Summer Garden Party

 

Thanks to the Not Forgotten Association for organising a lunchtime musical entertainment at the Grange, near Arlesford in Hampshire, this week.

Amidst the singalong sessions, the high spots were: The venerable gentlemen of the Glen Miller Tribute Band, complete with huge American flags; the ladies of a certain age from a care home winning their champagne prize for distinctive pink wigs – definitely the Best Dressed; the owner of the striking 5 litre Audi v10 car who opened his rear engine compartment to show everyone his parts; the stream of volunteers from the military and business who’d given up their time to assist – even sprays of water in the hot September sun.   There was no doubt that songs over 50 years old got the best reception but nothing stopped the mature jivers strutting their stuff.

Lord Ashburton told us a little about the Grange’s history: originally a simple brick building, an ambitious owner centuries ago had commissioned the National Gallery architect to create something more splendid.   The result was a new-build: large and impressive with striking Doric portico.   Not to be outdone, a subsequent owner had added a flashy Ionic portico at the other end (in front of the old orangery).   Nowadays, the orangery has been replaced with a new building hosting opera and other events while the house is too dilapidated for occupation and has passed into the grasp of English Heritage.

At our more humble home, apples are still thumping off the trees.   Homemade Christmas mincemeat is one solution for using about a pound of peeled, cored and chopped fruit.   I’ll be doing an on-line demonstration of this at 1030 on Monday 13 September – sign up for a free ticket: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/167476539839

If you have any problems, one of the Open Sight staff can help with registering: 02380 646 378

This week we have also been managing a glut of tomatoes and decided to dry them.   The result is not quite the authentic “sun-blushed” type but will be good to bring the taste of summer into winter dishes.

Many people simply place dried tomatoes in jars covered with olive oil.   I was trying an extra step by using heat to both expel all air from the jar and avoid botulism.   I’m told that the bug is killed at 85C for 5 minutes.   I gave the jar 30 minutes at a degree higher to allow the temperature to fully penetrate the contents.   If I’m dead next year, you’ll know it didn’t work!

 

ripe tomatoes.

sea salt and ground black pepper.

a little vinegar (optional).

olive oil.

 

Halve or quarter the tomatoes and dip the cut sides in a mix of the salt and pepper.

Place on racks in a dehydrator or on parchment paper lined trays in the oven (150C, Gas 2).

Keep drying until they feel leathery.

Place in a jar or airtight container for 24 hours to “condition “.   The degree of driedness equals out between the tomato pieces.

If using, briefly dip in vinegar to offset the tomato sweetness with a little acidity.

Pack in a jar with a silicone ring and metal clip, topping up with oil.

Place the clipped closed jar in a sous-vide waterbath or saucepan and bring the temperature to 86C for 30 minutes.

Remove and cool in cold water.

Christmas preparations

 

The apple harvest always heralds the start of Christmas as I make the incredibly simple seasonal mincemeat with home-grown fruit.

I’ll be demonstrating this and other apple basics on Monday 13 September at 1030.   You can sign up for a free ticket at:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/167476539839

If you have any problems, one of the Open Sight staff can help with registering: 02380 646 378

This week, I’ve been experimenting with honey cake.   I think that the last effort was in San Francisco using the recipe of Steve Edwards, winner of Professional Masterchef.   This weekend, at a gathering of local beekeepers, I learned about their “Hampshire honey cake” https://drive.google.com/file/d/1a3vl4wLeIcanNKMusmMAU0ph5SNCb0T2/view?usp=drive_open
I confess, having checked it out, I wouldn’t waste the ingredients.   One of the issues with using honey instead of sugar is that it contains about 17% water (23% for heather honey) which can make a much wetter mix.   One way to offset the water is to add more flour whereas my alternative here is to use some gentle heat to try to persuade the dry fruit to absorb the liquid.   The honey-soaked sultanas, even when coated with flour, still had a tendency to sink but I was too mean with the honey to rinse them.   The orange zest is just to offset the sweetness.   Using a ring mould means that the heat can get to the centre of the cake more easily but the wetter mix still needs longer cooking time to reach the cooked temperature – I prefer something over 95C (in this case, 98C).

And cooking with warm honey, sticky fruit and wobbly cake moulds is particularly testing when you can’t see!   Lots more cleaning up.

 

175g sultanas.

475g honey.

250G butter (one pack).

