Christmas Cake – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #55

Do you like Christmas fruit cake? Fruit cake is very alienating – you either love it or you hate it. Here in Australia, we have had an English baking heritage and that includes fruit cakes. In years gone by it was the only cake to have for a wedding, baptism or at Christmas. Even my Italian mother made a great fruit cake. Mum’s cake began with boiling of dried fruits, butter, sugar and spices which was left to cool before adding the flour, eggs and rum. I loved that smell of cooking fruits and spices and still do. Fruit cakes have lost favour in recent years but I still enjoy really good fruit cake moist with fruit that has been plumped in dark rum.

This Welsh Christmas cake from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent, is a very traditional fruit cake. My version includes stem ginger in syrup and dark Jamaican rum to soak the fruits. Baking it in a ring pan ensures even baking and it doesn’t dry out on the edges in an effort to cook the centre. Fruit cake is not meant to be served in fat wedges rather a thin sliver with a little liqueur on the side is perfect, almost like a spoon sweet. Do try it any time of the year!

Welsh Christmas Cake adapted from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent

280g/10oz currants
340g/12oz sultanas or golden raisins
280g/10oz dark raisins
1 cup dark Jamaican rum

Soak the dried fruit in the rum for about a week until all the rum is absorbed.
1 cup glace cherries
1/2 cup diced candied lemon peel
1/2 cup diced stem ginger in syrup
3/4 cup blanched almonds, chopped coarsely
1/4 cup plain flour

After a week, mix the cherries, lemon peel, ginger almonds and flour together with the dried soaked fruit.

Now prepare the cake:
fine dry breadcrumbs for the pan
2 cups plain flour
pinch salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup almond meal
250g/ 2 sticks salted butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
5 large eggs
1/4 cup dark Jamaican rum, a little extra to spoon over the cake
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Prepare a large angel food pan by coating with cooking spray and dusting with dried breadcrumbs. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F. Sift the flour, salt and spices and set aside.
In a stand mixer beat the butter until smooth, add the sugar and then the syrup. Beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well beating additions and scraping the bowl when necessary. Add in the rum and extracts. On low speed mix in the flour mixture and almonds. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the fruits and almond mixture. Stir until well combined. Spoon into the prepared pan, taping the pan down on the kitchen bench to ensure there are no air pockets. Bake the cake for 2 1/2 to 3 hours until a skewer inserted comes out clean. My cake was cooked at 2 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven. I like to give the cake a little drink at this stage by spooning over a couple of tablespoons of rum while the cake is still warm. To keep the cake moist I like to wrap it in a clean cloth to cool slowly. When the cake is cool wrap in plastic wrap and keep in an airtight container. This cake will keep well but can be portioned and stored in the freezer.

Mocha Cake with Coffee Liqueur Syrup and Chocolate Glaze

Mocha Cake with Coffee Liqueur Syrup and Chocolate Glaze.

Well that’s a mouthful, isn’t it? 

But when I came up with this cake that’s exactly what I wanted. This cake was for my sister’s birthday and the request was for a “simple chocolate cake”. The cooking and baking tradition in our family is never “simple”. We always like to stretch ourselves a bit. So it was never going to be a “simple chocolate cake”. However, it is a fairly basic cake. The tenderness comes from the sour cream, the hit of coffee and liqueur comes from the syrup and the glaze just adds to the chocolate element. 

Mocha Cake with Coffee Liqueur Syrup and Chocolate Glaze (adapted from The Perfect Pantry)

The Cake
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons espresso powder
125g butter
1 cup castor sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream

The Syrup
100ml strong brewed coffee, hot
1/4 cup castor sugar
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur (I used Tia Maria you could also use Kahlua)

The Glaze
100g dark chocolate,chopped
50g unsalted butter, chopped

Coffee beans to decorate

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Grease a 6 cup kugelhopf  pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. I like to sift the dry ingredients onto a sheet of baking paper…it keeps the washing up to a minimum!

 In a small bowl, mix the cocoa and instant espresso powder with 1 1/2 tablespoons of warm water. Stir until well combined and dissolved.

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between additions. Beat in the vanilla. Alternately fold in the dry ingredients with the sour cream. When combined add in the cocoa/coffee mixture. Be gentle, don’t overmix. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and smooth out with a spatula. Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes before turning out to cool completely.

In the meantime prepare the syrup by combining all the ingredients until the sugar dissolves. Replace the cake into the pan and pour over the by-now cooled syrup. Allow to soak into the cake. This won’t take long, maybe 10-15 minutes.

Now is the time to prepare the glaze by heating the chocolate and butter over a double boiler or in the microwave on low stirring frequently until smooth.

Ready to assemble and eat! Place a serving plate over the cake pan and tip the cake onto the plate. This will catch any syrup that hasn’t absorbed. With a teaspoon drizzle the glaze over the cake and decorate with coffee beans.

