Test Kitchen: Cognac Prune Cake and Perfect Pastry

Cakes

Hi Joe,

There are two things on my mind as I start writing this.

It’s beginning to feel like autumn in Glasgow, the air is smelling cold and I like it. Mum said she always feels a sense of new beginning in these times. Maybe because she spent most of her life in a job that starts again every September. My September isn’t a fresh start how I’m used to, there are no more classes to go to. Sick. Haha. Still, the cold mud smell of autumn has coated Glasgow’s floor with a fresh autumn carpet. It’s quite nice, soft on the feet and sparking a desire for comfort in the evenings, nutty tasting things and bedside lamps switched on.

I love bedside lamps for their glow. I love how they instantly create a pocket of light you can dip in and out of.

The other thing I have on my mind is how I can make these letters to you feel less like they need to be perfect.

Sometimes perfect is absolutely perfect. Very necessary, even. Like, if you are sharing a recipe for a cake with a lot of people. These times ‘perfect’ is a measure of precision. Sometimes though, perfection is something you are seeking, and it’s less about accuracy. These times ‘perfect’ is a measure of satisfaction. Most often, this is a search for the most above average level of satisfaction I know to exist.

So one finger up to that kind of perfect, here’s a new kind of post. I made this cake once, from the memory of drinking cognac at night, in candle light, the rustic kind of bedside light, with a feeling of new beginnings and a sweet, nutty taste on my tongue.

Note on the Test Kitchen – I love this cake, it’s a cake that wants teeth to sink into it, but the recipe hasn’t been developed or tested multiple times. So do with the recipe what you want. You can follow it exactly, and you’ll get a delicious cake. Or you can play around with it, and make your own delicious cake.

My Notes – The pastry is the way I want it, maybe my new go to pastry, I wouldn’t change a thing. The fruit needs more cognac if this is to be called a cognac cake and the frangipane needs to be spread thinner – use a larger tin. This will likely reduce the baking time. This cake should be eaten at least once warmed up with cream and does not keep well longer than 3 days.

Ingredients

For the Pastry

  • 90g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 175g plain flour
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon cold water

For the Cake Filling

  • 190g dried prunes and figs
  • 50g cognac
  • 150g butter, softened
  • 150g sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • salt and lemon zest to taste
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 165g ground almonds
  • 80g plain flour

Method

In a large bowl rub the butter through the flour sugar and salt until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and cold water. Use a knife to begin clumping the mixture together, finishing off with your hands until you have a ball of pastry. Shape into a disk and put in the freezer for 15 mins.

Pre heat the oven to 180/160 fan. Grease an 8inch round cake tin, if you use a tart case make sure it is a deep one. Roll out the pastry to about the thickness of a pound coin. Use a dinner plate bigger than the tin to trace a circle out the pastry. Line this into the greased tin, the pastry will come up the sides of the tin a little.

Blind bake the pastry case for 15 minutes. To do this, cover the pastry with greaseproof paper, then pour baking beans, rice or lentils over the paper to weigh everything down. After 15 mins, remove the greaseproof paper and baking beans/rice or lentils and bake for another 5 mins. Remove from the oven but keep the oven on.

Roughly chop the dried fruit and put in a small saucepan with the cognac. Bring to a simmer then turn the heat off, cover, and allow to infuse while you make the frangipane. (Possibly the two most autumnal sentences I have ever written).

In a large bowl cream the butter, sugar, vanilla, salt and lemon zest until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, ground almonds and flour in one and mix until just combined. Tip in the cognac and fruit and mix through the frangipane before scraping into the pastry lined tin. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs.

Speak soon, Poe. Caitlin x

Lemon Almond Syrup Cake

Cakes

Yo Joe

This cake is an upgraded lemon drizzle. Soft on the inside with a crackly sugar and almond crust, soaked in a tart lemon syrup fresh out the oven.

I first made a version of it in May when me, Tiger, Jess and Sue were moving out our flat. Amongst the tins of chopped tomatoes and packets of rice left in our cupboards we had lemons, walnuts, ground almonds and some yoghurt in the fridge. I made a cake out of them. And it was PENG. So, I wrote the recipe on the back of a Sainsbury’s receipt and have fiddled about with it all summer. I’m still working off that receipt now, with all the changes to the recipe scribbled on top of each other.

The original cake – the May one – sunk slightly in the middle. I altered the recipe, so it rises…how you would expect a cake to rise, but I think the original sunken state is important to remember. This cake has a heavy heart.

It feels right that I’m only writing up this recipe now. It’s a cake that marks change, I think. Fitting – we’re now juuuuust about to fall into autumn and in about a week, I’ll be moving back to Glasgow, into a new flat, this time, just for me and Tiger.

Gluten and Dairy Free Notes – This cake does well being made Dairy Free by replacing the butter and yoghurt with DF spread and a DF yoghurt. I’ve also made this cake Gluten Free by replacing the flour with a gluten free plain flour. In both cases, you couldn’t tell the difference.

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 2 large lemons – zest of both and 2 tbs juice
  • 60g greek yoghurt – any plain, thick yoghurt will do
  • 180g butter – softened
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 medium eggs – or 2 large eggs
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 100g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbs vegetable oil – 15 ml

For the Almond Topping

  • 30g flaked almonds
  • 30g caster sugar

For the Syrup

  • 3 tbs lemon juice
  • 1 tbs water
  • 50g caster sugar

Method

Pre heat the oven to 180 or 160 fan. Grease and line a 20cm/8inch round cake tin.

Zest and juice the lemons and set aside. The zest and some of the juice will be added to the batter. There will be enough lemon juice for the syrup you will make later, so don’t get rid of any at this stage.

In a small bowl or jug mix the yoghurt and lemon juice (2 tbs), set aside while you make the rest of the batter.

Beat the lemon zest, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt until just fluffed up around the sides of the bowl. I use an electric whisk for this. Next, add in one egg at a time, beating thoroughly between each addition.

To the butter mix, add all the other ingredients – ground almonds, flour, baking powder, yoghurt and lemon juice mixture and vegetable oil. Beat together just until a homogenous batter forms.

Pour the batter into the cake tin and top with the caster sugar and flaked almonds (30g of each). Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until a knife inserted into the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs. Check a little earlier if your oven runs hot.

While the cake is in the oven, make the syrup. In a small heavy bottom saucepan, mix the lemon juice (3 tbs), water and sugar. Heat on a medium/high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Bring the syrup to the boil and allow it to bubble for one minute. Set aside to cool slightly.

When the cake comes out the oven, pour over the syrup slowly, allowing it to soak in. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 15/20 minutes before turning it out.

Caitlin x