4 eggs.

250g self-raising flour.

zest of one orange.

 

Place the honey and sultanas in a pan and heat until warm (still comfortable for a finger).   Cover and leave to cool and the sultanas to absorb water from the honey (overnight) – repeat the following day.

On day three, gently reheat the honey until warm enough to drain the honey into the mixing bowl.   Allow to cool.

Whisk the butter into the honey until light and fluffy.

Whisk in the eggs, one at a time.

Fold in most of the flour, leaving a tablespoon or two to mix in with the sultanas.

Fold in the sultanas, coated with flour and the orange zest.

Place the mix in a lightly buttered and floured silicone ring mould.

Cook in a preheated oven at 180C, Gas 4 for 20 minutes before turning in the oven.

Cook for a further 20 minutes, covering loosely with foil if the top is getting too brown.

Allow to cool before turning out.

Next time, I might ignore the sultanas, add 100g chopped walnuts with the flour and top the cooked cake with a warmed honey glaze and walnut halves dry-roasted in a pan with a little honey added to make them sticky at the end!

 

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Honey plus a workhorse of a tart

Life is picking up pace after the leisurely months of lock-down.   This week has included the monthly Open Sight cooking session https://youtu.be/jRIznF2wFAY plus our first substantial harvest of honey.

The dribbles extracted late last summer and earlier this Spring were simply the overtures to the symphony of delectable stickiness that pervaded every surface.   The whole process had been pre-scripted and thought-through: honeycomb frames from the hives; removing the wax cell cappings; extracting honey in a sort of handraulic spin-dryer; filtering out odd bee legs, pollen and dust.  Of course, the best laid plans and all that went awry, and every surface was sticky.   Thank goodness for the vinegar advice following a recent icing sugar disaster: a couple of capfuls into the bucket for the fourth attempt to wash the floor worked.

Now we have a tank of glorious golden honey that has been settling for a couple of days.   It is good enough to eat now but conditioning for 30 minutes at 62C will help maintain the runny consistency.   The fabulous sous-vide water-bath is in action again.   It is proving invaluable for basic cooking, making yoghurt and, now, getting the honey ready for jars.   More of this saga next time.

Meanwhile, this is the savoury tart we blind cooks made together on-line recently.   It has endless uses and combinations.   I’ve slightly adapted the pastry from versions I learned in San Francisco and from the blessed Delia.   It has my special methods for baking that suit a blind cook or anyone else.

 

110g butter, frozen, grated and re-frozen.

220g plain flour, chilled in the fridge overnight.

1 teaspoon salt.

1 egg.

a little cold water.

 

4 leeks, finely sliced and washed.

4 eggs, beaten.

2 heaped tablespoons crème fraîche.

Salt and pepper.

 

(To prepare the butter: freeze the block then coarsely grate before placing in a bag or box and re-freezing.)

Mix the frozen butter into the chilled flour and salt, breaking down the butter to about the size of a grain of rice.

Beat the egg in about the same volume of water and gradually mix into the flour mix, adding a little more water, until the pastry comes together.

Chill the pastry for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry and line a large loose-bottomed tart tin.   Press the pastry into the corners and prick all over with a fork.

Line the pastry-filled tin with kitchen foil, pressing down in the corners and covering the edges.

Chill for 30 minutes.

Bake at 180C, Gas 4 for 12 minutes – this is “baking blind”.

Break the eggs for the filling into a bowl and beat.

Remove the foil, brush the base and internal sides of the pastry with some of the beaten egg and return to the oven for another 3 minutes.

Remove the pastry case and brush again with beaten egg.   Ideally, allow to cool and rest for an hour.

Meanwhile, cook the leeks in the microwave until soft and allow to cool.

Beat the crème fraîche and seasoning into the eggs.

Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the leeks and place in tart

Place the whole tart tin on a large piece of kitchen foil.

Fill the tart with the egg mixture.

Fold the foil over the tart to make a loose tent and bake for at least 40 minutes until the centre is just setting.   The foil catches any spills and protects the pastry from getting overcooked.

Allow to cool a little before serving warm.

 

This seems a long recipe but keeping some frozen and/or grated butter ready in the freezer makes it simple.   I also make the pastry and freeze it for using later and even freeze the pre-cooked tart cases too.   A little time on this preparation makes the final stages quick and easy.