Dalmation Dol Cake – Daring Kitchen Challenge September 2016

I first started real baking after my dear mum passed away when I was just 9 years old. Mum was a great Italian cook. She was amazing with delicious traditional Italian meals, even her tripe was to die for! However she was also a great baker of classic Australian favourites such as sponge cake,
 and pineapple tart. Of course, we missed this all so much when we lost her even though Dad was a very accomplished cook and taught me so much.
So I started baking apple pies, cakes and even tried my hand at bread at about 12 years old. Over the years, I have found that it is baking that really makes me happy. Take some butter, flour, sugar and eggs and couple of little variations in technique and baking and you have a myriad of different baked goodies. Swap the ingredients around a little and add a couple of different flavours and all of a sudden you are visiting another country.
This month Jason from Daily Candor took the Daring Kitchen to Dol on the Dalmatian island of Bra. Nope, I didn’t know where that was either! Bra or Brač is an island in the Adriatic Sea within Croatia. Jason tells us that “The cake is named for the rugged stones from the nearby caves, and is known locally to be a bit of an aphrodisiac (!). The cake has won considerable acclaim within Croatia, and every year the town of Dol hosts the annual Night of Hrapouša competition which draws over a thousand attendees, some ten times as many people as the resident population of the village.

The cake is very different from other cakes in terms of both texture and flavor. The bottom layer is a fragrant almond-based sponge with orange-vanilla notes, while the top is a lemon-scented fragile brittle made of walnuts. It is extremely rich, and even those of us with a major sweet tooth can handle only a thin slice or two. Fortunately, it keeps at room temperature for a good week, and for several months if frozen immediately after making.”

Now, don’t do what I did and overcook the topping. You’re going to find it impossible to slice through the hard nut topping. So do as Jason instructs in the recipe ….”Stop when the liquid takes on a beige/caramel color.”

Dalmation Dol Cake ( I reduced the cake to a 4 egg version, the measurements in red)

Servings: Makes 12-16 slices
For 8” / 20cm springform pan (if using 12” / 30cm pan, double the ingredients) (18cm)

Ingredients
250g / 9oz / 1 3/4 cups whole almonds (roasted or raw, depending on preference) (167g)
400g / 14oz / 3 1/2 cups walnuts (halves and pieces) (267g)
600g / 1 1/3lb / 3 cups granulated sugar (400g)
1/2 orange (1/3 orange)
1/2 lemon (1/3 lemon)
1 ½ Tbsp kirsch, maraschino or other cherry-flavored liquor (15ml)
6 large eggs (4 eggs) (145g egg whites)
1 tsp vanilla extract (left as is)

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 480°F / 249°C / Gas Mark 9 1/2.

2. Pulse the almonds in a food processor to yield a meal.

3. Add to your standing mixer bowl (or another large bowl if you’re using a handheld mixer) the following: the zest and juice from ½ (1/3)  orange, ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract, 1 ½  tbsp (15ml) of cherry-flavored liquor and 200g / 1 cup (134 g) of the sugar. Mix gently until homogeneous.

4. Separate the 6 (4) eggs, adding the yolks directly into the mixer bowl. Retain the whites separately: 4 ( 88g) whites in one bowl, the remaining 2 (44g) in another. Mix the ingredients from step 3 with the yolks until it yields a uniform batter. Pour into another bowl if using a standing mixer.

5. Clean out your standing mixer bowl (or get a new, clean bowl if using a handheld mixer) and place the 2 (44g) egg whites from step 4 in the bowl. Beat until you have somewhat stiff peaks.

6. Add half of the beaten egg whites and half of the almond meal to the batter. Fold in to incorporate and stir gently to homogeneity. Then add the remaining almond meal and egg whites, folding in and stirring gently as before.

7. Place a circle of parchment paper at the bottom of the springform pan. Pour the resulting cake batter into the springform pan on top of the parchment paper.

8. Bake according to this schedule (move to step 9 after placing in the oven):

5 minutes at 392°F /200°C / Gas Mark 6 (drop the oven to this temperature immediately after placing cake inside)
15 minutes at 350°F / 176°C / Gas Mark 4
15 minutes at 320°F / 160°C / Gas Mark 3

Begin checking the cake approx 5 minutes after lowering the temperature to 320°F / 160°C / Gas Mark 3 (or approx 25 minutes after beginning to bake). When a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, remove the cake from the oven. If the center has swollen due to baking, press gently with the back of the wooden spoon to flatten the surface.

Note that a larger cake (in a 12″ / 30cm pan) will likely take longer to bake sufficiently.

