. You can see from the photograph the syrup I used only soaked a little way into the sponge, so more is better.
  • Add a second layer of ganache.
  • Add the remaining meringues, turning them upside down, so that the smooth bases are uppermost.
  • Sprinkle your decor into a tray.
  • Spread the remaining ganache in a smooth layer around the sides of the sandwiches then roll in your chosen decoration. Set aside. If you’ve made one large cake, then hold your cake on one hand and lift up handfuls of your decoration and press into the sides.
  • When all the sandwiches are coated, transfer to a dish and cover with clingfilm. This will keep the meringues from absorbing too much moisture.
  • Chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours to firm up.
  • When ready to serve, dust the tops liberally with icing sugar and use a hot skewer to caramelise the sugar in an abstract design.