At last I’ve found a successful recipe for tarte tatin. For some reason until last weekend my attempts at this dessert were disappointing: either they collapsed on being turned out or the sugar didn’t dissolve to make a sufficiently yummy caramel syrup. The recipe which worked for me on Sunday is by Raymond Blanc and is surprisingly easy and straightforward, which is a joy because I find recipes by great chefs are often, well, chef-y, involving lots of complicated steps and therefore not for a simple home cook like me. How could I resist a recipe allowing me to use bought pastry (the trick of freezing the rolled out disc was a revelation) and to keep the peel on the apples?
There is more than one story about how this upside down apple tart recipe came about. The one I choose to believe tells how Stéphanie Tatin (who, with her sister, ran the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron in France) was making an apple pie one busy day and left the apples and sugar for too long until there was a smell of burning. She tried to rescue the pudding by putting the pastry on top of the apples and placing the whole pan in the oven to finish off. She turned out the tart and served it to her guests who, to her surprise, loved it!
Pre-heat conventional oven to 180ºC
You will need an 8″ tarte tatin tin like this:
- 8-12 dessert apples (I used Braeburn)
- 3 tbsp water
- 100g caster sugar
- 60g cold, unsalted butter, diced
- 30g unsalted butter, melted (by placing it in a small bowl towards the back of the Aga)
- 250g-300g all butter puff pastry (shop-bought!) rolled to about 3mm thick and cut into a disc slightly larger than the diameter of the base of the tin, pricked with a fork and frozen
- Place the water in the tin and sprinkle over the sugar; leave for 2 minutes to allow the water to absorb the sugar
- On a medium heat/the Aga simmering plate cook the syrup until it’s a pale golden caramel. The heat of the simmering plate might be a bit fierce and you don’t want the caramel to get too dark so you could slow this stage down by placing the tin in the simmering oven while you prepare the apples
- Cut the apples in half horizontally and core them. Slice off the rounded tops and bottoms so that the apples can sit flat in the tin
- Stir the diced butter into the caramel syrup until it’s melted
- Sit the apples, with the middles uppermost, in the tin in a single layer, packing them in as tightly as possible. Press them down with your hands as you go
- Brush the apples with the melted butter and place the tin on a baking tray and in the baking oven for 30 minutes
- Remove the tin and place the disc of pastry on top. Tuck the sides in if you can and prick a few holes in it with a sharp knife to allow the steam to escape. Return to the oven for about 40 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden brown
- Leave in the tin for about an hour to cool (although I can confirm 15 minutes is enough: I was short of time) before turning it out and serving warm with cream or ice cream. Monsieur Blanc says it can also be made the day before, refrigerated and then reheated.
At a shoot lunch towards the end of the season, my husband was served what he termed “the best pudding I’ve ever eaten”. He loved it so much he asked his hostess, Clare Pelly, for the recipe so that he could make it at home. Only joking; I mean so that I could make it for us all. I don’t mind at all: I’m happy to be the cook in our relationship because I enjoy it and because I’m better at it than he is, just as there are many things I don’t like doing which he is happy to do and is better at than me. I imagine this is how most successful partnerships work.
As it turns out, I’m very grateful to him for getting me the recipe for this “best ever” pudding because it’s absolutely delicious. Clare is also an Aga cook and the pie is particularly suited to Aga cooking because it can be baked on the floor of the roasting oven, which gives wonderful, crisp pastry.
For 1 x 10″/26cm or 2 x 7″/18cm flan tins
- 8oz/200g plain flour
- 4oz/100g butter
- 1 tbsp icing sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tbsp cold water
- 2lbs/900g cooking apples
- 2oz/50g raisins
- 4oz/100g plain flour
- 4oz/100g caster sugar
- 2oz/50g butter
- 10floz/285ml double cream
- 2oz/50g caster sugar
- 2tsp cinnamon
- Pre-heat conventional oven to gas mark 6/200ºC
- To make the pastry, sift flour, rub in butter, stir in icing sugar and bind together with yolk and water. Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for about 30 minutes
- Roll out thinly and line your prepared tin(s) with it. No need to bake it blind
- Peel, core and slice your apples and mix with the raisins
- Make a crumble by sifting the flour, stirring in the sugar and rubbing in the butter
- Spoon half of this into the tin
- Cover with the apple/raisin mixture and pour over the cream
- Spoon over the remaining crumble mixture and sprinkle on the topping
- Bake on the floor of the roasting oven for about 30 minutes until it’s bubbling and caramelised or brûléed on top. Your pastry should be lovely and crisp, although you won’t know this until you’ve cut into it
- Conventional oven: after 25 minutes turn it down to gas mark 5/190ºC for 10 minutes
- Can be served hot, warm or cold
I always worry about the Aga cooling down if you give it too much to do at once but yesterday I cooked a pheasant, some roast potatoes and this pie in the roasting oven in the space of one and a half hours and everything was perfectly cooked.
