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.

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.

Rum and Raisin Cake

Rum and Raisin Cake
Wotchers!

The first cookery book I ever bought was the 1982 paperback edition of Poor Cook by Susan Campbell and Caroline Conran.

Poor Cook 1982

It was on the recommendation of a friend who said she liked it because the recipes usually didn’t require a trip out to the shops with a list as long as your arm of ingredients. Since then, we’ve drifted away from that kind of cooking, so that now a trip out to buy ingredients is the norm, and cooking becomes a performance.

Whipping up a batch of scones or making a cut-and-come-again cake shouldn’t warrant any drama so recipes which you can make from the contents of your cupboards are always going to be a comfort. The Apple Cake recipe in Great British Bakes is another such recipe – also egg-free, and proportional, so you can scale it to however many apples you have to hand.

Which brings me to this week’s recipe.

Aside from being moist, tender and delicious, this cake is great to have in your repertoire because it is made from store-cupboard staples, doesn’t require eggs and can easily be made both gluten and dairy free. It’s simple and straightforward, basically a 2-bowl recipe: mix wet, mix dry, mix together, put in tin, bake.

If it has a down side, it’s the slow cooking time (1 hour), but if you’re anything like me, a 1 hour wait is a small price to pay for being able to avoid a trip out to the shops before you can treat yourself.

I’ve made this recipe with a number of different flours from stone-ground wholemeal bread, through barley to gluten-free. The gluten-free version was extremely tender, to the point of crumbling when sliced. Nice, but a bit tricky to eat politely as a slice – crumbled into a bowl with cream or ice-cream, glorious! The wholemeal bread flour was firmer, but still much more tender and moist that your average fruit cake. Switch out the butter for coconut butter to make it dairy-free.

You can vary the liquid and spices to suit your own personal tastes. The original recipe used all water and a mixture of cinnamon and cloves. I’ve substituted half of the liquid for rum and used mixed spice. Go with what you have/like.

Rum and Raisin Cake

The aroma of this cake is fantastic, especially when warm from the oven.

175g light or dark muscovado sugar
50g butter or cocoa butter
140ml water
140ml dark rum
280g raisins or sultanas
½ tsp salt
250g brown flour or mixture of flours, or gluten-free flour
2tsp mixed spice
1tsp bicarbonate of soda

  • Put the first five ingredients into a small pan.
  • Slowly bring to the boil, then remove from heat, cover and leave to cool for at least one hour.
  • Mix the remaining four ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  • Once the fruit mixture has cooled, heat the oven to 130°C, 110°C Fan.
  • Grease and line a 1kg loaf tin with baking parchment.
  • Fold the dry ingredients into the cooled fruit mixture, then pour into the loaf tin. It should almost fill the tin, but there’s little rise during baking.
  • Bake for 1 hour, turning the tin around after 40 minutes to ensure even baking.
  • Allow to cool in the tin.
  • Store in your cake tin, wrapped in foil.

 


Heaven and Hell Cake

Heaven and Hell Meringue Cake

Wotchers!

This week’s recipe is a variation on a meringue cake, where sponge and meringue are baked at the same time, on top of one another, and then sandwiched together with any of a range of fillings.

The first meringue cake I ever saw was a glorious chocolate-hazelnut-raspberry flavoured one by Miranda Gore Brown on Season 1 of The Great British Bake Off.

I discovered this German version in a rather roundabout way, on a Croatian cooking site. Loving both the name (Himmel und Hölle Kuchen) and the striking appearance, I decided to try my hand at it, since there was suitable fruit in the freezer and I needed some space for this year’s harvest. It’s a cake of contrasts – my favourite kind of cake: sharp, red fruit in jelly, smooth sweetened cream, crunchy meringue and moist sponge. Delightful!

I didn’t actually get as far as the fruit, initially, because the sponge and the meringue required a bit of work: the original sponge was too dry and the meringue went soggy within an hour. So I opted for recipes that I have more faith in, viz: the cream cake recipe of a few weeks ago, and a French meringue recipe from a professional French patisserie site. One of these days I shall compile a chart of how various sugar and egg-white ratios perform with the different meringue methods but, as a famous Braavosi once said, not today.

ANYHOO….

