The Infamous Hummingbird

This cake apparently originated from the southern American states. It is said to have been around for quite a while. I am therefore always surprised that no-one I bake this for has heard of it or eaten it. Anyway, once they do, they are always wanting more and wondering why they have only just discovered it!

There are no hummingbirds in this cake. It has been said that it is named so because the cake is sugary rich and is therefore like the nectar that hummingbirds like to feed on. Whatever the name, the cake is a moist and packed with flavour. Similar to a carrot cake in many ways, but with banana and pineapple. A great all-rounder to spoil your guests with.

THE RECIPE

300g caster sugar
3 eggs
300ml sunflower oil
270g peeled bananas, mashed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
300g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla essence
100g pineapple (fresh if possible)
100g shelled pecan nuts (or walnuts), chopped

For cream cheese frosting:
300g icing sugar, sifted
50g unsalted butter
125g cream cheese

Preheat the overn to 170C, gas mark 3. Grease and line two or three cake 20cm cake tins, depending on how many layers you want.

Put the sugar, eggs, oil, banana and cinnamon in a bowl and mix together until well incorporated. Slowly add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and vanilla essence and continue to beat until everything is well mixed.

Stir in the chopped pineapple and pecan nuts carefully until evenly dispersed.

Pur the mixture into the prepared cake tins, dividing evenly and smoothing over. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and the sponge bounces back when touched. If you only put into two cake tins, it will need a bit longer than this. Leave the cakes to cool slightly in the tins before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

As you can see, I went for the 'two cake tin' option, one of which is smaller than the other. It didn't seem to affect the taste though!

Now make the cream cheese frosting. Beat the icing sugar and butter togetyher until they are well combined. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy (approx. 5 minutes – it helps if you have an electric mixer at this point!). Do not overbeat, however, as it can quickly become runny.

When the cakes are cold, spread a layer of the cream cheese frosting onto the first one. Place a second cake on yop and cover with frosting too. Also cover the side with frosting if you want. Finish with pecan nuts and a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Black bottom cupcakes

I like cupcakes. I especially like cheesecake. This recipe, therefore, appealed to me – combining both together in one cake. Another innovative cupcake solution from the guys at the Hummingbird bakery!

The chocolate sponge base is a dark, dense mixture, which strangely has no butter or egg in it. It combines well with the cheesecake centre though, which provides the extra sweetness and goo. The recipe suggests you might want to put some cream cheese frosting on top. I didn’t think it needed it, but it’s always an option if you want it even more sweet.

THE RECIPE

190g plain flour
120g caster sugar
40g cocoa powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
40ml sunflower oil
1½ tsp white vinegar/lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla extract

For the cheesecake filling:
140g cream cheese
60g caster sugar
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
100g milk chocolate chips

a 12-hole cupcake tray, lined with paper cases

Preheat the oven to 170°C/gas mark 3. For the chocolate sponge base, put the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl and mix with a handheld electric whisk on slow speed until all the dry ingredients are well incorporated.

Put the oil, vinegar, vanilla extract and 125ml water in a jug and whisk to combine. While the electric whisk is running in the flour bowl, slowly add the contents of the jug, increasing the speed of the blender as the mixture thickens. Continue to beat until all the ingredients are incorporated. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until two-thirds full. Set aside.

For the cheesecake filling, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, egg, vanilla extract and salt in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until smooth and fluffy. Don’t start of too quickly or the mixture is likely to separate.

Stir in the chocolate chips by hand until evenly dispersed. Don’t overmix.

Scoop about 1 tbs of the cheesecake filling on top of the cupcake mixture in the cases and bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cupcakes are firm to the touch and they have an even golden colour on the cheesecake filling. Don’t overcook, as the cheesecake will become dry and crumbly. Leave to cool slightly before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Turkish Delight – patience required

Turkish delight is quite the opposite of some of the other recipes I have made, which have a vaguely healthy tone. There is nothing healthy about this. It consists predominantly of cornflour paste and syrup. The only healthy thing about it is that your arms may get stronger with the constant stirring you have to do (see recipe below). If you are impatient, like me, it might also help you learn to garner some patience and just take…. your….. time…

I, however, have seen no healthy benefits at all. My first attempt was a disaster. I wasn’t patient enough with mixing together the cornflour paste and the syrup and, as with my usual attempts at custard, it ended up in a lumpy mess. I therefore didn’t even get to the arm strengthening mixing stage. My second attempt was better. My boyfriend, Ian, who has siginificantly more patience than me, did the combining and the mixing. I watched and took the role of official taster. There was therefore no patience development or arm stengthening for me – just sugar and cornflour eating.

