Peter Rabbit’s Party Cake

Carrot cake for afternoon teaThis recipe comes from my very lovely Auntie Rosie. My mum has had a hand-written copy tucked away in a folder for years, and it’s really the only go-to carrot cake recipe that you need. It’s very lightly spiced with cinnamon and comes out the oven dense, but deliciously moist thanks to the carrots and apples. A light, fluffy Victoria sponge can be absolute perfection, but sometimes your cravings call for a richer cake, one with the caramel flavour of brown sugar, the softness of cooked fruits and vegetables and small bursts of fudgy raisins throughout. The sourness of the icing on top helps to balance the sweet sponge. It’s a simple cream cheese affair, flavoured with lemon juice and, my own personal addition, orange zest.
Ingredients for homemade carrot cake with cream cheese frosting
Ingredients
115g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
250g carrots, peeled and grated
2 apples, peeled and grated
170g soft brown sugar
2 eggs
200g flour
7 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
115g raisins
3 tbsp milk

60g icing sugar
250g cream cheese
1 tbsp lemon juice
Zest of 1 orange

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 160C fan/180C/Gas Mark 4 and grease a 20cm cake tin with a little butter.
2. Melt the butter and mix with the olive oil.
Melted butter mixed with olive oil for carrot cake
3. Mix the fats with the sugar, eggs, and grated carrots and apples.
Mixed wet ingredients
4. Sieve the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt) and fold into the wet mix.
Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting 1
Adding the dry ingredients to the wet mixture for carrot cake
Carrot cake batter after mixing wet and dry ingredients
5. Add the milk and raisins to the cake mixture and stir well.
Adding milk and raisins to the carrot cake batter
6. Spoon the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake for about an hour until a skewer comes out the middle of the cake clean.
Pouring the carrot cake batter into the cake tin
Carrot cake ready for baking
7. Turn the cake out and leave to cool while you make the icing.
Baked carrot cake
Cooled carrot cake ready for icing
8. To make the icing simply beat together the icing sugar, cream cheese, lemon juice and orange zest. Keep in the fridge until you are ready to ice the cake.
Mixing the cream cheese icing
9. Once the sponge is completely cool, spoon the cream cheese frosting onto the cake and spread evenly. Leave like this, or decorate in whatever way takes your fancy: I dotted some orange food colouring gel around the top of the cake and then used a skewer to swirl it through the icing.
Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting
Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting
This carrot cake doesn’t need any extras, like cream, on the side whether it’s served up mid-afternoon or for pudding. All you need is a generous wedge of cake, and perhaps a cup of tea.
Homemade carrot cake
Thanks for the fabulous recipe Auntie Rosie! x

Mini Lemon Curd Tarts

Mini lemon curd tarts served for afternoon tea
Last Friday we travelled up north to a beautiful little cottage at the Lake of Menteith to begin the hen weekend celebrations for Abi, the most gorgeous of brides-to-be. The journey was eventful, to say the least. My train was late which in turn made us late picking up the (funky) hire car, half of us got lost on the drive up (due to misdirection, not our own fault of course), we were unexpectedly faced with a pot-hole ridden single track road snaking up the side of a mountain and the airbag light in Kirsty’s car kept coming on. However, good things come to those who wait and once we had finally made it to the cottage, unpacked and put “Now That’s What I Call A Wedding!” on the sound system, it was all worth it. What ensued was a night of food, cocktails, games, onesies, surprises, shots, more cocktails and extremely enthusiastic singing. It all began with an afternoon “tea” – I say “tea” because instead of pots of tea we had pots of Pimms. It’s how it should be done.

The girls had whipped up finger sandwiches, vanilla cheesecakes and red velvet cupcakes, and my personal offering was mini lemon curd tarts. I needed something that would keep well for 2 days and would also travel well. So instead of baking the lemon filling into the tart cases, I made separate tart cases and a pot of lemon curd. All that needed to be done at the cottage was to spoon the curd into the cases and adorn each one with a raspberry. Simple.