With the cake and meringue sorted, I could turn my attention to the fillings. The name Heaven and Hell comes (I’m assuming) from the contrast between the red ‘hell’ of the fruit and the white ‘heaven’ of the cream. The red fruit is a mixture of raspberries and redcurrants and is set with gelatine. The white cream was originally a sweet Chantilly, but for the above cake design, I felt it needed something a little more robust, so I’ve substituted a variation I used to fill my mille feuilles in the GBBO.

Which reminds me – the above cake design – don’t. I decided to make the cake/meringue as a tray bake and then cut and constructed it in a rectangular, spring-form tin. It makes for an elegant slice, but, on reflection, it would have been much less complicated to use two sandwich tins and then construct in a regular spring-form tin. Additionally, you’d only have to pipe one layer of meringue ‘kisses’ for the top layer, and make the second layer just smooth meringue, thus allowing the cakes to get into the oven more quickly. So I highly recommend that course of action.

Although the red and the white form a great contrast, I think an equally great combination would be blackberries and blackcurrants – one which I shall be trying shortly – and this time in round tins!

Heaven and Hell Cake

There are four elements to this cake: sponge, meringue, fruit filling, cream filling. Once all four elements are ready, the cake can be constructed. The slightly tricky part is the meringue mixture and the cake mixture need to be ready at the same time. Whilst practicing, I made the cake first, then the meringue, but I think for future reference, making the meringue first might be the better way to go, hence the following recipe order.

French Meringue

150g egg whites
20 g caster sugar
125 g caster sugar
125 g icing sugar

  • Put the egg whites into a bowl and whisk until soft peaks.
  • Add the 20g caster sugar and whisk until firm.
  • Mix the remaining sugars together and gradually add to the egg-whites.
  • Whisk until firm, at least 5 minutes.
  • Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain tip.
  • Set aside while you mix the cake.

Vanilla Cream Cake

150g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125ml cream – double or clotted
150g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder

1tsp vanilla extract

  •  Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line 2 sandwich tins with baking parchment – the size can be small – 20cm – for an impressively tall final cake, or up to 24cm for a lower-level affair.
  • Crack the eggs into a bowl and add the sugar. Beat with a balloon whisk (or by hand or stand mixer) until the eggs are frothy and the sugar dissolved – about 5 minutes.
  • Add the cream and vanilla and whisk in.
  • Sift the flour and baking powder together and stir into the rest of the ingredients
  • Divide the mixture evenly between the baking tins. Smooth over.
  • Pipe meringue ‘kisses’ onto the top of the cake mixture in one tin, and pipe an even layer of meringue over the cake mixture in the other tin.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cake is risen and cooked and the meringue lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

Red Fruit Filling
150ml redcurrant juice [1]
450g fresh raspberries
sugar to taste
1 sachet powdered or 4 leaves gelatine

  • Put the juice and 300g of the raspberries into a pan and warm gently over a medium-low heat, mashing the raspberries into the juice.
  • Taste and add enough sugar to take the edge from the sharpness.
  • Soak the leaves of gelatine and then add to the pan, or sprinkle over the powdered gelatine and stir until dissolved. NB The quantities given normally set a whole pint of liquid, and you might therefore think it a bit excessive. The reason behind this is that gelatine isn’t overly fond of acidic mixtures, so a little extra concentration is helpful in encouraging it to set up properly.
  • Set aside to cool.

Cream Filling
200ml double cream
200g cream cheese
200g low-fat creme fraiche
1 tsp vanilla extract
icing sugar to taste

  • Put the creams, cheese and extract into a bowl and whisk together until firm.
  • Add icing sugar to sweeten. It won’t need much – 2-3 tablespoons is about right.
  • Set aside.

