Rhubarb and Almond Cake

I first made this for a charity cake sale (hence the chintzy plate and doily), and since I was doing a couple of cakes, I decided I wanted to make one that was the sort of plain-looking, old-fashioned cake of which you might have a slice with a (china) cup of tea. I had settled on the Winter Plum Cake from Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, since it, to my mind, fitted the bill here, and I quite wanted to try it anyway, but ended up plumping for rhubarb when I couldn’t find a tin of plums at the supermarket. Serendipity, perhaps, since this was perfect as is. The original also calls for icing, which I dispensed with in favour of a flaky, sugary crust, although should you wish to ice this, leave off the tablespoon of sugar before baking – 160g of unrefined icing sugar made into a runny icing with a tablespoon or two of hot water should give you enough fudgy icing to thinly cover, once the cake is completely cooled. If it is in season, I suspect you could replace the tinned rhubarb with the same quantity of fresh rhubarb, stewed with a little sugar and water until soft.

Adapted from the Winter Plum Cake on p37 of Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess

539g tin of rhubarb (to give 245g drained weight – I have no idea why these are sold in such random sizes)

125g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

75g ground almonds

125g butter, softened

125g soft light brown sugar

2 eggs

1 scant teaspoon almond extract

1 heaped tablespoon caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 170 C / 150 C fan and butter and line a 20cm springform cake tin.

Drain the rhubarb, chop it into 1.5cm chunks, then leave it in a sieve to drain some more. Mix the flour, baking powder and ground almonds together. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a spoonful of the flour mixture after each. (This helps to prevent curdling.) Beat in the almond extract and then fold in the rest of the flour mixture. Finally, fold in the rhubarb chunks. Tip into the prepared tin, and smooth out the top a little. Sprinkle over the caster sugar, and bake for about an hour. (If it isn’t yet coming away from the edges, of a cocktail stick doesn’t come out more or less clean, then it may need up to an extra 15 minutes.) Leave it to cool in the tin, on a wire rack, for ten minutes before turning out onto the rack.

Makes 6 – 8 slices. 

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Nigella’s Coconut Cake

Coconut cake

Although I don’t really make sponge cakes that often, this is one of my favourites, and it always seems to be popular. And don’t be put off by the photo, admittedly it isn’t my best work. Having said that, the cake is never going to be a showstopper, at least appearance wise, but that isn’t really the point here, this is a comforting, old fashioned sponge sandwich. The cake itself is two really moist coconut sponge cakes, sandwiched with a coconut buttercream and topped with coconut flavoured royal icing, and is taken from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess. The coconut flavour in the icing comes from Malibu, or coconut flavoured white rum, and as Nigella notes in her own introduction to this recipe, Malibu is quite useful for cooking with since good coconut flavouring can be quite hard to come by. If making two different types of icing seems like a bit of a faff, then I would recommend tripling the recipe for the coconut buttercream, using a third to sandwich the sponges, and the other two thirds to cover both top and sides. If you wish, you could also add a smearing of good cherry jam inside too.

From Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess

For the cake

225g unsalted butter, softened

225g caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

4 eggs

200g self-raising flour

25g cornflour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

50g desiccated coconut, soaked in 150ml boiling water

For the coconut buttercream

25g dessicated coconut

75g soft unsalted butter

150g icing sugar, sieved

1 tablespoon Malibu

For the icing on top

2-4 tablespoons Malibu

125g instant royal icing (which may be labelled ‘royal icing sugar’)

Preheat the oven to 180C / 160C fan and butter and line two 20cm sandwich tins. As always, make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature before starting. Boil the kettle, put 50g of desiccated coconut into a small bowl or jug, and pour over 150ml of boiling water. Leave this to stand and let the coconut soak up the water.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the eggs, one at a time, with a spoonful of the flour between each, beating in well. Then beat in the vanilla. Add the remaining flour, cornflour and baking power, and fold until all is combined. Finally, give the coconut a stir in its boiling water and then tip the whole lot into the batter. (If you wish, the original recipe does say you can whizz everything bar the coconut and water in the processor until you have a smooth batter, whizzing in the coconut at the end, but here I think the slightly longer way gives a better result.)

