Christmas in November – Amaretto and Dark Chocolate Bundt

Christmas festivities should not start until December. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, but I have always disliked how it seems to be creeping earlier and earlier into the year, especially in the shops. The pressure to buy and consume is huge, even more so now with the sudden UK explosion of Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving in the USA. Retailers offer discounts on loads of items, causing mass hysteria, riots and even injuries. It’s mental! Whilst I’m all for a decent discount I hate the mob mentality Black Friday fosters and I disagree with it wholeheartedly. But I digress. Back to Christmas!

I have actually been feeling festive a little sooner this year. Maybe it’s because of having two children who are now old enough to understand it, even if they don’t grasp the more subtle messages of Christmas! I can’t really throw myself into it until the eldest’s birthday has been done, which it has now, so I officially give myself permission to start Christmas this weekend. I’ve bought a festive jumper, done some Christmas shopping and I’ve even started listening to the Michael Bublé christmas album (much to Mr H’s disgust). There may also be some wine-mulling going on this weekend. Oh yes!

Adding to the Christmas spirit was last night’s Clandestine Cake Club gathering. A joint event between all three Manchester clubs, we met at the lovely Proper Tea, near the Cathedral. I will add a link to the official write up of the event when it’s been done, but for now I’d like to share with you the cake I made for it. The theme was European Cakes – a nod to the Great British Bake Off European week, which we’d particularly enjoyed, a chance to challenge ourselves with something a bit different, and because the Manchester European Christmas markets are in full swing. I’d set my heart on baking something Italian, possibly even Sicilian, but Sicilian ‘cake’ recipes aren’t that abundant on t’interweb. What did take my fancy was something called Buccellato. It’s a ring-shaped pastry affair, stuffed with figs and other dried fruits, almonds, citrus and nuts, and oodles of festive spices. Brilliant. It also is pastry, which is something I still need to conquer, so it was going to be a good challenge. Having bought all the ingredients, I looked at the recipe in more detail…which is what I should have done beforehand, because the thing requires several stages of chilling: you need to chill the pastry, the filling, the assembled thing before cooking…given that I was starting this at 8pm on the night before cake club, I got a serious case of can’tbearseditis. So I quickly rustled up a Plan B. And not too shabby a plan B! I love Amaretto, and I love dark chocolate, and the two go together so well. So, a bundt it was!

It’ll be no surprise to you that I based it on the Build-a-Bundt formula from Bolton CCC’s Dollybakes, which is my most trusted bundt recipe. And I just made my own tweaks for the flavours. Here goes…

Ingredients

For the cake

  • Butter or marge – 225g
  • Caster sugar – 375g
  • Light soft brown sugar – 75g
  • 4 free range eggs
  • Plain flour – 350g (plus a bit extra)
  • Salt – ½ teaspoon
  • Bicarbonate of Soda – ½ teaspoon
  • Greek yoghurt – 250ml
  • Almond essence – 1 teaspoon
  • 50g dark chocolate
  • Amaretto Disaronno – I used 100mls

For the topping

  • 50g dark chocolate
  • 100mls double cream
  • 2 tablespoons amaretto disaronno
  • Amaretti biscuits (hard) or flaked almonds

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 160 oC
  • Start by creaming together the butter and sugars, either in a mixer (hello trusty Kitchen Aid) or with a hand mixer until pale and fluffy. This should take a few minutes at high speed.
  • Turn your mixer down low. Beat the eggs together in a bowl and add very gradually, making sure each addition is fully mixed in before adding more. Go steady here.
  • Next, add the flour, bicarb and salt together, alternating with some of the yoghurt and almond essence. Do this gradually. Some people prefer to do it by hand but I find the mixer on slowest speed is fine…just make sure you don’t over-mix it. Be stingy with the mixing!
  • Finally bung in the amaretto and give it a quick whizz. At this stage, because you’re adding more liquid than usual, you might need to add a little bit more flour (hence the extra in the ingredients). If you feel the batter is looking a bit too slack, add a table spoon of flour and fold it in by hand. Sorry for being vague here but it all depends on a few factors…the consistency of the yoghurt being a big one, which is why I prefer Greek style for this recipe as it’s thicker. Basically just use your eye and experience and judge when you think it’s right!
  • Split the batter by popping half of it into another bowl.
  • Melt the dark chocolate by heating it slowly in a bowl, sitting over a pan of simmering water. This shouldn’t take long. Fold the chocolate into into one of the bowls of batter.
  • Prepare you tin of choice (I used my trusty star shaped Bundt but this should work with most shapes). Cake release spray and a coating of flour.
  • IMG_7036You can now marble the batters together however you choose. I did one layer of plain, one of chocolate, then another plain, chocolate and finished with more plain, then swirled them slightly using a skewer…but the choice is yours! You could do zebra layers, which looks ace, dollops around the tin…lots of options. Don’t fill more than ¾ full.
  • Pop in the centre of the preheated oven and bake for an hour and 15 minutes thereabouts – I checked mine after an hour, turned it and gave it a bit longer…an hour and 20 in total.
  • Let it cool in the tin for 15 mins then turn out onto a wire rack. Allow to cool completely.

