Recipe #25: Easy Carrot Cake

What:  A carrot cake, not straying too far from the classic recipe, but absolutely perfect

Occasion: Engagement drinks

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Baking cakes for a crowd (for parties etc.) is always a bit of a headache.  The main issue is that I am always too eager to please, so I will take on board everybody’s preferences from the vital (nut allergies) to the downright annoying (fussy eaters).  When you cross all of the shunned ingredients and flavours off the list, you aren’t always left with that much at the end, and it can be a bit of a nightmare.  You have two options: Victoria sponges for everyone or bake more than one cake.  I opted for the latter and this is how I came to bake three cakes on Saturday morning.  Saturday was our engagement party at The Crooked Well in Camberwell (if you haven’t been, do!) and although they were taking care of the fabulous food, I wanted to bake some cakes for everybody for dessert.  After careful consideration (and a small amount of stress) I decided to go with a chocolate-hazelnut layer cake, a whole-cake version of my ginger and white chocolate cupcakes and a carrot cake.  Because everybody loves carrot cake, right?

Reading through this recipe was like reading through a checklist of usual carrot cake ingredients – I spied nothing out of the ordinary, and believe me, this is a good thing.  Of the numerous carrot cakes I have made over the years (and it is one of Ollie’s favourites so there have been plenty!) the ones I have disliked most have been those with added leftfield ingredients.  Once I followed a recipe that instructed adding tinned pineapple to the mixture and the whole thing was so disgusting it ended up in the bin.  Classic is definitely the way to go – if nothing else, the cake is beautifully easy to make with no crazy trickery.  You just do the wet ingredients in the KitchenAid and the dry in a bowl.  The majority of the exertion comes from grating carrots, and there is probably an attachment for that somewhere if you’re super lazy.  As this was for a party, I followed the suggestions in the post-script at the bottom of the page and doubled the ingredients to make a three-layer cake as opposed to a two-layer one.  The frosting is cream cheese, naturellement.

I confess, I have actually made this cake a number of times in the past and it never fails.  Although it rises well in the oven, it somehow managed to rise consistently without creating one of those infuriating dome tops so impractical for constructing layer cakes.  The best thing about this cake is that when it cools, it ends up with a sticky, almost glaze-like coating on the top.  I don’t know how this happens, but it not only adds to the deliciousness, but also makes spreading frosting much easier and takes away the need for the dreaded and time-consuming crumb-coat.  The added spices come through really well in this cake which, combined with the chopped pecans running throughout, gives it an real depth and warmth.  Three-layers is quite a challenge to eat, so for a simple afternoon tea or similar I would recommend two.  If you have drunken and gluttonous friends as I do, they’ll manage it no problem.

In Other News

Our engagement party was held upstairs at The Crooked Well.  Since my first visit last year, it is quickly becoming one of my favourite pubs.  Situated just off Camberwell Church Street, it is a lovely haven away from the chaos and fried chicken shops of Camberwell Green.  Their food is excellent, for our party we ordered from the ‘platters’ menu and had salt and pepper squid, goats cheese mousse on pumpernickle, spicy chicken wings, gravadlax and chorizo sausage rolls.  They also have an excellent a la carte and Sunday roast menu with the most spectacular cheese board I have ever seen.  I might sound like I’m gushing, I totally am, this place is ace.

*Please visit the ‘Recipe Index’ section of this blog for a link to Dan’s recipe (via www.guardian.co.uk)

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Recipe #24: Rye Hazelnut Brownies

What is it?:  A brownie, but not as we know it

Occasion: Baking Rota

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As I have mentioned once before, my office has a baking rota.  We all take it incredibly seriously and I have long suspected that the highlight of the week among my colleagues is when the Thursday afternoon email entitled ‘Cake’ drops into everybody’s inbox.  We all take it in turns to bake, and this week it was my turn.  Initially I felt quite inspired to attempt some of the more complicated recipes within Short and Sweet, but my week went from being almost empty to near-chaos in a matter of minutes.  On Monday evening, Band of Bakers, the baking club that I co-run, appeared on Paul Hollywood’s Bread.  We filmed it back in October and were very excited about seeing it, but almost as soon as it was aired, we had a huge number of tweets, Facebook messages and emails to respond to.  Which took up a large part of my free time.  So, with that in mind, I decided instead to go with that old bake-sale favourite, brownies.  I made, and loved, the bourbon pecan brownies that I made for a Band of Bakers event last year, so these had to be just as good, right?

