Archive for April, 2012

Adventures in Madeira (Cake)

As I posted in my last, very hurried, entry; I have been experimenting! Something I have historically tended to be a bit unconfident with is flavour combinations unless specified in a recipe. I love reading about unusual and unexpected cominations – Heston Blumenthal has done quite a lot in terms of popularising unusal combinations. I’m not sure I am yet ready to try snail porrige, but I am going to push myself to be a bit more adventurous and look beyond the basic recipe.

So, I started with the base cake: Madeira. I’ve always been fond of the texture, consistancy and taste, but I had never made it before. I thought that it would lend itself to carrying strong flavours, but at the same time I wanted to keep it’s intrinsic lightness: it isn’t as fairy-light as a sponge, but nor is it a firm and dense as a yogurt loaf. It is a Summer cake, and trying to load heavy flavours onto it would ruin the appeal.

The natural next move would be fruit flavours – in this case I went with orange. As it happens Rachel Allen has a very nice recipe for an Orange Maderia cake, which I pilfered as my starting point.

From there I decided to try two different combinations; Earl Grey, and peppermint. The citrus tones in the tea would lend themselves to the orange, and the smell of Earl Grey tea brings back very strong memories of working in a tearoom at a country house during summer holidays at school. I thought it would be robust enough to stand up to the orange in a way that Lady Grey, for example, probably wouldn’t. (Since then I’ve also thought that green tea and lemon might be a way to go – so that’s a future experiment!).

The peppermint was a bit more tricky; although these flavours are well known to compliment one another, but should they both go together in the mix, or should they be kept as seperate elements? I went with the second – I put the mint into an icing so that both flavours would be distinct and it would contrast.

Orange Madeira Cake – Rachel Allen

Makes 1 Loaf


175g (6oz) butter, softened
175g (6oz) caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
225g (8oz) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 tsp freshly squeezed orange juice
For the topping
75g (3oz) icing sugar
2-3 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice


1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F), Gas mark 3. Lightly oil and line a 13 x 23cm (5 x 9in) loaf tin with parchment paper.

2. Cream the butter in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer until soft. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.

3. Add the eggs in three stages, beating well between each addition, then add the orange zest.

4. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in with the orange juice. Stop when all the flour is incorporated. Transfer the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and smooth the top.

5. Bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

6. Allow to stand in the tin for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

7. For the topping, sift the icing sugar into a small bowl and stir in just enough orange juice until it is soft but not runny. If you want the icing to stay just on the top of the cake, place the cooled cake back in the tin and spread the icing over the top. You may find it easier to dip a spoon or table knife in boiling water to spread the icing more easily. Allow the topping to set and cut into slices to serve.

Earl Grey variation: Ommit half the orange zest and all the orange juice in the batter and instead add 8 tsp of very strong Earl Grey tea, continue as per the recipe. Instead of icing, take the remining very strong tea and add a good few hand fulls of granulated sugar and stir until it disolves – heat in a pan over a medium flame to reduce it to a syrup. Allow to cool slightly, prick the top of the cake all over and pour the syrup over the cooling cake as you would for a lemon drizzle cake. Normally you’ll have a rupture across the top of the cake where it has split in the cooking, and pouring the syrup into this will mean that the moisture gets into the centre of the cake far more easily.

Peppermint variation:
Follow the recipe until the icing stage. I decided that I wanted the mint as a contrast to the orange, so I thought the best way to achieve this would be to put the mint flavour into the icing. But I also wanted a variation in texture. I’m quite fond of cakes which have a nice crunchy topping. I made a very strong peppermint tea (in the absense of fresh mint – damn you Tesco!) and mixed a hefty quantity of granulated golden sugar into it to form a very rough paste, which I then coated the cake with. In retrospect I’m not sure this was the right way to go: it didn’t stick easily, and the mint flavour just didn’t hold its own the way I would have liked. So in future I think I would coat the surface of the cake with Creme de Menth or Syrop de Menth and sprinkle with granulated sugar, maybe adding another light coating of the mint followed by more sugar and building it up. I guess the other way would be to add peppermint oil to the sugar and make a smoother water icing. So this one was less successful, but stil quite tasty!

I taste tested both cakes on my OH, some of his friends, and my family – the Earl Grey and Orange has been the favourite, and my Mum has asked me to make another one for her to take to an upcoming tennis club meeting (as well as a batch of pfefferneuse), so I’ll take that as a good sign. The pepper mint was also appreciated, but the consensus seems to be that the mint needs to be a lot stronger – so a lesson for the future.



The past couple of weeks have been fairly hectic between trips home, work and weddings, so I’ve been a bad little baker and done absolutely nadda (however, my waist-line is expressing it’s grattitude!).

I have an idea for an experiment which I will be trying this evening – Orange and Peppermint Maderia Cake (but as I think more about it I wonder whether an Earl Grey/Lady Grey and Orange Maderia Cake might not also be worth trying?! I might make one of each…) and I’ll post the results over the next few days. The good thing about Maderia cake is that it provides a good simple base for both strong and more delicate flavours. Histocially I might have used a yogurt cake base, but I’m trying to branch out a bit.

