Birthday bake

Hello, blog. Long time, no see. I missed you, and I should have called, or at least sent you a text or something but I’ve been ridiculously busy – setting up as a freelancer, starting a new part-time job on the side, watching DVD box sets and going to the pub.

Another thing I was busy with was turning 40. It’s a big number, so big you have to use all your toes and fingers twice, and I decided to have a party. There was country dancing, Pimms, sherry, tea and a number of cakes. Also a huge amount of washing up, which to my shame was not done by me but by Others.

Some of the people who came along have asked for cake recipes so that’s what the next few posts will be. None of them are inventions and most of them are from this book:

The Big Brown Book

The Big Brown Book – we used it so much that the spine came off.

The Big Brown Book is a family treasure, and the reason why I know the German words for ‘whisking’, ‘heating’, ‘folding’, ‘sifting’, ‘kneading’ and ‘greasing’ despite being ignorant in most other areas of German vocabulary. It was published in 1987, and I assume my mother was given it or bought it around that time. Ever since then it’s been the book to turn to when the baking urge is strong. Because I’m a messy cook it’s easy to find my favourite recipes: the book naturally opens on pages thickened with sugar and a dusting of flour, and decorated with stains of egg and butter that spread a few fractions of a millimetre with each passing year.

Cake the First: “Versunkener Kirschkuchen”

Versunkener Kirschtorte: Sunken Cherry Cake

Versunkener Kirschtorte – the original recipe. ‘Versunken’ sounds so very much more deeply sunk than ‘sunk’.

This is basically a sponge with juicy summer fruit embedded in it. It’s not fancy or complicated, in fact quite the reverse – beautifully simple.

The name literally means “Sunken Cherry Cake” and it is good with cherries but for the party I made it with a mixture of raspberries and blueberries – you get more variety of colour and flavour and you don’t have to spend ages stoning cherries. If you do use cherries weigh them after stoning, not before.

The soft fruit won’t last long at room temperature so in warm summer weather I would recommend keeping this cake in the fridge or eating it within the day. Bear in mind the Brown Book’s helpful note that this cake has a nutritional value of around 2500 calories – be nice and share it with your friends.

My adds to the original recipe are [in square brackets].

Ingredients for one 26cm diameter spring-form cake tin:
300g [mixed raspberries and blueberries]
5 eggs, separated into yolks and whites
180g caster sugar
80g soft unsalted butter
180g plain flour
5g baking powder
4 tablespoons icing sugar
A little butter and flour for the tin

Wash the fruit and leave it to drain [or pat it very gently dry with kitchen roll]. Grease the baking tin with butter and dust it with flour. Pre-heat the oven to 200C [reduce for a fan oven].

Whisk the egg yolks, half the caster sugar, and the butter until the mixture foams. Gradually sift the baking powder and flour into the egg mixture, stirring as you go.

Beat the egg whites with the rest of the caster sugar until they are stiff, and fold them into the yolk mixture.

Pour the dough into the cake tin and scatter the fruit on top. Gently poke it down through the dough with the handle of a spoon. [Make sure it’s completely covered – any exposed fruit will burn.]

Bake the cake on the second shelf from the bottom for 50-60 minutes [it’s ready when a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean], cool it on a wire rack, then decorate with the icing sugar [sprinkled through a sieve].

[Serve with whipped cream.]

Next time: a few of my favourite things, including chocolate, sherry and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Portable crumble with a dipping sauce

A friend of mine had a baby last week. They’ve had to stay in hospital a few more days while the baby gets over an infection so I went to see them this evening after work. And took some biscuits. I wanted them to be healthier and more interesting than hospital food but the hospital kitchen has the last laugh. While mum and dad were eating biscuits and I was admiring the baby we came up with the idea that takes these from semi-sensible biscuits to portable crumble.

Dip them in custard.

I don’t mean ‘proper custard’ made with vanilla pods, scalded milk and eggs but completely artificial bright yellow custard made with milk and a sugary powder. The kind you get in old people’s homes, schools and hospitals. The baby’s mum is ordering custard with tomorrow’s dinner.

The recipe is based on one in Baking Magic by Kate Shirazi. The main difference is the substitution of grated fresh apple for dried:

60 ml sunflower oil
75g unsalted butter
110g soft brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
100g rolled oats
150g wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
generous 1/2 tsp cinnamon
50g fresh blueberries
120g peeled and cored apple

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease or line two baking sheets.

Very VERY gently soften the butter. You don’t want to make it liquid or cook it in any way. When it’s soft enough to pass a spoon through it pop it in a large mixing bowl and beat it with the sunflower oil and sugar till all the sugar is dissolved. Make sure it’s cooled to room temperature then stir in the vanilla and egg, followed by the oats.

Sift over the flour, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon and stir. Finally throw in the blueberries and grate the apple straight into the bowl.

Give the mix one last stir then plop the mixture one tablespoonful at a time onto the baking sheets. The mix is pretty stiff and dry so you might want to flatten each dollop slightly with the back of a spoon.

Bake for ten or so – the biscuits should just be turning from golden to brown.

Let them cool on a rack while you prepare the custard…

blueberry apple crumble biscuit

Blueberry and apple portable crumble biscuits (best served with custard)

Alongside the crumble cookies, I made rugelach, this time following a Baking Magic recipe to the letter. The filling was apricot jam, chopped almonds, sugar and lemon zest and the result was very sweet and zingy. A real contrast to the relatively sensible crumble biscuits. Once I’d made them I realized the shape, like a miniature croissant, was exactly the same as that of Ukrainian rohalyky.

Rugelach rohalyky

Rugelach (or rohalyky)

Rugelach literally means ‘little twists’, rohalyky means ‘little horns’ and yet the sound of the words and the shape is so similar there must be a common ancestor to these pastries.

I’ve found recipes for both in two of my favourite cook books: Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food (rugelach made with a curd cheese dough) and Savella Stechisin’s Traditional Ukrainian Cookery (rohalyky made with a yeasty dough). I’m looking forward to getting further into the similarities and differences  very soon.