An update and a cake

I haven’t given up on this blog yet. It might look like it, but I’m still around. I just figured that, given that I didn’t spend any time lying on the beach this summer, I probably shouldn’t be spending any time writing blog posts either. Which is to say, I didn’t go back home and I am gutted. But I’m getting there.

A few weeks ago it was my birthday. I survived the day thanks to several glasses of wine at Alimentum and friends that were nice enough to put up with my complaining about being old and not being in Greece.

The day before, my boyfriend and I made me a cake, which wasn’t a great success. It looked a bit sad for a celebration cake, and it tasted just ok. A bit too damp, not chocolatey enough. I decided to take it to the office the next day anyway, as I had promised cake and it was at least edible.

I took the cake with me to coffee and it disappeared pretty rapidly (it is cake after all). Then, one of the senior people asked me if I made it myself and complimented me on a rhubarb cake I had made a few weeks ago and taken to an office garden party. I was surprised he remembered and, of course, vainly proud. So, even though most of my spare time nowadays is spent stressing about not working hard enough, I made that cake again. I like feeding people and, let’s be honest, I like cake.

The recipe is very simple to put together and quite versatile. A sponge is topped by rhubarb and then crumble. You could of course use any fruit you like, I reckon peaches or strawberries would be pretty nice. My sponge is made from a simple cake batter, with equal amounts egg, sugar, flour and butter. I think Americans like to throw some buttermilk in there too, but I never have any handy.

Rhubarb Crumb Cake

For the cake

150 gr butter
150 gr sugar (I like to use a mixture of caster and soft dark brown)
150 gr self-raising flour
3 large eggs 

Cream the butter with the sugar(s) until smooth. Add the eggs and sift in the flour. Whisk until incorporated.

For the rhubarb

400 gr rhubarb, cut in inch long pieces
2-3 tbsp caster sugar

Mix the sugar with the rhubarb and let it sit while preparing the rest.

For the crumble topping

100 gr cold butter
150 gr flour or a combination of flour and ground nuts (add slowly until the texture feels right)
80 gr brown sugar (or to taste)

Mix with your hands until it crumbly.

In a oven-proof dish, layer the cake batter, then the rhubarb with all the sugary juices and finally, top with the crumble. Bake in a 180 C oven for 40-50 minutes – you might want to start checking after 35-40 minutes by inserting a knife in the middle. It needs to come out almost clean.

You can serve this with custard or cream or ice cream or be weird like my boyfriend and have it with loads of evaporated milk. I quite like it as it is, with a cup of coffee in the afternoon.

Brown Bread and Rhubarb Ice Cream

It would appear that my last blog post was sometime in April. I would say that I don’t know how this has happened but I do –  I’ve been lost in the world of thesis-writing and car-building since then. And although it’s fun (it’s not) I would like it to end now. Thanks.

But I’ve also made some ice cream. And that’s because some really nice person noticed I was wishing for an ice cream maker and sent me one. This really nice person is called Alex aka the Fairy Hobmother and works for Appliances Online. He also spreads kitchen gadget love on the internet. He’s a good one. And the really great thing is that if you leave a comment on this post and make a wish, he could visit you! Certainly worth a go.

When it came to trying out the ice cream machine, I had two options: either go for a proper, custard-based recipe or be lazy. No prizes for guessing which one I went for. I had been eyeing up this rhubarb crumble recipe from Helen’s blog for a while, and it seemed the perfect thing to try. And as the rhubarb was cooking, I realised I didn’t have any butter for the crumble. Seriously, what kind of person runs out of butter?

So I improvised a bit.

Brown bread and rhubarb ice cream 

425 ml whipping cream*

2-3 stalks of rhubarb, trimmed
juice of half a lemon
sugar (to taste)

1 or 2 slices of brown bread, in crumbs
2 tbsp sugar

Cut the rhubarb into inch long pieces, place in a pan together with the lemon juice and the sugar and cook until soft – most of it should look like a puree, with some small chunks still intact. You can taste it to check how sweet you want it – remember that the cream won’t be sweetened though.

In the meantime, place the breadcrumbs in a large tray and mix with the sugar. Bake in a 200 C oven for about 10 minutes, or until crispy.