This is my grandmother’s recipe for lemon curd and it is delicious. As in, eat-it-from-the-jar-with-a-spoon mouth-wateringly delicious. It reminds me of spring because she, and now my mum, would make it around Pessach (or Passover) time when there is an excess of egg yolks leftover from the Pessach baking. The pastry recipe is a sweet shortcrust pastry from Katie Stewart’s Cookbook. This book is the bible in our kitchen. Although this description in The Telegraph’s obituary for Katie Stewart refers to a different one of her cookery books, the exact same applied to ours: “Unlike some recipe books from the early 1970s, Katie Stewart’s book remains timelessly useful. Alongside the glossily pristine compendia of Gordon Ramsay, Sophie Dahl, Ottolenghi et al, The Times Cookery Book is almost always recognisable from its broken spine and pages dog-eared and stained with the oil and gravy of many years’ service. Clean replacements are hard to find.”. Never have truer words been spoken.

The golden rule of pastry is “Cold, cold, cold”. Keep everything in the fridge until you need it, run your hands under the cold tap and perhaps even open a window. If you don’t have white cooking fat, then just use all butter, but it will enhance the flavour and crumbly texture of the pastry. I wanted my curd to be very set, so took it to a fairly thick consistency. Be careful when doing this as you don’t want the mixture to curdle.
Ingredients for homemade mini lemon curd tarts (sweet short crust pastry and lemon curd)
Ingredients (makes 12 tarts, with a little pastry and a half jar of lemon curd to spare)
4 tbsp cold milk
25g caster sugar
100g butter
15g white cooking fat
225g plain flour
A pinch of salt

100g butter
150g caster sugar
3 lemons, zested and juiced
3 eggs, well beaten

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. Mix the milk and sugar together and put in the fridge.
Mixing the milk and sugar for the sweet short crust pastry - now chill in the fridge!
2. Chop the butter and fat into small squares and put this in the fridge too.
Chopped butter and white cooking fat for sweet short crust pastry - now chill in the fridge!
3. Weigh out the flour and add the salt.
Combining the fats with the dry ingredients to make a "breadcrumb" texture for sweet short crust pastry
4. With cold hands combine the fats with the dry ingredients, rubbing the ingredients together until you have a “breadcrumb” texture (similar to what we did for the crumble topping).
Sweet short crust pastry rolled into a ball - now chill in the fridge.
5. Add the milk and sugar and use a knife to bring the ingredients together, using a splash more milk only if absolutely necessary. Tip out onto a floured surface and shape into a ball with the minimal amount of kneading possible. Cover in cling film and rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
Rolling out the homemade sweet short crust pastry
6. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry until about 5mm thick and cut circles to line 12 holes of a muffin tray. Prick the bases with a fork, line with small squares of baking parchment and fill with baking beans. If you don’t have ceramic baking beans then any dried bean or rice will do the job.
Lining a 12 hole muffin tin with homemade sweet short crust pastry
7. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the baking beans and paper and cook for a further 5-10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool and store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Homemade sweet short crust pastry cases after baking
8. Melt the butter in a bain marie (or bowl over a pan of water to you and I) making sure the water in the pan does not touch the bottom of the bowl.
Melting butter in a bain marie for lemon curd
9. Add the sugar and mix. Add the eggs, lemon zest and lemon juice and mix well. At this point I like to use a whisk.
Ingredients for homemade lemon curd - eggs, sugar and lemon zest and juice
Whisking the lemon curd in a bain maire over a gentle heat
10. Stir over a very gentle heat until you have achieved the consistency you want – usually this is when the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remember that the mixture will thicken a little more once cool.
Heating the lemon curd mixture until it coats the back of a spoon
11. Spoon the curd into two small jars or a single large one. Leave to cool and then keep in the fridge for up to 10 days. If you can keep your hands off it for that long.
Jar of homemade lemon curd
Homemade lemon curd with sweet short crust pastry cases
12. When ready to serve, spoon the curd mixture into the tart cases and top with a raspberry or redcurrants.
Afternoon tea for Abi's hen do, with homemade mini lemon curd tarts
We still have a little lemon curd leftover, which is gorgeous spread on top of toasted crusty bread and served with coffee for breakfast.

