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

‘Old House’, Cranberry Orange and Almond Cake with Mascarpone Cream

Cakes

25/07/2022

Yo Joe

We were out to dinner, talking about these letters.

‘I love them’, you said. I felt a pin point pressure in my chest slightly up from my heart, to the top of my breastbone. It rounded out into a ball of fizzy yellowy warmth. The ball stayed there for a few minutes more, until the food arrived and my attention got taken by pasta sauce.

It was the quickest moment that fit into a conversation we had about writing, reading and the odd observation of how much bread we’d managed to eat since sitting down.

In that conversation you told me to read Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit, a collection of short essays that weave details of Solnit’s life into broader thoughts on the world. Since reading this book, it got me thinking about why I write to you about cake.

The opening essay is about trees. It talks about how they stand as symbols of continuity and how George Orwell believes in planting trees as an act of contribution to posterity. That planting a single plum tree might promise sustenance to future generations is a great thought to hold close to your heart.

There are trees that have lived for hundreds of years, they are part of a history that we weren’t even alive to see. And their roots, like you said, are connected underground across the world in a web that supports the soil we stand on. A hive of past wisdom that’s buried underground. There’s something grand, slow and peaceful about this, in the same way that a grandmother, or whale, or old house is.

Reading Solnits essay, it struck me that the reason I love cake, was because it stands as the exact opposite of the tree. The cake is not wise. And cake is also not peaceful. I’m not talking here about the act of making a cake, but of presenting and eating one. A beautiful, quick, excited example of an effort to make moments of joy. And the consumption, a brilliant and messy confirmation of the closure of celebration. Finishing the cake signals these moments will come again, like little erruptions of excitement in an individual’s lifespan. The cake isn’t wise like the tree because it’s eaten too quickly to gain any life expereince.

Solnit writes about her love of the steadfastness of trees, in the same manner of fondness I write about cake to you. She intersects her essay about trees with glimpses into her personal life. She seeks to find pockets of space where her own intimate experiences of daily life might fit into the wider world, the trees world. I find this to be infinitely comforting. Writing to you about the cake I bake skates close to Orwell’s idea in planting a tree as an act of contribution to future life. As I said, the cake has no wisdom itself, but the accumulation of the cakes I bake, the moments they signal in our life and the capturing of them in these letters I see as planting and tending to a tree that will grow on after us.

Soltin’s last line in the essay goes like this ‘…where (do) pleasure and beauty and hours with no quantifiable practical result fit into the life of someone, perhaps of anyone, who also cared about justice and truth and human rights and how to change the world.’

I write about beautiful cake to capture hours of pleasure passed. Keeping a record of them feels important. Like a way to change my small world, and maybe to add something to yours too, to give us some perspective, some past wisdom we can call on at a later date.

I’ve written this to you in a cafe in Naples where I’m waiting to get an overnight train to Zürich. I feel I should be more excited than I am, in reality I feel quite scared and like I want to jump back to London on the plane with you – I’m kicking myself for deciding to get this train. What I’m actually saying is, I’m kicking myself for a desicion that I have made – it could have been any decision. I would have doubted it and myself all the same. Writing this, I realise it is these moments where my writing offers real solice and perspective, like the steadfastness of a tree. Since I started writing this an hour and a half ago, I’ve felt refueled by cakes, trees and writing. Reasurance from letters of cakes past, each marking one moment of celebration or consolation, these letters very existance is evidence enough for me that more of these moments will come.

12/08/2022

I’ve since come back to Oxford from Zürich and a long trip around Italy. It was amazing. And the overnight train that kicked off this adventure, I would do again in a heartbeat. This cake is for Cokes, who I got the overnight train to Zürich to meet, and who is sitting on the sofa next to me in Oxford as I write this. It’s his spirit cake, both joyous and wise, where a play between the excitement of a celebration cake and a depth of flavour brings each slice alive. It’s a really brilliant cake, you should make it.

Note On Berries – I first made this cake in December, for Coco’s birthday, so fresh cranberries were easy to find. Sour cherries are a great alternative for this time of year, that’s the fruit I used for these picturse. You can also use any frozen berries of your choice, just make sure to reduce the oil to 5 ml.

