9 November 2014

Brandy Apple & Caramel Upside Down Cake

I've been reading Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast for about two years now. It's a trilogy set within the walls of a large and oppressive castle, filled with strange people. To give you a taste of what the book is like, none of the incredibly large cast of characters likes anyone else, nor are they likeable themselves. A mother gives birth to the heir to the throne and tells the nurse not to bring the child back to her until he is six. The narrative is also incredibly punishing to read; Peake will spend several pages describing a room, but an important character dies and it's covered in a single paragraph.

Somehow, I managed to persevere and read two of the three books in the Gormenghast series (with a long gap between them). After a good few attempts at starting the third, however, I've decided to end the masochism and put the book down.

I was contemplating picking the book up to read it and, realising that one should not feel boredom when just thinking of such an act, decided that enough was enough. I asked myself if I would regret it if I never found out what happened to Titus Groan (the heir mentioned above, and protagonist of the final book), and decided that the answer was no. There are more books that I would rather lend my time to, and if I died reading this one I'd regret not having read the others more than not finishing Gormenghast.

I suppose the moral to this story is that some things in life are just not worth the struggle, and it's not a bad thing to let them go.

Now, before I deposit Gormengast at the local charity shop whilst laughing maniacally, let's talk about this Brandy Apple & Caramel Upside Down Cake. It is moist. It is dense. It is packed with apple chunks and practically oozing caramel. It has a brandy-vanilla background flavour that really accentuates the main ingredients. Though the cake is of the Upside Down variety, it looked pretty impressive when it came out of the oven:

This cake can be served hot or cold, but at this time of year I think it would go down best warmed up with custard or ice cream.

For the caramel
  • 160g Caster Sugar
  • 100mL Double Cream
  • 25mL Brandy
  • 25g Butter
For the cake
  • 3 Medium Apples (I used Gala)
  • 200g Caster Sugar
  • 200g Butter
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 50mL Brandy
  • 200g Plain Flour
  • 2 Tsp Baking Powder
For the caramel
  • Place the sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a low heat. 
  • Without stirring, let the sugar caramelise until golden brown. Lift the pan and gently swirl the sugar around to ensure it browns evenly.
  • Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, followed by the cream and the brandy.
  • Place to one side.
For the cake
  • Preheat the oven to 160C and line a loaf tin with baking parchment.
  • Peel and chop two of the apples into small cubes, then place to one side.
  • Peel and slice the third apple. Layer the slices in the bottom of the loaf tin.
  • Beat the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the batter is smooth.
  • Fold in the vanilla extract and brandy.
  • Sieve the flour and baking powder into the batter and fold in. 
  • Cover the apple slices in the loaf tin with caramel.
  • Cover with 2/3 of the cake batter, then pour the remaining caramel over.
  • Use a spoon to swirl the caramel and batter together a bit.
  • Cover with the remaining batter.
  • Place in the oven for 1 hour 15 mins, or until a skewer comes out without any batter on it (it will pick up caramel and apple at the same time). Pro tip: put a baking tray on the shelf below the cake as it bakes to catch any caramel that bubbles over.
  • Flip the cake upside down onto a serving dish and allow to cool (or eat hot).

This month I set the Baking With Spirit challenge as warming. This cake is my entry as it contains brandy (thus passing the alcohol requirement), and is excellent served warm. 

1 November 2014

Baking With Spirit: The November Challenge

I am aware that East Anglia benefits from the London Warming Effect, but I'm pretty sure it's not normal for it to be 20C on the first day of November. I'm all for a bit of warmth and saving on my energy bills, but frankly this is a little concerning.

Instead of descending into a doom and gloom discussion about climate change, I propose we tempt the weather back to being bitter and cold, as it should be at this time of year. This month I am asking those who enter the Baking With Spirit challenge to bake something that is both warming and alcoholic.

As regular entrants will be aware, my themes are very flexible so anything you class as warming, be it temperature wise or because it contains chillies, for instance, is perfectly acceptable.