Pour the batter into the prepared tins, and cook for 25-30 minutes. (The original recipes says 25, I found mine needed 30, although check a 25 – a cocktail stick or cake tester should come out more or less clean.) Leave to cool in their tins for ten minutes, before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool fully.

While the cakes are cooking, toast the 25g coconut for the buttercream in a dry pan, shaking it now and then, until it is nicely golden and smells delicious. Tip it onto a plate to stop it toasting further, and allow it to get completely cold before you make the buttercream. Keep watching it – it will turn from nicely toasted to black in not much time at all.

To make the buttercream, cream together the butter and icing sugar. When you have a smooth paste, beat in the Malibu and then the cold toasted coconut. Spread onto the bottom cake, to about 2cm from the edge to allow for splurging, and then place the other cake on top, pushing down gently.

For the royal icing, add two tablespoons Malibu to the instant royal icing (basically following the liquid-to-sugar ration from the packet) and whisk (preferably with the aid of machinery) until smooth and just runny enough to coat the cake. You may need the other 1 or 2 tablespoons of Malibu to achieve this – I did. Pour the icing onto the centre of the cake, and allow it to spread out, helping it along the way with a silicone spatula if needed. Let the icing set before serving the cake.

Coconut cake


Cheddar and onion bread

Cheddar and onion bread

This is one of my favourite breads to make, delicious soft white bread topped with strong cheddar and onions. It started off as a homespun version of a lazy treat, those pappy white cheese-topped rolls from the supermarket in-store bakery, but it goes without saying this is infinitely better. A loaf is easily a meal in its own right, and I often just eat this, still warm from the oven, sliced, with plenty of butter, or perhaps with some caramelised onion chutney and maybe some extra cheese. It is also the bread I, not always but often, make to dunk in and soak up the sauce from a tomato-y pasta, lasagne, and, my favourite for this bread, these meatballs. It’s really a simple adaptation of my basic white bread, and you could use any relatively hard cheese, but my favourite is a strong, mature cheddar, and that’s what I most often have to hand at any rate.

I generally make two smaller loaves, rather than one larger one, or eight rolls. For the batch I’ve photographed, I made one loaf and four rolls, as I made it to have with meatballs, the loaf for slicing and dunking, and the rolls for meatball sandwiches with the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Sliced cheddar and onion loaf

500g strong white bread flour

1 sachet (7g) easy blend yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

glug of good olive oil

300ml warm water

a little milk, to glaze

150g mature cheddar, grated

2 smallish or one large onion, halved and sliced, and a little oil for cooking

Put the flour, yeast, sugar, salt and 50g of the cheese into a bowl and give it a couple of turns with a spoon to mix everything up. Add a good glug of olive oil. Tip in the water, and mix everything together with a table knife or wooden spoon, trying to get as much of the flour mixed in as you can. Tip the contents of the bowl onto a lightly floured worktop, scraping out any bits of dough stuck to the bowl. Knead the bread, either by hand for 10 minutes or for around 5 in a freestanding mixer with a dough hook. When the dough is smooth and springy, it’s ready. Shape the dough into a ball. Quickly wash up the bowl, drop a little oil into the bottom and smear it up the sides. Plop the dough into the oiled bowl, then turn it over so the entire surface of the dough is lightly oiled. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or a clean tea towel, and leave until doubled in size, either an hour or so on the kitchen side or overnight in the fridge, letting it come back to room temperature before you proceed.

Preheat the oven to 200C / 180C fan. Heat a glug of oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, tip in the onions and a pinch of salt (which will stop them from browning as they fry) and cook the onions, stirring now and again, until softened. Put to one side to cool a little. Deflate the dough by pushing it down with your fingers, then on a very lightly floured surface, divide the dough into two even sized pieces, and shape into round or oval shaped loaves. Place each onto a very lightly oiled baking tray dusted with flour. If you would rather have rolls, at this point divide the dough into six or eight smaller pieces, forming them into either round or oval shapes. Place these onto, again lightly oiled and floured, baking trays, spaced slightly apart so they have room to rise. As they rise and subsequently cook, they will join together, but be easily pulled apart, giving you lovely soft sides.