Allow both the rhubarb and the breadcrumbs to cool. Mix in the cream and pour into the ice cream maker. Churn the ice cream according to the machine’s instructions until it’s thick like whipped cream. Place in a plastic container and leave in the freezer until it reaches the desired consistency. If you haven’t got an ice cream machine, follow Delia’s advice.

If it stays in the freezer for a while, you will need to soften it by leaving it in the fridge for 20 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with some more of the crispy breadcrumbs if you have some left.

*I used double cream because that’s what I had. My ice cream was a bit too thick for my liking, but you could try mixing 300 ml double cream and 125 ml milk and that should work better.

Orange and rhubarb cake

One of the most annoying questions in the world is the one that begins with “What’s your favourite…”. It’s also one that I love to ask, not so much to get a proper answer but just to see the person’s reaction to it. How do you pick your favourite film (although that’s easy for me, it’s the one that I watched 5 times in 4 months), your favourite band or your favourite food? More importantly, how on earth are you supposed to pick your favourite cake?!

No one should ever have to choose between a moist chocolate cake, a fragrant orangey one or a beautiful, summery, fruity cake. Notice, I said fruity cake. Not fruit cake. Fruit cake makes me feel cheated –  you take a bite hoping for sweet, soft carbohydrate to satisfy your crave and you end up with dry bits of overly sweet fruit sticking all over your teeth. And there’s loads of them, you can’t even pick them out! Fruit cake should be banned.

Fruity cake, though, is a whole different story. I’m talking about the usual sponge cake turned into a lemon or orange cake, with real bits of real fruit (berries, please) or even banana to turn it into a decadent moist loaf. The beauty of it is that you don’t even need a recipe. The rule is simple: equal amounts (weights) of butter, sugar, eggs and flour, a teaspoon of bicarb of soda and one of baking powder, a splash of vanilla extract and your base is ready. (If you want real measurements, 3 medium eggs, 150 grams of sugar, flour and butter will do).

Now go crazy! Add lemon or orange juice and zest, fresh or frozen berries, chocolate chips, or mashed bananas. Just remember that if you add more liquid stuff you will need to compensate for it with a bit more flour. And if you add the bananas, double the baking powder as it will be harder to rise. If you’re a fan of nuts, replace half of the flour with ground almonds or hazelnuts.

This is my standard, no-fail cake recipe. The variation I’m sharing with you below comes from the Masterchef cookbook and, although this is the first recipe I’ve made from it, it has loads of good looking things and I will be using it more soon. It also looks like there is an identical recipe on the Waitrose website so I don’t even feel guilty for putting it up here. Did Waitrose steal it off the book? Or did the Masterchef contestant cheat a little? Who cares? It’s delicious.

Orange and Rhubarb cake

Ingredients (enough for a 23cm diameter cake)

400g rhubarb, cut into 2cm pieces
50g caster sugar

150 gr caster sugar
150g butter, softened
2 large eggs
75g self-raising flour
100g ground almonds
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest and a juice of 1 orange

a handful of flaked almonds

Mix the rhubarb with the 50gr of sugar and leave on the side for 30 mins while preparing the cake mix.

Whisk the butter with the 150gr of sugar until light and fluffy, then add the eggs, the flour and the almonds and whisk until smooth. Stir in the orange juice, zest and vanilla extract and, finally, add the rhubarb and its juices and combine.

Butter and line a 23cm tin (or butter and flour a tray like I did), spoon the mix into it and scatter the flaked almonds over the top. Bake in a preheated oven at 190 degrees Celsius for 25 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180 degrees and bake for another 20-25 minutes or until firm.

It’s lovely eaten by itself with a cup of tea in the afternoon. The cake is sweet and fragrant and the tart rhubarb balances it perfectly. As it’s not overly sweet, it’s also really nice served as a pudding with some cream, chantilly or custard.


Note: For the cake in the pictures above I have added some frozen berries as I had only a little bit of rhubarb – they worked nicely together.

Rhubarb Tarte Tatin

You can never have too much of a good thing, they say. Well, that’s complete rubbish. It took me about 2 years to start drinking Earl Grey tea again after months of several cups a day and I still haven’t been able to recover a taste for baked potatoes with cheese.