The first time I made this pie we were a little disappointed that the cinnamon flavour wasn’t very strong. Cinnamon is one of my husband’s favourite things so he did a bit of research. First of all he saw that the cinnamon I’d used (by Bart’s) was a blend “sourced from several Fairtrade producers” and that the cinnamon considered to be the best is from Ceylon. So from the website cinnamonhill.com I bought some Ceylon cinnamon sticks and the next time I made the pie, we used the fine Microplane grater to grate some for the topping and reader, I can confirm it tasted noticeably better.
As I confessed in my recent Christmas Cake post here I don’t always do a homemade Christmas pudding. After writing that, it struck me that this was really very lazy of me. “Call yourself a cook?” I asked myself, and resolved there and then to make one this year and every year. Honestly, it’s so incredibly easy and quick to make and doesn’t involve sophisticated baking skills.
The first thing you need to do is find a recipe. I’m not going to give you one here because you probably all have at least one. And if you don’t, there’s the Internet, which is where I found mine: it’s this one by Bertinet’s in Bath. I hadn’t made it before this year but had bought Bertinet’s puddings in the past which had gone down very well, so I’m confident this one will be delicious. I’ve also made Delia’s pudding (pretty sure you’ll find it online if you haven’t got her wonderful, and in my case much used, Christmas book) and one by the great Nigel Slater. My preference will always be not to mess about with the recipe and to stick to traditional ingredients, but if you fancy trying something a bit different, there are plenty of suggestions out there. For me, part of the beauty of preparing the Christmas meal is that it is the same (more or less) every year. With all that’s going on at that time of year, and the many tasks that need to be done, it takes the pressure off if you are not having to think up a new, imaginative menu on top of everything else.
So back to my pudding. You will see from the photos that I could not fit all my mixture in the recommended 2 pint size basin and ended up with an additional small pudding; I intend to give this as a gift to the hostess of a party we’ve been invited to. Before putting the puddings in the fridge for some hours (as recommended by Mr Bertinet) I placed a circle of greaseproof paper on top of each one.
As for the steaming, it really couldn’t be easier than in the Aga. Cover both puddings in clingfilm and then take a saucepan which holds the pudding basin and make sure you can fit the lid on. Place the pudding in it and pour in water about half way up the basin. Bring this to the boil on the boiling plate and then simmer on the simmering plate for 30 minutes. Check the water level, put the lid on and place in the simmering oven to “steam” for 12 hours or overnight. I left mine (both of them) while I slept on Sunday night and we came downstairs on Monday morning to a heavenly Christmas-y aroma.
Leave the pudding to cool in its clingfilm. I then wrapped mine in muslin and tied it with string as you can see in the photo above. Foil or extra clingfilm would be fine; I just think it looks pretty (and traditional) in the muslin.
This traditional Norwegian celebration cake (translation: soft cake) is part of my childhood in a way that no other food is. My grandmother, aunts, and mother all baked it regularly when I was growing up and then my mother passed the recipe on to me. Nowadays when we go on holiday to Norway, it’s my cousins who make the bløtkake and no doubt they have passed the recipe down to their children as I will to mine.
My mother is a great cook and loved introducing her British friends to Norwegian specialities, but when she was first married to my (English) father she also learnt to do an excellent Sunday roast and many other British recipes. She would make a bløtkake for our birthdays and if friends were coming round. For a few years she ran a small catering firm specialising in parties and weddings, and this cake was probably what her customers requested the most. I can remember helping her with deliveries sometimes which involved me sitting in the passenger seat of her car with the cake in a container on my lap, hoping we didn’t have to brake suddenly.
The cake is not complicated or difficult to make. It uses a fatless sponge so you needn’t feel guilty about the amount of cream required to make this cake delicious and special. I made it recently for my youngest son’s 18th birthday.
You will need an 8″ or 9″ springform cake tin, greased and base-lined.
- 5 large eggs
- 125g caster sugar
- 125g self-raising flour
- 300ml (or more) double or whipping cream
- Fruit: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or banana or combinations of these. I’m sure you will come up with other wonderful fruit ideas, depending on the season. The one above was a mixture of raspberries and blueberries. I also can’t give you quantities but I’m sure you’ll manage
- Juice or milk for moistening the sponge
- Pre-heat a conventional oven to 150ºC
- Whisk the eggs and sugar (ideally in a mixer or using an electric hand whisk) for 8-10 minutes (depending on the power of your whisk) until thick and very pale in colour. When you lift the whisk the mixture will leave a trail like a ribbon
- Then fold in the flour; do this gently to keep in as much air as possible
- Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and bake in the baking oven (see above for conventional oven temp) for about 25-30 minutes. Check it at 20 minutes and maybe turn it round so the “other” side is nearer to the back. If using a conventional oven, don’t even think about opening the door until it’s been in for 20 minutes. It is done if it springs back when pressed down gently with your finger
- Cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes before turning it out of the tin. Leave it to cool upside down
- When the cake is cold slice through the middle horizontally so you have two pieces. Even better, slice it into three layers. In fact, I wish I’d done this for my son’s cake and will definitely do it next time. It makes a more impressive, moist and luscious cake. You may need more cream but given it’s a cake based on having lashings of cream, who’s going to quibble about that?
