A double life…

I bake. I write about cakes. I love cake. The problem is, I feel like I’m living a bit of a lie. You see, when I’m not being all cakey, I’m actually on a low carb and no sugar diet. That’s right, I don’t eat bread, potatoes, rice, grains, pasta (you can feel the despair of my Italian father can’t you!)…no chocolate, haribo, ice cream, jam, nutella, caramel sauce…you get the picture.

Over the years I’ve dabbled with a few different diets with varying degrees of success. Slimming World (slow but effective), Weightwatchers (ditto), Atkins (meaty), calorie counting (easy but obsessive and not that healthy!), Heart Surgery diet (tuna, ritz crackers and cottage cheese – awful!), crazy exercising, intermittent fasting (aka 5:2)….

I was quite the chubster at one point, after university, where beer, cider, pizzas and jimageunk took their toll. I got down to a reasonable size with Weightwatchers about 10 years ago but since then I’ve yo-yo’d a couple of stone up and down, so it hasn’t  been massive amounts I’ve needed to lose (until I had my second child!). Our family is Italian, consequently we’ve always eaten well…and by well, I mean lots! But it was good, real food cooked from scratch, fresh ingredients and always yummy. Except for that phase where mum got loads of Vesta microwave meals because they were all the rage. Prawn paella, anyone?

So I’ve always known about real cooking and I thought I knew about nutrition too, but as it’s come to light that sugar, not fat, is the real bad guy I decided (after a lot of umming and aahing) that I’d try to give up sugar, mostly. I was inspired by my lovely friend Jenny, who has lost an incredible 7 stone in 9 months and looks and feels fabulous. Seeing her gave me the push I needed.

I follow a way of eating called The Harcombe Diet. Not as strictly as I should, but I do adhere to the main principles most of the time. Except when there’s cake club. But even then, I do that one cake sesh then get right back into my normal eating style.

Developed by Zoe Harcombe, this diet is all about cutting out refined and processed foods and eating proper, real food. It does allow for carbohydrates but the key is not to mix them with fats and proteins. You’re aiming to identify food intolerances, candida and if you’re hypoglycemic. This happens by cutting right back then gradually reintroducing foods and seeing how your body reacts. And here’s the other biggy – it’s not low fat. Hard to get your head around when all the advice for donkeys years has been that fat is bad for you. So, it’s a bit paleo (and loads of paleo recipes work well on Harcombe), definitely not Atkins, and refreshingly easy once you get into the swing of it.

Why am I sharing all this? I don’t intend to make this into a blog about my weight loss or health, but I would like to share occasional low carb recipes. I’d also like to see whether there really is scope for a lifestyle like this that incorporates cake!  I’d like to be able to maintain the two…will I succeed, or will I just fall into a big cakey heap?!

Dorset Apple Bundt Cake

There’s a nip in the air, even on these late September sunny days. I don’t mourn the end of summer, I love autumn and the glut of fabulous baking ingredients it yields, especially apples. There’s something warm, comforting and totally delicious about the combination of apples and cinnamon that when I was given some Bramley apples, I knew exactly what I wanted to make with them – Dorset apple cake.

Dorset Apple Cake (in Dorset!)

Dorset Apple Cake (in Dorset!)

I’d had a slice of this gorgeous creation, served warm with a dollop of clotted cream, when on holiday in Swanage this summer. We’d spent a lovely day getting the steam train to Corfe Castle and playing in the model village. When tea and cake time rolled round, there was a huge amount of choice, but it was the apple cake that caught my eye. It wasn’t exactly seasonal but I didn’t care a dot! It was scrumptious. I knew right then that come autumn, I wanted to recreate it, but bundtified, of course!

There are lots of variations of this traditional recipe. Some use sliced apples on top, some have chunks in the cake itself. Some use lemon, some cinnamon, often there’s nuts too. I decided to keep it simple and classic with chunks of apple running through the cake and, being a bundt, it would have the lovely sugar crust crunch.

As I often do, I based my recipe on that of Queen Bundt Blogger Dollybakes, whose ‘Build a Bundt‘ page has pretty much everything you need to know about creating your own bundt recipes. Please do visit her blog for oodles of info and recipes!

