Monday, November 30, 2009

Plum and Ginger Cake (for plum chums)

Words are such funny things.  Just one word can contain such a myriad of meanings depending on its usage, context, user etc.  Take the word 'plum'.  To some the obvious link will be made with the gorgeous autumnal fruit with a misty bloom that dissipates with the lightest of strokes.  Others will immediately think of something agreeable, pleasant, undemanding or even comfy (according to my reliable online Thesaurus).

So when searching for a fitting end to two meals with two seperate but equally 'plum' and dear friends, and, given the plethora of cheap Victorias in the local shop, the obvious solution was a plum cake.

One quick skate through my burgeoning library of cookery bakes and a hurried stock-take of the cupboards later, I arrived at the following adaptation of Nigel Slater's 'wonderfully moist, fresh plum cake', using what I had to hand.  And, I confess, my irritating habit of tweaking every recipe I try.

Plum and Ginger Cake
150g unsalted butter, softened
75g unrefined caster sugar
75g demerera sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
75g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1tsp ground ginger
100g ground almonds
50g chopped nuts (I used almonds)
4 nuggets of stem ginger, chopped
12-16 plums (depending on size)

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4.  Line the base of a 20cm square cake tin with baking parchment and grease the sides with butter.
2. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
3. Add the eggs slowly, adding a spoon or two of flour with each addition to avoid curdling.
4. Mix to combine then stir in remainder flour, baking powder and ground ginger.
5. Stir in the ground almonds, chopped nuts and the stem ginger.  Stir well but with a light hand.
6. Spoon the cake mixture into the cake tin and level the top.
7. Stone and quarter the plums.  Scatter as evenly as possible over the top of the cake mixture.
8. Pop the cake tin into the centre of the oven and cook for approximately 45 minutes or until a skewer emerges cleanly when inserted.
9. Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes then remove.

I divided the results into two pieces.  The first was taken as an after-dinner offering to the wonderfully accomplished cook (and reluctant blogger Xochitl) last night.  The remainder is to be post-lunch or afternoon tea treat for my darling friends Peter and Max in only a matter of hours.
Plum treats for plum friends.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Warming Leek and Parsnip Soup

When element of one's life seems to be in turmoil and the weather is doing it's best to bring one down, there is something deeply comforting about a large bowl of soothing soup.  To be enveloped by the delicious, warming steam from a saucepan of root vegetables bubbling in mildly spiced liquid.  A much needed soothing of one's jangled senses.  The day can only get better.

Warming Leek and Parsnip Soup (makes two-three servings)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 leeks, rinsed and sliced
2 parsnips, peeled (core removed if woody) and chopped
1 thumb sized piece of root ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
slug dry sherry (optional)
freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
freshly ground black pepper and sea salt

1. Warm a good slug of olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onion, garlic and leek.
2. Once the vegetables have softened, add the parsnips and ginger and stir well.
3. Add enough boiling water (you could use stock if you prefer) to cover the veggies.  Add the chilli, curry powder, cumin and coriander.  Stir well and bring to the boil, covering the pan.
4. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for approximately 15 minutes or until the parsnips are soft.
5. Liquidise the ingredients either with a hand-held blender or in a liquidiser adding more water/stock as necessary.
6. Add a slug of sherry (I don't know why but it accentuates the flavours), season to taste and serve with a grating of fresh nutmeg.

You could also add a swirl of cream if you're minded to or a spoon of decent mango chutney (omitting the nutmeg if you're tempted by the latter.  I know it sounds odd but trust me, it works!).

Sit yourself down with your favourite cookbook for reading material and watch the rain lash against your window whilst you bask in the warmth of your soup.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wilkinson Family Christmas Cake 2009

The last Sunday before Advent is traditionally known as 'Stir Up Sunday' whereby families return from church to stir sumptuous mixtures for Christmas puddings and cakes and make a wish for the New Year.  I'm not sure what making wishes has to do with organised religion, however, who am I to argue with hundreds of years of tradition.  And so this weekend sees me soaking dried fruits in brandy and grating nutmeg in readiness to bake the Wilkinson family Christmas cake.

