Norwegian Bløtkake

 

 

 

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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.

Ingredients

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

Method

  • 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.

Update

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.

 

 

 

 

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Aga Christmas Cake

Aga Christmas Cake

 

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)

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  • 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)

Feeding

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.

Icing

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.

And finally the finished cake, which we first sliced into on 28 December:

 

 

Norwegian Apple Cake

Norwegian Apple Cake

 

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. img_6492

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

Ingredients

  • 4 Bramley apples
  • 125g plus 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 240g self-raising flour
  • 1 large egg

Method

  • 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 tinimg_4305
  • 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. img_4306Don’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.img_4319

Another Day, Another Apple Cake

 

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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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  • 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

 

 

 

 

 

Plum Torte

 

When I posted a photo of this to Instagram yesterday I called it plum cake but it’s officially a torte and with just the two eggs, it is definitely a little less cake-y than most cakes.

Anyway, I recommend the recipe to you.  I bought a whole load of Victoria plums on Friday with the vague intention of doing a seasonal weekend bake but with no specific recipe in mind.  I couldn’t find the Diana Henry recipe I thought I had in one of her books so I Googled “Diana Henry plum cake” and this was the result.  The observant among you will notice it uses purple plums, but I saw no reason to let that put me off and brazenly set to work with my pinkish yellow Victoria ones.

I do hope it’s fine to post the recipe here.

Ingredients

  • 125g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 115g butter, softened
  • 200g soft light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • about 9 plums, halved and stoned
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp lemon juice

Method

(Preheat conventional oven to 180ºC)

You will need a 23cm springform tin.  Not sure why but Henry says ungreased.  I obeyed and it came out fine.

Don’t forget the sugar and lemon juice topping; I haven’t tried it without but have a feeling it makes all the difference, to both taste and texture.

  • Henry doesn’t, but I used the all-in-one method and placed all the ingredients except for the plums, granulated sugar and lemon juice in the bowl of my KitchenAid and mixed at high speed for about 2 minutes until thoroughly blended.
  • Spoon the mixture into your tin and place the plums, skin-side up, on top.
  • Sprinkle the granulated sugar and lemon juice over the cake and bake (in the Aga baking oven).  Takes about 45 minutes, in a conventional oven or the Aga.
  • The cake is done when it starts to come away from the sides of the tin and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  • Leave it to cool for 20 minutes on a rack and then release from the tin.  Be careful: it’s quite fragile and the plums have probably sunk to the bottom but this doesn’t matter at all.
  • We ate it at room temperature but it would have been just as delicious slightly warm.

 

Film Club Supper alla Bolognese

I belong to a little film club comprising eight friends.  We meet every six weeks or so and take it in turns to host.  The hostess (yes, we are all female) chooses the film and makes supper which we eat at the start of the evening, usually, but not always, sitting at a kitchen or dining room table.  Pudding and/or chocolates tend to be consumed on the sofa while watching the film.  We are allowed to pause the film for loo breaks, to make tea and coffee or to comment on or ask each other questions about the film.  It’s great fun.

We’ve watched a wide range of films over the years, both foreign language and English.  It was my turn to host our last meeting and I chose the film Carol with Cate Blanchett and Roony Mara.  I always mean to go to the cinema to see the Oscar nominated films but invariably don’t get around to it, so film club presents an excellent opportunity.  And it’s so easy to watch films these days.  On this occasion all I did was log on to Amazon Instant Video to rent the film and within seconds it was available to watch.

We liked the film very much.  It is beautiful and moving and Cate Blanchett’s performance is every bit as good as one has come to expect.  But I will leave film reviews to others and move on to important matters like the food!

Supper was Rick Stein’s Bolognese sausage ragù with tagliatelle.  I’d recently watched his programme from Bologna in which he’d toured that city’s food markets and restaurants.  It had transported me back to a wonderful holiday we’d enjoyed in that region of Italy when we’d also discovered its delicious cucina.

During the programme Stein made the ragù and I decided there and then to make it for film club.  My guests were too polite to say so but I know it was a little dry.  I was trying not to add too much wine/stock/cream to adjust for the fact that, as I’ve mentioned before in this blog, Agas are brilliant at retaining moisture.  But I went too far and felt we could have done with a little more creaminess to coat the strands of tagliatelle.  The flavour, however, was superb: with the aroma of fennel, rosemary and chilli, we could almost have been in Bologna.  I will definitely be making it again soon and might update this post if I get the liquid:sausagemeat ratio right next time, but for  now, here’s the recipe with my suggestions based on my experience.

By the way, I made double the BBC recipe linked to above (there were seven of us eating that night) and cooked, I felt, a little too much tagliatelle (750g).  I didn’t add all of it to the ragù but there was still plenty; nor did I emulate Rick Stein and make my own pasta.  I chose this very good quality one by  “Artigiano Pastaio” which is not cheap but worth it for a treat.

Finally, at the last minute, with my friends arriving on the doorstep, I remembered just in time to take a few photos.   Taking photos of the food needs to become second nature to me and I must learn to ignore my family when they roll their eyes at me for holding up the meal in order to take pics, or I won’t be able to call myself a blogger.

Ingredients

(For 4 people)

  • 400g fresh or good quality dried tagliatelle (or homemade as per Rick Stein’s recipe)
  • 400g sausagement
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, chopped
  • 3/4 tsp fennel seeds, roughly ground in pestle and mortar
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 sprig rosemary, leaves finely chopped
  • I large clove garlic, crushed
  • 150ml dry white wine
  • 150ml chicken stock
  • 150ml double cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated parmesan to serve

Method

  • Heat the oil in a large casserole on the boiling plate and break up the sausagemeat into it.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring all the time, moving it to the simmering plate if it seems too hot
  • Add the onion, celery, fennel seeds, chilli flakes and rosemary and cook for about 15 minutes until the onion is soft.  You can do this in the simmering oven, maybe for a little longer than 15 minutes
  • Add the garlic, give it a stir and then pour in the white wine.  Cook for 10 minutes or so on the simmering plate until it’s reduced.  Then add 100ml of stock and 100ml of cream, season, let it come to a simmer then cover with a lid.  Cook in the simmering oven for 30 minutes or so and take a look.  If you think it looks a bit dry add the rest of the stock and cream.
  • You can leave it for an hour or two in the simmering oven.  When you’re nearly ready to eat, cook the tagliatelle according to packet instructions and when it’s al dente, drain, add it to the ragù and mix it in.

Serve with a dressed green salad.

 

I haven’t posted for a while so here are photos of other things we’ve been eating lately.  First, I made Mamma Moore’s apple cake again, but this time with rhubarb, of which my allotment-owning sister-in-law brought a whole load when she visited recently.  It worked superbly; rhubarb and ginger have a real affinity.

And then last night we had the simplest of seasonal dishes: trout caught the night before by my husband’s friend, baked in the oven with lemon juice, butter and parsley and accompanied by Jersey Royal new potatoes, carrots and fresh peas.

 

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.