Maple & Pecan Bundt Cake

Mark’s been hankering for a bundt tin for quite some time but we never seem to see many of them in the stores here in the UK (or at least, not attractive ones… most seem pretty plain, and surely the whole point of a bundt tin is that it should be highly decorative?).

Mark’s done plenty of research in the meantime and come to the conclusions that a) Nordic Ware bundt tins seem to get the best reviews and b) they’re more expensive than most others. So we would often hunt through stores like HomeSense in the hope that they may have some in stock – they never did, until this weekend! Suddenly we were spoilt for choice and came home with a new cake tin to use! I can’t find the exact one on Amazon, but this one is pretty similar.

The first recipe book I had to hand was good old Nigella Kitchen, and it has a recipe for a maple and pecan bundt. They’re basically two of my favourite things so it seemed a no brainer to make this one!

The ingredient list isn’t too exotic – creme fraiche, pecans and maple syrup were the only things we didn’t already have in the cupboard or fridge. The method is a bit fiddly though – basically you need three bowls on the go.

In the first you mix butter and flour with a fork to create a kind of crumble. To this you add chopped pecans, a teaspoon of cinnamon and some maple syrup, then mix it all together with a fork to create the most amazing smelling mixture – this is your filling.

Next mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder in a second bowl.

In a third bowl, cream butter and caster sugar together. Add a tablespoon of the flour mixture to this and beat in, followed by an egg, then another tablespoon of flour, and then another egg. Beat it together after each addition, and then add the rest of the flour. The resulting mixture is pretty stiff so you may get tired when doing this! Finally, the creme fraiche gets added to this.

To assemble, pour about 2/3 of the mixture into the bundt tin. It’s a thick mixture, so you can then make a bit of a “trough” into which you pour the nutty filling. The important thing is that the filling shouldn’t touch the sides of the tin – you want in encased within the cake. You use the rest of the mixture to cover it up, and then bake in the over for 30 – 40 minutes. Once it’s out and cooled you dust it with a bit of icing sugar. It looks so pretty, Nigella herself even retweeted our photo!

A tip from Nigella – she suggests oiling the inside of the bundt tin first and standing it upside down over some newspaper whilst you get on with the rest. This way it’s oiled, but not too oily (it seemed to work for us, the cake came out of the tin really easily).

The result cake is lovely – the sponge itself is fairly plain and light, but the sweet and nutty filling gives a great contrast. Delicious and beautiful!

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chunk Cookies

A chance trip into Waitrose to pick up some milk saw me grabbing a copy of their free weekend magazine, and in amongst various articles and recipes I spotted this one for Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chunk cookies. Since we had some peanut butter left over from the recent chicken and peanut stew we made, this looked like a good opportunity to use up some left overs.

The ingredient list is actually really simple, and the only thing we needed to buy in was a bag of chocolate chips. The method is incredibly simple too – I won’t repeat it here, just follow the link above. The only thing that’s a little tricky is shaping the balls of mixture since it’s a little on the sticky side but it’s not too bad and certainly doesn’t make much mess. They also take no time at all to prepare and cook, so are perfect if you need to produce something at short notice.

I’ve never really had much luck with making cookies and biscuits (except for that shortbread!) but these worked out incredibly well. The resulting cookies have that perfect combination of firmness and softness, and the peanut butter and chocolate flavouring is wonderful. It required all our willpower not to eat these in one sitting!

Pineapple, Courgette and Walnut Loaf

The government says we should always try to get our five portions of fruit and veg every day, and Thrive on Five is a great book for finding tasty ways of doing just that. We’ve made one of their cakes before and it was fantastic, serving up 2 portions per slice. This cake only serves up 1 portion per slice but that’s still a portion we’d have missed out on otherwise!

The list of ingredients is pretty long, and grating courgette is tedious work. Beyond that though, it’s pretty simple. Mashing the pineapple in a mortar and pestle was a bit tedious, and the recipe was unclear as to whether the resulting juice should go in the cake or not (I assumed it should, and this seemed to turn out OK).

End result is a great looking and tasting loaf – it took a bit longer in the oven than expected and nearly burned so I had to cover it with tin foil for the last 10 minutes. It’s not often you can have a slice of cake and say it’s one of your 5 a day though, so the effort is definitely worth it.