Note On Tins – this is a forgiving cake that is difficult to overbake and works well in a slightly larger or smaller tin that I have written in the method, just be sure to adjust the baking time.

Ingredients

For The Cake

  • 45g plain natural yoghurt or plain Greek yoghurt
  • 1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 75g plain flour
  • 135g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150g caster sugar
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Zest of one orange
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons / 6g baking powder
  • 10ml / 2 teaspoons vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 120g fresh cranberries or sour cherries

For the Topping

  • 40g unsalted butter, very soft
  • 50g caster sugar
  • A small handful of flaked almonds (optional)

For The Vanilla Mascarpone Cream – you may have extra

  • 90g mascarpone, room temperature
  • 60g cream cheese, room temperature
  • 70g double cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 30g icing sugar

Method

Preheat oven to 180 / 160 fan oven. Grease and line 2 7inch / 18cm round cake tins.

In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients for the topping to form a paste. Set aside.

Combine the yoghurt and lemon juice in a small bowl. Set aside. Combine the ground almonds and plain flour in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, lemon and orange zest, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one after another adding a heaped tablespoon of the flour and almonds mixture with each egg addition – this will stop the mixture from curdling too much. Add in the oil and beat to combine. Now add the rest of the flour and almonds, baking powder and yoghurt mixture in one go, mix until just combined. Fold the cranberries or other berries through the batter.

Divide the batter evenly between each cake tin. Top one tin with small lumps of the topping paste, making sure it is evenly distributed.

Bake for 35 – 40 mins or until golden brown and a knife inserted into the cake comes out with only a few moist crumbs. Allow to cool.

Whist together all the ingredients for the vanilla mascarpone cream until it reaches soft peaks. When the cake is cooled, sandwich the two halves with the mascarpone cream.

Once filled, the cake will keep for 3 days in an airtight container. Past one day, keep the cake in the fridge, this is due to the cream filling.

To cakes, trees and writing. Caitlin x

Sugared Green Apple Thyme Cake

Cakes

Yo Joe

I’ve been thinking of this scene from the Matrix for the last two weeks. I’ve dreamt about it, thought about it in the shower, eating dinner, running. Had a lot of conversations about it too. With Emma having a coffee, Coco in a sauna and Máté on a park bench. The scene is lodged in my head.

Imagine it for a second. No longer than a second though, mum told me this was the film that gave you 5 years of nightmares when we were kids. So, for a second only, think of the bit where the main man with the sunglasses is on a roof, dodging bullets. Who, or what, is firing the bullets – your guess is as good as any, but they’re coming from every angle. Main Matrix man’s reflexes, and the bullets, are moving at lightning speed, in deep, breathy slow motion.

Someone ran out of bullets. Only one thing for it… to lob their afternoon snack at main Matrix man. The crunchiest, juiciest, just-plucked-from-the-tree, green apple. Cutting through the air, the green globe is spinning slowly on its axis headed to hit our main man dead centre in the forehead. He knows it. I know it. You know it. The apple, poor sod, doesn’t know it. The apple is just catapulting through the air, fast in a direction that it’s unsure of only so far as it hasn’t chosen it. But holy moly, this tasty morsel is moving with impressive conviction.

Time is slowed to an 8th of its normal pace; a thicker wave of bullets now, like a fleet of mini submarines (llolll what an effective use of a simile). But Matrix man is fixated on the green apple globe about to bonk him. A bullet impact would be far more painful, but nothing comes close to the fixation, fear and… bewilderment at something as out of place as a green apple flying through a battle field. With a sharp backwards back bend and a chin tuck, Matrix man dodges, only just clearing a path for the apple to drive through.

That’s where it ends, the scene that’s been playing in my head. I never see what happens to the apple. I only see its impressive globe greenness, and its shininess, and the sheer speed of it hurtling through the air in slow motion. The apple might be a bit baffled by the speed of the situation, only, its rapid movement forward doesn’t allow for it. The only way I can comprehend the apple’s feeling is the way the scene is distilled, neatly, but disorientingly, in mega pixel slow motion (lol what’s that?).