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  • When the cake’s cold, make the chocolate ganache. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a simmering pan of water.
  • Remove from the heat and slowly add the cream, stirring constantly. Then add the amaretto and keep stirring. You can add more cream and amaretto if you like, but not too much. I was sort of guessing at this bit!
  • Drizzle this over the top of your cake in a stylish manner!
  • Scatter the top with crushed amaretti biscuits or toasted almond flakes…or both if you like.

Amaretto and dark chocolate bundt

And there it is! Amaretto and Dark Chocolate bundt. We had a fantastic cake club christmas do, with some brilliant bakes. If you fancy coming along, we’d love to see you. Follow @MancNorthCCC on Twitter and join us on the Clandestine Cake Club website.

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Spiced Pumpkin and Apple Loaf Cake

When I was a kid, Halloween wasn’t such a fuss. We used to do a few fun things at home with the family, but didn’t go to parties or go crazy with the dressing up. We certainly didn’t go trick or treating! But we did carve a scary face into a swede. Not a pumpkin, no no, they weren’t readily available back then (“but surely that was only 10 years ago!”, I hear you cry). Dad would spend hours scooping out the innards of a swede, on which my sister and I then drew a few triangles, and Dad duly cut out. In went a tea light and we were delighted. Even now, I can recall the scent of warming, then burning swede flesh. It’s one of the smells that’s most evocative of childhood for me. That, and pipe smoke, from when my grandad used to smoke one all the time. Love it.

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Back to pumpkins. Nowadays they are ubiquitous at this time of year. The ones you find in the big supermarkets are usually grown for size and shape, designed for carving more than eating. That’s fine if that’s all you plan to do with it, but their flesh is a little bit watery and not as tasty. I like to get the most from my pumpkins, and so that means I want something a bit more flavoursome. We like to get ours from Kenyon Hall Farm – one of my favourite places for a family afternoon out (Summer or Autumn). They have a large pumpkin patch where you can go and pick your own, which really adds to the experience. The kids have much more of a sense of occasion about carving a pumpkin they’ve chosen themselves. You also get a tasty pumpkin out of it too. They also sell all manner of unusual squash varieties in their marvellous shop. I challenge you not to come away with oodles of stuff from that shop, it’s a foodie paradise of produce!

When it came to using up the innards of our pumpkin this year, the first cake I decided to make was a simple loaf cake – this was a last minute cake I needed to rustle up to take to Mumclub Halloween party at our friend’s house. It’s basically a carrot and apple cake that I thought would work with pumpkin instead of the carrot. I baked the carrot version for Apple Day in Philips’ Park at the end of October, and it got loads of praise (yay!) so I hoped the pumpkin would work as well. You’ll be glad to hear that it did!

This is a simple recipe. It doesn’t need any fancy equipment – not even a mixer! If you want to use one, of course, feel free, but I find a wooden spoon does the job just fine and means less washing up.

Ingredients

  • plain flour – 160g
  • plain whole wheat flour – 120g
  • baking powder – 1 ½ teaspoons
  • bicarbonate of soda – 1 teaspoon
  • 2 large eggs
  • vegetable oil – 60ml
  • caster sugar – 230g
  • ground cinnamon – 1 ½ teaspoon
  • ground nutmeg – ¼ teaspoon
  • vanilla extract – 1 teaspoon
  • greek yoghurt (I used full fat but low fat is fine) – 80ml
  • pumpkin flesh – grated/in strands – 300g
  • apple (cooking or eating) – 1 large apple (about 175g chopped weight), diced finely. Skin on (but remove if you prefer)
  • sultanas – 80g
  • Demerara sugar (for topping)