Found a reference to an useful website for flavour combination (something I’ve never been terribly confident about) –

Let me know what you think about my proposed experiment, and if you have any suggestions please let me know 🙂

Seasonally dysfunctional Baking

Warning: if you prefer your cooking to be seasonally appropriate, then this probably isn’t the post for you (come back in December!). But if you like heavily spiced biscuits at any time of the year, not just Christmas, then you’re ok – read on.

I’m off home to see the family this weekend – my maternal Aunts are visiting (one from London, the other from South Africa) so I thought I’d take a load of biscuits home for afternoon tea with my grandparents. Unfortunately the new job finishes later in the day than my old one, and combined with the bus journey home and any necessary shopping, I end up with little baking time in the evening – especially if I’ve failed to plan ahead. Fortunately, this recipe was actually a store-cupboard wonder and I didn’t need to buy too much specially.

German Pepper Nut Cookies


This is adapted from an American recipe, but I’ve translated quantities into metric.

325g plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

1tsp ground black pepper

1/2 tsp crushed aniseed

1tsp cinamon

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground clove

115g unsalted butter, softened

150g cup light brown sugar

85g cup treacle

1 egg

Icing sugar

1.Sift flour, and add the salt, pepper, spices and baking powder. Mix.

2. Mix together the butter, brown sugar and treacle until light and airy.

3. Add egg to the treacle mix and blend in.

4. Mix flour into the treacle mixture until doughy. This will be quite loose in consistency. Wrap in cling film and chill for a couple of hours.

5. Preheat oven to 180 celcius/350 farenheit.

6. Grease a couple of baking sheets. Divide the dough into 24 balls (these will be quite large) and flatten slightly onto the baking sheets

7. Bake for 13 – 15 minutes – biscuits should be firm on top, but not hard.

8. Remove from the oven and place on cooling racks for a couple of minutes.

9. At this point you can dredge the biscuits with icing sugar, or put a glaze on them, depending what you want. As in the photo, I did half and half for the pretty 🙂

I think I will probably make these again come Christmas time, perhaps putting a bit of marzipan in each, and dipping with chocolate!

The OH’s friends liked these biscuits, and I even got a hand-shake out of it, so I figure they quite liked these.

Pancakes galore

I’ve often thought that if the ‘whole career thing’ didn’t work out I’d open a pancake and waffle house in Edinburgh. 1) I love pancakes 2) there are thousands of different kinds 3) there are no pancake/waffle houses in Edinburgh (?!) 4) and I hold an annual pancake party for a load of friends around Shrove Tuesday, so I have a load of practice making the standard range of pancakes.

For the past few years my OH and I have visited his parents up in Assynt for the Easter break. It’s a beautiful area, and it’s lovely to escape the city and spend time with his folks, enjoying the fresh air, scenery, and wonderful home cooking. OH’s Mum is a very keen baker, with a particular love of sourdough – I hadn’t really tried sourdoughs before Clarinda introduced me to them, and I’m a total convert. But anyway, the pancake connection: each time we visit Clarinda and Chris make a couple of different types of dutch pancakes – Poffertjes and Ableskiver. I love them both, so I thought I’d share the recipes 🙂 The only health warning on these (other than wanting the whole lot for yourself) is that they both require specialist pans which are a bit difficult to get hold of in the UK, but if you’re interested a suitable pan can be found at:


60g wheat flour

20g buckwheat flour

60g milk

20g water

1 egg

1 tsp yeast

melted butter

1. Mix all the ingrediants together and leave to stand for an hour

2. Oil and heat the Poffertje pan on a high temp, and pour the batter into the dimples to a little below the lip.

3. Cook until the top of the Poffertjes start to set on top and then flip over, and cook for a further 30 seconds or so.

4. Serve with savory or sweet as you prefer


6oz plain flour

2 eggs, seperated

12 fluid oz milk

pinch salt

1 tsp baking powder

1. Mix all the ingredients together, except the egg white

2. Beat the egg white, and fold into the rest of the mix

3. Oil the Ableskiver pan, and heat at a high temperature on the hob

4. Pour the batter into the Ableskiver pan to a little under the lip of the dimple

5. The mixture will rise slightly as it cooks, and as the top starts to set, flip it over in the dimples and cook for another few seconds.

6. Serve sweet or savory as preferred, but with jam or maple syrup works very well.

I’m sorry the photos aren’t all that great, but they give an idea of what they’re meant to look like at least.

If you have any interesting pancake recipes you’d like to share please let me know!

Kicks like a ginger (cake) mule!

My Grandmother was probably my earliest baking tutor. She’s baked most days of her married life, and thus 60-or-so years later it would be fair to say she’s good at it! Some of my earliest memories are of watching her making her wonderful wholegrain bread, or being taught to make golden, buttery shortbread. But one of the things I remember most clearly is the taste of her gingerbread, coated in butter.

I have tried a number of recipes over the years, but I’ve never found a recipe which lives up to my memory. But along the way I’ve found a few good recipes, one of which I am particularly fond of; it is dense, moist, strong, sticky and very moreish.

