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.

 

Weekend Cooking

It’s probably very dull and predictable that I almost always go food shopping on a Friday to get what we need for the weekend.  I know I’m not alone in this because I invariably bump into friends doing the same thing.  In fact, Waitrose can be a very sociable place on a Friday morning!

Sometimes meals have been planned and I’ve drawn up a shopping list of ingredients (on my phone – I add to it throughout the week), but some weeks I hope I’ll be inspired by something I see at the butcher’s or in the supermarket.  Last Friday was one of those times.  I bought duck breasts, half a shoulder of lamb and a kilo of minced beef in case I changed my mind about the duck breasts.  When in doubt, make a bolognese or a chilli, is my motto.  The mince is now in the freezer and I slow-roasted the lamb on Sunday.

Duck Breasts 

Because we were going to be watching the Six Nations rugby on Saturday afternoon, I wanted to keep my duck breast recipe simple.  I used two duck breasts for three of us.  If your duck breasts are as large as ours were, you need less than a whole one per person.

Score the fat of your duck breasts and season.  Peel and cut into cubes one medium potato per person and place in a roasting tin in a single layer.  Place the breasts in a cold, non-stick frying pan on the Aga simmering plate (conventional: medium heat) skin side down.  Cook for 8 minutes, pouring the fat as you go along into the roasting tin into which you’ve placed the potatoes.  It would be sensible to line the tin with bake-o-glide (I forgot) because the potatoes might stick a little (as mine did).

After the 8 minutes, place the now golden breasts skin side up on a rack over the potatoes in the roasting tin and cook in the roasting oven (conventional 220ºc) for a further 15 minutes for a pink centre.  If you prefer them well done, increase this time by 5 minutes or so.  Make sure all the delicious fat from the frying pan has gone into the roasting tin.

While this is happening put the frying pan back on the simmering plate and add about a glass of red wine and a little stock (whatever you have to hand; I used Marigold Swiss vegetable bouillon powder).  Let that bubble and thicken a little and then stir in some redcurrant jelly until melted.  I’m not giving you quantities here.  Just think of how many people you are serving; all you need is a little jus to pour over.

Pour the jus into a jug and keep this at the back of the Aga, take the duck breasts out of the oven and continue to cook the potatoes until they are golden brown, tender and crisp.  Keep the breasts warm; they need to rest for 5-10 minutes anyway before being sliced thickly and served.  We ate ours with buttered cabbage.

 

If you like duck, I can also recommend this Chinese-style duck leg recipe by the excellent food blogger “Eat like a girl”.  It’s where I got the idea for the potatoes in the above dish.  I have made it many times, often for guests and a couple of times for 12 people: I just used two large Aga roasting tins in the roasting oven, one on the second set of rungs and one on the fourth, and swapped them over half way through cooking.  As I’ve probably mentioned before, I love dishes that can be cooked in one dish/pot/tin.  All you need to accompany this one is some pak choi stir-fried in a little oil with some soy sauce.

Tart

This weekend I also made this “Eat like a girl” Blueberry and Cardamom Frangipane Tart.  (More cardamom, I hear you say.  I’m not even going to apologise.)  She only posted the recipe this week so probably hasn’t had much feedback yet.  I can tell you we loved it.  It’s very Scandinavian and would work as a dessert, with morning coffee or afternoon tea.  I thoroughly recommend it.

 

 

 

Candles

 

 

When I was growing up people only really used candles on birthday cakes, for a special dinner or if there was a power cut (and there were quite a few in the early seventies during the three-day week).  This was not true in my house, however, because my Norwegian mother brought over her country’s tradition of lighting candles at all times of the day or night.  She would stock up on them during our holidays in Norway because she swore that Scandinavian candles were better and did not drip.  Imagine her excitement (yes, really) when Swedish, not Norwegian, Ikea opened its first branch over here and she could buy candles almost anytime she felt like it.  It meant she could use them with abandon, finances permitting, without having to worry about when she was next going to visit her relatives or when they’d next be crossing the North Sea to visit us and could be persuaded to bring candles with them.

If this is sounding somewhat obsessive I have to admit I’ve inherited the candle dependency.  They add ambience, and let’s be honest, make everything look better and hide a multitude of blemishes, whether it be the lines on your face or the chips on your paintwork.  What with Scandi Noir TV dramas and a growing interest in Scandinavian cuisine over here, we feel that we know a lot more about those countries.  Magazines talk about hygge and give us tips on how to achieve it in our homes.  Well, candles are part of that, and you don’t only have to light them when it’s dark.  In my family a candle would always be lit at breakfast on someone’s birthday, for example.