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180 (170 fan)
  • Use a 2lb loaf tin – line it with greaseproof paper. I use the ready made liners for ease (like these from Lakeland but they’re widely available)
  • In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, oil, cinnamon, nutmeg and yoghurt. If using a mixer, give it a quick whizz – just a few seconds really. By hand just mix until well combined.
  • Add the pumpkin, sultanas and apple. Stir lightly (by hand).
  • Sift together the flours, baking powder and bicarb. Add the flour mix to the wet mixture and stir until combined. Don’t mix too much, the flour should be fully incorporated but don’t go mad!
  • Put the batter into the tin.
  • Sprinkle the top with Demerara sugar – I use about a tablespoon but it depends how much crunch you like on top.
  • Pop into the middle of the oven and cook for around 45-55 minutes, depending on your oven. Mine takes about 50 minutes. Test with a skewer in the centre of the cake. You’ll be able to feel if the mix is cooked or still a bit soggy. If you’re not sure, don’t worry, it’s a really moist cake so an extra 5 minutes in the oven to make sure will not dry it out.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 15/20 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.

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Fresh from the oven. Smells incredible!

If you can, serve this whilst still warm from the oven, it’s scrumptious! Or room temperature is fine too. The cake is moist and will keep well in an airtight container for a few days…if it lasts that long!

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Warm, soft and yummy!

Little tips…

Don’t want to use pumpkin? Try this with butternut squash or the original carrot. For another twist, it also works with parsnip.
Leave off the D
emerara sugar and top the cooled cake with a cream cheese frosting for a lovely alternative. You can flavour this with lemon or it’s lush with maple syrup.

So that’s it! Hope you like it…and if you try it please do let me know. Always nice to hear from you.

H x

Chicken and Chorizo Slow Cooked Casserole

Batten down the hatches…there’s a storm coming! After some unseasonably warm weather (20 degrees in October? Madness) we are finally set for something slightly more autumnal, namely the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo. This turn in the weather coincides with our new wood burning stove being fitted and although it’s not operational immediately, and the room isn’t decorated yet, it’s in and makes me feel cosy already! So here’s a simple, warming slow cooker recipe that will warm the cockles when the storm sets in. It’s low carb and for those doing The Harcombe Diet, it’s Phase 2 friendly (as long as your chorizo is sugar free) . Serve with lots of steamed veggies such as broccoli and cauliflower, or whatever suits your taste. For non-low carb people, It’s equally lovely with a jacket potato, rice or big wedges or bread to soak up the yummy juices.

Yes, I had already taken one out to feed the children before I took the photo! Oops.

Yes, I had already taken one out to feed the children before I took the photo! Oops!

Chicken and Chorizo slow cooked casserole You will need…

  • 6 Chicken Thighs (bone in, skin on)
  • Chorizo sausage ⅓ sliced and halved. (I use spicy but you don’t have to)
  • 1 onion – sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic – finely chopped
  • 1 can plum tomatoes
  • mushrooms – sliced
  • carrot – diced
  • Chicken stock cube (omit for THD)
  • Smoked paprika
  • Ancho chilli powder
  • Coriander (ground)
  • Salt and pepper

I’m being deliberately vague with quantities because it depends on the size of your slow cooker and how many people you are feeding, and your tastes. You can vary the veg depending on what you’ve got in stock, what’s seasonal or what your family like. Pepper would work well. I have also used leek. Method

  • Add the sliced onion to the bottom of your slow cooker bowl
  • Pop the veg (including the garlic) on top and season with salt and pepper, coriander, chilli powder and the paprika
  • Sit the chicken thighs on top of the veg and scatter over the chunks of chorizo
  • Pour the can of tomatoes over the thighs
  • Crumble the stock cube over the top and add a very small splash of water to the tomato tin, swirl and pop in
  • Cook on HIGH for around 4 hours – just leave it to do its thing! Your casserole will be ready but you can turn it onto low and leave until ready to serve. You can alter the cooking times depending on your make of slow cooker.

Little tipchicken and chorizo casseroles: For those who like a thicker sauce, you can add some cornflour made into paste with cold water about half an hour before serving. This will thicken up the tomato and veggie juices nicely. This isn’t Harcombe friendly! No slow cooker? No problem! Simply add all the ingredients to a large casserole dish and pop into a medium oven (around 180) for a couple of hours. You may like to soften the onion with the chorizo first, and you’ll need a bit more liquid (250ml should be fine). Check after an hour and add a little extra if required.

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!