I had a fantastic time at the hen do and now can’t wait for the wedding to roll around in just over 3 weeks’ time. Better get dress shopping…eek!…

No-Knead Cardamom and Cinnamon Cake Buns

Cinnamon and cardamom buns displayed on a wooden board

I’ve always been a bit scared of buns. All that kneading and proving and shaping (mainly all that kneading, jeez what a faff). So when I saw the front cover of the Guardian Cook (14 December 2013) lying innocently on the kitchen worktop I gazed longingly at the bronzed swirling buns, but resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t brave enough to attempt making them. I commented to Mother that they looked delicious and she confessed, “Hmmm yes…actually I thought that might be something that you would like to make us”. Cheeky Mother – not such an innocent Guardian Cook after all. My instant reaction was “No”, but grudgingly I had a look at the recipe and lo-and-behold no kneading! And a pretty straight forward recipe at that. Deal done.

I altered the recipe slightly – my dough needed much more time to prove and a little more time to cook than the recipe suggested; and, not only did I not have “vanilla salt” and ground cardamom at home, but I couldn’t find any at Waitrose. If those aren’t the precise ingredients that Waitrose exists for then I don’t know why it does! I also added sultanas just because.

Ingredients for cinnamon and cardamom buns

Ingredients (Makes 7 buns)

225ml whole milk
75g butter
300g spelt flour
125g plain wholemeal flour
70g caster sugar
1-2 tsp green cardamom pods
½ tsp salt
10g fast-action dried yeast
1 medium egg, beaten

For the filling:
75g softened butter
2 tsp cinnamon
50g caster sugar
½ tsp sea salt flakes
3-5 twists of ground vanilla beans or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
Handful of sultanas

To finish:
1 medium egg, beaten
Demerara sugar

Method

  1. Heat the butter and milk until almost boiling and remove from the heat. Leave to cool slightly.
  2. Gently bash the cardamom pods to open them up and remove the small black seeds. Violently bash these until you have a fine powder. I used a pestle and mortar, so “fine” is a generous description.
  3. Sift the flours into a large bowl. Add the salt, sugar, yeast and 1 tsp of the cardamom. Mix.
  4. Now that the milk is warm, not hot (if it is too hot it can kill the yeast) add it to the dry ingredients with your egg. Mix.
  5. The “dough” will be a thick, sticky consistency. You’ll think it’s wrong. It’s not. Cover with cling film (lightly oiled if your bowl is small, so that if the dough rises a lot it won’t stick) and leave in a warm place for anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours until the dough rises. I covered mine in a towel to keep him extra cosy.
  6. Cream the softened butter with the sugar, cinnamon, sea salt and vanilla. Resist the temptation to spread on toast and shove in gob.
  7. Tip (scrape) the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out into a rectangle which is roughly 35cm by 25cm. Spread the butter mixture all over the dough using a palette, or any other flat, knife. Sprinkle over the sultanas.
  8. Roll the dough starting from one of the long sides so you have a long sausage shape. Cut into seven pieces, leaving the seventh piece slightly smaller than the others.
  9. Butter a 23cm cake tin (with sides at least 5cm high) and place the smallest roll in the middle, pretty swirl side up. Place the remaining six evenly around this one. Leave in a warm place for anywhere between 30 minutes and 1 hour to double in size.
  10. Let’s get these buns in the oven. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan and brush the buns with the beaten egg. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25-35 minutes until dark golden brown. If you tap the bottom of the cake tin it should sound hollow.

Cinnamon and cardamom buns in the cake tin cooling on a wire rack

We had these the next morning with fresh orange juice and coffee: perfection. They would go equally well with a cup of tea mid-afternoon. Ross also suggested having them iced, or with streaky bacon and maple syrup. I’m not sure about the last idea.

Breakfast table with cinnamon and cardamom buns, coffee, orange juice and daffodils

These are rich, dense buns, with a satisfying, cakey texture. The flavour of the cinnamon and cardamom is beautiful, though the recipe is definitely adaptable to other combinations. I like the idea of orange zest and dark chocolate chips. Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to try one of the more fiddly recipes that call for kneading. But for now, excuse me while I go polish off the last sticky crumb of these buns.