Apricot and Orange Sponge Cake

It’s been a while since I made a cake, so I had a crack at this one from Nigel Slater’s Appetite. The main recipe is actually for a lemon cake, but the variations suggested that orange could be used instead, and I love an orange cake.

Nigel describes this cake as incredibly easy, but I’m afraid I don’t agree. It’s easy, yes – if you’re using a food processor. By hand? Not so much. First up you have to cream the butter and sugar until “white and fluffy” – this takes a really, really long time by hand. I also found Nigel’s technique to be misleading – the next step described is to zest and juice the fruit… but he actually expected you to NOT add them to the bowl at this point. I realised too late, and because I’d used an orange rather than a lemon I had quite a lot of juice… this began to dissolve the sugar so I was going to lose all the air I had worked so hard to incorporate.

I decided to add an extra bit of raising agent in the form of a teaspoon of bicarbonate. I chose this over baking powder because I believe the latter includes bicarb and acid – but with all the acidic orange juice in the mixture, I decided that would be enough.

Nigel also says you need to chop some apricots until almost like a paste – again, that’s an easy task for a machine but not by hand. Fortunately I have a mezzaluna (this one, in fact) which made things easier than they may have otherwise been.

Once I was done with all that hassle and stress it went into the oven and actually rose really nicely. It sank a little in the middle afterwards, and a bit of the butter separated out in the middle making it look a bit greasy but – all things considered – it’s a bloody nice cake. We had some warm on the first night with raspberries and a blob of skyr, and then some more the next day after keeping it in the fridge. I think it was better for being in the fridge, and Mark prefers his with Greek yoghurt rather than skyr.

If you’ve got a food processor, try this one out. If not, give it a go anyway but make sure you read the entire recipe through before you begin and be prepared for some hard work!

Secret Ingredient Chocolate Fudge Cake

Well, this is a strange one. The recipe comes from John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients, and whilst it looks like a run of the mill chocolate cake, one of these five ingredients is definitely not like the others. Yes folks, this cake really does include a tin of condensed tomato soup.

It would be fair to say I was very suspicious when making this, and the smell of tomatoes whilst making the mixture was much stronger than I had imagined – although I did use a bit too much soup (the tin we bought was bigger than the quantity required and I only spotted just before the last drops went in!). Once the cake batter is made it goes into two sandwich tins and bakes in the oven for about half an hour – and out comes chocolate cake! Quite an attractive looking one, too.

Meanwhile you make some chocolate icing/ganache from a mixture of water, cocoa, butter and muscovado sugar. I found that the quantities in the recipe produced about 25% more than I needed. However, I did find icing the cake to be quite tricky because both my sponges were quite domed, and when I assembled the cake the top sponge broke up a little bit – the icing ended up being more of a glue to hold the whole thing together.

The resulting cake is really nice, really rich and really fudgey. I’m not sure whether that’s due to the tomato soup, or if it’s the massive (and I do mean massive) quantities of sugar and cocoa used in the cake. Are they there in their own right, or to mask the flavour of tomatoes? I’ve no idea, but the cake will be demolished by us two I can assure you of that.

Strawberry Tart

I’m going to take credit for this recipe and claim it as my own, but the truth is that it’s simply cobbled together from a few other bits and pieces. Firstly there’s the pastry, which is just sweet shortcrust pastry. You could buy this from a shop, but I used the technique which John Whaite teaches at his cookery school. I made the pastry, chilled it, rolled it out, put it into the tin and then chilled it some more. I then blind baked it using baking beans to prevent it from puffing up.

The second part is creme pattisiere – there are lots of recipes for this out there, and again I used the technique I picked up from John Whaite but his recipe is very similar to the one you’ll find in Nigella’s books. The creme pat was made whilst the pastry chilled and was then left to cool. Put it on a plate covered with cling film to avoid a skin forming.

Once chilled, the creme pat was transferred to the pastry and filled it. Then I added the sliced strawberries and glazed the whole thing with a little bit of apricot jam and water which I’d mixed and heated on the hob. The resulting tart just sits in the fridge. It’s both fresh and light, but also satisfying because of the creaminess of the filling.

Banana and Cardamom Loaf

There were a pair of bananas gloating at me in the kitchen, slowly turning brown in the fruit bowl so rather than let them go to waste it seemed appropriate to try out a banana bread recipe from Nigella’s latest book, Simply Nigella.