- You need to moisten the sponge layers before filling the cake. You can use juice from the fruit (I had frozen raspberries which released a lot of juice after defrosting); or a little diluted elderflower cordial; or milk. We’re only talking about a couple of dessert spoonfuls
- Whip the cream
- Sandwich the cake together with the cream and fruit. Be generous with both
- Finally, spread the rest of the whipped cream thickly over the whole cake and decorate with a little more fruit
- It is customary to cut a circle in the middle of the cake and slice it from there. If it’s a birthday cake, the round piece can be saved for the birthday boy or girl
One more thing: if you don’t eat the whole cake at first sitting, and it is definitely best when fresh, make sure you store it in the fridge.
My mother has read this post and passed on a tip which finishes the cake off nicely: keep back a little cream for piping round the bottom. As you can see from the photos, mine has a bit of a gap and would have been improved hugely if I had done this. What can I say, except I clearly haven’t inherited my mother’s knack for presentation.
It’s that time of year again. I always resist the commercial pressure to start Christmas shopping in September. It infuriates me that Christmas cards and decorations start appearing in the shops in August, throwing everyone into panic, and the more I’m urged to prepare, the less inclined I am to do so. Oh, and no mince pies are allowed in my house until December. But there are some things which it has always been necessary to do a few weeks or months ahead of the event and one of those is baking the Christmas cake. The same goes for the pudding but I must be honest and say I do not always make my own pudding. I’ve found there are excellent ones you can buy. For the last two years I’ve bought a pudding from Bertinet’s in Bath and they’ve gone down well with my family. I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do about pudding this year; I might try Richard Bertinet’s recipe which is to be found online here. But the Christmas cake has to be homemade and I am always happy to set aside the time to make it.
Since owning my Aga I’ve used the Mary Berry Christmas cake recipe in The Aga Book. It’s delicious and I see no reason to change. She gives quantities for many different cake sizes, square and round. My usual size is the 10″/25cm round cake and that is what I have made this year. As with all fruit cakes, it is best when baked slowly in the simmering oven. I made mine in the afternoon and it was happy to wait in the tin and be placed in the oven at bedtime. This year it took nine hours and last year ten. Am not sure why the timings were different but it’s nothing to worry about.
Here’s the recipe for those of you who haven’t got The Aga Book.
Mary Berry’s Aga Christmas Cake (with a few modifications by me)
You will need a 10″/25cm loose bottomed or springform sturdy cake tin, greased and the base and sides lined (I used bake-o-glide)
- 675g currants
- 450g sultanas
- 225g raisins
- 450g glacé cherries
- Grated zest of 2 oranges
- 300ml sherry (I used Harvey’s Bristol Cream)
- 350g butter, softened
- 350g dark brown sugar
- 6 eggs
- 100g self-raising flour
- 225 plain flour
- 100g blanched, chopped almonds
- 2 tbsp black treacle
- 2 tsp ground mixed spice
- Rinse, dry and quarter the cherries
- Put all the fruit and orange zest in a container, pour over the sherry and give it a stir
- Cover with a lid or a couple of layers of tightly sealed clingfilm and leave to soak for 3 days, stirring daily
- Measure the butter, sugar, eggs, treacle and chopped almonds into a mixing bowl (I used my KitchenAid) and beat well
- Add the flours and spice and mix thoroughly until blended
- Stir in the soaked fruit and sherry
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level out evenly
- Bake in the simmering oven for about 9 hours, but keep an eye on it at the 8 hour point. It is done when a warm skewer comes out clean
- Leave to cool in the tin then turn it out, feed it (see below) and wrap it. I like using parchment lined foil for this (from Lakeland)
On a weekly basis from now on you are going to need to feed your cake: take a darning needle and pierce the cake all over, top and bottom; drizzle over a couple of teaspoons of sherry, let it sink in and then turn the cake over and do the same on the other side. Then wrap the cake and place it inside a (large!) airtight container.
About a week before Christmas I ice my cake with marzipan. I usually buy it but have been known to make my own: homemade is definitely better but sometimes I go for the quicker option. Once the almond icing has dried out, after a few days, I place the final layer of icing on my cake; invariably on Christmas Eve. For this I use ready-to-roll fondant icing. I do not make my own.
