Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ruby Wedding Cake - the Winner!

Finally,  I can post about the recipe that won my vote for my parents' celebratory Ruby Wedding cake.  Their anniversary fell towards the end of September, but for various reasons we did not have a family hurrah for them until the end of October.  We met up at a country house hotel in the Cotswolds for a lovely lunch and then a stroll around the house gardens enjoying the autumn colours.

Afterwards we travelled the short distance to my parents' home and had a light tea with the much anticipated (by me at least) anniversary cake.  The recipe suggestion I had gone with came from Kate Noble, who recommended the recipe she had used for her own wedding cake, no less.  It originated from BBC Good Food, who entitle it 'Hot Toddy Fruit Cake', and list it as a Christmas cake.  I chose it because I liked the idea of a very moist cake, and as my parents are keen tea drinkers I thought it apt to go with this recipe.

I made it a month ahead, and then fed it a couple of times with a little more whisky, and possibly some rum too.  A week before D-day I added a layer of marzipan, and then a day or two before the final eating I added some royal icing coloured a splendid shade of ruby red (you should have seen my hands after adding the colouring - attractive for meeting my child from nursery...).

Finally, I added the piped wording and the piped heart embellishment, along with some edible gold glitter, the day before.  I mixed some of the glitter with the icing in the piping bag but as this didn't give the full twinkle I added some more afterwards.  I was actually quite impressed by my restraint with the glitter.  You know, sometimes less IS more...

The cake was a perfect travel companion on the three hour trip from here to there.  The weight of it stopped it from sliding about on the cake board and the simplicity of the decoration meant no tears on that front either.

Now, I should confess that I was a little nervous about the moment the cake was cut into.  It had seemed very moist when I transferred it from the tin to the board, and despite reinserting a skewer several times and coming back with a dry reading, I was worried that the centre of the cake would prove to be soggy.  The moment of truth came and a sigh of relief was issued.  The cake had cooked perfectly, and I hadn't ruined it all with that final tot of brandy (for medicinal purposes).

Yes, it was as good as it looks here, managing to pull off the trick of being both light and dense, and kist as importantly, moist and tasty.  Scrum-tiddly-dumptious.  In fact, my only disappointment was that I only got to have one piece of it.  I plan to make a Christmas cake using this recipe, and as Christmas cake is not so popular with my husband, this cunning ruse should ensure that I get to eat a whole heap of fruit cake in just over a month's time.  Roll on Christmas.

Happy anniversary, Mum and Dad!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ruby Wedding Cake - A Call for Recipes!

My parents are to celebrate their Ruby Wedding Anniversary (40 years) next month and I would like to bake for them a special cake, reminiscent of their wedding cake which was an iced rich fruit cake in the tradition of most British wedding and celebration cakes.

Naturally I have pages and pages of recipes for such cakes, and have one that I am fond of from a Nigella Lawson book and that I have made twice (once as a Christmas cake and once as a birthday cake).  However, whilst the recipe in question produces a very good cake I would love to know a recipe for a grand old fruit cake that would really blow your socks off.  I have fond memories from my time at work of a Christmas cake brought in by a colleague and made by his Grandma.  This was also a fruit cake, not as dark as some, but it was moist, not too crumbly, flavoursome, packed with fruit, nuts, peel, and topped with homemade marzipan and then royal icing.  If I could only eat one type of cake until my dying day, then this would be this one.  I might die 40 stone, but I would have spent my cake eating time wisely.  Somehow it just ticked all the boxes and was superb eating.  Rather than bake dozens of recipes to try and find an equivalent, I wondered if anyone out there might have a recipe that hand on heart they could swear would also put me (oh, and my parents too) into raptures?  All recipes gratefully received (to annaweller at me dot com), and I have a new hardback copy of Elizabeth David's 'English Bread and Yeast Cookery' to pass on to the sender of the recipe that I choose to bake.