Here is the recipe I used anyway. Dating back to the 15th century, this is a true sweet classic.

THE RECIPE

125g cornflour plus a little extra
650ml cold water
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tbsp natural essence of rose water
1tbsp grenadine
500g white sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
Icing sugar

Grease and line a baking tin approx 24x15cm and then dust lavishly with sifted cornflour.

Place the sifted cornflour, 150ml of the cold water and the cream of tartar in a mixing bowl. Stir the dry, pastey mixture until smooth. Add the water gradually to avoid any lumps.

Place the remaining 400ml water, white sugar and lemon juice in a spacious, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir with a wooden spoon over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the lemon juice and continue stirring as the liquid simmers and turns from cloudy to clear. Stir the cornflour again until smooth, then stir in a couple of spoonfuls of the syrup before VERY carefully adding to the sugar syrup (add it gradually, not all at once or it’s likely to go lumpy).

Stir the ungainly mixture constantly, working in a figure of eight and going round the sides to keep the liquid on the move until very thick. If it begins to form jelly-like globules, lower the heat and stir more assiduously until they disappear. Add the rose water and grenadine.

Continue until the mixture turns glossy and so thick that it won’t run off the spoon – this arm-aching job will take at least 35 minutes, probably longer. To check for setting, drop a little mixture on a saucer for a minute or so. If it sets hard, the mixture is ready. Pour into the tin and leave to set (0vernight is best). Dust a sharp, thin knife with cornflour. Spread a layer of icing sugar on a work surface, turn out the Turkish delight, gently slice the soft block into about 40 pieces and roll through the sugar.

Store in a cool dry place (not the fridge). Make sure the storage container is NOT airtight. Turkish delight will sweat if it’s put in an airtight container and will just end up as a liquidy gooey mess – not really what you want after all that effort!

Eating Disciples

I have been eating disciples this week. Following the traditional method of making and decorating a simnel cake has meant that I had 11 marzipan balls on top of mine (the marzipan balls on top of the cake are meant to represent the 11 disciples of Christ, excluding Judas). I might go for 12 next time. It’s easier to spread them out on top, you get more marzipan and there’s less arguing over the last piece. Rules are there to be broken right? Eating the cake BEFORE Easter was also a rule that I broke this time. Oh well.

THE RECIPE

(Note: the recipe says is cuts into 12 slices. If you’re going to put 11 disciples on it, then I would suggest cutting into 11 slices. Don’t chop up the disciples – it just gets messy.)

175g butter
175g light muscovado sugar
175g self-raising flour
175g sultanas
90g currants
90g glace cherries
30g candied peel
Grated zest 1 lemon
1tsp ground mixed spice

For the filling and decoration:
500g marzipan
2bsp apricot jam (or my mum’s homemade marmalade)
1 egg white

Roll out one third of the marzipan. Using the base of rouy cake tin as a guide (an 18cm round loose-bottomed tin is best), cut out an 18cm round. Grease the cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Combine all the cake ingredients and beat until thoroughly blended. Spoon half of the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. Top with the round of marzipan.

Spoon the remaining mixture on top and level the surface.

Bake in a preheated oven at 150C/gas mark 2 for 2 1/4 hours or until golden brown and firm to the touch. As ever, don’t leave too long. I think a bit of bounce in the middle of the cake is ok, as mine came out a bit overdone round the edges when I left it till firm all over.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes, remove from the tin and then leave to cool completely. Brush the top of the cake with the jam/marmalade.

To decorate, roll out half of the remaining marzipan and cut out an 18cm round. Put on top of the jam and crimp the edges. Roll the remaining marzipan into 11 even-sized balls. Place around the edge of the cake, attaching them with egg white.

Brush the tops of the balls and the almond paste with egg white. Place under a hot grill for 1-2 minutes until the balls are golden. Et voila! Grilled disciples on fruit cake.

Healthy Homemade Flapjacks

I have been eating too many creme eggs and Easter eggs this week. I have therefore tried to abort this unhealthy regime by making another batch of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s honey and peanut booster bars. Not only are these healthier than Creme eggs, but they are fairly packed with carbs, which is handy as I’m running a marathon next weekend and need all the carbs that I can get! Plus even my mum asked me for the recipe for them, so they must be good!

Oaty, fruity, seedy goodness!

Very easy to make and very tasty. An easy competitor to Pret a Manger’s love bars I would say. And, of course, all the better for being homemade.

THE RECIPE

125g unsalted butter
1506 soft brown sugar
125g crunchy peanut butter
75g honey
Grated zest 1 lemon
Grated zest 1 orange
200g porridge oats
150g dried fruit, such as sultanas, raisins, apricots
150g mixed seeds, such as pumpkin, sunflower, poppy, linseed

Grease and line a baking tin, about 20cm square.