Brush the tops of your loaves with a little milk, scatter over the remaining 100g grated cheddar and then the slithers of onion. Cover loosely with a piece of lightly oiled cling film or a clean tea towel, and leave to rise until doubled in size again – this can take anything from half an hour to an hour and a half. Once risen, stick in the oven and bake for 25 – 35 minutes. Check at 25 to see if it is done, by (carefully) knocking on the underside of the loaf – if it sounds hollow, it’s finished. If not, put it back for another 5 minutes. Rolls may need slightly less, loaves slightly more. If you do choose to make one big loaf, it might need upwards of 40 minutes, but do start checking before then.

When out of the oven, cool on the tray, under a clean tea towel – this will keep the crust nice and soft. Eat fairly soon. As if you wouldn’t.

Cheddar and Onion Bread Rolls


Pitta breads

Home made pitta breads are a real treat, easy to make, and can be the base for a variety of snacks and meals. You don’t need any particular expertise or equipment, and in fact I make mine with my usual white bread recipe, which is always more tasty, more yeasty, for its overnight rise in the fridge. They puff up in the oven, so you can easily split them to make a pocket to fill with all manner of delicious things. I like them just with salad, or eaten with a meal, torn into pieces and used to mop up sauce. You can just dip them into houmous, or if you feel like something a little more energetic or exotic, some spicy lamb burgers or falafel would be good. In taste and texture, these are far better than some commercial offerings, flat dessicated rounds that are almost impossible to split neatly, although in appearance they may be a little rustic. I suspect this is rather down to my own impatience and consequent lack of dexterity, so your own breads may well be perfect rounds or ovals. Whether neat shapes or lumpy-bumpy almost-rounds like mine, you’ll be glad you made the effort.

500g strong white bread flour, preferably organic, plus more for kneading

1 sachet (7g) easy blend yeast

1 teaspoon sugar (optional – I have just always added this)

2 teaspoons salt

1 glug good olive oil

300ml warm water

Put the flour, yeast, salt and sugar, if using, into a bowl. Add the oil then tip in the water and mix everything together with a butter knife or a wooden spoon. Try and get as much of the flour incorporated as you can. Flour your worktop, tip the contents of the bowl onto it, including any flour not worked into the dough, and knead for at least 10 minutes. As you’re kneading, you’ll feel the dough changing from a sticky, wet mixture into something smooth, far less sticky, and quite elastic – when you push the dough away from yourself, it will start to spring back.

Form the dough into a ball, and smear the inside of a large bowl with a little oil, spreading it up the sides. Drop in the ball of dough, turn it over so both top and bottom are lightly oiled, cover the bowl with clingfilm and whack in the fridge overnight, and for up to 24 hours. If you’re not going for the overnight route, leave your bowl in a warmish place, not in a draft, for an hour, maybe a little more. In both cases, it’s ready when it’s twice the size, or therabouts, it was before.

If you’ve left the dough in the fridge, get it out and let it warm a little, then remove the cling film and press the dough with your fingers until it deflates. Preheat the oven to 220C, and stick a large baking tray (or a baking stone) into the oven to get nice and hot. Knead the dough for just a minute, and then divide it into 12 pieces. I can never seem to get 12 even pieces, but think that adds to the rustic charm. The easiest way is to halve it, halve it again and then split each piece into three. If you want to be a little more precise, you can shape your dough into a sausage and cut 12 equal portions. Leave them to sit for 5 -10 minutes.

Depending on the size of your baking sheet, take three or four portions of the dough and roll them into ovals about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Place them onto the hot baking sheet, and bake for 5-10 minutes, until puffed and beginning to turn brown. How long they take really depends on your oven, as some, particularly fans, are more ferocious than others, even at the same temperature. Start checking at 5 minutes. While they’re cooking, roll out the next batch ready. When you take them out of the oven, immediately wrap them in a clean tea towel – this will trap the steam as the cool slightly, keeping them soft rather than crunchy, which you really don’t want.