Thanks to everyone who sent me recipes.  I have gone with Kate Noble's recipe for 'Hot Toddy Fruitcake' from the BBC Good Food website, partly because I love a really moist fruit cake but also because my parents are big tea drinkers, so it is appropriate that the fruit soak and the 'feed' are based on black tea (don't suppose they'll mind the whisky input either).  I have baked the cake a month ahead of time - we are having a family get-together later in October - so I shall feed the cake weekly and ice closer to the time.  Pictures to follow.  Of the other recipes sent, well, so many sounded darn good that I shall be trying them out for Christmas cakes for me and to give as gifts.  Thank again to all you bakers kind enough to take the time to let me know your favourite recipes.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Shooting Cake for the Glorious Twelfth

Hello again, at long last I am here to bring you more baking and this time I am here with my junior chef, Ellis.  I confess that I have been motivated by the arrival on my doorstep of a book sent by Grub Street, Elizabeth David's 'English Bread and Yeast Cookery'.

It seemed churlish, if not rude, not to give them a quick puff and bake a few goodies from it.  I do have a copy already and indeed have baked from it previously on these pages, but this splendid hardback copy looked at me with authority and said 'Stop shirking, and get back in the kitchen'.  By serendipitous chance I chose to bake Shooting Cake yesterday - the 'Glorious Twelfth' (August the 12th, like it or not is the start of the shooting season) - so I'll take that as an auspicious sign that the Blog Gods are smiling on my return...

Shooting Cake, although Elizabeth David doesn't mention in this book, was part of the spread produced by the Edwardian country house kitchen either to greet the hungry back from a day's shoot on the moors, hills, great estate or as part of a heaving picnic luncheon to fortify the hunters.  The Glorious Twelfth being the start of the game season I can presume would have been an occasion for a particularly splendid feast to mark the day.

David's recipe comes from 'Ulster Fare', a booklet produced by the Belfast Women's Institute Club, 1946.  The original recipe uses 1lb flour, 1/2lb brown sugar, 1lb raisins, 1/2lb butter, 2 eggs, peel and juice of two lemons, 2 teaspoons of carbonate of soda mixed with warm milk.  The cooking instructions were to bake in a slow oven for two hours.  Elizabeth David adds the comment, 'I cannot help thinking that two hours' baking for a cake containing just three pounds of ingredients would be excessive.  It would be a good idea to try the cake in half quantities and for a shorter cooking time'.  In a footnote on the same page she then gives her own version of the recipe: 'I now make the cake with 1/2lb flour, 1/4lb Demerara sugar, 1/4lb raisins, 1/4lb butter, 2 eggs, peel and juice of one lemon, 1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda.  Bake in 6 and a half to 7 inch round tin, 3 ins. deep, for 50 minutes at gas no. 5, 375 degrees F, 190 degrees C'.

The recipe is also mentioned in a previously unpublished essay by Elizabeth David (written in 1978), that is printed in 'Is There a Nutmeg in the House?  Essays on Practical Cooking with Over 150 Recipes'.  In this text the cake is called Lemon and Brown Sugar Cake:

'As an alternative to the rich and leaden fruit cake of Victorian tradition I think this one might prove popular.  It has a most refreshing flavour and attractive texture.  There is nothing in the least troublesome about it, even to a reluctant cake maker like myself.

Ingredients are 250g (1/2 lb) of plain white flour, 125g (1/4 lb) of butter, 125g (1/4 lb) of Demerara cane sugar, 125g (1/4 lb) of seedless raisins, the grated peel and strained juice of one lemon, 125ml (4 fl oz) of warm milk, 2 eggs, 1 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.  To bake the cake, a 17-18cm (6 1/2 - 7 in) round English cake tin, 8cm (3 in) deep. (I use a non-stick tin).

Rubbing butter into flour is tricky with hot hands...

Crumble the softened butter into the flour until all is in fine crumbs. Add the grated lemon peel, the sugar, and the raisins. Sift in the bicarbonate. Beat the eggs in the warm milk. Add the strained lemon juice. Quickly incorporate this into the main mixture and pour into the tin. Give the tin a tap or two against the side of the table to eliminate air pockets. Transfer immediately to the preheated oven (190° C/375° F gas mark 5). Bake for about 50 minutes until the cake is well risen and a skewer inverted right to the bottom of the cake comes out quite clean. Leave to cool for a few minutes before turning it out of the tin.