I have to confess, I’ve never watched the Matrix. And I’ve come to find, that scene doesn’t exist. I realise it would’ve been impressive to have a memory of a scene in mind from a film I’d never watched, but I was pretty convinced. Ever since I handed in my dissertation and finished my degree, there popped up that green apple Matrix scene. I’ve been describing it to everyone. Emma told me it made her think of Magritte’s The Son Of Man and it got me and Máté googling ‘what does you are the apple of my eye mean?’

When I realise half way through narrating this scene that the listener has watched the Matrix, I cut to the chase, tell them that I feel like that green apple. A bit lost in air and space, no ground at my feet, moving slow, a bit adrift, but hurtling so surly in a direction that I can’t comprehend, through a world that’s too quick for its own good.

Thyme gives this cake a lemony savoriness that’s initially surprising, and then addictive. It creeps up on you, and then demands to be craved. Cream cheese gives a crumb that’s soft and buttery, that holds integrity. Sugared chunks of green apple add layers of sweet and sour in equal measure that sing a lil bit when hit against the thymey cakey base(y – haha). Like I said, arresting, and then, it melts together in comforting, thrilling ways.

A Note On Thyme. You need fresh thyme leaves for this cake, so you’ll need to hand pluck them from the stalks. Yup, it takes time, but it makes a good thing in the end. I’m heavy handed with my spices and herbs, I’m not one for their subtle use. If you prefer a less punchy herb or spice experience, go for 1 and a half teaspoons.    

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, amount to taste
  • 160g green apple, aprox. 2 small apples peeled cored and cubed
  • 120g unsalted butter, softened
  • 170g caster sugar, plus a tablespoon extra to finish the cake before the oven
  • Zest of an orange
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100g cream cheese
  • 130g plain flour
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Method

Pre heat the oven to 180 / 160 fan oven. Grease and line a 22cm / 8inch round cake tin.

Peel, core and cube the apples. Don’t worry too much about getting exactly 160g. Just keep in mind, if you go a lot over that weight, the cake will take longer to bake, resulting in a tough cake texture. Strip the thyme leaves off the stalks and give the leaves a rough chop. Set both aside while you make the cake batter.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and orange zest until fluffed up, about 1 min. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until fully incorporated between each addition.

To the bowl, add the thyme leaves, cream cheese, flour, ground almonds and baking powder. Give everything a gentle mix until just incorporated, being careful not to overmix the batter. You should end up with a soft but thick-ish batter. Smooth it out into the cake tin, scatter over the cubed apple and the tablespoon of sugar.

Bake for 50-55 mins, until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean but with a few moist crumbs still attached. The cake will keep covered for 4 days, but this one is best eaten on the day or the day after.

Till next thyme, Caitlin x

Blueberry Shortbread Crumble Muffins

Buns and Breads, Cakes

Joe,

Long-time, no cake. Writing to you about cake, that is. Not saying anything about my consumption of cake. I eat a lot of the stuff.

I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by life of late. Lol, what a start.

There’s something about the beginnings of spring that has this effect I’ve noticed. The moment that cold sun comes out to play and everyone suddenly carries tote bags instead of rucksacks. Makes people feel carefree I think – Just gives me a sore shoulder.

My kitchen window looks over the carpark of a big car sales warehouse. It’s where the people that work at the warehouse like to go, to feel like they aren’t at work. A couple weeks back, when it was cold and snowing, I saw a man, I’d say late 40’s, in his car sales uniform, stretch out his arms and run in figures of 8 around the carpark, pretending to be an aeroplane. That same week, I saw two guys, younger this time, in their uniforms, play a game of one a side football – haha not a thing – with a snowball for a football. It was brilliant.

It was brilliant because they were playing, despite the snow, the cold and the dark. In sun, everyone is out, everyone plays all the time. In sun, the world is oversaturated with moments like the man pretending to be an aeroplane. I find it sets me a bit adrift. It’s like there are too many special moments for me to catch. Like I can’t keep up.  