Here’s what I did…

Ingredients

  • 350g plain flour
  • 225g unsalted butter or marge
  • 375g golden caster sugar
  • 75g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 250ml plain yoghurt (full fat)
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 500g Bramley apples, peeled and cut into small chunks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 medium eggs (beaten)

Method

  • Start by preheating the oven to 170 (or 160 fan) and preparing your chosen bundt tin. I used the star, which is one of my favourites. Because this mix has chunks of fruit in it, I didn’t choose a tin with an intricate design. I spray my tins with cake release spray and sprinkle with a light dusting of flour.
  • Using a mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure you get it all.
  • Add the egg a bit at a time, with the mixer on slow. Make sure you mix it well after each addition.
  • In a separate bowl, sift together the plain flour, bicarb, salt and cinnamon.
  • Add some of the flour mix to the butter and sugar, and half the yoghurt. Mix. Then add more flour, the rest of the yoghurt, and finally the rest of the flour. Beat all this together with the mixer on a low speed. Some people prefer to do this stage by hand. Make sure it’s all well mixed but be careful not to over-mix it.
  • Now fold in the chunks of apple. These can be whatever size you choose but do bear in mind that the bigger they are the more likely they are to sink, even if you coat them in flour!
  • Once mixed, spoon your batter into the prepared tin, taking care to make sure it’s getting right into the shape of the bundt. Fill ⅔ full and smooth the top, giving it a little wiggle to make sure it’s settled in.
  • Pop in the oven for an hour, then check it and turn if necessary and give it another 15-20 minutes depending on your oven. You can leave it in slightly longer if you wish. This is a pretty moist bake, so don’t worry about it drying out. The apple will help keep the cake moist and the longer it’s in the oven the more crunchy your crust will be.
  • Remove from the oven and leave on a cooling rack in the tin for at least half an hour, longer if you can.
  • Turn out from the tin (and cross your fingers that it comes out!) and allow to cool fully before decorating as you choose. I like to simply dust with icing sugar (just like Norman from Great British Bake Off!! That’s about my level of cake decorating!)

And there you go…a Dorset Apple Cake in bundt form. I took my cake to a jazz band rehearsal and it seemed to go down well. There wasn’t much left! And it’s also pretty appropriate for my Jewish friends – Rosh Hashanah starts this week and one of the traditional foods is apple and honey, symbolising the new year hoping the new year will be sweeter.

As always, I love hearing from you about my recipes so please get in touch if you bake this little gem and let me know how you get on!

Girl Vs Pastry

We don’t get on, pastry and I. Never have. As a child I used to help my grandma bake and have many happy memories of weighing and mixing…but when it came to pastry I was made to run my wrists under the cold tap for ages before being allowed to handle the pastry. My hands were too hot. I think that experience has scarred me for life and consequently I very, very rarely make pastry. When I do I am petrified of it. I’m even scared of shop bought stuff.

But, I would like to conquer my pastry nemesis. If nothing else, it will win me many good wife points! So, my mission starts this week. The plan is to bake a pie…a proper pie with pastry all round it, none of this casserole with a lid nonsense! Filling to be decided, but for extra wife points, it will be something meaty.

Wish me luck…I need it!

Isn’t wine brilliant?!

Well, yes. Of course it is. Unless you’re tee-total, in which case, this might not be your…erm…cup of tea.

It’s a wine cake. I love wine. I love cake. Why not combine the two! This is a red wine chocolate cake recipe that will give you a rich, but surprisingly fluffy cake with a deep red/brown colour. It tastes decadent and is definitely for grown ups!

This cake was created for the Clandestine Cake Club Manchester City Centre gathering on 18th September, but this was a tester cake that I took into work. They don’t mind being guinea pigs! I used a 6-cup Bundt for this trial cake, but have given you the recipe and method for a full size bundt (12 cup).

The 12 cup, Jubilee bundt for Manchester Central Cake Club

The 12 cup, Jubilee bundt for Manchester Central Cake Club

Ingredients
– 225g plain flour
– 230g butter or margarine
– 2 large eggs
– 250g caster sugar
– 100g dark brown sugar
– 75g cocoa powder
– 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
– ½ teaspoon cinnamon
– 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
– ½ teaspoon salt
– 300ml red wine – I used a Negromaro currently available in Aldi, but anything dry and fruity should work.

Method
Grease and flour your chosen tin. Preheat the oven to 180C (170C fan).

Pop the butter and sugars into a bowl or mixer and beat on a high speed for a few minutes, until pale and fluffy. Even though you’re using dark sugar you should still notice the mix going much paler.

Turn the speed down to low. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until combined.

Sift together all the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, salt, cinnamon, bicarb). Add in a third of the flour, then half the wine. Mix well on a low speed, then add another third of flour and the rest of the wine and mix again. Finish with the last of the flour. Be careful not to over-mix – I find it easier to do this stage by hand.

Now spoon the mixture into your prepared tin and give it a bit of a wiggle to make sure there aren’t any air pockets. Bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes, after which time you can test it with a skewer or other such implement. It may need a little longer depending on your oven. This is a moist cake, so don’t worry if it takes 60+ mins. It should be coming away from the sides slightly.

Leave in the tin on a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes, then turn out onto the rack and allow to cool completely.

To serve, dust with cocoa powder or icing sugar, or drizzle with a yummy chocolate sauce!