The first thing I noticed about this recipe was that it used rye flour in place of the usual plain flour which, according to Dan, gave the brownies quite a different flavour.  I almost toyed with the idea of using a mixture of rye and spelt, having both in the house, but decided instead to be true to the recipe.  What I love the most is that you can make the whole recipe, up to the point where you pour it into the baking tin, in a saucepan as I am a huge fan of anything that saves on the washing up.  I also like the way that hazelnut oil is used to enhance the flavour of the whole hazelnuts that are studded through the brownies.  Fighting the urge to add a handful of dried sour cherries was also a struggle as I felt that a fruity dimension would really add to the recipe but, again, I resisted.

I have been trying and failing to write this post for some time, simply because I didn’t really love the outcome all that much, and didn’t quite know how to describe why.  There was nothing fundamentally wrong with this brownie – the inside was squidgy as a brownie should be, the nuts provided texture and the rye flour gave an interesting dimension as promised.  I think the problem, at least for me, is that these brownies don’t seem to be very sweet.  One of my colleagues actually preferred them above all other brownies for this very reason, but there just wasn’t enough of a sugary kick to satisfty my overly sweet palate – perhaps this is why I was tempted to add the sour cherries after tasting the batter – I just needed something more.  If you have a friend that is not really into sweet things (we all seem to!), these are beyond perfect.  If you are the kind of person that can easily clear out a jar of Nutella with a spoon, they might not be for you.

In other news:

This week was Band of Bakers 1st birthday and we celebrated with a party at The Herne in East Dulwich.  We were lucky enough to receive a visit from the man himself, Mr Dan Lepard.  There were a few bakes from Short and Sweet on the table, including my cheese-stuffed breadsticks, made with Dan’s pizza dough, so hopefully he was able to try them all.

What a fantastic year we’ve had!  You can see the photos on our Facebook page!

*Please visit the ‘Recipe Index’ section of this blog for a link to Dan’s recipe (via www.guardian.co.uk)

Recipe #23: Mint Cream Chocolate Biscuits

What is it?:  Chocolate sandwich cookies with a cool layer of peppermint buttercream

Occasion: Any

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Being the thoroughly disorganised person that I am, I actually forgot to blog about these when I baked them a couple of months ago.  Why, I’m not quite sure, as I was so excited by the mere existence of the recipe that I should have been sharing it with everybody.  The likelihood is that I was distracted by something – probably more food – and it wasn’t until I cleared out my camera this weekend that I realised that these had been lost.  I made these biscuits one afternoon when some relatives were coming over for coffee.  I always feel that a plate of biscuits on the table makes the house seem more inviting and, on the whole, they can be whipped up in a short space of time, especially for those relatives that never call ahead.  If you were super-organised, you could even freeze batches of cookie dough, ready to whip out and bake at a moment’s notice.  I am, unfortunately, not one of these people (see first sentence).

The biscuit part of this recipe is more or less the same as your average chocolate biscuit, but with the added extra of some melted dark chocolate.  Once mixed, scooped out and pressed onto a baking tray, they have a short time in the oven before being ready.  Cooking chocolate biscuits is always a little tricky as the colour-change when cooking is not as pronounced as paler offerings.  We’ve all had our kitchens filled with the bitter aroma of dark chocolate that signals a ruined cookie, and it’s not nice.  After 20-25 minutes, these are nicely done and ready to fill.  The filling is a mixture of icing sugar, butter and peppermint extract.  I love the smell of peppermint extract, so was constantly sneaking little tastes from the bowl.  You could spread the cream over the biscuits before sandwiching together, but I rather like the effect of piping with a small star-shaped nozzle.