Maybe this makes me sound bloody miserable. I hope not. As it goes, I don’t think I have a lot of misery in me. I really love life, I find a lot of joy in it. But when big change is happening, at first, I feel a bit disconnected from the world. A bit overwhelmed by it. Honestly, a bit frightened of it. Frightened of its oversaturated new-ness. I think maybe you feel this sometimes too?

When this happens, I turn to what I know I can make good – butter, flour, sugar and eggs. I start with a thing I want to make. Next, I decide on the texture I want the thing to have. Then I look at every book I can get my hands on with a recipe for the thing. I compare the recipes, work out what each ingredient does. After that, I bake. And bake again, and then again. Until I have what I’m after. Some people would call this an obsession. Lol that’s exactly what it is, but when I’ve cracked it, when I’ve worked it out, it’s a feeling like none other. I don’t feel quite so overwhelmed by life, because I’ve cracked my perfect muffin and I can give it to people I love.

I believe, Joe, that you’d call this process a version of ‘retaining my soul’. That’s exactly what it is.

I wanted a not too sweet, buttery muffin with a structural integrity that borders on denseness but doesn’t feel like you’re eating a brick. Back up with them dry, dense muffins that would struggle to bounce if you dropped it on a trampoline. Haha. There’s a large quantity of blueberries too, and for a bit of sweet somethin, a thick and crumbly shortbread topping.

Bake these muffins and retain your soul, Joe. You have my fave soul, a soul in a millimuffin. 

This will either make 8 large muffins or 14 regular sized muffins. If you only have one 6 or 12-hole muffin tray, like me, you can reserve the leftover batter in the fridge and bake them once your first batch is out.

Ingredients

For the Shortbread Crumble Topping

  • 25g sugar
  • 40g butter – cubed and a little cold
  • 60g plain flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Muffin Batter

  • 120g butter
  • 250g blueberries
  • 340g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 130g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs – 100g, if you want to weigh it
  • 250g sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 scant tablespoons milk

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180 / 160 fan. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases, or with butter and strips of greaseproof paper.

Make the shortbread topping by rubbing all the ingredients together between your fingertips. The mixture will come together in clumps. Once done put in the fridge or freezer while you make the muffin batter.

Melt the butter in the microwave and set aside to cool.

Squash about a third of the blueberries with the back of a folk, you don’t want to turn them into a pulp, just burst them a bit. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and sugar.

In another bowl, combine the eggs, sour cream, vanilla extract, milk and melted butter.

Add the wet mix to the dry, followed the by the squashed and not squashed blueberries. Fold to combine, careful not to overmix – about 15 folds of a spatula will do it. There might be a few small dry patches of flour, that’s ok! Better that than an overworked batter.  

Distribute the batter between the muffin tins and top each with shortbread crumble until all used up. Bake for 24 mins (or 29 mins if making 8 large muffins), or until very lightly golden and a knife inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Fabulous Bun Gallery

Buns and Breads

Hi Joe and anyone else reading

You’re fabulous, don’t let nobody tell you different.

There’s no recipe today, don’t need a recipe to be fabulous, just have to be it. Kinda like these buns, fabulous, see?

These are mascarpone sweet bread, whipped cream, blackcurrant jam, pomegranate icing and they say ‘duck you, I’m fabulous’.

Happy bloooooody new year boiii

Love Caitlin x

Banana Brandy Mince Pies

Cakes

Joe

I’m on the train home from Glasgow listening to Shakira singing about her hips that don’t lie and trying to remember if I put the socks I got you for Christmas in my suitcase or my rucksack…or if I left them in my flat. (Hmm, I left them in my flat).

Imagine for a second that the phrases ‘I like you’, ‘I really like you’ and ‘I love you’ didn’t exist in the human language. Instead, you’d give a person a pair of your favourite socks. A pair that would look great on the person – fit them somehow.

Valentine’s Day would be a pure sock fest. Haha.

I got to dinner at a friend’s flat the other night cold and wet. Anna gave me a pair of socks and Rebeka handed me her hair dryer.

