The blog has become quite a foodie one recently as I seem to have done quite a bit of baking both with and without Andrew, and of course there was the Shrove Tuesday pancake fest! Last week we went to our local National Trust house and gardens, Anglesey Abbey, for the umpteenth time since we’ve lived here. We never tire of its beautiful gardens, where Andrew can run around or ride his bike, and the spacious cafe never fails to entice us in for a cuppa and cake. It wouldn’t be a NT location without a gorgeous selection of cakes – the only trouble is you have to decide which one, and that inevitably leads to me holding up the queue of other cake pilgrims awaiting their turn to deliberate as I um and err and um again and err a bit more! And I can’t forget the kids’ play table, a veritable treasure trove of books, toys, crayons and other random paraphernalia that keeps Andrew amused for hours, and there are even two, count them TWO, toy Brum cars from his favourite TV programme.
After much deliberation, last week I went for a Bakewell flapjack as my cake. It was, as you might guess, a cross between a Bakewell tart and a flapjack – a pastry base with jam on, but for the filling there was an almond flavoured flapjack instead of an almond flavoured sponge. I wasn’t disappointed, it was amazing (not that a NT cake has ever failed to deliver for me). So this week, instead of baking one of my usual flapjack recipes (blogged about here and here) to replenish my snack box – all in the name of breastfeeding of course – I made my own Bakewell flapjack inspired by the NT one. The base is a basic crunchy suet pastry, which I filled with strawberry jam and almond flapjack. It was simple to make and turned out really well; dare I say it, was good enough to rival the one that inspired it. Not that I’m planning on competing with the NT – I would surely fail.
Here’s the recipe if you fancy having a go yourself…..
100g self-raising flour
50g vegetable suet
3 tbsp honey
2 tsp almond essence
Pre-heat the oven to 180 C (fan) and prepare a round cake tin or tart dish by greasing it.
First make the pastry, by mixing the flour and suet together in a bowl, then add some cold water, a little at a time, until the mixture comes together into a dough ball.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to just a bit bigger than your tin/dish, and put the dough circle into the tin/dish, pressing it into the corner where base meets side.
Spoon some jam onto the base and spread around until evenly distributed and generously thick.
Then make a start on the flapjack, by melting the margarine, sugar and honey in the microwave.
Add the oats and almond essence and stir until well combined.
Pour the flapjack mix onto the base and spread around until it’s all covered.
Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool before cutting into slices.
When I bought a bumper pack of child-friendly cutters in different animal and geometric shapes, this reminded me that I really must get around to something that has been on my to-do list for a while: make some playdough! Andrew has recently got into this, as it’s been out at a play group we go to and at his children’s church group on a Sunday. I’d heard that making your own is pretty easy and works out far cheaper than the branded stuff you can buy.
From a quick google search I found that there were various recipes out there, all slightly different, some involving heating up the ingredients and others not, and some involving cream of tartar and others not. I’d heard that the cream of tartar gives it a more stretchy, doughy texture, so I was keen to add that. The recipe I eventually decided on was from the Mumsnet website, because it included cream of tartar and the quantities of flour and water seemed about average in size compared to the other top hits on google. Despite this reasoning, the quantities ended up making far more than I thought! Not that this is a problem, because I’m sure that over time bits will get thrown away or chewed or stuck to the bottom of chairs etc. But I can definitely see why this works out much cheaper than the diddy little pots you can buy in shops for some extortionate price.
It was very easy to make, though I did gain a slight injury in that my arm muscles were tested to the limit and ached for a while afterwards, because as the dough gets stiffer in the pan, it gets extremely hard to stir. At that point you take it out of the pan and knead until it forms a stiff dough. I’m happy with the consistency and also the colour, which did need half a bottle of red food colouring to get it that deep. I read somewhere in my googling (though can’t find the link now!) that gel colouring gets deeper colours than liquid food colouring, so I might try that another time. To make the dough smell nice, I added some almond essence, so it’s a bit like playing with (non-edible) marzipan! I’ve seen sites that suggest adding things like glitter too, which I might try in future.
Here are some pictures showing how much fun Andrew has playing with his playdough 🙂
Our decision to no longer have a TV originated in the fact that after Andrew was born, we found that we were never watching live TV. We were never able to sit down at exactly the time when programmes were on, so would download them on iPlayer and watch them when we had chance. This also meant we could stop them mid-way through and carry on watching at a later time if we didn’t have a whole hour to watch a programme of that length. What has this got to do with cake though? Well, the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) is one of the few programmes that I’ve ever set to series download on iPlayer (the only other ones I can think of have been Outnumbered and Have I Got News For You). I did it last year, and would sit and watch the episodes whilst feeding Andrew, as he would generally feed and sleep on and off pretty much most of the afternoon back then. This year, series 3 of GBBO has just started with episode 1 broadcast in the week just gone. We watched half of it it a day later, and the other half 2 days later, on iPlayer. I’m thinking that each week I may need to avoid twitter until I’ve watched the episode from that week, because there are bound to be spoilers with the number of people hash-tagging #GBBO!