9. While the bottom cake is baking, place the remaining 4 (88g) egg whites, 400g / 2 cups (266g)  sugar and the walnuts in a large pot. Turn up the burner to medium-high heat and stir aggressively for approx 15 minutes, making sure the bottom of the pot doesn’t scorch. Stop when the liquid takes on a beige/caramel color.

 10. Add the zest and juice of ½ (1/3) lemon and the remaining ½ tsp of vanilla extract to the walnut-caramel mixture. Stir to spread uniformly throughout the mixture.

11. Pour the resulting walnut mixture over the bottom layer of the cake. Make the top even with the back of the wooden spoon.

12. Place the cake back in the oven (should still be at 320°F / 160°C / Gas Mark 3) and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until the top takes on a golden color.

13. Allow to cool for 90 minutes. Then gently remove from springform pan, peel off the parchment paper,…

…  and present!

Hungarian Walnut Torte – A Baker’s Odyssey Challenge #41

Last month I celebrated a milestone – my 50th birthday! No tears here….50 years and alive and kicking is something joyous to celebrate.

A few months earlier I had noticed that the annual over 40’s cricket competition was scheduled for the same weekend as my birthday. My husband loves to play in the this competition still believing he is the talented cricketer he once was. The festivities start on Friday night and cricket is played all day Saturday and Sunday. There are plenty of refreshing beverages to be enjoyed over the very male dominated weekend. In the preceding weeks he gingerly asked me if  we were doing anything for my birthday “like going away or something? You know, it’s the over 40’s cricket comp that weekend?”. Not wanting to say no but thinking he would figure it out for himself I replied “I won’t stop you playing. You make the decision”. So he did make the decision and he did join the team. Let’s say I was not pleased.

Leading up to the weekend there were many training and fitness sessions. Fresh from training and on our way to church with our young adult children, my husband told us that the draw had been announced. “And we got the raw end of the deal, we have to play 3 games on Sunday! Well, I’m not playing next year!” he declared. I couldn’t believe it…this year was the year to not play…I would be 51 next year…it wouldn’t matter! By the time we walked into church we all had our feathers ruffled. And the priest began his sermon like this…”I’m going to tell you a story about a woman who was turning 50 in a few weeks…..” We all looked at each other in disbelief. To cut a long story short, the woman in the story had a bad heart, collapsed and was in hospital the day before her birthday. On waking the morning from her birthday she discovered that her husband made the ultimate sacrifice by giving her his heart. It’s just a story but the irony was not lost on us.

The day before my birthday I too got a surprise. Delivered to my workplace was gorgeous arrangement of 50 red roses! Ahhh, he does love me!

Has he redeemed himself? Yes, I think so.

My birthday fell on the long weekend of the Australia holiday of Labour Day. So on the Monday we hosted a small family barbecue in honour of my birthday and I made my cake.

In keeping with my endeavour to bake through the amazing cookbook by Greg Patent, A Baker’s Odyssey, I prepared the Hungarian Walnut Torte for the occasion of my 50th birthday. It was a fitting celebration cake.

Hungarian Walnut Torte (adapted from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent)

dry breadcrumbs to dust the cake pans

340g walnuts, about 3 cups
85g fresh white breadcrumbs, about 1 1/2 cups loosely packed
12 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup castor sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
pinch salt

Mocha whipped cream
1/3 cup water
3 teaspoons instant espresso coffee ( I used Moccona)
1/3 cup castor sugar
3 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
85g dark chocolate

to decorate
walnuts and choc chips

 You will need 3 x 23cm/9inch  round cake pans. Adjust your racks so that you can fit in the 3 cake pans and then begin to heat the oven to 170C/340F. Butter the pans well, fit the bottom with a round of non stick baking paper, butter the paper and dust the pans with dry breadcrumbs.
Finely grind the walnuts. Greg Patent suggests a manual nut grinder of a Mouli grater, of which I have neither. So, second best is the food processor but be careful not to over process. Process in 3 batches adding a 1/3 of the breadcrumbs to each batch. Pulse until the nuts are powdery and fluffy. I think I over processed my first batch. The walnuts need to be as fine as possible but not pasty.

Using a stand mixer beat the yolks using a whisk attachment until thick and lemon coloured. Lower the speed on the mixer and gradually add 1/2 cup sugar. Return the speed to high and beat well for about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and the lemon zest then scrape this mixture into another large bowl. Wash the mixer bowl and whisk attachment. In the clean bowl whisk the egg white and salt until thickened and white. Gradually add the remaining sugar whisking until firm peaks form.
Sprinkle a quarter of the nut mixture and add a quarter of the white to the egg yolk mixture. Fold in very lightly to combine. It is ok if there are a few streaks of white – it’s better not to over beat.

Continue add the remaining nuts and whites in 3 batches, folding in gently until no whites show. No mixture should be light and airy.

Divide equally between the three prepared cake pans and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Don’t overbake.

Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the mocha cream, heat the water, sugar and espresso powder in a pan over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until syrupy. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Combine the cream, syrup and vanilla in the bowl of the stand mixer and beat with whisk attachment until cream thickens. Fold in the grated chocolate.
Place one layer of cake on a serving plate and spread over about 1 cup of cream, top with the second cake. Again use about 1 cup of cream to cover the top of the second cake and top with the last cake. Use the remaining cream to spread carefully around the top and sides. I had enough to pipe cream rosettes around the top edge and decorated it with walnuts and choc chips. Chill for several hours before serving.

Red Velvet 21st Birthday Cake

This month my daughter celebrated her 21st birthday. And my 18 year old son has graduated from high school and is embarking on a new beginning. Where has the time gone? I’m feeling a little melancholy but am so fortunate I have been able to spend so much time with my precious children. They have grown to be wonderful, sensitive young adults and I am very proud. It is now time for me to let go and allow them spread their wings. I know, that with God’s grace, they will accomplish what they set out to do with integrity and respect for themselves and others.

The 21st birthday celebration was an understated affair with a simple meal at our home on the front lawn with close family and friends. My daughter has always loved selecting a birthday cake and this one was no exception. It had to be red velvet, multi layered and decorated with lots of colour. And so it was.
Red velvet cake was layered with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream and covered in dark chocolate ganache. It was a riot of colour with cherries, raspberries, blueberries,fresh roses and assorted sweets and biscuits to accompany the homemade decorations.  I made lots of little pink, orange and yellow meringues, red velvet macarons (recipe coming), honeycomb and sugar paste butterflies to decorate the cake.

The sugar paste butterflies are part of this month’s Daring Kitchen challenge hosted by  Shillpa Bhaambri from Cakeline the Journey. Shillpa challenged us to become cake designers using fondant, sugar paste or modeling chocolate to create a design for a cake or cupcake. As I already had a plan for this cake I decided I could incorporate the butterflies into the design. I used homemade sugar paste coloured pink, orange and yellow to cut out butterflies using a cutter. A piece of cardboard bent into shape and covered with non stick baking paper served to shape the butterflies.

After they dried overnight I used a little black colour thinned with vodka edge the wings. Then once that dried a sparkle dust dry brushed on lifted the colour of each butterfly. With a little royal icing (egg white and pure icing sugar) a thin wire was secured to the underside.

Happy birthday to my beautiful girl!

The red velvet cake is a recipe by one of my favourite bakers Summer from Cake Paper Party and the Italian meringue butter cream is by Warren Brown with my adaption of cream cheese.

Oreo Celebration Cake

A celebration always requires cake! 

I have been admiring cakes by a few amazing Australian bakers for some time. Katherine Sabbath, Cakes by Cliff and Unbirthday Bakery are creating amazing edible works of art.

So, as we prepared to celebrate my son’s 18th birthday my mind went to the cake! And my mind boggled over what to do….which cake to bake…how to decorate it…and the big question…would it work? On the other hand my son didn’t care much for the cake..”you can make whatever, Mum, I don’t eat the cake anyway”.

I had a couple of practice runs…testing cakes and frosting….then the day came. Summer from Cakes Paper Party  has some of the most delicious cake recipes I have ever tried. The end result was layers of chocolate and vanilla cake sandwiched with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream (my favourite recipe by Warren Brown) and crushed oreos. Decorations included a chocolate sail and caramel popcorn.
And guess what?
The birthday boy was pretty impressed by the cake and….ate it too!

So to begin with…two layers of vanilla cake and two layers of chocolate cake. These recipe will make 3 layers of each. Freeze the extra layers for later.

Vanilla Cake recipe by Cake Paper Party
Ingredients

16 tablespoons (8 ounces, or 227 grams) unsalted butter softened
12 ounces (340 grams) castor sugar, (superfine)
4 tablespoons (60 mls) sunflower oil
4 large eggs
1 ½ tablespoon (23 milliliters) vanilla extract
6 ounces (170 grams) all-purpose flour
6 ounces (170 grams) cake flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups (300 mls) buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F and grease and flour 3 8inch cake pans or line with baking paper.
Beat butter, sugar and oil for 2 minutes in a stand mixer then add eggs one at a time. Mix in the vanilla. Sift the dry ingredients and add to the butter mixture. Turn the mixer on and mix until just combined. Add the buttermilk and mix on medium speed for 1 minute.  Pour equally into the prepared pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Then allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire rakes to finish cooling.

