mercredi 14 décembre 2011

All about cake

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One of things I dread most during the holiday season in Britain is visiting someone and being offered a slice of Christmas cake. Often dry or dense fruit cake covered with a layer of shop bought marzipan and some thick fondant icing like concrete. Even the smallest piece sits in your stomach like a lead weight and unlike in Germany you can't refuse it and say you don't really like such cakes but have to smile over every forkful and compliment your hostess. Thankfully there are lighter alternatives which also have the advantage of not needing to be made weeks in advance. If you do have your heart set on a fruit cake though, might I suggest a Dundee cake like the one P.K made? She recommends the recipe from Delia Online here for a lighter kind of cake.

Here are my suggestions for three different cakes to serve at Christmas.

When I saw Nigel Slater's mincemeat cheesecake recipe, my first reaction that it couldn't possibly work. Surely the flavours wouldn't blend well with the cream cheese or it would simply overwhelm everything else. Yet I couldn't resist the urge to test it and to my surprise it's a real winner. The buttery taste of the base with digestive bicuits, the creaminess and then the fruit make it something special and a little more original than just simply bringing out another batch of mince pies. A couple of points though; the recipe calls for 300g of digestive biscuits for the base but I found it didn't need half that amount and even then it came out much thicker than I'd normally like so I'd suggest using about a third. The second point is that you might not want to serve this cake to your, er, German friends. One student told me it was different which is of course a polite way of saying it isn't really your cup of tea while another friend compared the taste of mincemeat to Worchester sauce which is certainly original (although saying that, the other person who tried it really loved it.)

Mincemeat cheesecake (from a recipe by Nigel Slater in the Guardian)

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For the base

100g digestive biscuits
65g unsalted butter, melted

For the filling

600g full fat cream cheese
100g brown sugar
4 medium eggs
zest of a small orange
a teaspoon vanilla extract
300g sour cream
1 jar of mincemeat (around 310g, I found that the 200g in the original recipe wasn't enough) or better still, make your own. I'll be posting a recipe for homemade mincemeat this week but Delia's is also wonderful

For a 26cm springform tin lined with baking parchment to prevent the base from sticking

1. Melt the butter in saucepan or in the microwave. Place the biscuits in a food processor and pulse a few times until you have fine crumbs (alternatively you can place the biscuits in a strong plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin). Mix the butter with the crumbs and transfer to the springform tin. Pat the crumbs down a little but not too strongly (to avoid having a thick crust). Place the tin in the freezer for 20 minutes to set.
2. Preheat the oven to 140° and begin making the filling. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar together until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, blending in thoroughly before adding the next one. Mix in the vanilla extract and orange zest, then the sour cream. Finally stir in the mincemeat gently until only just incorporated.
3. Remove the springform from the freezer and place it on a baking tray. Pour in the cheescake mixture and bake for one hour. The middle will probably feel a little wobbly but that's perfectly normal. After one hour, switch off the oven and leave the cheesecake in there with the door closed for another hour.
4. Take it out of the oven, let it stand in the tin until cool then transfer to a plate and leave overnight in the fridge. If you don't do this, your cheesecake will not set properly. Grate a little more orange zest and scatter some biscuit crumbs over the top if you like.

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Few things seem to represent Christmas as much as cranberries. Their rich, gleaming colours and sourness so perfect for jam and cakes. I've seen the upside down cake with them in quite a few places, most recently on Barbara's blog but was keen to have a plain cake with them inside which proved more difficult to find. Joy the Baker has a lovely recipe for a cranberry streusel coffee cake which would be perfect for teatime or after a large main course as a lighter dessert. The streusel with brown sugar and oats is irresistable and it's amazingly airy and light.

Cranberry streusel coffee cake from Joy the Baker (recipe here)

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My favourite festive cake of all though is this snow topped spice cake from Nigella Lawson. I posted the recipe last year but you can find it again here. This morning I took it into my morning class since this is my last week at work before my holiday and was really pleased how much everyone liked it. It's spicy enough with cinnamon, ginger and cardamom and sweet with lemon icing but manages to be as light as a feather and satisfyingly squidgy in the middle. Best of all, it's incredibly simple. This will be the one I'm making for my family at Christmas.

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Snow topped spice cake (slightly adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess)

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For the cake

4 large eggs, separated, plus 2 extra large egg whites
125ml vegetable oil
125ml water
2 tbsp runny honey
100g dark muscovado sugar
75g ground almonds
150g plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp all-spice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
zest of 1/2 an orange
100g caster sugar

For the icing

juice of 2 lemons
150g icing sugar, sifted

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Whisk together the yolks and oil, then add the water, honey and dark muscovado sugar. Add the almonds, flour, baking powder, bicarb, spices and zest, folding in gently.
3. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff and then gradually add the pinch of salt.
4. Fold the whites into the cake mixture, and pour into a greased and lined Springform tin. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the cake is springy on top and beginning to shrink away from the sides. Let the cake cool in its tin on a rack for 25 minutes before turning it out.

To make the icing; sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add the lemon juice. Stir until smooth. Add more sugar/juice as necessray, depending on how thick or runny you like your icing. Spread on the cake with a palette knife and leave to set. The cake keeps well for a few days and also freezes (uniced) beautifully.

7 commentaires:

  1. A delicious cheesecake. What a great combination. So unique. But both ethe Berlin cheesecake and the cranberry coffee cake look delightful too...

    My grandmother made a terrific and luscious Christmas cake that was moist. She used to feed it for a few months before Xmas and covered it with the best homemade marzipan ever.



  2. You know, I made a 12th night cake last year. The batter tasted like eggnog and the cake, though heavy-ish was delicious. Also, homemade marzipan is wicked good...that said.. I think this is a cool idea... the dark fruit with the cream is an interesting combination, isn't it?

  3. I would not think of putting those flavors into a cheesecake - interesting! Your cake looks - and sounds - delicious. I may have to give it a try.

  4. Crazy cool cakes... The coffee cranberries one sounds very interesting...

  5. @Rosa - There are, of course, some excellent home mademade christmas cakes like the one you had. We tried out a couple of nice recipes the past few Christmases. But I guess it's true to say I prefer sponge to fruit cake.
    @Deana - Ooh I've never had a Twelfth Night cake but it looks and sounds amazing. Although i'd so addicted to Galette des Rois as well and will make my own puff pastry this time.
    @Lecia - I know but somehow it really works and it's nice to have a festive cheesecake. The other recipe I've always wanted to try was one with chestnut purée from Nigella Lawson's Feast.
    @Manon - Do you think they're crazy? I guess a little unconventional for a Frenchie, especially the mincemeat ;-)