And rhubarb? Well, I’m not quite sick of rhubarb crumble yet, but I’ve definitely had my fair share of it over the last year. It was time to try something different. You see, stewed rhubarb is alright, but rhubarb roasted in butter and sugar is a lot better. And you could top it with crumble, but why do that when you can have a flaky, buttery puff pastry base instead?

I first saw this on Masterchef, when Marianne cooked it and the judges absolutely loved it. It looked brilliant, but all the recipes I found on the internet used a frying pan to caramelise the rhubarb and then cooked it in the oven. My frying pans don’t really survive in the oven, and I was worried that if I used the roast-for-3-hours technique the rhubarb would disintegrate into a pink mushy mess. As it turns out, rhubarb does survive hours of roasting. And tastes amazing after.

Rhubarb Tarte Tatin

Ingredients

4 large stalks of rhubarb, chopped
100 gr butter, softened
150 gr caster sugar
a sheet of puff pastry

In a round pyrex dish, about 20 cm in diameter, spread the butter as evenly as you can and sprinkle the sugar on the top. Arrange the chopped rhubarb in circles, making the bottom as pretty as you can, as it will be on the top later. If you have any extra bits, cut them smaller and sprinkle them over the top.

Cover with foil and bake in the oven for up to 2 hours at 180 degrees, checking towards the end to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn. Roll out a sheet of puff pastry and cut it in approximately the shape and size of your dish. Place it on top of the rhubarb, tucking the ends in, and bake until the pastry is cooked.

Let it cool for a few minutes, place a plate on the top and quickly turn it upside down.

My pieces of rhubarb made a bit of a mess, but I quickly rearranged them and made it almost presentable. I loved the fact that there was some soft, juicy rhubarb but also enough caramelised bits too. The extra syrup dripped on the pastry and made the edges shiny and sticky. I served it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Rhubarb and Pear Frangipane Tart

I wonder how many times other food bloggers make a dish, find a few minutes to take half-decent photos of it despite the urge to forget about blogging and just tuck in and then… just never write about it. I’ve got so many sets of photos that I was actually quite happy with, of food that tasted good and I still never found the motivation to put up here.

This is what happened with this one. I’ve made a Pear and Frangipane Tart and a Caramelised Pear and Almond Cake before but now I’m quite glad they never made it onto the blog. Because this is better.

You see, not only I made my own pastry, which already makes it a winner, it also contains alcohol, which is always a plus (even is such small quantities!) and it has an extra layer of goodness between the pastry and the frangipane: sweet and sharp rhubarb compote.

Now, I can pretend it was my culinary genius that made me put rhubarb in the tart but, in reality, I had half a bowl of the stuff leftover and I couldn’t possibly bring myself to eat any more rhubarb yogurt. And a bit like this, the Rhubarb and Pear Frangipane Tart was born!

I’ve combined several recipes that I have used in the past and I think this works quite nicely. The rhubarb is sharp, the almond filling sweet and nutty and the tart crust crumbly. If I could change one thing, it would be the way I prepared my pears. Next time, instead of just popping them on the top and drizzling with sugary butter, I’ll caramelise them first on the hob to make sure they are soft by the time the tart is cooked.

Rhubarb and Pear Frangipane Tart

For the crust (from Chocolate and Zucchini):

85 gr chilled salted butter
85 gr sugar
170 gr all-purpose flour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp cold milk

Combine butter and sugar in a food processor until light and fluffy. Add the flour and mix until you get a crumb-like dough. Add the vinegar and the milk and pulse to incorporate.

At this point the dough should have crumb-like consistency (check!), but clump if you squeeze it together in your hand (check!). And also, smell pretty disgustingly of vinegar (check…). I believed Clotilde when she said that the smell would disappear during baking and proceeded happily.

Empty the dough crumbs in a tart dish (or a cake tin which is what I did) and spread evenly along the bottom to form a crust. Keep some extra along the edges to mold it into a low rim. Do not worry too much about making it completely even. Blind-bake it in a 170 degree oven for 15 minutes and let it cool slightly.