Chocolate cake by Cake Paper Party

4 ounces (114 grams) dark 70% chocolate, broken or coarsely chopped
4 ounces (120 mls) hot espresso

8 ounces (228 grams) unsalted butter, softened
14 ounces (396 grams) granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 ½ tablespoon (25 mls) vanilla extract
1 ½ ounce (45 grams)  cocoa powder
8 ounces (227 grams) all-purpose/plain flour
1 teaspoon (5mls) baking soda
½ teaspoon (3 mls) salt
8 ½ ounces (240 grams) sour cream

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F and grease and flour 3 8inch cake pans or line with baking paper.
Mix the espresso with the chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted. Microwave for a few seconds if the chocolate doesn’t melt. Set aside to cool to room temp. Beat butter and sugar for 2 minutes in a stand mixer then add eggs one at a time. Mix in the vanilla. Sift the dry ingredients and add half to the butter mixture.  Turn the mixer on and mix until just combined. Add half of the sour cream and mix on medium speed for 1 minute. Repeat with the remaining dry ingredients and sour cream.  Pour equally into the prepared pans. Bake for 28-32 minutes. Then allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire rakes to finish cooling.

Prepare Warren Browns Italian Meringue Buttercream
1 cup sugar
1⁄4 cup water
5 egg whites
1⁄4 cup sugar
2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons

Boil 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water over medium heat until it reaches 245. As it cooks begin meringue so it’s ready when syrup is done.
Whip egg whites with a wire whisk in a stand up mixer on high until soft peaks form. About 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle in 1/4 cup sugar. Beat.
Slowly pour the hot syrup into the meringue steadily with the mixer still on high.
Beat the frosting for 7-10 minutes until the outside of the bowl is room temperature.
Beat in butter by the tablespoon. The butter will deflate the frosting a bit.

To make the Cream cheese Oreo filling

Remove 2/3 of the buttercream and set aside. Take 250g cream cheese, soften and beat well until smooth. With the whisk attachment still attached whisk the cream cheese into the buttercream spoonful by spoonful.
Add 10 crushed oreos and mix in well.

Layer cakes and fill with cream cheese buttercream alternately vanilla cake and chocolate cake.Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes then crumb coat with reserved Italian meringue buttercream. Refrigerate again until firm.

Then frost with remaining buttercream. Crush a few more oreos to decorate the base of the cake. Refrigerate while you prepare the ganache.

Chocolate ganache

250g dark 70% chocolate, coarsely chopped
125ml cream
30g copha, melted

Heat the cream until bubbles form around the edges then pour over chocolate. Stir to melt. Then stir in melted copha. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Pour the ganache over the cake allowing it to drizzle over the edges (encourage drips with a teaspoon or pipe drips while the ganache is pourable).

Decorate as desired.

….hmmm, needs something?

…yes, I know…a dusting of gold powder.

Don’t you think layer cakes just scream celebration!

Vanilla Layer Cake with Almond Filling and Coffee Buttercream

The next six months are big in my family. My son turns 18 in a months time, in January my daughter turns 21 and then in March and April my husband and I both celebrate our 50th birthday. So you can imagine I have a lot of cake on my mind. Birthday in our house are never celebrated without cake. We love them! Cake = Celebration.

I have been seeing a lot of layer cakes around. And they look so perfect! Ooooooh, I so want to make a wonderful cake for the most special people in my life. So I decided to practice this weekend. It’s not perfect but I’m quite happy with a first attempt. The vanilla cake is from a great blog Cake Paper Party which has the most amazing cake combinations. Have you ever hear of a Pinot Noir cake? No, I hadn’t even imagined that flavour but how fantastic! 
The Italian Meringue buttercream is by Warren Brown and is one I have used before for the Rainbow Rose Cake and the Filipino Sans Rival Cake. I love this buttercream but it can be a challenge especially if you don’t wait for the meringue to cool.
So, after this I feel I have some good celebration cakes in me for the upcoming BIG birthdays. I have a lot to learn still and by no means perfect but I look forward to creating something special for my family. 
Do you celebrate with cake every time?

Vanilla Cake (recipe adapted from Cake Paper Party)

230g unsalted butter, softened
340 grams castor sugar (superfine)
60mls canola oil
4 large eggs
25ml vanilla extract
170 grams all-purpose flour
170 grams cake flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
300mls buttermilk

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F. Grease and flour 3 x 20cm cake pans.
In a stand mixer beat the butter, sugar and oil until light and fluffy which should only take 2 or 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until just moistened. Pour in the buttermilk, mix in slowly, then turn up to medium and beat for 1 minutes. Pour evenly in cake pans. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until well cooked. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pans then turn out onto a wire cooling rack to cool.