The result of these were pretty exciting.  I was initially concerned that the hardness of the biscuits would cause the soft cream to splurge out of the sides when bitten, however the biscuit and the cream tend to merge together just enough to prevent this from happening.  I also worried that I added a bit too much mint and that this would overpower the chocolate, but luckily this was not the case either.  Despite the ‘toothpaste’ jibes coming from Ollie, these were a big success all round.  I would love to use the same biscuit recipe and make some square-shaped cookies for ice cream sandwiches this summer.  With homemade mint choc chip.  Obvs.

In Other News:

On Monday, Band of Bakers featured in Paul Hollywood’s Bread, which was tremendously exciting.  We filmed this back in the autumn and have been waiting eagerly for it to be screened.  You can see Naomi, Jon and I baking a lardy cake with Paul, then a Band of Bakers ‘Enriched Breads’ event in full swing and, finally, Naomi, Charlie and I eating a quite wonderful brioche crown in Paul’s studio kitchen.  Working with the silver fox was an absolute pleasure and we all had an excellent time.  The episode should be on BBC iPlayer for the next couple of days, just in case you missed it!

More information here

*Please visit the ‘Recipe Index’ section of this blog for a link to Dan’s recipe (via www.guardian.co.uk)

Recipe #22: Dalwhinnie Fruit Scones

What is it?: Boozy, fruity, delicious scones

Occasion:  Band of Bakers ‘Baking with Beverages’ event

Photo by Naomi Knill

Photo by Naomi Knill

I have to confess, these were not actually my contribution to the recent Band of Bakers event, but Ollie’s.  However, I did help to make them, so I can include them in this list (my blog, my rules!) My own submission was a chocolate pecan tart by David Lebovitz, which contained a hefty shot of rum.  I had decided on this almost as soon as we chose the theme, simply because I love it so much.  Originally, Ollie was not going to bake due to a lack of time however, late last night, as my pie was resting on the kitchen side, he decided that actually he did want to bake something after all.  With the shops closed and my eyelids drooping, we pulled out Short and Sweet and started searching through the stained pages for something containing booze.  Dan seems to love alcoholic baking as much as I do, because quite a few of the recipes are heavily spiked.  Ollie wanted to make the alehouse rolls, which I vetoed due to lack of time, and I wanted him to make the rum cake, which was also vetoed due to a lack of ingredients.  Just as we were about to give up and concoct a basic coffee and walnut from the storecupboard, we stumbled across the Dalwhinnie scones.  Knowing what a complete whisky fiend my boyfriend is, these were perfect.

These fruit scones contain a not unsubstantial 75ml of whisky – three shots to you and me.  Unfortunately we do not boast a bottle of Dalwhinnie as part of our home bar, but we did have some Irish whisky kicking around from St Patrick’s Day, which we decided would do just as well.  For this recipe, you first soak the fruit in boiling water for five minutes and then soak it overnight in a heady mixture of the whisky and some dark soft brown sugar.  The next morning, up you get and bake the scones using this as the ‘wet’ ingredients (along with a little milk).  I have a kind of love/hate thing with scones, as I have mentioned before, but I find Dan’s recipes work better than any I had found before.  I was feeling confident……

We decided to bake these scones in miniature and lessened the cooking time accordingly.  On coming out of the oven, they had the delicious bready smell with an unmistakable hint of booziness.  They rose beautifully and had a shiny crust with a fluffy interior.  The soaking of the fruit gave it a juicy plumpness which gave the scones an extra level of moistness.  With a generous slick of salted butter these were delicious.  The Band of Bakers certainly agreed and these were devoured very quickly.  I would love to bake them in their intended size and add them to a very decadent afternoon tea.

In other news:

Band of Bakers first birthday is approaching with a very special event… watch this space!