There is no end to the fillings with the savoury custard but most need to be at least part-cooked e.g.   mushrooms with the leeks; smoked salmon or trout with chopped dill and a spoonful of horseradish sauce; asparagus and chopped ham; courgettes, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, black olives.

The pastry case has other potential: fill with cooked apple puree, top with slices of eating apple plus a dusting of sugar and butter knobs before returning to the oven for about 20 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer party

The first proper entertaining for nearly two years to celebrate four wedding anniversaries (56, 51, 44 and 3 years plus two birthdays for which I’m too polite to mention the decades).   With my problems of fatigue, memory, concentration and organisation, it had been a daunting prospect but, with good old Naval planning, it all worked.   The key was a timetable that would please any First Lieutenant: a menu designed for some elements to be made weeks beforehand and frozen (smoked salmon mousse, chocolate truffle torte, honey and ginger ice-cream); just the right amounts for the shopping list: a count-down of actions for the weeks and days before the event.   With a few bits of preparation to do each day, a four-course lunch for over a dozen was just achievable.

However, the weather was stubbornly outside my control and thunderstorms were forecast.   The gazebo was up, tables out, seating Covid-spaced and fingers firmly crossed.   We were immensely lucky: there was torrential rain and lightning just a few miles away while we sat in warm relaxing sun.   With the last guests departing some eight hours later, I felt I’d regained my entertaining confidence.

And, of course, there was a cake to complete our celebrations.   It is my standard rich fruit cake but with honey replacing sugar (you can tell how old the recipe is as it still uses Imperial measures!).   Actually making the cake takes no time, it is the preparation, weighing and cooking that takes a while.   Finished with marzipan and royal icing before being festooned with myriad champagne and star candles, it was an attempt to celebrate all those years of marriage and life.

 

4oz currants.

4oz sultanas.

8oz raisins.

brandy to cover.

8oz butter.

8oz honey.

4 eggs .

12 oz self-raising flour.

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 heaped teaspoons mixed spice.

half teaspoon salt

2oz (home-made) candied peel.

8oz glace cherries.

2oz soft dried apricots, chopped.

2oz dried apple flakes, chopped (optional).

2oz dates, chopped.

2 oz dried figs, chopped.

1 orange, zest and juice.

1 lemon, zest and juice.

3oz whole almonds chopped.

3oz Brazil nuts, chopped.

 

Place the raisins, currants and sultanas in a jar or similar container, cover with brandy and leave to soak for several weeks.

Cream the butter and honey.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time with a teaspoon of flour.

Fold in the dry ingredients.

Fold in the drained fruit (reserving the brandy), other fruit and nuts.

Place the mix in a 10-inch cake mould (silicone or greased and lined).

Cook in a pre-heated oven at 140C, Gas 1 for 2 hours 15 minutes then reduce to 120C, Gas Half for a further 45 minutes.   The internal temperature of the cake should reach about 96C.

When cool, remove from cake mould and, over a week, inject the cake with the sieved reserved brandy.

Decorate as you like.

 

If replacing the honey with soft brown sugar, reduce the flour to 8 ounces.

I used the same recipe for an Easter Simnel cake but with a rolled layer of marzipan on top of the first half of the mix before topping with the remainder before cooking.

 

 

 

 

I needed cheering up

It is taking years to repair and recover from the accident in 2017 but I’m battling on.

Each time I feel more confident and try to be more active, there seem to be disastrous consequences.  Last year, I managed to strain my back when I was stowing away a box of accounts.  A few months ago, I broke my hand just moving too fast through the house.  This time, I pottered around a garden show (short walks, then rests) and did the baking session a couple of days later.  The upshot has been a back that doesn’t work and the need for a wheelchair for a medical appointment.  I’m too young for all of this stuff.  Roll on the emergency physio session: there must be light at the end of this tunnel.

Meanwhile, it has been an exciting week with the sous-chef potting up his first honey harvest of the year and gaining a distinction in his initial beekeeping exam: a gentleman and scholar.  The friendly Council pest-control operative was reassuring that we don’t have a rodent problem and, even better, she turned out to be a girl.  Wonderful that there’s no sexism amongst ratcatchers!

The shortbread recipe for the on-line cooking session worked https://youtu.be/oaKxOGEXldI.  A topping of sliced strawberries  and clotted cream produced the classic strawberry shortbread dessert.  I was good and sent some over to the neighbours.  I’m more reluctant to share the Millionaire version but they’ll last longer in the fridge (allegedly).