I didn’t pay my usual pre-Christmas visit to Ikea to stock up on candles because I felt we had enough to see us through.  I was right but I’ve been using them sparingly ever since for fear of running out completely, which would be a disaster.  Seriously.  Anyway, when I was there the other day I picked up my favourites: Jubla (tall, slim and white; see above), Fenomen (fat and white) and a couple of packs of tealights.  I only ever have white candles.  Red is lovely at Christmas but doesn’t go that well with the decor in our living and dining rooms so I find it easier to stick to white.

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No recipes for you in this post but there IS food.  It’s hard to drop into Ikea without picking up something to eat.  This time I bought spicy ginger biscuits or “pepparkaka”: delicious with a cup of tea or, should you feel the urge, a glass of mulled wine.

 

 

 

 

 

Cardamom and Lemon Cookies

I know it’s not very modern but I had a quiet couple of days this week.  Yes, that’s right, I wasn’t rushing around like a mad thing; I pottered about, mainly at home, and it was lovely.  Such days are rare, although admittedly a little less rare now only one of my sons lives here permanently.

That’s not to say I was idle.  My activities included the following; cleaning bathrooms; laundry; ironing shirts; meeting a friend for coffee (one of my favourite pursuits); having a friend over for coffee (different friend, different day); tweeting (Twitter was rather compelling on Wednesday, following Mr Cameron’s “bunch of migrants” remark); walking the dog; vacuuming my mother-in-law’s flat (despite being nearly 91 she insists on doing housework but I help out occasionally); cooking (Middle Eastern lentils and rice was delicious); watching the celebrity Great British Bake-Off (I thought Samantha Cameron was lovely and – spoiler alert – a deserving winner); baking cookies.  I fear it all sounds terribly dull to you, but I enjoy days like that: they are a chance to catch one’s breath.

The cookies I baked were these:

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Cardamom and Lemon Cookies

The recipe is on the BBC website * and is by the Hairy Bikers, but it was my mother who drew it to my attention.  She is Norwegian and always makes Norwegian biscuits in the run-up to Christmas, which she then brings to us when she comes on Christmas Eve.  Some recipes she inherited from my grandmother (or “Mommo” as I called her) and have been around for many years, so the Hairy Bikers should be flattered that their recipe met with my mother’s approval.  She enjoyed watching the programmes they made in Northern Europe (I must admit I only caught one or two of them).  There is something special about baking things from recipes that have been passed down the generations.  My eldest son adores his great grandmother’s Lebkuchen (a Christmas treat originally from Germany) recipe and he and his girlfriend make them together.  In fact, they made a batch while they were with us over Christmas but I’m not ready to write about them yet because it was difficult to work out which Aga oven(s) to use and how long to bake them for.

You might be surprised to learn that cardamom is not just a spice for curries but is widely used in Scandinavian baking.  On the other hand, with the huge interest nowadays in all things Nordic, whether it be food or Noir TV series, you might not be in the least surprised!

As you can see from my Instagram photo above, I did not use a cookie stamp as described in the recipe; I simply pressed a fork onto the balls of dough to flatten them slightly before they went in the oven.

Hairy Bikers’ Cardamom and Lemon Cookies

Ingredients

  • 225g butter, softened
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1 lemon, zest only
  • 250g plain flour
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 3 tsp ground cardamom or 1 heaped tsp cardamom seeds, ground in a pestle and mortar

Method

  • Preheat conventional oven to 190ºC
  • Line 2 baking trays with bake-o-glide** or baking parchment
  • Using an electric hand-whisk or food mixer (I used my KitchenAid), beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest together until pale and fluffy
  • Beat in the flour, almonds and cardamom until the mixture is well combined and comes together to form a stiff dough
  • Roll the dough into 24 balls and place 12 on each baking tray, making sure you leave space between each one
  • Press a fork onto the balls of dough to flatten them slightly
  • Bake, one tray at a time, in the middle of the Aga baking oven, for 14 minutes until the cookies are pale and golden.
  • Leave them to cool on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack

* I updated this post today, 17 May 2016, following the news that the BBC was going to close its food website.  It’s therefore likely that the above link will soon no longer work.

**I always use bake-o-glide on my baking trays.  It’s brilliant stuff: non-stick and can go in the dishwasher.  I buy it via the Aga Cookshop website.

When my youngest son returned from his run yesterday afternoon he was very pleased to find something home-baked and sweet to aid his recovery.