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

Vegan Spiced Carrot Cake

Cakes

Hello there Joe

This loaf has a crunchy sugar crust and a kinda caramel vibe to its soft inside, in its sweet stickiness. It’s the kind of stickiness that makes you want to eat one thick slice of this cake after another… and another, and then another. And then, it’s gone! Hmm. Oops. I really had no idea that a vegan cake could taste so good. A while ago, Beulah had sent me a photo of a carrot cake recipe scribbled on a notebook page that she had been given by a friend. I wanted to make her a surprise carrot cake using this recipe. I was asking her if she liked raisins in her carrot cake, before I chucked them in. Didn’t want her to be eating the surprise carrot cake, smiling but feeling sad that there were unwelcome raisins in her cake. The conversation went like this:

Caitlin: If you had a hypothetical carrot cake would you want it with or without raisins?

Beulah: I am an unhypothetical vegan. But I love raisins!

I worked on the un-vegan (non-vegan?) carrot cake recipe she sent me. What I ended up with was a beautiful beautifl lil vegan carrot cake that I’d take any day over one with eggs and butter.

Ingredients

  • 175g caster sugar
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 100g water
  • 100g vegetable oil
  • 50g golden syrup
  • 50g black treacle
  • 60g chopped walnuts – any nuts are good
  • 375g grated carrot – yes, 3 7 5 g
  • 60g raisins
  • 40g demerara sugar – to sprinkle over the top

Pre heat the oven to 190 / 170 fan. Grease and line a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin.

Grate the carrots and chop the nuts. Set them aside.

Combine sugar, flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and spices in a large bowl. Set this aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the oil, syrup and treacle. When the first bubbles appear, remove from the heat and pour into the dry ingredients. Add the carrots, nuts and raisins. Mix everything together until combined.

Pour into the loaf tin. Sprinkle the top of the unbaked loaf with the demerara sugar and bake for 55 mins or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out with no wet batter on it.

Have a good carrot cake. Caitlin X

Jammy Dodger Cake

Uncategorized

Hey Joe,

I’m writing this at 2am because I can’t sleep. Yay. Look right into that lovely lovely late night void.

The first insult I ever remember saying was ‘jammy bugger’. I was 8. Quite a profound thing for an 8 year old to say I think. I don’t know why I was saying it or if I was actually calling someone specific a ‘jammy bugger’, but I remember Dads face when I said it. He looked shocked but also…sort of impressed. Dads face was the give away that I had just said an insult. I reckon if he hadn’t pulled that specific face I might never have realise it was an insult. I’d start calling my friends ‘jammy bugger’ as an affectionate nickname. Getting off the bus, instead of ‘Thank you’ to the bus driver, I would add ‘jammy bugger!’ on the end, as a way to demonstrate that I am thankful for the bus ride.

This cake is the easiest cake in the world and it is peng. It makes your kitchen smell like jam roly-poly and it tastes MMMMMM very good. This is my tribute to the 8 year old, jammy bugger, Caitlin.

Ingredients

  • 125g unsalted butter, softened
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 125g self raising flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

For The Jammy Bit

  • 3 tablespoons raspberry jam (with or without seeds)
  • some Jammie Dodger biscuits

Method

Pre heat the oven to 180 (or 170 fan – think I’m the last to realise fan ovens run hotter than…the other kind of oven). Grease a round tin with butter and lightly dust with flour.

Beat together the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Then sift in the flour and bicarbonate of soda and mix just until combined.

Give the jam a mix to loosen it up. Blob spoonfuls of the jam onto the cake batter and move the batter about a bit to incorporate the jam without mixing it through. You are after pockets of jam marbled through the batter.

Pour the batter into the cake tin, and top with some broken jammie dodger biscuits. I wanted my cake to be a ring shape so I used a round biscuit cutter to make a hole in my cake while it baked. You don’t have to bake a hole into your cake if you don’t want to. Bake for 25 mins, or until a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Hope you like the cake and I fall asleep, Caitlin xxx

Coffee Caramel Cake and Happy Birthday Máté

Uncategorized

Yo Joe,

I made this cake for my friend Mátés birthday the other week. OH MY GOD its really good. Máté said he likes anything with coffee and caramel so I combined the two in cake form. How inventive of me.

