Orange and Poppy Seed Cake

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For some reason I haven’t done any baking for a while.  It might be because there have only been three of us to feed most of the time but that’s not usually sufficient reason.  If I don’t want a cake to go stale before we’ve finished it, I bake a small one or perhaps some cookies, scones, muffins or individual cakes like these rock cakes, so I can put some in the freezer.

My son and his fiancée have just moved into their first flat together.  They don’t own it of course – what young couple can afford a mortgage nowadays? – but they’re very happy and excited and it’s made me very happy on their behalf.  It’s also reminded me of what it was like when my husband and I started out.  They have very little so I’ve gone through some of my cupboards, digging out glasses, crockery and other items we no longer use and my husband found them a very nice pine table in our garage.  They only have one bedroom so they sensibly bought a sofa bed for the living room.  This has still not been delivered (a frustrating tale which my Twitter followers might be aware of) but it will arrive next week and their little home will be more or less complete.

Anyway, I digress.  Perhaps it was all the vicarious home-making activity that led me to bake a cake today.  I opted for a recipe for an orange and poppy seed cake in the Nordic Bakery Cookbook.  I don’t think I’d ever made a cake with poppy seeds before but at a café in Bristol recently, youngest son raved about the lemon and poppy seed cake so I thought he might be pleased to find something similar waiting for him on his return from school this afternoon.  I was right.  We both love the cake and have decided that simple Nordic cakes like this are our favourites: no icing or decoration of any kind; just wholesome and declicious.

Here’s the recipe, which I tweaked a little.  I don’t like an overpowering vanilla flavour (a legacy from being forced to eat lumpy custard at school in the cruel 1960s) so I used 2 teaspoons here instead of 3.  I also used the all-in-one method to mix the batter.  I find it works for most cakes, and is much quicker, obviously.

Ingredients

  • 300g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 tsps baking powder
  • 300g plain flour
  • Grated zest of 1 1/2 oranges
  • Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 orange
  • 1 tbsp poppy seeds
  • A 20cm/8inch springform cake tin, greased

Method

  • (Heat conventional oven to 180ºc)
  • Beat together the butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder and vanilla in a mixer (I used my KitchenAid) or using an electric hand whisk
  • When the mixture is light and fluffy, fold in the orange zest, juice and poppy seeds until well mixed
  • Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top with the back of the spoon
  • The cake is done when a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean
  • You may want to put a piece of greaseproof paper over the cake at some point.  I did this at 40 minutes because the top of the cake was looking rather dark
  • I baked this in the Aga baking oven for 65 minutes and it was perfect.  The original recipe recommends a bake of 50-60 minutes in a conventional oven

Wheat Intolerance and Spelt Flour

Now I’m as sceptical as the next person about the so-called food intolerances and allergies of the modern world, but there’s no doubt about it, many people report feeling unwell or at best uncomfortable if they eat foods containing wheat, and prefer to steer clear of them.  A friend staying recently is one such person.  She isn’t coeliac so gluten’s fine, but she has discovered over the years that she’s less likely to have stomach aches and feel generally unwell if she doesn’t eat bread, pasta and cakes.  Unless, that is, they are made using spelt flour.  Spelt is an ancient grain with a unique gluten structure which makes it easier to digest; at least, that’s what it says on my packet.  I made the orange and poppy seed cake when she came, but this time substituted spelt flour for plain flour.  And, guess what, it turned out the same!  Okay, so maybe it was just a tiny bit denser, but it’s possible that, being so determined to find something different about it, I completely imagined this.

Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake

When I substituted lemon for orange in the cake I was very pleased with the result.  It was a good way to use up some of the lemons left over from making my son’s birthday cake.  I added the juice of two lemons and the zest of one, which produced a subtle lemon flavour.  If you wanted a stronger flavour, you could add the zest of a further lemon.

 

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Cavolo Nero

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Cavolo nero is a cousin of kale and both belong to the brassica family.  Its long leaves are so dark green in colour, they’re nearly black or “nero”.  It originates from Tuscany where it was first believed to be grown in 600BC.

I can’t say when it first started to appear in our greengroceries and supermarkets but it doesn’t seem like long ago.  Since I first discovered it, relatively recently, I’ve used it mainly in minestrone and in pasta dishes.  It has a deliciously rich and intense flavour.

Not surprisingly, cavolo nero works well in pasta dishes and this recipe by Stevie Parle, which appeared in the Telegraph a couple of years ago, is delicious.

Ingredients

  • 500g penne
  • 300g cavolo nero (you can strip the leaves from the stem if you like but since it’s going to be puréed I don’t think it’s necessary. I just chopped mine up.)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 150ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Grated parmesan to taste

Method

  • Bring some salted water to the boil with the garlic cloves in a large saucepan and add the cavolo nero.  Cook for 5-10 minutes until tender and drain, keeping the garlic cloves
  • Transfer this and the pine nuts to a food processor and blitz.  Add the olive oil and parmesan (maybe a couple of handfuls), process again and season.  You will have a dark green sauce
  • Meanwhile bring another pan of water to the boil and cook the penne according to packet instructions
  • Drain the pasta, reserving a ladleful of the cooking water, return it to the pan and toss with the sauce, loosening it with some of the cooking water
  • Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and serve with more grated parmesan

 

Baking with Raspberries

 

I don’t see myself as much of a maker of puddings or desserts; I’m nervous about pastry and anyway, during the week there simply isn’t time to make a dessert.  In all honesty I’d rather bake a cake to have with a cup of tea in the afternoon and then just eat some chocolate to satisfy my sweet tooth at the end of a meal.  But, as I wrote here, I’m not eating chocolate anymore.