It’s late and I’m putting on my shoes. I return the socks to Anna, fish my gloves out the pocket, put one on and Anna stops me. She inhales sharp and excited like she’s just seen a magic trick – goes – ‘Your gloves! They match the socks’. She reaches for the socks I folded by the radiator, inspects how similar they are to my gloves. Rebeka comes, nodding, smiling, telling me the gloves and the socks are matching – same pink, same yellow stripe.

I got home that night with a new pair of socks for Christmas, feeling like two people I haven’t known for very long had been kind to me, had just said a kind of ‘I really like you’ in the biggest smallest way possible. These mince pies are my way of saying a big ‘I really like you’ in a small way (lol great transition).

A Christmas pudding, a bakewell tart, and a mince, pie walk into a bar. They get drunk and fall over each other in a big heap – these little tarts are a neat version of that drunk mess. A crispy, buttery, fruity, rich, not-too-sweet really, good drunk mess.

Assembly – this recipie is a coming together and the fridge is your friend. The fruit needs at least 2 hours to soak in the brandy and orange juice, but it’s best if you can leave it to soak overnight. The pastry and frangipane can also be made a day in advance and kept in the fridge until you’re ready to bake.

Shape – I don’t like pancake flat mince pies. So, these are deep. You want a large cupcake tray or a muffin tray for this recipe.

Ingredients

For the Fruit

  • 350g dried fruit – I use a mix of dried figs, cranberries and raisins
  • 80ml brandy
  • Zest 1 large orange + 100ml of the juice
  • 1 large banana – I promise it works

For the Pastry

  • 175g plain flour
  • 30g sugar
  • 100g butter – cold and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons cold water

For the Frangipane

  • 50g butter – softened
  • 50g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 25g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • a drop of vanilla extract

Method

Mix the dried fruit, brandy, orange juice and zest in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours but preferably overnight.

For the pastry, combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl. Add the cubed cold butter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the dry mix until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the tablespoon and one of the teaspoons of cold water, then, using a knife cut through the mixture until it starts to clump together. Get your hands in and bring the dough together to form a smooth ball. You want a ball of pastry that cleans the side of the bowl with no dry flour visable. If it looks too dry, add in the second teaspoon of water. Wrap the pastry in cling film and refridgerate for at least 30 mins. You can leave it overnight if making ahead of baking time.

Make the frangipane. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffed up around the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and beat again until combined. Next, add the ground almonds, flour, salt and vanilla extract. Mix to combine. Then cover and stick it in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble the pies.

When you’re ready to bake, pre heat the oven to 190 / 170 fan. Grease a deep cupcake tray and line each indent with a strip of greaseproof paper. Set aside.

Strain the soaked fruit, keeping the liquid aside. Mash up the banana and mix into the drained soaked fruit. Set aside.

Roll out the pastry to about a 1/4 cm thick. Using a round cutter (about 10cm) cut out 12 disks of pastry, placing them in the cupcake tray as you go. Distribute the fruit filling between the mince pies (about 2 teaspoons in each). Now add a teaspoon of the reserved liquid into each pie.

Top each mince pie with the frangipane (you should get about a teaspoon on top of each), leaving a bit of the fruit visable round the edges. Scatter the tops with flaked almonds. Ideally, you want to put these in the oven a little cold, this’ll stop the pastry shrinking. If you have time/can wait, stick the assembled pies in the fridge for about 20 mins before baking.

Bake for 18 – 20 mins or until golden brown.

Allow the tarts to cool before lifting them out the tin and EATING with lots of cream. Mmmm cream.

ohhh look it’s a stary pork pie

Happy Christmas Joe. love Caitlin x

Chocolate Fudge Brownies for Egg

Cookies and Biscuits

Yo Joe

I’ve sat with this brownie recipe, and the little intro below, for quite a while now. I’ve tested them A LOT and seems like now is the right time to send you the recipe… I think you should make them.

For the first half of July, I lost all my words.

Maybe that isn’t fair to say, maybe it was more, I lacked words.

Maybe it was more that I felt lacking in all the good things, like words. Haha.