I had to deviate from the recipe though because it calls for cacao nibs. There were only two places I could find selling these – a health food store where they were very expensive, or through the wonderful Bulk Powders website but they wouldn’t have arrived in time for when I wanted to cook this. So I took the easy option and went with dark chocolate chips instead.

The cardamom is an unusual addition but it works… I really need to invest in a proper mortar and pestle though because grinding them using a rolling pin in a bowl wasn’t the most efficient method.

End result was a success – I know this because Mark wanted a second slice!

Big Fruit Cake

This cake is another recipe one from Nigel Slater’s “Appetite”, and the book basically gives a rough guide to making a fruit cake and tips on adapting it as you see fit – it can even be the basis of your Christmas cake.

As such, the ingredients are a bit fluid but it’s about 1 kg of dried fruit (we used dried apricots, figs and prunes) plus 500g of sultanas. There’s also five large eggs, some flour, the juice and zest of a lemon and an orange, a few tablespoons of brandy, ground almonds, butter and brown sugar (we used muscovado).

It’s a long list of ingredients and it’s not cheap. It’s also not one for weight watchers – this cake is loaded with calories. It takes about 3 hours in the oven – one hour at 160C and two hours at 150C. Unfortunately mine burnt a little bit on the outside, so I’d recommend covering with foil for the last hour.

End result is tasty and enormous… this will keep us going for quite some time!

Apple Pie and Custard

I was wondering what to cook for our usual weekend “sweet treat” and Mark said he had a craving for apple pie. I was somewhat surprised to find that straightforward apple pie recipes are missing from most of our recipe books! There’s a recipe for “double apple pie” in Nigella’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess but that looked a like little bit of hassle. There’s a recipe in Sue Lawrence’s Book of Baking but in the end we liked the look of the one in Appetite by Nigel Slater since it looked quite simple.

Actually though, it’s not an apple pie recipe. It’s a “hot fruit” pie and includes berries too. So, in the end we’ve had to improvise and I can hereby present you with the Two Hungry Boys Apple Pie recipe, as invented this afternoon!

The shortcrust pastry is made to Nigel Slater’s recipe – 180g of plain flour and 100g of fridge cold salted butter. Chop the butter into pieces and then rub them into the flour until you have something with the consistency of breadcrumbs. Then add a couple of tablespoons of very cold water and combine to form a dough. You may need a little bit more water, but it will only be a few drops at most. Roll into a ball, flatten a little, wrap in cling film and stick in the fridge for half an hour.

Meanwhile take 3 Bramley apples, peel and core them and chop into small bitesized pieces. Mix them with about 30g of sultanas and put them into your pie tin. Then mix three tablespoons of caster sugar with one half teaspoon of ground cinnamon and scatter the mixture over the fruit.

Take your pastry from the fridge and roll out so it’s just big enough to cover your pie dish. Stick a few knife cuts in the top and make sure it stays in place on top of the fruit by using a little bit of milk to stick it to the lip of the pie tin. You can also paint the top of the pie with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar so it goes nicely bronze in the oven.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes and then enjoy! We also had some homemade custard on the side from a Nigel Slater recipe. Heat 400ml of full fat milk in a saucepan with half a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Just as it starts to come to the boil take it off the heat and leave to stand and cool a little. Meanwhile whisk 4 egg yolks and 4 tablespoons of caster sugar together. Pour the cooled milk into the egg and sugar mixture and mix well, then transfer to a pan and heat whilst stirring continuously and let it thicken. Don’t let it get too hot or it will curdle. When it’s the right consistency, transfer to a jug so it doesn’t carry on cooking.

End result was delicious and incredibly comforting!

Ginger Cake

It’s been a while since we did any baking – the last real baking was Mark’s spectacular Christmas cake. Since Christmas we’ve been working our way through that cake and a mountain of other treats which seemed to accumulate in our cupboards over the festive season. They’re all gone now though, so I turned to my new copy of The Kitchen Diaries and in the January chapter there is a recipe for ginger cake.

It’s a pretty simple recipe – mostly because there’s no heavy beating of butter required. Dry ingredients get mixed in a bowl whilst the butter and various sugars and syrups are melted together in a pan to produce a gingery kind of toffee. You then mix the two together and add eggs and milk before sticking in the oven. Nigel says you can have this one warm, but if you’re having it cold it’s best to leave for a day to “mature”.

I’m not qualified to judge this one – Mark is the ginger cake superfan, and he gives it a thumbs up so it must be good!