The Demerara sugar is important.  Barbados is too treacly for this cake.  The raisins I have been using of recent years are the little reddish ones, seedless, from Afghanistan. They need no soaking, no treatment at all.  Just add them straight into the cake mixture.  They are to be found in wholefood shops.It is important to put the cake into the oven as soon as you have added the eggs, milk, and lemon juice mixture. This is because the lemon juice and bicarbonate start reacting directly they come into contact.  If the cake is kept waiting, the rising action of the acid and the alkali is partially lost and the cake will rise badly.

Under the name of 'Shooting Cake', the recipe on which mine is based appeared in 'Ulster Fare', a little book published by the Ulster Women's Institute in 1944 (sic).  I was struck by the composition of the cake - the Demerara sugar, the lemon juice replacing the acid or cream of tartar necessary to activate the bicarbonate and the grated peel instead of the more usual spices.'

My assistant chef found the sugar 'fuzzy' and the raw cake mix 'sour'.  He was keen to try a slice but not overly impressed.  I could see a few dry spots in the cooked cake indicating that we needed to have made a few more turns of the bowl with the spoon.  The mixture also could have done with the milk that David omits from the revised instructions in the 'English Bread' book, but includes in the recipe set out in 'Is there a Nutmeg...?'.  I came to this second recipe only after I had baked to the first.  However, it was a tasty cake and I liked the lemon flavouring alongside the addition of dried fruit.  Within a smidgin of butter the slight dryness could be overlooked, and very nice it was too with a cup of coffee.  Ellis was happy to lick the butter off his slice, but did at least nibble enough to qualify as a test portion.

Spot that sneaky finger. It was one of a party of them lying in wait to snatch the cut slice.

If you fancy something savoury as a starter, have a look at this blog featuring a recipe for the truly excessive Shooter's Sandwich, created for gentlemen (it does appear a very masculine sort of sandwich) to take out on the shoot with them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I'm still here... only now I'm over here!

Hello to readers old and new. It has been an AGE since I last posted, but with good reason. For the last, ooh, well over a year, I have been in the process of setting up an online bead shop Big Bead Little Bead. Ever since our son was born I have been looking for work that I can do from home and around him, and within a creative area that I can really enjoy getting stuck into. Beads and beading essentials fit the bill for many reasons: 1. They are twinkly and pretty and hard it is hard to get bored of looking at them; 2. I have always enjoyed jewellery making and working at a small and intricate scale; 3. They take up not too much space (although in bulk they do seem to have established themselves pretty extensively) and far less than if I decided to work from home selling handbags/cheese/second-hand cars; 4. Unlike cakes, you can leave a bead at a moment's notice to tend to a cry of 'Mummy. Build me a dinosaur' and the house is not in danger of burning down. If you have a whim or a passion for beads, please do check us out. My husband took all the photographs used on the site, and we used a local web design team for the site construction - who did a great job - The Right Design.

The aspects of the site we are most proud of are the online Project Tray - you can add items into a 'tray' and move them around to try out layouts or simply to view beads side by side. All our images have been painstakingly scaled, so you can place beads next to each other in the Project Tray and see exactly how proportions will look. We are pleased to have a growing repertoire of artists make one-off beads just for us, so we have unique porcelain, polymer clay and shortly have lampwork and decoupage makers too. If you are looking for vintage items for a little je ne sais quoi, then we have those too. All this is wrapped up with an image-led, visually clear presentation. Well, we like to think so!

The planning, designing, researching, purchasing, stock data entry, labelling, bagging etc. etc. has taken up so much of my limited spare time, that Baking for Britain has sadly been placed on the back burner, but I hope that it hasn't been taken off the hob for good. My son loves cooking and baking and I would like to think that together we may be able to soon return to Bake for Britain! In the meantime, thank-you for all the comments that I continue to receive. I am flattered by how many people still take the time to read through my writings and enjoy them enough to leave their thoughts.