It lasted two weeks and two days this time round. I’m learning that when this feeling comes along, I’m worse off trying not to feel it, that is, fight the feeling of lack so that I might be able to keep up with my un-lacking friends and family. Obviously, to fight like this would be anyone’s instinctive reaction. Thing is, fighting it results in the sad moment where the state of lack makes itself known to you as something much more fixed than a sad mood that could juuuuust about be subsided with will power alone. I’m learning that the lacking state is much less painful if I lead a ‘lacking’ way of life during these times while I wait for it to pass. It passed.

Like it always does.

Now I feel like I’ve got words coming out my ears lol so I can write about these brownies I made during those 2 weeks, while Egg sat on the kitchen counter, patient with me in my lacking state, eating bread.

I hope that these pics can give you some of the good things if you feel lacking in them? Look into that chocolate abyss…mmmmm. These brownies are incredible. Rich, very rich, like molten chocolate pudding scooped straight from the oven or like smooth chocolate fudge once cooled with a wafer-thin crispy top, exactly the kind of top you’d want on a brownie. The raspberries and pistachios were Egg’s addition, I’d really recommend not leaving them out, you need something to cut through the pure fudge of these brownies.    

Pistachio Notes – they are spenny spenny spenny. But we were celebrating me being very sad and Egg’s exciting love life… Any other (less expensive) nuts will work.

Here’s a diagram demonstrating what the brownies would look like if you put hazel nuts in them instead of pistachios

Ingredients:

  • 300g dark chocolate
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 400g light soft brown sugar
  • 5 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 100g buckwheat flour – plain flour works perfect in these. The buckwheate flour has the benefit of making these brownies gluten free.
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 30g pistachios – finely chopped
  • 150g raspberries – if you wash these make sure to dry them a bit before adding them to the brownie batter.

Method

Pre heat the oven to 180 (160 fan oven). Grease and line with grease proof paper a 23cm square tin. If you don’t have this sized tin, find one of similar dimensions and keep an eye on it during baking as the timing will be slightly different.

Chop the chocolate and butter into chunks, place in a large bowl. Fill a small saucepan with a little water. Set the bowl of chocolate over the saucepan making sure the bottom of the bowl does not come into direct contact with the water when rested over the pan. Heat on a stove top on low/medium, stirring the chocolate occasionally until melted. Alternatively, put the chocolate and butter into a heatproof bowl and leave in the oven for a few minutes. Once melted, set aside.

In a separate bowl add the sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt. Whisk these together until combined and a little lighter in colour (about 2 mins with an electric whisk).

To the egg mixture, add the melted chocolate, sift in the flour and cocoa powder and whisk to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin, sprinkle with pistachios and scatter in the raspberries, submerging a few in the batter so they don’t all rest on top.

Bake for 40 (yes, 40) minutes, until the edges are set and a little cracked, but the centre still has a slight wobble. These brownies seem uncooked when they come out the oven, because of how wobbly the centre is, that’s how you want them to look. I promise they will set to be sliceable and perfect. Allow to cool completely in the tin before slicing.

Eating Notes – If you can’t wait for the brownies to cool, they have a molten chocolate cake vibe scooped out the tin fresh from the oven. It’s peng but don’t expect this way of eating or serving them to be neat. The rest of the brownies will be set the next day… so, two desserts in one.   

Baking Notes – If they don’t set, it means you have underbaked them haha. They’ll still be great, just stick the whole (cooled!!) tin of brownie soup in the freezer overnight. Set it on the counter the next morning to defrost and you’ll be able to slice your brownies. Store the tin of brownies in the fridge once defrosted.

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

Blackberry Buns with a Sweet Milk Glaze

Buns and Breads

Hi Joe

I’m sat in a cafe right now and they love Mamma Mia! They’ve been playing the film soundtrack for 3 hours.

It’s an unassuming cafe; the tables are brown, the walls are grey, and they sell the same caramel crunch slices you get in every Costa Coffee between Glasgow and Oxford, and propbably beyond. I love it.

Blackberry Buns!! I’ve been trying to find a way of getting fresh fruit into cinnamon roll form without them baking into soggy fruit bum rolls for quite a while now – and i’ve cracked it. They are pillowy soft with a slight kick of sharpness from the blackberries, mellowed the second it hits the tounge by the sweet milk glaze.