My husband took photos and I added captions to some to indicate the different stages.
First soak your fruit for three days
Grease and line your tin
In your bowl put butter…
Add flours, mixed spice and mix
and black treacle
until it looks like this
Fold in the fruit…
Turn mixture into your prepared tin
It’s done. Leave to cool
Turn it out and place on foil like this
Pierce all over
Feed then wrap
And finally the finished cake, which we first sliced into on 28 December:
In this post a year ago I mentioned my Norwegian grandmother’s apple cake. It has become a Hardy family tradition to have it on Christmas Eve, but that doesn’t stop us having it at other times of the year. I have vivid memories of evening coffee time at my grandparents’ house in Oslo when cake would often be served.
I made the Norwegian apple cake this weekend for second son’s birthday. It’s not a typical birthday cake but I don’t think that matters. We managed to get his brothers to come along and gathered in London for tea and cake which we consumed while watching the England v Wales Six Nations rugby match.
I don’t think my grandmother, who is no longer with us, would mind if I gave you the recipe. It’s extremely easy to make. You can keep it just as it is, or add cinnamon to the apples or sprinkle some flaked almonds over it, or both.
Norwegian Apple Cake
You will need a 20cm/8″ springform cake tin, greased and base-lined with greaseproof paper or bake-o-glide.
Conventional oven: pre-heat to 160º-170ºC
- 4 Bramley apples
- 125g plus 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 125g butter, softened
- 240g self-raising flour
- 1 large egg
- Peel, core and slice the apples and place the slices in a bowl with the juice of a lemon to stop them going brown. Add the tablespoon of sugar
- Place the apples in a saucepan with a little water, let’s say 3mm deep. Cook them for a minutes on the Aga simmering plate or your hob, giving them the occasional stir with a wooden spoon. When they’re all soft, remove from the heat and leave to cool
- Make your cake batter by placing the sugar, butter, flour and egg in a bowl and beating the mixture. I use my electric mixer
- Press two thirds of this mixture into the base of your prepared tin
- Then spoon the stewed apples over this but not right up to the edge. If you feel you have too much apple mixture (after all, Bramleys vary in size) save some (freeze it if necessary) to have with roast pork at a later date
- On a floured surface very gently roll out the remaining third of the batter and then cut it into strips about 1.5cms wide
- Arrange these strips in a lattice pattern over your cake. You don’t have to make a complicated over and under pattern. The dough is very soft and the strips might break as you pick them up. Don’t worry: you can just patch them together as you place them. As you can see from the photos, mine does not look remotely professional
- Bake your cake until golden brown. You can’t test it because of the apples. I find it usually takes between 35 and 45 minutes. I start checking it at about 25.
- You can serve it warm (but not piping hot) or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon. I’m not a cream person but this cake really is best served with a dollop of lightly whipped cream.
I hope it’s still correct to say apples are in season, because it’s already a couple of weeks since I made this apple cake with autumn in mind and only now am I getting round to writing about it. On the other hand, it’s not exactly a seasonal cake because we all cook with apples throughout the year and to make this cake I bought Bramley apples from the supermarket.
Regular readers will remember that I like making apple cakes and prefer them to pies and crumbles, partly because they work both as puddings (with whipped cream, say) and as teatime cakes.
You can’t have two many apple cake recipes in your repertoire, in my view, and I’m happy to add this Delia recipe to mine. The lazy baker in me particularly appreciated the fact that peeling the Bramleys is optional. That was a no brainer: I didn’t peel them.
To make the job even simpler I used the all-in-one method to mix all the ingredients together before folding in the apples and orange zest.
- 225g self-raising flour
- 1 rounded teaspoon baking powder
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 3 Bramley apples
- 175g soft light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 75g butter, softened
- Grated zest of an orange
- 1 tbsp milk (if needed)
- A little icing sugar
- Conventional oven: pre-heat to 180ºC
- Grease and base-line a 20cm loose bottomed cake tin
- Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into your mixing bowl and add the butter, sugar and eggs
- Beat until thoroughly blended. I used my KitchenAid. You could use an electric hand whisk
- Chop the apples into small dice (with or without peel, remember) and fold into the mixture with the orange zest. Add a little milk if the mixture seems dry
- Spoon the mixture into your prepared tin
- Bake in the baking oven of your Aga (or in the centre of a conventional oven at 180ºC) for about 1 hour, but do check on it every 10 minutes or so after the first half hour. I put a piece of greaseproof paper loosely on top at this point because my cake was looking a little dark
- The cake is done when it feels springy to touch and is starting to shrink away from the sides of the tin
- Cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so before turning out onto a rack
- Sprinkle with icing sugar to serve