Don't forget to share the challenge on social media.

Here are the rules:

  • Bake/cook something warming that also contains alcohol. If your entry doesn't contain alcohol I won't include it in the round up.
  • Write about it on your blog and link back to this page, mentioning both Baking With Spirit and Cake Of The Week.
  • Email your entry to cakeoftheweek@hotmail.co.uk. Please don't forget this part!
  • If you tweet your entry, include #bakingwithspirit and/or tag @cakeoftheweek and I will retweet you.
  • The deadline is the 28th November 2014.
If you would like to try your hand at hosting Baking With Spirit, don't hesitate to get in touch.

I'm adding this to the Food Blog Diary, which compiles a lot of the giveaways, competitions and challenges in the food blogging world. 

29 October 2014

Baking With Spirit: The Autumnal Round Up

Autumn is now in full swing: there are few green leaves left on the deciduous trees, the clocks have gone back (here in the UK) and the night skies will shortly be filled with fireworks for bonfire night.

To celebrate this, I set this month's Baking With Spirit as autumnal. There were some great entries this month, so let's jump into the round up:

Laura is miles ahead of my thought process and has already made suet free Whisky Christmas Mincemeat at I'd Much Rather Bake Than.... I'd happily eat a mince pie made with this, and I bet the whisky imparts great flavour. Laura reasons that this is autumnal because it's what she makes in the autumn, and that logic works for me!

If you were hoping for something a little more Halloween-centric, fear not: Choclette has just the thing. She has long avoided this type of thing because it's an Americanised version of All Hallow's Eve, but this year she's embracing tradition with this Chocolate Pecan Pumpkin Cake at Chocolate Log Blog. Whatever the theme, that flavour combination sounds A-Ok to me, especially since it's combined with a rum icing.

I made this Rioja Chocolate Cake because I thought wine and chocolate would make a good flavour combination. I was right! I reasoned that this was autumnal because it epitomises the darkness of this time of year (hey, I said I was flexible on logic here) with its moist and dark crumb.

Finally, I'd like to welcome Bake It With Booze back to the challenge after some time away. Ellen made this Caramel Pumpkin Bourbon Cake for cold days such as those in autumn. The cake sounds incredibly moist, and I love the look of the pecans in the top of the cake. I also love the whisky label in one of the pictures on the post - almost (but not quite) as exciting as the cake.

Special mention goes to Craig at The Usual Saucepans for his valiant effort to enter the challenge. His peanut butter fudge sounds like it was worth the pain of the failed half of his batch, however.

If you're interested in hosting the challenge some time, get in touch and we'll sort something out! I'll post the next instalment of the Baking With Spirit challenge on Saturday.

26 October 2014

Rioja Chocolate Cake

I sort of forgot to mention, but earlier this month Cake Of The Week had its third birthday. I stop and think every now and then about whether I really want to carry on blogging. I love to bake, but sometimes writing about it and internally pressuring myself to hit deadlines (e.g. entering my own blogging challenge) can sometimes make this hobby feel more like a chore.

This blog has evolved into more than just a platform for sharing my recipes: I network with other bloggers, I run my own blogging challenge, and entering other blogging challenges encourages the experimentation with flavours and ingredients that I enjoy so much. It's true that there is no longer a cake or bake every week, but I think it's better to only present my creations a) when they go well and b) when I have wanted to make something, rather than do it only out of a sense of obligation to readers.

The long and short of it is, I'm not finished here yet. There is a lot more to come from this little blog.

Fortunately for me, the host of Baking With Spirit (yours truly) is very flexible when it comes to entries. This month the challenge is to bake something autumnal, as long as it contains alcohol. Though it doesn't look it, to me this Rioja Chocolate Cake is a grown-up way to celebrate all things autumn: the evenings getting darker (hello, autumn equinox); the days getting colder; Halloween; bonfire night. It epitomises darkness with its moist dark crumb and chocolate cream cheese icing. The wine in the cake batter adds a lovely fruity depth that marries incredibly well with the chocolate. Think "dark, cold evening spent cosied up in front of the fire" in cake form.