It’s a marbled sheet cake, one flavour of sponge is vanilla, the darker sponge is coffee and caramel. To top it off is a salted caramel buttercream. If I was making this cake for your birthday, I would get rid of the cake bit and stick candles in a thick layer of caramel buttercream. lol it’s very good. Here are some picture of buttercream for you to enjoy.

To get the caramel in the cake and buttercream I made a caramel sauce. Mmmm. Its surprisingly easy to make. You can mix it into buttercreams, cake batter, whack it on your tooth brush in the morning, use it to stick things to your head. Endless possibilities.

From this recipe you will get about 250ml of caramel sauce so you’ll have leftovers. You are welcome. This doesn’t have to be made on the day you make the cake, it can be made up to 3 days in advance.

Caramel sauce is my favourite kind of sauce

Ingredients

To fit in a square or rectangle baking tin. Mine is 20cm by 24cm. You can use whatever you have. Keep in mind depending on the size of your tin, you may need to adjust the baking time for your cake.

Caramel Sauce – Makes about 250ml. This will last in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days.

  • 125g sugar
  • 50ml water
  • 100ml double cream
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Generous pinch of salt

Cake

  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 170g sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • Splash of milk
  • 3 teaspoons instant coffee granules
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water

Note on measurements – If you don’t have a measuring jug, 1 ml and 1 gram is roughly the same weight so you can measure any of the liquids in your weighing scales.

Note on coffee – I ask for instant coffee in the ingredients but any strong coffee will do. As long as you have 2 tablespoon worth of strong coffee to pour into the half the cake better all is well.

Salted Caramel Buttercream

I never weigh my ingredients for buttercream. I go by texture and taste. If you want some measurements to start off with here you go. (Go on Joe live outside the bubble and don’t use the measurements.)

  • 140g softened unsalted butter
  • 280g icing sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon caramel sauce

Method

Caramel Sauce

Measure out the cream and butter and set aside.

Put the sugar and water in a small heavy based saucepan. Over a medium heat stir the sugar until it has all dissolved into the water, the water will look a bit cloudy. Once the sugar has dissolved stop stirring! Now let the caramel do its thing.

Keep the sugar and water mixture heating over a medium heat, letting it bubble away until it has turned an light amber colour. This will take about 4/5 mins, but keep an eye on it, caramel can go from golden amber coloured to burnt very quickly. One rule for making caramel is not to stir the mixture as it is heating, this will crystallise the sugar. If you want to give the mixture a stir, you can swirl the sauce pan from the handle.

Once the caramel is a colour you are happy with remove it from the heat. Quickly pour the cream into the caramel in one go, it will bubble up, and start stirring the cream in immediately. Now stir in the butter, salt and vanilla extract. Once everything is incorporated you have made caramel sauce!

Here is a lil
bit of my art do

you like it?

Cake

For the cake pre heat the oven to 170. Grease and line the baking tin.

Make your coffee. I use 3 teaspoons of instant coffee and 2 tablespoons of boiling water. Set this aside for later. In a bowl cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Weigh out your flour and set this aside.

Beat one egg at a time into the butter mix. Add a spoon of flour with each egg addition to stop the mixture curdling. Add the salt and vanilla extract and give all this a good mix.

Sift in the remaining flour and gently fold this into the cake batter. Separate the batter into two bowls. There should be about half the batter in each bowl.

In one half of the batter, add a splash of milk and mix this gently in, trying not to mix it too much. For the other half of batter gently mix in the 2 tablespoons of coffee and 2 tablespoons of caramel sauce.

Dollop the 2 cake batters in big blobs around the cake tin. Give the whole tin a bit of a shake from side to side to level out the top. Using a knife or skewer draw 2 figure of 8 patters through the cake batter. This will create the marble effect (this is my fav bit).

Bake for 30 mins or until a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool for 10 mins before taking it out of the tin.

Salted Caramel Buttercream

You can eat away now….or you can make the buttercream. Make sure you butter is nicely softened, you can give it a very short burst in the microwave to soften it a bit, just make sure not to melt the butter.

Using a wooden spoon or electric mixer beat your butter until pale and fluffy. Sift in the icing sugar, give it a gentle stir and then go back in the with electric whisk or give it a good mix with the wooden spoon.

Add in the vanilla extract, salt and caramel sauce. Beat the buttercream until light and fluffy. Once the cake is cooled SMUTHER it in the buttercream.

Have a good cake Joe and Happy Birthday Máté. Caitlin xxx