As with the family fruit cake, the original recipe was I believe from Saint Delia, tweaked by my mother and has subsequently been jiggled with by yours truly.  Ensure that you have an afternoon or evening spare to stay at home as it's quite a lengthy process.  But hopefully well worth it.  Here is the recipe for this year's;

Wilkinson Family Christmas Cake
1lb 14oz mixed dried fruit (I used a mixture that included candied peel)
2oz glace cherries
100ml brandy
8oz plain flour
1/2tsp salt
1/2tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2tsp ground mixed spice
8oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
8oz soft brown/muscavado sugar
4 medium eggs
2oz blanched, lightly toasted almonds, roughly chopped
3tbsp thick cut marmalade
grated zest 1 unwaxed lemon
pared zest 1 unwaxed orange

8inch round cake tin, double lined and greased with a double layer of baking parchment around the outside of the tin, tied with string (see picture)

1. The night before you are going to bake, weigh out the dried fruit into a non metallic bowl, stir in the brandy, cover with a clean cloth and leave for 12 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 140C/gas mark 1.
3. Sift the flour, salt and spices.
4. Cream the butter and sugar until it is fluffy.
5. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and add to the creamed butter at tablespoon at a time, stirring in a spoon of flour at the same time to avoid the mixture curdling.
6. Fold in the remainder flour then fold in the fruit, peel, chopped nuts, marmalade and fruit zests.
7. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and cover the top of the cake with a piece of greaseproof paper, leaving a hole the size of a 50 pence (this prevents the cake from burning).
8. Bake on the lowest shelf in the oven for a minimum of 4.5 hours.  It can take up to 45 minutes longer depending on your oven, dried fruit used etc so rely on the good old skewer test (insert a skewer - if it is clean upon removal, the cake is ready). Whatever happens, don't open the oven door for a peak until at least four hours are up!
9. Leave the cake to cool in the tin.  Remove the top paper, make a few small holes in the top of the cake with a skewer and drizzle in a little brandy.
10. When cool, wrap the cake in clean baking parchment, then foil and keep in an airtight tin.  'Feed' the cake with a spoon or three of brandy every few days.  The cake will keep for up to two months like this.

I have not posted a picture of the finished article as I'm aware that it will look remarkably similar to my previous post.  When it is suitably adorned with marzipan and icing in December (for the Wilkinson early Christmas) I'll pop an image up then.

Happy Christmas baking!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Failproof Family Fruitcake

I am somewhat appalled to see that I have allowed such a huge amount of time to lapse since my last post. It's not that I haven't baked, stirred, nibbled and sipped. More that I haven't taken as much pleasure in cooking, rarely bother to create anything exciting for myself and, I confess, my head space has been filled with coping with the changes that life tends to throw at one.

Today however something stirred within me. It is rather complicated and involves the acceptance of numerous changes and the excitement, rather than terror, that they have brought. More specifically though, I awoke early this morning to a howling gale and torrential rain and craved nothing more than to be enveloped in the comforting fug that is
created by the baking of a spiced fruit cake to be shared with family. A warming glow to dispel the chill of Autumn and wonderful aromas of nutmeg and ginger to counter those of damp leaves. And the knowledge that a cake still warm from the oven will be gratefully received by my sister and her family.

This is an inexcusably simple recipe for which I make no apology. Sometimes the simplest things in life really are the best, something I increasingly realise the older I get. In its original version I believe this cake hailed from Delia Smith however it has subsequently been tweaked by my mother and then by me. It has become the default Wilkinson fruit cake of choice and on a wet November day, the very tonic for every ill.

Wilkinson Fruit Cake (and no, that isn't my new nickname!).
10oz mixed dried fruit
2oz glace cherries
4oz muscavado or soft brown sugar
4oz unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/4pt water
juice and zest 1 orange
1 medium egg
8oz self-raising flour*
1/4tsp each of ground nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and mixed spice

1. Preheat oven to 150C/gas mark 2.5. Grease a 7" round cake tin.
2. Place fruit, cherries, sugar, butter, water, juice and zest in a saucepan and simmer slowly for 20 minutes.
3. Allow to cool then add the beaten egg. Stir in the flour and spices.
4. Turn into the cake tin and smooth the surface.
5. Bake in the middle of the oven for approximately 1.5 hours or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

*if you only have plain flour, you can convert it into self-raising by adding 2-3 teaspoons of baking powder for every 250g/9oz plain flour used.