On Sundays, as I think I’ve mentioned before, my mother-in-law usually makes a pudding for us all.  I’ll make one if we have friends round or to take to friends if we’re invited to lunch or supper.  I’ll also make a dessert when it’s my turn to host book club or film club.

Raspberry and Cinnamon Torte

The raspberry and cinnamon torte I wrote about in my tumblr days is one of our favourites:

Bakewell Cake

This bakewell cake by Fay Ripley, which my Twitter friend @lesleyj28 alerted me to recently, could serve as a dessert or a teatime cake.  I pounced on the recipe because it contains everything that’s delicious and good about a bakewell tart (almonds, raspberry jam!) but no pastry.  I love pastry but (see above) don’t love making it.  Without the need to make pastry, this cake is mixed and baked in no time.  I used to watch Fay Ripley in Cold Feet on the telly (LOVED it) and had heard about her recipes but had not tried them before.  As I began to make this, I realised how similar it is to my torte.  It is a little more “cake-y” (two eggs instead of one), has jam in it and doesn’t contain cinnamon but apart from that it’s the same.  In fact, if I made it again, I’d probably replace the vanilla extract with cinnamon, but that’s just my personal preference.  Also – a small point – I didn’t have any flaked almonds in the cupboard so scattered over chopped almonds instead: a poor compromise on Fay’s recipe, we later all agreed.

Ingredients

  • 150g butter, softened
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 150g SR flour
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 tsp raspberry jam
  • 150g raspberries (I used frozen because it was all I had)
  • 50g flaked almonds

Method

  • Grease a 22cm springform tin and base-line with bake-o-glide or baking parchment
  • In a mixer, food processor or with an electric hand whisk combine the butter, sugar, flour, almonds, eggs and vanilla extract (oh how I love the all-in-one method!)
  • Place half the mixture in the cake tin, smoothing it out, and dot the raspberry jam over, half a teaspoon at a time.  Scatter the raspberries over
  • Drop spoonfuls of the remaining mixture over the fruit but don’t worry if there are gaps; it will spread in the oven
  • Scatter over the flaked almonds
  • Bake for about 40 minutes in the Aga baking oven (or a little longer in a conventional oven at 180ºc).  Not easy to test this cake with a skewer because the raspberries make it a little wet in the middle.  It should be golden brown and springy to touch when done

Couldn’t be simpler.

 

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Raspberry Muffins

I love making raspberry muffins too, although I see them as more of a coffee or teatime thing than a dessert.  I also wrote about these on my tumblr:

Fricassée of Chicken with Tarragon

 

 

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This morning I tweeted a line I’d read in the Sunday Times about the Sunday roast being on its way out but that this wasn’t the case in my house.  Wonderfully, the replies I received confirmed that my family is not the exception.  It doesn’t have to be eaten at lunchtime (everyone’s Sundays are busy) but I believe it’s a ritual and tradition worth preserving.

When I was a student and sharing a flat with three friends, where cooking was concerned we had the typical student repertoire of the era, comprising 1001 things to do with mince. But believe it or not, one of our staples was also chicken fricassée.  I’m afraid I can’t remember the recipe in detail but it wasn’t like the dish I made for Sunday lunch today. Our student recipe involved sautéeing pieces of chicken and mushrooms and then adding a little flour, stock and milk (and possibly some cream) to make a white sauce.  We used to serve it with rice.

The origin of the term “fricassée” is French, possibly from “frire” (to fry) and “casser” (to break in pieces), which might explain why all the fricassée recipes I found in a quick Google search this afternoon used chicken pieces rather than a whole bird.  The one I made for lunch today, based on this recipe by Michel Roux which I read in the Times during the week, is the only one I’ve seen which involves roasting a whole chicken.  (Apologies if you’re not a Times subscriber and the article is behind the paywall.)

Anyway, we really enjoyed it; the tarragon sauce is delicious.  Sometimes it’s good to return to a simple classic.  We don’t need always to be finding the next fashionable thing to cook.

I made changes to the Roux recipe; very brave of me, I thought, considering his chef’s credentials and renown, but I honestly didn’t think we needed quite that much cream and also, when you have a roasting oven as hot as the Aga’s, why would you need to brown the chicken before putting it in the oven?

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken (mine weighed 2kg)
  • Butter
  • 3 shallots
  • Tarragon vinegar (I didn’t have any so used good quality white wine vinegar)
  • About 100ml white wine
  • About 100ml chicken stock
  • About 150ml double cream
  • Handful of tarragon leaves (adjust amount according to your preference)

Method

  • Place the chicken in a roasting tin, spread butter all over it and season.
  • Roast in the roasting oven for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, basting a couple of times during cooking.  I placed mine on the rack on the third set of rungs for the first 20 minutes, then moved the rack to the bottom of the oven with the tin on the fourth set of rungs.  The cooking time will obviously depend on the weight of your chicken.
  • Remove the chicken, place on a dish and leave to rest (perhaps on the warming plate of your Aga)
  • Pour off most of the fat, add a knob of butter and sweat the shallots gently for about 5 minutes.  Add 1tbsp vinegar and the white wine and let it bubble up for a few minutes.  At this stage I poured everything into a small saucepan: easier than continuing in the roasting tin.
  • Add the chicken stock and boil until reduced a little.  Add the cream and repeat.  Check for seasoning.  Add the tarragon leaves at the last minute.  Pour into a jug for serving.  We ate our fricassée with new potatoes, broccoli and carrots.