Italian Meringue Buttercream ( recipe by Warren Brown)

1 cup castor sugar (superfine)
1/4 cup water
5 egg whites
1/4 cup castor sugar (superfine)
250g unsalted butter, cool room temperature

Heat the 1 cup castor sugar and water in a pan until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to boil until it reaches 120C/245F. At the same time as the sugar syrup is cooking start the meringue. Beat the egg whites in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until  soft peaks form – about 2 minutes. While still whisking sprinkle in the 1/4 cup sugar. Beat well. By this time the syrup should be ready. Pour it into the meringue, whisking all the while,  in a slow and steady stream. Continue to beat until the mixture cools. This will take about 10 -15 minutes or longer. Once cool and not before, slowly add the butter tablespoonful by tablespoonful. The mixture will deflate slightly but all is well. If your butter melts the meringue is still to hot. Beat until it cools. If necessary, remove the bowl and place it in the refrigerator for a while. Then start again.

Flavourings

I stirred a couple of tablespoons of Amaretto liqueur and a teaspoon of almond essence into the finished buttercream. Taste as you go and adjust to your taste.

Almond Simple Syrup

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon Amaretto Liqueur
a few drops of almond essence

Heat the sugar and water in a pan. Bring to boil and boil for 2 or 3 minutes. Allow to cool then add flavourings.

Bringing the cake together

You will need to toast a cup of almond in the oven until fragrant. Chop coarsely for the filling.

Place one cake onto your serving plate. Brush lightly with Almond simple syrup. Then spread an even layer of buttercream over the cake and sprinkle with a generous layer of crushed almonds. Top with another layer of cake and press down lightly but firmly. Repeat filling. Top with the last cake. Press down and check that the cake is level.

  Spread a thin layer of buttercream all over as a crumb coat. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, mix 3 teaspoons of instant espresso powder with 1 tablespoon of boiling water. Allow to cool. Then mix into the remaining buttercream along with two heaped tablespoons of icing (powdered) sugar. Once the cake is set and cold, spread the coffee buttercream all over side and top of the cake. Decorate as you wish.

PS: When the cake was really set and cold it cut much more cleanly.
 Hmmm, lesson learnt!

Seed and Nut Loaf with Dates and Dried Cranberries – Daring Bakers’ Challenge August 2015

 For the August challenge Susan from The Kiwi Cook dared us to make Seed & Nut Loaf – a super-healthy and gluten-free alternative to standard wheat-based bread.

Gluten free? The word alone brings to my mind strange food and loss. Loss of enjoying a crusty baguette, or a flaky croissant or simply white bread with butter and Vegemite. Loss of traditional pasta dishes so important in my life. Loss of cakes, biscuits and baking I know and love so well. This month we were challenged to bake a gluten free seed and nut loaf by Susan of The Kiwi Cook. Strangely this month my daughter was having tests to check if she was gluten intolerant. While she was waiting for the results I pondered about my future baking should the test come back positive. Anyone who knows me knows my love of baking and of breads. And my family are pivotal in my baking choices. I bake for them. It is part of who I am and what I can give to the ones I love.

So to step into the world of gluten free seems so limiting. It is with this thought that I plunged into the recipe. Could I make it work? Could I love it? Gluten free and all?

The answer is a resounding yes!

This gluten free loaf is bound together not with eggs but with psyllium seed husks which soak up the liquid and act as a binding ingredient. The original recipe was probably more savoury than my version because I wanted to bring in the natural sweetness of dates and orange juice and the bite of cranberries.

During the month I also made an delicious Apricot, Apple and Coconut version, substituting the dates, cranberries and cinnamon for 1/2 cup chopped dried apricot, 1/2 cup chopped dried apple and 1/2 cup desiccated coconut. I used water instead of orange juice but I think coconut milk would be nice. This photo shows the loaf untoasted but toasting definitely adds the finishing touch.

So if you’re game, bake this, slice it, toast it and drizzle it with honey…I think you will be pleasantly surprised! Thanks to our host, Susan and my Daring Bakers friends.

GLUTEN-FREE SEED & NUT LOAF with Dates and Dried Cranberries

Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients:

1 cup (250 ml) (140 gm) ( 5 oz) sunflower seeds
½ cup (125 ml) (90 gm) (3 oz) flax seeds (linseeds)
½ cup (125 ml) (50 gm) (1¾ oz) sliced almonds (or nuts you prefer, I used almonds and macadamias)
1-½ cups (375 ml) (135 gm) (4¾ oz) gluten-free rolled oats
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (20 gm) (¾ oz) sesame seeds
4 tablespoons (60 ml) (25 gm) (1 oz) psyllium seed husks (3 tablespoons if using psyllium husk powder)
1/2 cup chopped dried dates
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) fine grain sea salt (it’s fine to reduce this if you prefer)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) honey, I definitely added more!
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons (45 ml) butter, melted
1-½ cups (375 ml) orange juice, freshly squeezed

Method:

In a standard sized silicone, non-stick, or greased and lined loaf pan, combine all the dry ingredients (I find it’s easier and less messy to combine in a large bowl first).

Whisk honey, butter and juice together in a separate bowl.