Sure, you could jazz it up with some fondant creepy crawlies or pipe a spider web on it, but my (2+ year old) fondant was rock hard when I pulled it out of my baking box and I thought the cake looked good without.

For the sponge
  • 100g Caster Sugar
  • 100g Dark Muscovado Sugar
  • 200g Butter
  • 3 Eggs
  • 150g Plain Flour
  • 50g Cocoa Powder
  • 1 Tbsp Baking Powder
  • 250mL Rioja (or your favourite red wine)
For the chocolate cream cheese icing
  • 300g Philadelphia Cheese
  • 70g Caster Sugar
  • 25g Cocoa Powder
  • Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan and line an 8-10" springform tin with baking parchment.
  • Cream the butter and sugars together until soft and fluffy. 
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the batter is smooth.
  • Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into the batter and fold in until well combined.
  • Fold in the wine.
  • Pour the batter into the springform tin and bake for 30 minutes, or until the sponge springs back when pressed and a skewer comes out clean.
  • While the cake cools completely, make the icing.
  • Beat the Philadelphia cheese in a bowl until soft and smooth.
  • Add the caster sugar, and beat until it has dissolved in the cheese (there won't be any visible grains left)
  • Sift the cocoa powder into the bowl and stir into the cream cheese mixture until well combined.
  • When the cake is completely cool, spread the icing over the top and decorate as desired.

21 October 2014

White Chocolate Chip Biscuits

It feels like I lost my baking mojo for a while. Posts became less frequent and I stopped baking every week. This was partly because I was busy doing other things, and partly because I just didn't feel like cultivating my baking hobby.

Baking the Happy Cake has reignited my love of baking, and has reminded me that the time consuming bakes are often the most enjoyable (see my Eight Layer Kahlua Cake). Baking also feels quite therapeutic (as long as everything is going to plan...); recently it has helped me get back into my groove after feeling adrift - in several areas of my life - for some months now.

I chose to make these biscuits because cutting shapes out of dough is fun. I have a dinosaur cutter from some PiƱata Biscuits I made a few years back, so I made a few dinosaurs as well as some more traditional circles. I adapted my recipe for Cinnamon Biscuits, and aside from the obvious I substituted some whisky as the liquid because I wanted the subtle background flavour that it passes on so well in baking.

Makes 20 Circles/Approx. 10 Dinosaurs

  • 175g Plain Flour
  • 80g Butter
  • 100g Caster Sugar
  • 100g White Chocolate
  • 1 Egg Yolk
  • 3 Tbsp Whisky

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/165C fan and line two baking trays with baking parchment.
  • Dump the flour, butter and caster sugar in a bowl.
  • Rub the ingredients together with the tips of your fingers until all the ingredients have combined to produce a mixture that resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Finely chop the chocolate and stir it into the mixture.
  • Stir in the egg yolk and whisky, then push the mixture together to form a dough.
  • Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 mins.
  • Roll out the dough on a floured surface to 1cm thickness, or as thin as the chocolate will allow.
  • Cut out pieces of dough using cookie cutters (I used a 1.5in diameter shot glass to cut the circles), rolling out the waste cuttings until all of the dough has been shaped. 
  • Place the pieces of dough onto the baking trays, placed evenly apart.
  • Cover with cling film and refrigerate for another 30 mins (this ensures that the biscuits keep their shape).
  • Remove the cling film and bake the biscuits for 12-15 minutes, or until they start to turn gold. They won't harden until they have cooled outside the oven!
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Laura at I'd Much Rather Bake Than... holds the monthly Biscuit Barrel Challenge. This month the challenge is to bake some comfort food, as long as it fits into a biscuit barrel. I'm entering these biscuits as they are comforting to me for the reasons mentioned above, and because who doesn't love chocolate chip cookies?!
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