For the rhubarb compote:

2 stalks of rhubarb, washed and chopped
a drop of red wine
dark muscovado sugar to taste

Cook the rhubarb and the wine on the hob until the rhubarb is soft. Add sugar to taste and continue to simmer until all lumps of rhubarb have been mixed in and you have a smooth paste. Spread evenly onto the pastry.

For the frangipane filling (adapted from here and here):

75 gr butter
75 gr dark muscovado sugar
75 gr ground almonds
1 large egg
2 tbsp flour
2 tsp Amaretto (alternatively, use a drop of almond extract or omit completely)

Mix all the ingredients together in the food processor or by using an electric hand whisk until smooth. I didn’t worry too much about a few small lumps of brown sugar. Spread on top of the rhubarb compote.

For the topping:

2 pears
50 gr butter
a sprinkle of sugar

Peel the pears and slice them in quarters, removing the hard middle bit. Keeping the thin top intact, slice them to the bottom and fan them out. Arrange on top of the frangipane. Melt the butter with the sugar.

Cook in a preheated oven for 15 minutes at 170 degrees, then take it out and quickly drizzle the melted butter over the pears to stop them from drying out. Place back in the oven and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the frangipane mixture is set and the crust golden-brown.

If you prefer, you can caramelise the pears in a pan before arranging on the tart and avoid the butter-drizzling half way into the baking. Or maybe ignore this step completely. The pears should be fine, especially if they were quite juicy to start with.

When it’s done, remove the tin’s ring and let the tart cool. You can serve it while it’s still warm but I find that the flavours improve after it’s cooled down. Serve with vanilla ice-cream or clotted cream. Even though I had already had quite a lot, I couldn’t resist a slice of it plain, with a cup of tea in the afternoon.

I know the recipe looks a little bit long but it really isn’t very complicated at all and it takes very little time. If you want to make it quicker you can use ready-made sweet shortcrust pastry, although making your own is pretty easy and the taste and texture is almost certainly superior to the store-bought. You can make both fillings while the pastry is blind-baking and cooling down, do your clearing up while the whole thing is baking and then you’re ready to enjoy a lovely slice of tart, sweet, nutty, fruity goodness.

It’s all about rhubarb…

If you follow food blogs like I do you will have noticed the recent rhubarb craze. Everybody is making cakes, crumbles (or crisps as they like to call them on the other side of the ocean), muffins, ice-creams, tarts with rhubarb. I understand that in America there is quite a short rhubarb season, from April to September, which would justify why everyone goes absolutely mental about it, since it is so amazing! But here, thankfully, we have rhubarb almost all year round, and I am prepared to trust Gregg Wallace when he claims that rhubarb is in season all year apart from Autumn.
My rhubarb obsession has resulted in an almost endless supply of rhubarb crumble all winter. Now that the spring/summer is here, I thought I might spice things up with a little strawberry.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Crumble

To prepare the filling, I chop up the rhubarb and boil it with some red wine until it becomes very soft and jam-like. Some people prefer it with some bite to it- I don’t. Rhubarb is very sour and usually takes a fair amount of sugar to make it edible. I don’t really follow a recipe and I like to add the sugar to the rhubarb at the end and taste it to see if it’s sweet enough. Brown sugar is definitely the way forward here. The strawberries are added after the rhubarb is cooked, and left it the pot to cook for as long as you want them- depending on whether you actually want whole fruit in your crumble or not. At that point the kitchen smells amazing and I would happily eat the whole thing without the topping. Actually, it goes great with just a bit of yogurt.
But back to our target, time to make the crumble topping. I use a simple recipe that involves just 3 ingredients:

175g/6oz plain flour
50g/2oz brown sugar
100g/3½ oz butter

You can add some chopped out ground nuts like almonds for some more texture/taste.
The amount of topping is usually enough for 4-5 stalks of rhubarb, depending on their size.
Bake for as much as you can really, before it burns, because the topping will just get nicer with time. Half an hour is a minimum I usually find, if you want to avoid a floury crumble.
You can serve it with either cream or custard, and I even like it with some greek yogurt, especially if the filling is a bit on the sweet side.
I’m not looking forward to September…