Add mixture to the dry ingredients and combine until everything is completely soaked and dough becomes very thick (while the mixture will be wet, there should be no excess liquid).

Transfer the mixture to the loaf pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Cover the pan lightly with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours or overnight. The mixture should feel very firm to the touch.
Preheat oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/ gas mark 4. Then bake bread initially for 20 minutes.

Take the loaf out of the oven, place a wire rack over top and invert to remove the bread (if you’ve lined the loaf tin, you should remove the lining at this point).

Put the now inverted loaf on its wire rack into the oven again and bake for another 30-40 minutes (it should sound hollow when tapped). The loaf should be starting to brown on the outside – this gives a lovely nutty crunch to the finished loaf.
Let the loaf cool completely before slicing.

STORAGE & FREEZING INSTRUCTIONS:

You can store the loaf in an airtight container (or wrap it in plastic wrap) for up to 5 days. You can also freeze it for at least 3 months (it helps to slice it first before freezing so you can enjoy that occasional piece of toast!).

Gâteau Basque

Living in Australia we are quite isolated from most of the world. However the town in which I live is quite multicultural as are many Australian towns. Among the nationalities in town are the Spanish Basque people who made their home here in the early to mid 1900’s. Our local baker who delivered fresh bread daily door to door was a wonderful Basque man who only ever baked hot cross buns on Good Friday and not one day before. Each Good Friday he would rise early, bake and then deliver hot cross buns across the district. And the buns were very good!
Last month my daughter traveled to Spain and to the Basque area within…our dear Baker was so taken by the photos she sent to us of his beloved homeland!
What I didn’t realise was that the Basque country covers the western Pyrenees in Spain and France. I had always only thought the Basque country was within the Spanish borders only. Hmmm, I musn’t have been listening in geography lessons!
Gâteau Basque, which is more of a delicious sweet biscuit crust filled with creamy pastry cream and cherry jam, is famous throughout the Basque country. Apparently according to wiki when filled with pastry cream only it more common in the Spanish Basque Country.
This recipe comes from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent, a wonderful book which I am gradually baking my way through. Coincidentally Greg posted his recipe on his blog Baking Wizard last weekend….that was definitely all the motivation I needed. So in honour of my Basque friends and my daughter who has just returned from the area I decided to bake Gâteau Basque. And it is delicious!

Gâteau Basque

 Pastry

3 cups plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
250g butter, cut into smallish pieces
finely grated zest of  1 lemon
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure almond essence

Pastry Cream

2 cup milk
5 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
1/2 cup plain flour
2 tablespoons rum ( my addition)

1 egg beaten with a little water for glazing

Place 2 1/2 cups flour, baking powder and sugar into a large bowl. Add butter and rub into the flour with fingers until the mixture is crumbly. Be sure to leave a few small flakes of butter and not rub it all in. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add lemon zest, eggs, egg yolk, and esssence. Beat the eggs with a fork and then begin to combine until the mixture comes together. Sprinkle some of the remaining flour onto a board and scrape the dough onto it. Knead the dough lightly added more flour as necessary. Be light and don’t knead heavily or too long. Form dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Now make the pastry cream.
Heat milk and bring almost to the boil. In a bowl whisk the egg yolk for a minute or so add the sugar whisk again. Then add the vanilla and flour, mix until smooth.  Add about 1/3 on the hot milk to the eggs, whisk. Then add the remaining milk and whisk well. Return mixture to the saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the mixture boils whisking the whole time. Boil for a minute or until the floury taste is cooked out. Remove from heat add the rum and scrape into a bowl. Cover the surface of the cream with plastic wrap and allow to cool.

Heat the oven to 180C/350F and have ready a 9 inch springform pan.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator. Divide into two pieces…one piece slightly larger. Take the larger piece and roll out between non stick baking paper to fit the pan. Sprinkle with flour if the dough seems stickly.  Line the springform pan with the dough bringing it all the way up the sides.

Fill with the cooled pastry cream.

Roll out the smaller piece of dough.  Use the springform pan to measure the diameter needed to cut the dough to fit over the pastry cream.

 Bring down the sides of pastry over the pastry cream then place the round of pastry over the top. Press edges to join. Then decorate with scrapes of dough and use a fork to make random designs over the surface. Brush with egg and water glaze.
The leftover dough can be rolled into balls and baked to make delicious biscuits or cookies.

Bake for 50 minutes until well browned. Cool thoroughly. Keeps well if refrigerated for several days.

Slice into wedges and enjoy!

Lamingtons – May 2015 Daring Bakers Challenge

 For the May challenge Marcellina from Marcellina in Cucina dared us to make Lamingtons. An Australian delicacy that is as tasty as it is elegant


I had the great pleasure of hosting this month’s Daring Bakers Challenge. 