To assemble the cake

  • If available, line the spring-form tin you’re using to construct the cake with food-grade acetate around the edge. This will allow the fillings to form clearly defined layers and not smudge when you remove the cake from the tin for serving. Alternatively, use clingfilm, and cover the whole of the bottom/sides.
  • Lay the cake with the flattened meringue into the bottom. There are two options available: meringue up or meringue down. Meringue up makes it easier to move/serve, meringue down might be more aesthetically pleasing, being a mirror of the top meringue/cake layer. You also need to bear in mind the effect the fruit layer will have on either the meringue or the sponge.
  • Once the fruit mixture has cooled a little, it will start to thicken. Fold in the remaining raspberries, trying to keep them as whole as possible, then spread in an even layer over the bottom sponge/meringue layer.
  • Put the cream mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain nozzle and pipe a thick line of cream all around the edge of the cake tin, then fill in the middle. Strictly speaking, the piping bag isn’t compulsory, but I find it’s the best way of getting the filling nice and even around the edge.
  • Place the top layer of sponge and meringue on top of the cream and press gently.
  • Chill in the fridge until the gelatine has completely set.
  • When set, remove the cake from the tin and place onto your serving dish. Allow the cake to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, then dust with icing sugar and serve.

 

[1] I thawed 400g of redcurrants and then sieved the softened berries. It doesn’t need to be all juice – a mixture of pulp and juice is fine, just so the gelatine has something to dissolve into.


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.


Sicilian Seven Veils Cake

Sicilian Seven Veils Cake

Wotchers!

Here’s a delicious treat I’ve had bookmarked for YEARS – and boy am I kicking myself for not trying it sooner! For no other reason that the mirror glaze. I mean, come on – just look at it! In fact, I can’t as the shine from it is so DAZZLING – let me go get my shades.

Today I had the pleasure of sharing a coffee and a chat with the delightful Brendan Lynch – a delicious treat in itself – and decided I would shamelessly recruit him as taste tester.

The Seven Veils of the title refers to the seven different layers of this cake. From the top they are:

  • Chocolate mirror glaze
  • Chocolate Bavarian Cream
  • Chocolate Joconde Sponge
  • Praline Bavarian Cream
  • Chocolate Joconde Sponge
  • Vanilla Bavarian Cream
  • Chocolate Feuilletine crunch.

The cake layer is traditionally a Genoise, but I’ve chosen to switch it for a Joconde, as the ground almonds and teeny bit of butter make for a softer, more delicious texture to the sponge.

Feuilletine is flakes of wafer-thin biscuit that keeps its crunch when mixed with various patisserie items. It is available from online from Melbury and Appleton at a very reasonable £2.55 for 200g. Alternatively, I have found a recipe if you fancy trying to make it yourself (NB I haven’t tried the recipe). If you’re game, you can find it over at BraveTart here. The third alternative, which is what I did, is to crush up some Crepes Dentelles biscuits you have lying around – but then I happened to have grabbed some in France when we were on holiday in the summer. Still, those too are available at Melbury and Appleton for a slightly less reasonable £3.20 for 80g. If all else fails, crushed cornflakes make a great substitute for next to nothing.

Seven layers might sound daunting, but is really more an exercise in assembly than technical skill. The various components can be made over the course of several days and then brought together to assemble the day before the cake is required. In a cunning move worthy of a Professor of Cunning at Cunning University, the cake is assembled upside down and then frozen, to give a firm, smooth base for the glaze to dribble over. It can then just sit in the fridge until required. Actually, it is best served at room temperature, so take it out of the fridge about 2 hours before you intend to serve it.

I made this cake in a 20cm square, loose-bottomed tin, but you can make it in a circle, spring-form tin or even as a slab/tray-bake style. Having a tin does help to keep the edges of each layer neat and it also helps protect the cake whilst it’s in the freezer. Then again you can always trim the cake edges before pouring the glaze, if you prefer.

Seven Veils Cake

Chocolate crunch base
100g dark (70%) chocolate
50g feuilletine or crushed corn flakes
50g toasted, chopped hazelnuts

  • Line the tin you’re going to use to build the cake with cling film.
  • Blitz the hazelnuts in the food processor until they become a paste. (You’ll need more of this paste for the Praline Bavarian Cream, so maybe blitz all the hazelnuts together at once).
  • Break the chocolate into pieces and melt.
  • Stir in the hazelnut paste and the feuilletine.
  • Press the mixture into the tin and smooth over. NB This layer should be no more than 5mm thick, otherwise it will be too chunky-monkey to cut easily.
  • Fold over the clingfilm to cover.
  • Put into the fridge to set

Chocolate Joconde sponge

I bake this in a single, half-sheet pan (30cm x 45cm) and the cut the sponge to size. You can use 2 or 3 round cake tins if you prefer, but make sure to bake for slightly less time.