Nigella’s processor danish pastry

 

Welcome to the first of at least three rambling posts on the joy of Danish pastry. This first is the introduction, providing you with the instructions for making the pastry itself, which you can subsequently turn into all manner of delicious things. You might not need me to tell you that Danish pastries are good, although admittedly they are one of my weaknesses and so I’m somewhat biased (case in point – long weekends in Paris ignoring the no doubt wonderful restaurants on offer and gorging myself on only bread, pastries and patisserie), but I had never intended to make them. So this is the story of how I made my first batch of Danish pastry, followed soon by the story of how I made my first delicious but probably not a bona-fide Danish Danish.

So, I had friends coming over for dinner. Friends For Dinner is where many of my more extravagant adventures in Rupert’s kitchen begin, by which I do not mean fantastic, multiple-course fancy meals (dinner is always relaxed and informal) but that cooking for a larger number than two simply means I can make something with a whole pack of butter in and not reckon on eating half of it myself.  Anyhow, I digress. I got it into my head that I wanted to make a tarte tatin. I started with my usual go-to for baking something new, Nigella’s ‘How To Be A Domestic Goddess’ and found the recipe. Unusually (or perhaps not, it’s my first) this tarte used Danish pastry as its base, and an easy, processor-made pastry at that. The best part – the recipe makes twice as much as you need for the tarte, and the other half can be frozen for a later date. So this is how I ended up making my first batch of Danish pastry. Perhaps I thought Danish would be challenging, I’d never considered trying it before, but this method is easy, and, perhaps to reassure purists (in the sense that I suppose Danish has been around longer than processors), not only does this come via Nigella, but she cites her own sources as Beatrice Ojakangas via Dorie Greenspan’s Baking with Julia. How’s that for provenance?

It’s easy to make, but be warned, when I refer in the recipe to the resulting gooey mess, gooey mess it is – it’s really sticky, perhaps not the easiest to work with (please don’t let that put you off, it’s so worth it), and you’ll need a lot of flour to roll it out with, whilst at the same time trying not to incorporate the extra flour into the dough. For proof, and to stop you thinking it’s not working, see the photographic evidence (and apologies for the quality of this particular picture) – if you have a sticky, lumpy mess and it looks like it’s all gone wrong, it’s perfect. Well done. Below is the recipe for the pastry, and coming shortly will be the tarte tatin, followed by the most amazing sticky-caramel-pecan Danish pastries. Yum.

From Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess

60ml warm water

125ml milk, at room temperature

1 large egg, at room temperature

350g strong white bread flour

1 sachet (7g) easy-blend dried yeast

1 teaspoon salt

25g caster sugar

250g unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2cm slices

Beat together the water, milk and egg in a jug. Put the flour, yeast, salt and sugar into the processor and briefly pulse just to mix it up. Drop in the butter, and process briefly to chop up the butter. Don’t overdo it, you’re aiming for visible, 1cm chunks of butter rather than completely cutting the butter into the flour as with normal pastry. Tip the lot into a large bowl and pour over the milky egg mixture. Fold the ingredients together, but not too much – just until the flour is incorporated well. At this point, you should have the gooey mess, with accompanying lumps of butter, discussed and pictured above. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, your gooey mess is ready to become pastry. Let it get to roo temperature, generously flour a surface (and see introduction) and roll it out to a 50cm square. Fold it into thirds. Nigella says like folding a business letter, and I can’t think of a better example, so let’s go with that. Lift the right hand edge and fold the first third, followed by the left hand edge, so you have a three layer rectangle, still 50cm long but now only a third the width. Roll back out to a 50cm square, and repeat the whole process three times. After this, cut it in half, wrap both pieces in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes, and up to 4 days if you like. If you aren’t using both pieces right away, wrap the second in two layers of clingfilm, place it in a freezer bag, and freeze for a later date. You’ll need to defrost it thoroughly before using.


