12 November 2011

Spiced Toffee Apple Cake

Spiced Toffee Apple Cake
This cake was on the cover page of November 2011 BBC GoodFood magazine and is available here. Designed as an alternative to toffee apples on Bonfire Night, I made it for just that purpose. It was hit.

You can use fresh dates, but I have had good results with dried dates which keep well in the store cupboard.

I think the food processor and electric whisk are essential. You'll need a 20 x 30 cm baking tray ideally 3-4 cm tall, though I got away with a shallower tin with the mixture contained by the greaseproof paper. I used a stainless steel small saucepan, as I was worried that the melted toffee might damage a non-stick surface. It certainly made cleaning cooled toffee easier as I could simply use a scourer on the steel. I bought an apple corer (not essential, but it did make things easy). Also: large mixing bowl, medium mixing bowl, sharp knife, chopping board, wooden spoon, spatula.

You want the butter and eggs at room temperature, so if refrigerated get them out some time before.

200g chopped dried dates
200ml milk, plus a splash
250g unsalted butter (I used Flora Buttery)
280g self-raising flour
200g light soft brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon mixed spice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 small red apples (I used Pink Lady apples)
squeeze lemon juice
8 toffees
icing sugar, for dusting

  • Weigh dates straight into a small pan, add the milk and bring to a simmer. The milk will turned brown from the dates and thicken. Remove from the heat and set aside for 15 mins to cool.
  • Set the oven to 180°C / 160°C fan / Gas mark 4. Grease and line a 20 x 30cm baking tray with baking parchment/greaseproof paper.
  • Into a large mixing bowl weigh out the butter, flour, brown sugar, baking powder, mixed spice, vanilla and eggs.
  • Pulse the date mixture to a smooth purée in a food processor or blender and then add it to the other ingredients in the large bowl.
  • Core the apples and cut in half. Then slice quite thinly, tossing in a little lemon juice in a medium sized bowl. If not using a corer, cut into quarters and remove the cores before slicing.
  • Beat together the cake ingredients with an electric whisk until smooth. Scrape into the baking tray and smooth to the edges with the spatula. Arrange the apple slices, overlapping in rows, on top of the cake in 3 rows.
  • Bake in the centre of the oven for 50 mins until a skewer poked into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the tray for some time before removing.
  • To make the toffee sauce put the toffees in a small pan and start to heat, as it melts add a splash of milk to stop the toffee burning, and keep stirring  to stop the milk doing the same. When you have a runny sauce, drizzle over the cake.
  • Dust with a little icing sugar only immediately before serving.

6 November 2011

The Pudding Stop Treacle Tart

Treacle Tart from The Pudding Stop
If you live or work in Hertfordshire or North London then there will be a Farmer's Market near you where you can visit Johnny at The Pudding Stop.

The pastry of his treacle tart is a dark golden brown and slightly sweet. The bake is consistent with a thin, sturdy base.

A rich aroma of treacle rises up from the pudding, filling the nostrils and tantalising the taste buds. I imagined this dessert to be sickly sweet, but this is simply not the case. The light golden brown treacle is smooth, soft, and melts deliciously in the mouth. The crust of the tart is a deep brown, nearly black, but not at all burnt.

Overall this simple looking pudding has been created with skill and precision. Delightful on its own, I would serve the tart warm with a single scoop of quality vanilla ice cream.

Fox's Brandy Snaps Collection

Fox's Brandy Snaps Collection
It had never occurred to me how brandy snaps were made and if I had been asked to list things that were baked, I would never have listed them as an answer. Having now seen these made on the BBC Great British Bake Off I now understand their complexity, but have not felt the urge to attempt my own. They did look delicious though, and it had been many years since I'd last eaten one. When I saw Fox's Brandy Snap collection, I decided to treat myself.

Described as "a modern selection of delicious brandy snap discs and delicate curls dipped in milk, dark, and white chocolate", and in a box of deep purple, orange and red, everything suggested to me a luxurious treat to enjoy in the evenings as the autumn nights drew in.

These remained in the pantry for several days, allowing my desire for them to grow. Finally on a cosy evening I opened the box to get to the goodies. Sadly I was disappointed like a child receiving socks for Christmas. All but a few of the snaps had been reduced to a pile of broken shards. I barely had enough to arrange my photo. Packaged in a flimsy plastic tray and then a cellophane wrapper, I couldn't help thinking a thin layer of corrugated paper, such as used in chocolate boxes, would have kept the snaps in place. It would seem that the Victorian gent Mr Fox, in his soft top hat and spectacles had given his biscuits a good thrashing with his cane. As new, the biscuits were formed into tubes and flat 'rounds'. All of the tubes survived. Whoever described them as 'delicate curls' needs a lesson in structural engineering, or basic physics.

"Too much snap to enjoy the chocolate,
too much chocolate to taster the buttery brandy snap."
Presentation aside, which lets face it is more down to transport and handling from factory to store, how do they taste? On the Bake Off, they served brandy snaps filled with whipped cream. In this collection most of the snaps have been chocolate coated. Whilst the chocolate is nice enough, it takes away from the snap rather than complimenting it. In truth I did not enjoy these one bit. There was too much snap to enjoy the chocolate and too much chocolate to taste the buttery brandy snap. On this matter, perhaps I am a purist. Only the uncoated snaps were a treat. These were sweet, buttery, and left me wanting more.

Looking on Fox's website I do not see this product listed. I can only hope it is being retired.  The uncoated snaps are available as separate box, in tube form and would be my recommendation. This collection - steer clear.