90g egg whites, at room temperature
15g granulated sugar
112g ground almonds
112g icing sugar, sifted
3 large eggs
20g plain flour
20g cocoa powder
45g clarified butter, melted

  • Preheat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan
  • Line a 45cm x 30cm (half sheet) baking tray with baking parchment and brush with the melted butter.
  • Make the Joconde sponge:
    • 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.
    • Beat the almonds, icing sugar 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 and cocoa powder.
    • 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.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin, spreading it smooth and into the corners ensuring it is level. An offset spatula is useful for this.
  • Bake for 5-7 minutes, until the sponge is cooked and springy to the touch and has shrunk away from the edges of the pan.
  • Turn out by covering the sponge with a sheet of parchment then flip the baking tray over onto the work surface. Peel off the parchment and lay it lightly on top of the sponge. Leave to cool.

Bavarian Cream
Bavarian cream is basically a custard with added gelatine, with flavourings and cream folded through. If you want to break down the process because of lack of time, it can be made in two parts. The first part is the custard base, the second adding the flavourings and gelatine when ready to construct the cake. If you do this, then warm the custard slightly before trying to stir in the soaked gelatine.

250ml milk
2 large egg yolks
35g cornflour
85g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 leaves (8g) gelatine

650ml double cream
100g dark (70%) chocolate
100g toasted, chopped hazelnuts – blitzed to powder/paste

  • Soak the gelatine in water to cover for 10 minutes.
  • Heat the sugar and the milk until almost boiling.
  • Whisk the cornflour, vanilla and egg yolks together, then gradually whisk in the sweetened milk.
  • Return the mixture to the heat and continue heating and stirring until thickened.
  • Remove custard from the heat.
  • Drain the gelatine and stir into the warm custard until fully dissolved.
  • Cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming.

Chocolate Bavarian Cream: To one third of the above custard, stir in 100g dark (70%) melted chocolate, then fold through 250ml whipped double cream.
Praline Bavarian Cream: To half of the remaining custard, stir in the hazelnut powder/paste and fold through 250ml whipped double cream.
Vanilla Bavarian Cream: Fold through 150ml whipped double cream.

Simple Syrup: Dissolve 75g of sugar in 150ml water.

To Assemble The Cake

  • Remove the feuilletine base from the tin and set aside.
  • Line the tin with cling film over the bottom and the sides.
  • Pipe the chocolate Bavarian cream into the base of the cake and smooth over.
  • Add a layer of Joconde sponge, cut to size.
  • Soak the sponge with the simple syrup. This will ensure each mouthful is moist and tender.
  • Pipe the Praline Bavarian Cream and smooth over.
  • Add a layer of Joconde sponge, cut to size.
  • Soak the sponge with the simple syrup.
  • Pipe the Vanilla Bavarian Cream and smooth over.
  • Unwrap the feuilletine layer and press it, upside-down, into the cream.
  • Cover the cake with cling film and put into the freezer for a minimum of 8 hours.
  • 12 hours before you wish to serve the cake, make and glaze it with the chocolate mirror glaze.

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

  • Cut the gelatine into small pieces and soak in water to cover.
  • 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 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.
  • 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. Now it is time to glaze the cake.

Glazing the Cake

  • Remove the cake from the freezer and turn out.
  • Cover the removable base of the tin (if you have one) with a double layer of foil and place it under the base of the frozen cake. This foil layer will be useful when you need to transfer your cake to your presentation plate.
  • Put the cake onto a wire rack, and balance the rack on the rim of a large bowl. The bowl must be big enough to catch the excess glaze as it drips off the sides of the cake.
  • Pour the glaze onto the middle of the cake. It will run easily over the frozen cream and start dripping off the sides.
  • Move the pan around so that the sides are fully covered.
  • There is more than enough glaze to cover the cake. The excess in the bowl underneath can be stored in the fridge for other uses.
  • Once the glaze has stopped dripping, move the cake to the refrigerator and leave overnight.
  • Remove the cake 2 hours before required to allow it to come to room temperature and the creams to soften.
  • Enjoy!