*Please visit the ‘Recipe Index’ section of this blog for a link to Dan’s recipe (via www.guardian.co.uk)

Recipe #21: Spelt and Ginger Cookies

What is it?: Deliciously chewy spelt cookies with a massive hit of ginger

Occasion: Easter Monday teatime

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There is nothing like having a long weekend at Easter as an excuse to get in some serious kitchen time.  As the end of last week drew near I began to relish the thought of the amount of time I could spend cooking and baking.  The first task was making a variety of vegetarian mezzes for some start-the-weekend drinks: halloumi with chilli (Nigella), sweet potato falafel (Leon), courgette and green bean salad (River Cottage), spanikopita (Food Stories), houmous (own) and flatbreads (Khan’s bargains).  Then I embarked on some fairly disastrous rum and raisin hot cross buns, which was disappointing as I had high hopes.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have based them on the Peyton and Byrne recipe that had let me down last year.  Lessons learned there, I think. My Easter Sunday lunch for my parents consisted of an enormous roast leg of lamb followed by none other than recipe #2 from this very blog: Dan’s steamed chocolate pudding.  If I didn’t convey the message clearly enough in that post – it is beyond amazing. Like bathing in a pool of chocolate heaven. I strongly urge you to try it.  Ollie’s parents arrived on Easter Monday and, prior to our much-anticipated lunch at The Clockhouse in East Dulwich, we were to have some tea and biscuits. Cue Short and Sweet for inspiration.

I have a massive ginger addiction and have had my eye on Dan’s spelt and ginger cookies for some time.  My friend Naomi also told me that these were her favourite recipe from the entire book.  I had a huge bag of spelt flour lurking at the back of the baking cupboard and decided to go for it.  It was a remarkably easy recipe to make and I had most of the ingredients already, but had to substitute the golden syrup for some maple-flavoured golden syrup that I was given as a freebie.  There is something beautiful about melting together syrup and butter on the stove and then adding the rest of the ingredients to that mixture.  Once it comes together into a dough, you just roll out little balls and place them on a baking sheet ready for the oven.  Easy peasy.

These cookies did not disappoint one bit.  The texture was chewy and slightly nutty from the spelt flour, but the overwhelming aspect was the great big whack of ginger you get from the combination of stem and ground gingers in the mixture.  The addition of the maple-flavoured golden syrup didn’t drastically alter the taste, but did give it a slight pleasant smokiness, which suggests that these cookies would also work with maple syrup as well.  The recipe made about 35 cookies, which seven of us took about half an hour to devour.

In other news

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Despite eating the mountain of biscuits, we also managed to eat some quite sizeable roast dinners at the newly-reopened The Clockhouse in East Dulwich.  I have written about this on my other blog, which can be found here.

Recipe #20: Black Pepper Rye

What is it?:  A light rye bread flavoured with black pepper and fennel seeds

Occasion: A day at home to indulge in some bread-baking

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I went through a stage, some time ago, when I baked bread constantly.  I would get up super early in the morning to start it off, then return home in the evening to bake it, then have it for breakfast the following morning.  And so the cycle would begin again.  Since I took a job much further from home, this has become virtually impossible and, on more occasions than I care to admit, I have found myself in the bread aisle at the supermarket picking up something that claims to be organic and wholegrain but seems to last for about seven days before it goes vaguely stale or develops any spores. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking.  Me too.  Yesterday, I had a day at home, so decided it was time to dig out the yeast and make myself a loaf of bread.  Really, is there anything more therapeutic than seeing flour, yeast, salt and warm water transform into the most ultimate comfort food? OK, so the bread I chose had a few more ingredients than that, but the activity was no less relaxing because of it.

I have had my eye on the black pepper rye for some time, but have always been a little scared of attempting it.  The last rye bread I baked (from an entirely different cookbook) came out of the oven much like a house brick and the ridicule I endured from my friend made me approach baking rye bread again with some trepidation.  The combination of ingredients in this bread are quite intriguing – first it contains a whole cup of black coffee, which is enough to raise a few eyebrows, as well as some fennel seeds and a hefty two teaspoons of crushed black peppercorns.  If you really think about it, it is logical that these flavours would work well together, especially with rye flour and give it a depth that would not be achieved with a more moderate level of seasoning.  This bread requires very little kneading which, by the way, I did with my trusty dough hook and although it doesn’t appear to rise that much during resting, it does expand in the oven to produce a decent-sized loaf.