Dark sticky gingerbread by Rachel Allen

60g (2 1⁄2 oz) butter
75g (3oz) golden syrup
50g (2oz) molasses or black treacle
110g (4oz) plain flour
25g (1oz) self-raising flour
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 heaped tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
100g (3 1⁄2 oz) caster sugar
Pinch of salt
120ml (4fl oz) milk
1 egg, beaten
50g (2oz) crystallised ginger, finely chopped (I used approx the same weight in chopped stem ginger in syrup, drained)

For the syrup
80g (3 1⁄2 oz) caster sugar
80ml (2 3⁄4 fl oz) water
1 tsp finely grated root ginger

(I used the syrup from the stem ginger instead – since this is basicly what it is!)

For the topping (optional)
200g (7oz) icing sugar, sifted
Juice of 1⁄2 lemon

(I didn’t do the topping, but I’m sure it’s lovely)

You will need a 13 x 23cm (5 x 9in) loaf tin

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F), Gas mark 3. Line the loaf tin with parchment paper.

2. Melt the butter, golden syrup and molasses or treacle in a small saucepan over a low heat. Set aside.

3. Sift the flours, bicarbonate of soda, spices and pepper into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar and salt, then add the milk and egg and mix until smooth. Gradually add the melted butter mixture, stirring until well incorporated, then fold in the chopped crystallised ginger. The mixture will be runny.

4. Pour into the prepared loaf tin and bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes or until risen and firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Do not open the oven to test before the bread has cooked for at least 45 minutes. Allow the cake to stand for 10 minutes in the tin before removing to a wire rack to cool.

5. Place all the ingredients for the syrup in a small saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes. Prick the hot cake all over with a fine skewer, pour over the syrup and leave to cool completely.

6. If you wish, mix the icing sugar and lemon juice together in a small bowl until thick, then spread carefully over the top of the cake with a palette knife or a table knife, allowing some icing to drip over the edges

I made this as one of three cakes for my colleagues when I finished my last job (all of which disappeared, and there really weren’t that many people in my building…) and this was my stand out favorite. I’ll put the other recipes up at some point. But this one could blow the back of your head off – the pepper in particular adds a lot.

It’s not the most aesthetic of creations, but it really doesn’t matter. It is just a good old-fashioned dense loaf-cake of the type you can imagine being served up in thick slabs in a farm kitchen in Yorkshire (this type of cake always makes me think of the James Herriot novels). I’m thinking I might do a few recipes from Yorkshire in the near future – curd tart, perhaps.

Irritatingly I’ve just realised that I don’t have a picture of the blooming cake! Gah! Oh well, you’ll just have to content yourselves with making your own to see what it looks like :-p

P.S. – The Hot Cross Buns for yesterday: I took a tin of batch #2 into the office and all except 2 disappeared 🙂

(Hot Cross) Buns of steel

A am theyuppiebaker, and I’m going to go against the historic stereotype of the ambitious feminist female young professional by admitting that I love baking. I find it quite therapeutic, and a way to be creative without having to invest too much time or energy unless I want to do something particularly special. I love food, I love being creative with food, but ultimately it’s for eating. How aesthetic I want it to be will depend who I’m cooking for.

To be frank, I’m not sure that historic stereotype is relevant any more. In our post-Nigella world, where women have been given ‘permission’ to re-approach cooking/baking without it being assumed that they aspire only to 1950’s house-wifery, it might even be expected that the young professional female should also be a master baker. We should be able to bake beautiful and delicate creations, have a high powered job, as well as remain slim, young, run kilomarathons, have unassilable taste in dress and interior decoration, have a PhD, hand write witty individual letters to all our friends and family, read only the most worthy literature and watch only independent cinema, and have plenty of time left over the maintain a spotless home, and do plenty of fund raising for charity. Right. No pressure then.

I’m not a complete slouch on all of these fronts, but I am not going to run myself ragged to meet standards which may well only exist in my head. If I can do some of the above, and make food that tastes pretty good, then it’s all good.

So my first post is today’s efforts: Hot Cross Buns (ironic for an Atheist, no?)

I used Delia’s recipe from the Complete Cooking Course (also at:

I did two batches, although I hadn’t actually intended to!

Batch #1: Oops! Dried yeast didn’t work terribly well! But in spite of this they taste ok, if a bit denser than ideal. I also forgot to add the cross, so I’ve decided that these are Spring Holiday Rock Cakes and not just failed Hot Cross Buns!


Batch #2: Better! I used fresh yeast, but still not quite how I would like – however, at least I remembered the decorative bit. They’re quite pale in spite of being completely cooked, so that’s something I need to work on.


Conclusions: I’ve never worked well with yeast, and although the second batch showed improvement I can conclude that I have a very long way to go. Ideally I’d like to be able to make brioche, so will aim to work up to this. But in the mean time, what I might do in the future to solve the issue of paleness is glaze the bun with egg (perhaps with some treacle in it) then add the cross on top.

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