Anyway, this first episode was all about cake. Contestants had to follow Paul Hollywood’s recipe for Rum Baba (which always makes me think of a family joke: ‘Rum Baba what ain’t got no rum’ …. a select few readers will know what on earth I’m going on about there. If you’re not one of them, don’t worry, it’s not really worth the effort of explaining – you had to be there apparently), and they also had to bake a cake with a hidden design when it was cut into. This last bake was amazing – they all came up with some ingenious ideas. If I had more time and energy, I’d have a go at something like that myself, but for now I thought I’d take some inspiration from the first thing they had to bake, which was an upside-down cake. The concept is as follows: you place fruit at the bottom of a cake tin, pour over a sponge mixture, bake, and when it’s cool, turn it over so that the fruit comes out on the top.
Upside-down cakes always make me think back to Home Economics (isn’t it called Food Tech these days?!) lessons, because one of the earliest memories of them that I have is baking a pineapple upside-down cake. It was pretty easy really – I’d already had quite a lot of baking experience by the time I was 11. Since then I don’t think it’s ever crossed my mind to bake one again, I guess because I thought they were a bit old-fashioned, not particularly the ‘in’ thing these days to bake. But seeing what the contestants came up with, I realised that it didn’t have to be the classic pineapple rings from a tin, with glace cherries in the middle of the rings, and a simple plain sponge. The contestants baked all sorts of variations on this theme, with various fruits, flavours of sponge and finishing touches. This inspired me to think beyond the Home Ec. memory, and use a flavour combination that I love.
And that’s how we get to ‘plum and almond upside-down cake’. I think this fruit and flavour of sponge work really well together, and I love them both on their own too. Plums are just coming into season now as well, so they have great flavour and are nicely priced in the shops. The sponge is a basic three-egg plain sponge, with half the flour (self-raising) replaced by ground almonds and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, plus almond essence instead of vanilla essence. The almonds make it denser than an ordinary light and airy sponge, but I really like this texture, more like a Bakewell tart than a Victoria sponge. I’m not sure whether Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would approve of the denser texture, but the main thing is I like it and my other tasters (aka Tom and Andrew) do too! That’s the thing I don’t get about baking or general food competitions like GBBO – flavours and textures are very subjective things, so how can they be judged by just 2 people?
As well as the fruit and sponge, an upside-down cake traditionally has a caramel topping that you line the tin with before putting the fruit in. I distinctly remember from my Home Ec. lesson that the recipe we had to follow had golden syrup instead – I remember because I’m sure that was the first time I learnt that heating your spoon in a cup of boiling water before putting it the syrup tin meant that it ran off the spoon better. For the plum and almond take on the theme, I decided to use honey instead, because it’s as easy as golden syrup (i.e. I didn’t have to make a separate caramel sauce) but I love the taste and think it goes well with the other flavours in the cake, plus I’m not a massive fan of golden syrup and often tend to replace it with honey in recipes.
If you’d like to have a go, here’s the recipe. It’s a pretty easy one, and is a bit more unusual than a classic sponge cake. Have you ever made an upside-down cake? I’d love to hear of other flavour combinations and variations on this theme.
2 tbsp clear honey
about 5 medium plums, halved and stones removed
85g ground almonds
85g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and prepare the tin: line a medium-sized springform cake tin with greaseproof paper, and place on a baking sheet (this will catch any honey that leaks out).
Spread the honey over the base of the tin.
Place the half plums flat side down around the edge of the tin.
Cream the margarine and sugar together in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs until smooth.
Mix in the ground almonds, flour, almond essence and baking powder until well combined.
Pour the mixture into the tin, spreading it over the plums until they are all covered and the surface of the mixture is flat and even.
Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until the top is golden and springy to touch. Insert a skewer into the centre of the cake to check it’s baked through: if it comes out clean, it’s ready, if not, put it back in for a few minutes at a time until it passes this skewer test!
Leave to cool fully.
Release the spring on the tin and carefully pull the paper away from the sides of the tin. Place a plate over the top of the tin, and quickly turn it over, making sure you hold onto the tin and plate at the same time, until the cake comes away from the tin and ends up on the plate – the plums now facing upwards on the top.
Store in an airtight container, or it would freeze well too, if it’s not eaten too soon 😉