These buns come with thanks to the lovely Rosa, baker and owner of too many forks, who agreed to test this recipe for me last week. Thank you Rosa!

Note on Dough For this recipe, I use the same dough as in my cinnamon rolls. It can be made on the day or the night before you want to bake these buns. If you choose the night before, allow the dough to have the first prove in the fridge overnight. The next morning you can fill, shape, prove then bake. This dough tends to rise quite fast though so you can easily do it all in one day. I’ve given you instructions as if making this dough by hand but if you’d prefer to use an electric mixer allow a dough hook to do the kneading for you – I’ve done it both ways and I can’t tell a difference.

Note on Filling – The filling needs to be cooled completely before using. It can be made a few days in advance.

Ingredients

For the Blackberry Filling

  • 60g sugar
  • 150g fresh blackberries
  • Squeeze of lemon
  • 1 tbs water
  • 10g cornflour

For the Dough

  • 250g strong white bread flour
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 7g active dry yeast
  • 1tsp salt
  • 20g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 medium egg
  • 80ml milk
  • 60ml water

For the Sweet Milk Glaze

  • 70g icing sugar
  • 30g cream cheese
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp milk

Method

Making the blackberry filling. Add the sugar, blackberries, and lemon juice to a small heavy bottom saucepan. Mixing occasionally, simmer on a medium heat for 5/6 mins until the fruit has broken down and the mixture has reduced.  

Whilst the fruit cooks, combine the water and corn flour to form a loose paste. When the fruit has had 5/6 mins, lower the heat, and add the corn flour paste. Whisk briskly. Keep whisking the mixture for about 1 minute, until it has thickened. Remove from the heat and pour into a clean bowl. Allow to cool completely before using.  

To make the dough. In a large bowl add all ingredients for the dough apart from the 60ml of water. Mix everything together with one hand, or a metal spoon, squeezing the dough to incorporate the milk. Add the water and give it another mix and squeeze to form a shaggy mass. 

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface. It is a sticky dough and will still want to stick to the work surface a little even once it has had enough kneading – don’t be tempted to keep on adding flour to your worksurface. Knead for about 10mins until smooth, elastic, and tacky. If using a mixer, stop when the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and forms a ball around the dough hook.

Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Allow to rise until doubled in size, about an hour. If making this the day before, allow to rise in a warm place for 15mins before transferring to the fridge for the night.  

The last step is to fill, shape, prove and bake the buns. Grease and line a small rectangle baking dish, I use a 25cm X 18cm one. Set aside.  

Tip the risen dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Press into a rectangle shape with the long edge closest to you. Roll the dough out to roughly 9 X 13inch. It can be a little wider, for example 10 X 13inch, if you want a swirlyer swirl. You don’t have to worry too much about the exact measurements of the rectangle, so long as it is a rectangle shape and about half an inch thick, you’ll be grand. As you roll, gently pull the corners of the dough to keep as best a rectangle shape as you can, it will make the rolling and cutting easier.

With the 13inch side closest to you, spread the blackberry filling evenly over the dough, going right to the edges.  

Roll up the dough tightly so you end with a sausage of dough 13inches long, seam side down on your work surface. Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 2inch pieces. You should get 6. If you are very good at maths you will see I’ve given you an extra inch to play with in case something goes wrong, you are welcome! Put these buns, swirl side up, evenly spaced in the lined baking dish.  

Cover with a tea towel or cling film and allow to prove until doubled in size. The rising time will depend on the temperature of your home, usually they need about an hour and a half. You can tell they are ready for the oven like this: very lightly press a fingertip into the dough, your fingerprint should fade away as the dough puffs itself back, fixing the dent you made and returning to its original position. How poetic.

While the buns prove, pre heat the oven to 180 / 160 fan.  

Bake the buns for 25 – 30 mins until golden brown on top.  

Finish with the icing. Mix the icing sugar, cream cheese, vanilla, and salt. Stir in a tsp of milk. If you want a looser icing add in the other tsp. Let the buns sit out of the oven for 10mins before pouring over the icing. It’s best to let these cool for a futher 10/15 mins to let the structure set before eating…hey look, this bun needs the respect it deserves.