Put the butter, sugar, peanut butter, honey and citrus zests into a deep saucepan over a very low heat. Leave until melted, stirring from time to time.

Stir the oats, dried fruit and most of the seeds into the melted mixture until thoroughly combined. Spread the mixture out evenly into the baking tin. Sprinkle the remaining seeds on top, plus a drizzle of honey.

Place in a preheated oven (160C/gas mark 3) for about 30 minutes, until golden in the centre and golden brown at the edges. Be careful not to leave it too long. Golden brown edges, not black.

Leave to cool completely in the tin. Be patient – it cuts much better when cold and easily falls apart when warm. Turn out and cut out into squares with a sharp knife. Eat when an energy boost is required.

I like bees and Honey Wholemeal Cake

This recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book ‘River Cottage Everyday‘ feels kind of healthy. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that it uses wholemeal flour. Or the fact that there’s lots of honey in it, which is of course a sweet tasting but natural ingredient that I think, in the realms of cake baking, should be classed as healthy-ish at least. Also, as Hugh himself has said, it’s one of the few things that will actually help get rid of a cough – so a good winter recipe.

Honey’s been around forever – well since there were bees (and birds) anyway. But the bee population is now declining. I really hope that we can stop this, not only so I can still have my honey, but also because I like bees. Plus their role in the pollination process is actually pretty crucial for us having any crop production at all, so not only would I not have any honey for this cake if there were no bees, but also most of the other ingredients would be lacking too. Maybe I would still have baking powder – but I don’t fancy eating that neat.

Anyway, back to the cake. Not only is honey good at getting rid of coughs. It is also hygroscopic, which means that it pulls moisture towards it. And therefore, this is a lovely moist cake with lots of honey flavours. I’ve found it works pretty well with a few raspberries and some cream drizzled on top. And it’s also very easy to make.  So healthy it may not be, but it might subdue that cough/cold, and whilst your eating it – give a thought to those bees…

THE RECIPE

350g unsalted butter, softened
265g unrefined caster sugar
4 organic eggs
150g ground almonds
150g wholemeal self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
50g flaked almonds
3-4 tbsp runny honey

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/ gas mark 3. Grease a 24cm diameter, springform cake tin with a little of the butter and line the base with baking parchment.

Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl, and cream them together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the ground almonds, then sift in the flour and baking powder and gently fold these in, too.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin, scatter the flaked almonds over the top, and bake for 45 minutes, or until a knife pushed into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and, while it’s still hot, evenly drizzle all over with honey. Place the tin on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or cold.

Vanilla Fudge – second time lucky!

Thankfully my second attempt at fudge has been a roaring success! My first effort involved condensed milk and ended up in a sloppy, un-fudge like mess. I have now canned the condensed milk (haha) and have bought myself a sugar thermometer in order to get the temperature right – oh yes, we are in exciting times now!

So, armed with my sugar thermometer and a new fudge recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I started on my second effort. And it was extermely straight forward. The thermometer worked perfectly so  I knew exactly when the mixture was hot enough and at the infamous ‘soft ball’ stage. And it seemed to set exactly as it was supposed to. And once cooled, it tasted suprisingly like vanilla fudge.

I’m keen to try out some more flavours now, but will have to finish this batch first. Lucky that I’m doing lots of running, as it is verrry sweet and I think is signficantly lacking in health benefits – but it tastes good anyway!

The Recipe

300g caster sugar

1 tbsp golden syrup

100g unsalted butter

100ml double cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

Using a few drops of sunflower oil on a piece of kitchen paper, lightly oil a 15x22cm baking dish.

Put the sugar, syrup, butter and cream in a saucepan, making sure it’s not more than a third full as the mixture will bubble when it boils. Heat gently, stirring all the time, until the sugar has completely dissolved – tip the pan to make sure there are no crystal still visible on the base.

Stop stirring. Put a sugar thermometer in the pan and turn up the heat. Let the mixture boil hard until it reaches 116C (soft ball stage). This may happen quite fast or could take up to 15 minutes or more, so keep a sharp eye on the thermometer. Take the pan off the heat and leave to stand for 10 minutes.

Add the vanilla and beat vigorously until the mixture thickens, becomes slightly grainy and starts to come away from the base of the pan. This can take up to 10 minutes. Tip into the prepared dish, smooth and leave to cool.

Mark into squares with a sharp knife while it’s still slightly soft (I left it too late and it started crumbling). Leave for 2 to 4 hours to firm up completely and then remove from the dish.