Easy home made white bread

I love home made bread, and unashamedly so. When you tell people this (for it naturally comes up often in conversation!), some people do look at you as though you are a little off your rocker, and let you know that it must be difficult, or time consuming, or both. And anyway, why would you bother when you can now buy such good bread? Well, it isn’t really too difficult, and actually not time consuming either. Sure, you don’t get instant results, but for much of the time it takes to make your own bread, it is doing its own thing and you can be doing yours. The benefits too are twofold. Firstly, much of the pleasure is in the making, the process of producing your loaf, mostly in the quiet, almost therapeutic kneading, but also of course in the aroma of a loaf baking in the oven filling the house. Secondly, in my opinion, there is little that beats thickly smeared salty butter melting onto a hunk of bread straight from the oven.

Most recipes for a basic white loaf are much of a muchness. A similar list of ingredients in similar quantities, and the method doesn’t vary much either. I generally go for the overnight rise, mixing and kneading the dough the night before I intend to bake the loaf, simply because it seems to me that this makes the process easier, less rushed. The result is generally also a more strongly flavoured, more ‘yeasty’ bread. Good flour makes a difference too, and if you can, it’s worth getting organic, although if this is the deal-breaker, then don’t let it put you off. And finally, for the kneading, I doubt my technique is anything like that of a professional baker! I generally stretch the dough by holding it down with the heel of one hand and pushing it away from me with the heel of the other, then fold or bring it back together, and repeat! Works for me. Get stuck in and have a go.

500g strong white bread flour, preferably organic, plus more for kneading

1 sachet (7g) easy blend yeast

1 teaspoon sugar (optional – I have just always added this)

2 teaspoons salt

1 glug good olive oil

300ml warm water

Put the flour, yeast, salt and sugar, if using, into a bowl. Add the oil then tip in the water and mix everything together with a butter knife or a wooden spoon. Try and get as much of the flour incorporated as you can. At this stage, you’ll have a stringy, sticky dough in your bowl. Flour your worktop, tip the contents of the bowl onto it, including any flour not worked into the dough, and knead away, for at least 10 minutes. If you’ve got a freestanding mixer with a dough hook attachment, then you can let it knead for you, and it will probably only take about 5 minutes, but where’s the fun in that? As you’re kneading, you’ll feel the dough changing from a sticky, wet mixture into something smooth, far less sticky, and quite elastic – when you push the dough away from yourself, it will start to spring back.

Form the dough into a ball, and smear the inside of a large bowl with a little oil, spreading it up the sides. Drop in the ball of dough, turn it over so both top and bottom are lightly oiled, cover the bowl with clingfilm and whack in the fridge overnight. I’ve left dough for up to 24 hours, and never had a problem with it. If you’re not going for the overnight route, leave your bowl in a warmish place, not in a draft, for an hour, maybe a little more. In both cases, it’s ready when it’s twice the size, or therabouts, it was before.

If you’ve left the dough in the fridge, get it out and let it warm a little, then remove the cling film and press the dough with your fingers (or punch it with your fists!) until it deflates. Switch the oven on – 220C/200C fan -then knead the dough for just a minute. Form it into a ball (and don’t worry too much about this, however round my loaf goes into the oven, it always comes out looking slightly misshapen, or as I would have it, rustic and home made). Place the ball into a baking sheet, and generally I use one that is lightly floured, again more out of habit than reason, although I suppose it is notionally non-stick, cover loosely with clingfilm, and leave it for another half an hour to double in size again. Remove the clingfilm, and bake in the preheated oven for around 40 minutes. To see if it’s done, carefully lift up the load and wrap the bottom with your knuckles – if it sounds hollow, it’s done, if not, give it a few more minutes.

Once it’s out of the oven, you can do one of two things. For a crusty loaf, let it cool on a wire rack, and for a slightly softer crust, let it cool on it’s baking tray covered by a clean tea towel. The steam it gives off will keep it a little softer. Once cool, keep it in an airtight tin, and eat it as soon as possible. It won’t last as long as a shop-bought loaf. That’s a good thing, though.