This week the Great British Bake Off was all about unconventional baking – using flours that are wheat- or gluten-free, and using no dairy ingredients (like butter or milk). The final round saw the contestants bake a showstopper cake that was completely dairy free and contained a vegetable. They went for butternut squash, carrot or beetroot between them.
As we had a courgette in the veg box this week, and as I’ve been meaning to bake a courgette cake for some time now, I decided that this would be a great time to do it! We also had some cooking apples given to us by one of Tom’s work colleagues who has a glut of them in her garden, so I thought I’d combine the two in a cake with some spices too.
I googled some courgette cake recipes and adapted one from BBC Good Food (I never follow a recipe exactly, and I wanted to add apple anyway). It came out very well, and actually rose more than I thought it might, given that vegetable cakes can be quite stodgy. It tastes like a fruit cake, but is lovely and moist from the grated courgette and apple. My boys all approved!
2 large eggs
125ml vegetable oil
85g soft brown sugar
1 medium courgette, grated
1 cooking apple, grated
(combined weight of courgette and apple around 350-400g)
300g plain flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp baking powder
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and prepare a cake tin (grease and line if necessary – I use a silicone mould that doesn’t need this).
Mix the oil, sugar and eggs together in a bowl, then add the grated fruit and veg.
In another, larger bowl, mix the flour, spices, baking powder and sultanas until evenly distributed.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until well combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin/mould and bake for about an hour (vegetable cakes, according to Mary Berry herself, take longer to bake than ordinary cakes), until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and let it cool.
Eat as fresh as possible – you can also freeze this.
This week the Great British Bake Off was all about pastry. It’s not something I bake all the time, but I’m less afraid of it than I once was (after I’d had a bit of a disastrous apple pie with sweet pastry that just went everywhere!), so I like the opportunity to practice and prove to myself that I can in fact do it!
One of the challenges on the GBBO this week involved puff pastry. Now proper puff pastry takes a long time to make – as Paul Hollywood himself emphasised, it needs a lot of time to get it right. But there is a quick, cheat’s method that gives puffy pastry (even if not as superior a puff as the real McCoy) in much more manageable time frames. So this is what I decided to do for dinner on Sunday night. For once I didn’t choose a sweet bake (I know, shocking), because we had some lovely veg that I thought would work well in a nice hearty pie, and when I mentioned to Tom that I was thinking of making a ‘hearty pie’, he said ‘Oh yes, I like anything hearty, do something hearty, yes please’. Still veggie, of course, so maybe not hearty as some avid carnivores might think of the word, but nonetheless tasty and perfect for an Autumn evening.
Here’s the recipe, including how to make the rough puff pastry, which I roughly followed from Delia, just played around with quantities and added pepper.
200g unsalted butter
450g plain flour
half a suede
about a quarter of a white cabbage
4 button mushrooms
1 tin kidney beans
1 tin chopped tomatoes
400ml hot stock
2 tbsp cornflour
few drops of tabasco
Put the flour into a large bowl and grind quite a bit of black pepper into it (depending on your taste).
Cut the butter into chunks and toss into the flour and pepper mix, just coating them with the flour.
Pour the cold water, a little at a time, into the flour and butter and use your hands to bring it together into a dough. Don’t work it too much, just enough to bring it together.
Shape it into a brick on a floured board, then roll it out into a rectangle that is almost twice as long as it is wide.
Then fold it into thirds, bringing the left outside edge into the centre and then the same with the right, so that they overlap, and press down with the rolling pin so that the layers stick.
Rest it for a few minutes, probably a good time to chop the veg, then roll the pastry (which should be back in a brick shape) into a rectangle again, followed by the folding into thirds like you did before.
Leave it to rest again, and then do the same rolling and folding as before. After this third roll and fold, place in cling film in the fridge until you’re ready to use it for the pie lid later.
To make the filling, chop the veg into chunks (as fine or as chunky as you like, though cooking times will vary according to size of chunk), and heat some olive oil in a large saucepan.
Brown the onion, suede, cabbage and mushrooms in the saucepan for about 5-10 minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes, kidney beans, hot stock and cornflour.
Bring to a simmer and cook for about another 10 minutes until thickened.
Add some tabasco to taste.
Leave in the pan until you’re ready to assemble the pie.
About 40 mins before you want to eat, transfer the filling to a large rectangular oven dish and spread around evenly.
Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll out to just the right size to cover the filling, and press it down onto the filling gently.
Prick the pastry lid with a fork several times to allow any steam to escape when baking.
Bake in a hot oven 220 C (fan) for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is nicely browned and puffy.
This week the Great British bake off was all about pies. I don’t very often bake pies, usually just if I have a social occasion to bake a pudding for, or I buy the ready made pastry to do a quick savoury one. So this was a good opportunity to be inspired and bake a fruit pie as the contestants did in round 1.
I decided to go simple: a classic apple pie with a slight twist – cooking the apples in butter and brown sugar to give them a caramel/toffee flavour, with a dash of cinnamon. The pastry is a plain shortcrust, so overall the pie isn’t too sweet. I’ve made this quite a few times before, but not for a while. I know Tom loves a good fruit pie, and would have them more often if he could, so I knew this bake would go down well. Andrew also got very excited about having some – the boys usually have fruit and natural yoghurt for pudding, so it was a treat to have a small piece of apple pie on a Saturday night after tea. Not that they would have noticed, but the bake was good enough to avoid the infamous soggy bottom!
Here’s the recipe, which only has 8 ingredients, it really is that simple! Just make sure that you work with cold hands for the pastry, and don’t overwork it. If you like custard or cream, this would work well with one of those, but I’m not a fan of either on my puddings, and I like this just as it is.
2 large bramley apples
100g brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp cornflour
370g plain flour
First make the pastry: I usually cut the butter into chunks and put it in the freezer for 10 minutes or so to chill it before using it (except this time I left it a bit longer and it was very cold, but it still worked fine).
Rub the butter and flour together in a bowl with your fingers until you have a breadcrumb consistency.
Make a well in the centre of the crumbs and add a little cold water at a time, bringing the dough together with your hands until it sticks together in a firm ball but isn’t overly sticky.
Leave it to rest at (cool) room temperature until you have made the filling.
Peel and chop the apples into chunks.
Melt the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a pan and add the apple, stirring and cooking for a few minutes until golden.
Sprinkle the cornflour over the apple filling and stir in, then leave aside to cool slightly.
On a floured board, cut the pastry into 2 pieces, one about 2 thirds of the dough and one about a third.
Roll out the bigger piece of pastry to fit the bottom of your pie dish, and press it down into the bottom and sides.
Put the filling into the pie and spread around evenly.
Roll out the remaining pastry until big enough to cover the top of the pie.
Press down the edges of the pastry where the bottom bit touches the top bit, using a fork to make indents around the rim, and trim off any excess pastry around the rim.
Use the fork to make some holes in the lid of the pie, so that steam can escape when baking.
Bake in the oven at 180ºC for about 30-40 minutes until lightly golden.
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 😉