March 2014

March 2014

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Caramel almond cake

I am told that Scandinavian countries don’t have a tradition of afternoon tea but they still have an incredible array of recipes for breads, pastries and cakes. I, for one, can close my eyes and certainly visualise rye bread open sandwiches filled with smoked salmon and sweet mustard, followed by freshly made cinnamon buns and slices of sponge cake filled with lingonberry jam. It’s such a pity that I am unaware of any establishments in Northamptonshire that can satisfy my Nordic tea-table dreams - and I just don’t think that Ikea in Milton Keynes will do!

Princess cake
So, I had to make my own Swedish treat and, after a little research, discovered that one of the major flavours in this part of the world is cardamom but all sorts of fruits and nuts and spices are used and almonds are a favourite. I would love to try, one day, to make the famous Princess cake with alternating layers of sponge, whipped cream and vanilla custard topped with marzipan but for today decided upon attempting a much simpler “Toscakaka” – a light cake with a yummy praline topping.

The result was amazing and ridiculously moreish – in fact it tasted even better the next day when the caramel topping had seeped into the sponge. This is one that will firmly remain a family favourite.

Toscakaka - Swedish caramel almond cake

There are many recipes on the internet but I used the following one, having adapted it slightly.

For the cake: 70ml milk 1 tsp lemon juice 75g unsalted butter 3 eggs 150g caster sugar 1 tsp vanilla extract (or paste, powder or seeds from pod) 150g plain flour 1 tsp baking powder 1/4 tsp fine sea salt

For the topping: 150g flaked almonds 125g butter 125g light brown sugar 50ml milk 1/2 tsp sea salt 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 160C/320F. Grease a deep 9" round tin (preferably with a removable bottom) and line the bottom with baking parchment.

Stir the lemon juice into the milk and leave to sit to make buttermilk (you can replace with 75ml if you have it on hand).

Toast the almond flakes on an oven tray for 5-7 minutes until they're a light golden brown, then set aside.

Melt the butter in a saucepan then pour into a bowl and leave to cool (keep the pan to use later).

Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla together for 5 minutes, until the mixture is a yellowy-cream colour and very thick. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt together.

Place 1/3rd of the flour mixture into the egg bowl then gently fold in with a big metal spoon or large spatula. Drizzle half of the milk over the top and fold in. Repeat with the next 1/3rd of flour, the rest of the milk, then the rest of the flour. Finally drizzle half of the butter over the top, fold in, then repeat with the remaining butter. Be gentle but thorough, scraping the bottom - it's easy to get little pockets of flour.

Carefully transfer to the tin. Tap on the counter once to remove any big air bubbles. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and set - when 15 minutes have gone, start making the topping. Place the toasted almonds, butter, sugar, milk, salt and vanilla into the saucepan and stir as the butter melts. Keep heating for a few minutes - it should bubble and thicken slightly.

Turn the oven up to 200C/390F, then remove the cake to a rack and pour the glaze over the top. Spread the almonds out into an even layer. Place back in the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes until the glaze is dark brown and bubbling. Cool for a few minutes then slide a knife around the edge of the tin to loosen it and remove the cake to a rack.

It keeps well in an airtight tin for two days and is still alright on the third. (Makes about 8-10 slices).


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Christmas cake

There are so many versions of Christmas fruit cake and most have evolved, having been tweaked over the years, as traditional family recipes. Whether it is light or dark, crumbly or moist, square or round, we all have our favourite combination of luxurious dried fruits and nuts, eggs, sugar, flour, and heady spices. A celebration cake, of course, also has some form of alcohol - in my family it has to be brandy!

Thanks to some of my Northampton Clandestine Cake Club members, we recently collected sufficient donations towards the cost of the ingredients to make a Christmas cake to raise funds at a local Charity Food Festival in aid of Cynthia Spencer Hospice and the Haematology Unit at NGH. 

Ready for the oven
So, several weeks ago, using my usual recipe, I soaked the fruits overnight in brandy and made the cake the following day, making sure that the tin was well insulated with several layers of paper – inside and out – so that the mixture wouldn’t burn during the long (4 ½ hr) cooking time.

Marzipan coat
Once baked, I ‘fed’ the cake several times with extra brandy over a 2 week period before it was covered in marzipan, ready for icing. Meanwhile, as decoration, I made several sizes of snowflake and my daughter Laura and I spent a cosy evening painting the flakes with edible sparkly glitter before covering the cake with fondant. Finished, with silver ribbons, it was ready to be displayed at the Charity Food Festival.
Finished Christmas cake

Around 100 or so people attended on the day and it was such an interesting and enjoyable mix of cookery demonstrations – including one from our own CCC member Carmela who is an Italian cookery tutor ( - together with a variety of Northamptonshire food stalls, all selling their local produce. 

Our CCC cake was used in a game of ‘Guess the Weight’ and was won by a lovely lady called Anne Marie Wright, who correctly judged the cake to be 6lbs 4oz in weight.  Including our meagre proceeds, around £2,000 was raised on the day - such a wonderful result for hard-working organiser Jenny Dicks of Bay Tree Cottage Workshops -

Our CCC cake at Charity Food Festival