The result is bread that is less dense than most other rye breads, a result of mixing the rye flour with some strong white bread flour and a flavour that packs a massive punch.  The black pepper and fennel is very prominent, but the coffee is very subtle – in fact, if you didn’t know it was there it would be difficult to detect.  I ate this with no more than a smear of cream cheese and it was absolutely delicious. This will definitely be making its way into my regular bread-baking repertoire, should I ever find the time.

In Other News:

Last weekend we joined the great and the good of street food vendors at Feast at London’s Tobacco Dock.  We gorged ourselves on burgers, fish finger sandwiches, pizza, Asian pulled pork salad, burritos, meringues and really good coffee.  A more detailed run-down of what we ate on the night can be found on my other blog, The Boozy Rouge.

*Please visit the ‘Recipe Index’ section of this blog for a link to Dan’s recipe (via www.guardian.co.uk)

Recipe #19: Carrot and Cumin Burger Buns

What is it?: Buns with a difference

Occasion: Those days when you just need a burger

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I have to confess that I actually made these buns some time before Christmas, but didn’t get around to blogging it, so please excuse the retrospective-thing I have going on here.  It was in the depths of the winter when the daylight hours are short and everything seems quite bleak and depressing.  I was having a particular stressful week at work and was constantly tired, so all good intentions around healthy eating quickly went out of the window and I went on yet-another bread binge. Whilst rooting through the freezer to see what I had stashed in there, I came across some pretty luxe burgers that we had bought for a late autumn BBQ that never happened, and the idea just came to me. I was going to create one badass burger and, for the first time, attempt making my own burger buns.  In my experience, it is always the buns that seem to let down the burger – many a time have I sat in one of those nameless chain pubs with a white bap disintegrating in my fingers, or have (shock! horror!) been served a burger in a crusty roll. You know, the kind you can buy in packs of six in supermarket bakeries that threaten to break your teeth if you don’t eat them on the day of purchase.  I love the kind of brioche buns you get at MEATLiquor, Patty and Bun and Motherflipper et. al., but sadly they are not always the norm.  Making my own seemed like the best option.

I was intrigued by the addition of carrot to these buns. Despite my bravado, I am, in fact, the worst junk-food fiend ever and am always trying to find ways to sneak in some healthy ingredients.  Carrot and cumin had to ge a good flavour combination, right? To start with, there is rather a lot of carrot in this recipe, so much so that I had to check it three times to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. This, along with the amount of liquid, seemed to result in a very wet dough.  Fighting the urge to add more flour to it, I instead scraped it off the side and mixed it in the Kitchen Aid with the dough hook attachment which brought it together nicely.  Very little kneading is actually needed, so I was concerned the mixer might overwork it, but it turned out well after all – properly risen and nicely baked.

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Although these buns are slightly denser than your archetypal white bap, they are still quite bouncy and do add rather a nice dimension to a burger.  The carrot and cumin works well with flavours of the meat and pretty much any toppings you would wish to add.  I created an enormous burger with plenty of ketchup and slappy cheese which was ace but, if I can be honest, I much preferred the buns filled with some strong cheddar cheese and a good chutney, as was my lunch the following day.

In other news:

Last night was our Band of Bakers ‘British Classics’ event at The Old Nun’s Head in Nunhead.  It was an excellent evening with 35 bakers baking everything from Eccles cakes, lemon meringue pie and all manner of biscuits, scones and cakes.  My highlight of the evening was a cheese and onion pie made by the talented Naomi.

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Photo by Naomi Knill

*Please visit the ‘Recipe Index’ section of this blog for a link to Dan’s recipe (via www.guardian.co.uk)