When I first hosted in December 2012 our culinary journey took us to Italy as we baked Panettone. On this occasion I would like to introduce you to one of my all time favourites – the Lamington. The classic Australian Lamington is a cube of vanilla sponge cake dipped in chocolate icing then coated with desiccated coconut. Sounds simple but it is delicious! It is said that the cakes were named after Lord Lamington who was the Governor of Queensland, Australia from 1896 to 1901. Stories abound as to why the cakes came about. I like the one that tells of Lord Lamington’s maid-servant accidentally dropping a freshly baked sponge cake into some melted chocolate. Apparently Lord Lamington disliked wastage so he suggested coating the chocolate coated cake in desiccated coconut to avoid messy fingers. A good idea, I think. Some New Zealanders actually like to claim the Lamington as their creation! However the Lamington came to be, it is now firmly embedded in the Australian culture. Sold in bakeries, cafés, supermarket, at bake sales and everywhere you expect and don’t expect. The Lamington is also a star at fund-raisers with “Lamington Drives” very popular with schools, sporting clubs and many other fund-raising ventures.
Usually the cake within the Lamington is a vanilla genoise sponge made by whipping eggs and sugar
until very thick and pale.  Flour (in my recipe cornflour otherwise known as cornstarch) is sifted well with baking powder and is very carefully and delicately but thoroughly folded into the eggs and sugar. A little bit of melted butter can be folded in at the end. This is optional but does add a bit of moisture to the cake. This cake is quite prized in Australia for being of a light and fluffy texture and a good sponge cake baker is highly regarded. The sponge is a little difficult to master but the key is a light hand, accurate measuring, room temperature eggs, and knowing just how long to bake it. Oh, and don’t open the oven door to peak or your cake will flop.

I would like to extend a big thank you to the amazing Daring Baker’s who embraced this challenge and those who thought outside the “square” and came up with delicious and unique Lamingtons! You can visit Daring Baker’s May 2015 challenge and the see the amazing variety lamingtons here.

Classic Lamingtons

Sponge Cake
Servings: 24
Ingredients:
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (240 ml) (225 gm) (8 oz) castor (superfine) sugar
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups (300 ml) (200 gm) (7 oz) cornflour (cornstarch)
1 ½ teaspoons (8 gm) baking powder
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) butter, melted (optional)
2¾ cups (660 ml) (250 gm) (9 oz) unsweetened desiccated coconut, to assemble

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

 2. Prepare a 4 ½ cm (1¾ inch) deep, 23cm x 33cm (9”x 13”) baking pan by lining with non-stick paper.

  3. In a stand mixer bowl place eggs, sugar and salt. Using the whisk attachment, beat on high for 15
minutes.

 4. While the eggs and sugar are beating sift the cornflour and baking powder at least 3 times.

 5. After 15 minutes add vanilla and beat on high for another 5 minutes. The mixture should have at
least tripled in size, be light in colour and very foamy.

 6. Sift flour mixture over the egg mixture. I like to use a whisk but you can also use a large metal
spoon to lightly fold the flour in. Some people like to use a wooden spoon but I find it too heavy.
Heavy handling now will result in a flat tough sponge. If you are using butter, thoroughly fold it in
now but lightly.

 7. Spread mixture into your prepared pan and smooth out evenly. Some cooks at this stage drop the
pan onto the bench top to even out the air bubbles! I have never had that much courage!
8. Bake in preheated moderate oven for 22-25 minutes. The sponge will rise quite a lot but then settle
back down. Don’t be tempted to open the oven to peak. I also warn the family to walk gently past the
oven! When baked the sponge will have shrunk very slightly from the sides and should feel springy
when pressed gently.

8. Turn the sponge out immediately onto a wire rack to cool and reverse sponge so as not to mark the
top. Allow to cool. It is best to keep the cake for a day before making the Lamingtons as the cake will
be easier to handle.
Chocolate icing
Ingredients:
3 ¼ cups (780 ml) (400 gm) (14 oz) icing (powdered) sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) (40 gm) (1-1/3 oz) cocoa powder
1 tablespoon (15 gm) (15 gm) (½ oz) butter, melted
½ to ¾ cup (120 ml to 180 ml) milk

 Directions:

Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a heatproof bowl.
Stir in the butter and ½ cup milk. Set the bowl over a pan of hot water. Stir until icing is smooth
adding more milk to thin the icing if needed. I find I need more than ½ cup but not quite ¾ cup of
milk.

 To assemble the Lamingtons:
Cut the sponge cake into 24 rectangular pieces – 6 across and 4 down. To be particular you can trim
the crusts.

Keep the icing over the hot water to keep it melted. Place desiccated coconut in a shallow bowl.

 Dip each piece into the chocolate icing, allow excess to drip off

 Toss gently into the coconut.

 Stand cakes on a wire rack to set, about 2 hours.