Have a good bun boiii oii ! Caitlin x

Summer Berry Crème Fraîche Cake

Cakes

Yo Joe

Mmmmm some peng cake. So soft, so sweet, so buttery, studded with strawberries and blackberries, covered in lime and raspberry jam icing.

I recently started my first job as a baker at an independent cafe in Glasgow called Kelvin Pocket. Lol I’m pretty proud of this fact, brings me a lot of joy. A guy called Paul owns and runs it. I really don’t know how he does it, he’s there 6 days a week and you rarely find him without a smile on his face. He also trusts me to bake things in his kitchen, for his business, which I think is a big deal. Maybe he doesn’t think too much about letting me bake for his customers in his kitchen, but I do.

The idea for this loaf came from a cake we make at the cafe. This cake, is really David’s cake. David works in the kitchen, who, along with Caroline, make producing well over 60 different baked goods a day look like something they could do in their sleep. Icing a cake takes them under 2 mins and putting together sweet bun dough can be done in about 7…. magic. I hope David doesn’t mind me pretty much copping his idea, I hope he finds it flattering instead.

I was a lil bit blown away when I watched Caroline and David put jam in the water icing for this cake in the cafe (hahaha I really am that easily entertained). I bought some back for the girls in the flat. It got squashed in my bag but they all went mad for it – telling, I think. This isn’t some fancy multi layered, french patisserie thing, it’s just really, really good cake.

I messed about with the ratios a lil bit, using David’s recipe as my blueprint, to produce his cake reincarnated cakeonmyface style. ah, the circle of cake life. While I was taking pics of this reincarnated cake I thought it looked like some kind of abstract painting, it was quite beautiful actually (lol, here we bloody go). I wasn’t the only one that thought this. I went past Katie’s flat and threw a bit of this cake at her to try while I was running to work. She sent me a message later saying ‘Emma says it is like gallery cake’. Emma is Katie’s sister, I’ve met her twice, about 2 years ago, but sounds like we see cake the same way.

Ingredients

For The Cake

  • 125g unsalted butter, softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 140g crème fraîche
  • 160g self raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 160g berries of choice, I use strawberries and blackberries

For The Icing

  • 210g icing sugar, no need to sift it
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice, or lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons raspberry jam, or any other jam of your choice
  • water to reach the right consistency.

Method

Pre heat the oven to 190 / 170 fan oven. Grease and line a 2lb/900g loaf tin with greaseproof paper, letting a bit of paper hang over the sides of the tin so you can lift the cake out later.

Wash and cut the berries into chunks. Halves and quarters is perfect, if you chop them too small the berries will turn to mush and vanish into the cake batter. Set the berries aside.

Using electric beaters, mix the butter, sugar, lemon zest, salt and vanilla extract until it fluffs up and starts to clump at the side of the bowl, about 1 min. Do yourself a solid and don’t tire your arm beating this for ages, you’ll get the exact same fluffy cake with no more than 1 min of mixing.

Beat in one egg at a time, making sure the first is fully incorporated before you add the second.

Tip the crème fraîche, flour and baking powder into the butter mix, beat together for a few seconds just until everything is combined.

Gently fold in the berries and pour the batter into the prepared tin. Bake for about 55mins or until the surface of the cake feels bouncy when pressed gently with your finger tips and a couple of moist crumbs cling to a knife inserted into the cake.

Allow the cake to cool for 15 mins in the tin before lifting it out to cool completely.

When the cake is completely cool, put all the icing ingredients, exept the water in a bowl and mix with a whisk or fork. Add a little (very little) drop of water at a time, mixing between each addition, until you have a thick icing that can be poured over the cake.

Allow the icing to set a little before cutting into the cake (or just, cut into it now.)

Hahahah I had to copy and paste ‘crème fraîche’ from wiki every time it appears in this recipe because I don’t know how to get the accents on my keyboard. I wanted you to have the authentic experience of reading ‘crème fraîche’, Joe, like in a real recepie book. Caitlin x