Most cheering was one of the on-line blind cooks who has re-gained his kitchen confidence through the baking sessions – it is what they are all about.

I have Karen to thank for the basic recipe – my trusty co-cook – and can blame her for the vagaries of mixed metric and Imperial measures!

 

250g butter.

4oz caster sugar.

300g plain flour.

 

Pre-heat oven 180c, Gas 4.

Cream the butter with a wooden spoon until soft.

Add caster sugar and beat until pale and fluffy.

Stir in flour until the mixture binds together.

Knead lightly to form smooth dough.

Lightly butter a loose-bottomed bun tin (or baking sheet).

Press portions into the bases of the bun tin (or press out the shortbread and cut into circles or triangles and place on baking sheet) and prick each biscuit several times with a fork.

Bake for 12-15 minutes for individual biscuits.

They will look pale gold and feel softly firm to touch.

Cool and finish as you wish.  Here are three choices:

  1. Simply dredge with caster sugar.
  2. Top with a generous layer of caramel (tin of caramelised condensed milk) and a layer of melted chocolate for Millionaire’s shortbread. Chill.
  3. Slices of strawberry marinated in a dash of Cointreau plus the juice of an orange with its zest (or use a good strawberry jam) and top with a layer of double or clotted cream. Chill.

We will be making a ginger cake in the microwave next time in just 9 minutes.  Join us at 1030 on 12 July by signing up free at:

Facebook event link:

https://www.facebook.com/events/806006046955175

 

Eventbrite link:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/baking-session-for-visually-impaired-people-ginger-cake-tickets-160566860803

If you have difficulty signing up with EventBright, contact Open Sight on  02380 646 385  and they’ll do it for you.

 

 

 

Good food can make life so much better.

 

Too much time with lawyers this week trying to capture the consequences of the accident that took place about three and a half years ago – it’s no fun going over all the continuing miseries.  But life improved with celebrating the first meal in a restaurant (Lauro’s in the High Street, Fareham) for over a year.  Strange to be in an enclosed space with other people but good distancing, masks, excellent ventilation and a bottle of wine made all the difference.  Good food as always: I’m inspired to try making my own confit duck.  The homemade chocolate ice-cream was superb but I’ll try to resist.

It must be well over 10 years since I bought 24 little silicone pots with lids in France.  They were sold for “oeufs en cocotte” (the posh French version of coddled eggs) but, in those days, I was making lots of my own ice-creams, so they were perfect for freezing individual portions – and were in the Sale too.

Good kitchen kit has multiple functions and not always their original.  Last week I was using one asparagus pan for blitzing chicken liver parfait, another one is used to store individual flan tins and I cook the asparagus in the microwave.  In place of the cocottes, small ramekins with a lid of kitchen foil would work too.

When the heat’s on, no-one wants to spend much time in the kitchen.  Here’s the simplest little lunch/supper or even a starter.

Per cocotte:

tiny knob of butter.

half slice of ham.

1 egg.

1 teaspoon cream.

Pepper.

3-4 spears asparagus, trimmed.

knob of butter to serve.

 

Rub the butter around the cocotte and leave a tiny piece in the bottom.

Thinly slice the ham and put half in the bottom of the cocotte.

Break the egg on to the ham and top with the remaining ham.

Add the teaspoon of cream and a grind of pepper.

Place on the lid and cook in a pre-heated oven at 200C, Gas 6 for 12 minutes.

While the egg is cooking, rinse the asparagus and place on a plate.

Microwave on Medium power for 3-5 minutes until cooked.  Serve with another knob of butter and the egg in its cocotte.

 

Cooking times may depend on your oven, the shelf position and whether you put the cocotte on a baking tray.  It may take a little experimenting to get the egg cooked just as you want it.

 

Don’t forget the shortbread virtual baking session on Monday 14 June at 1030 (see previous post).

 

World Baking Day

I expect that there will be cakes galore out there but here’s something different: a pastry that anyone can make.

I’ve been celebrating this special Baking Day with a virtual on-line live bake-in with blind and visually impaired people – and there will be a video published soon too.  It is part of our series of bakes to create a special tea for family and friends as the Covid lock-down eases.  So far, we’ve made ginger biscuits, soda bread, lemon Victoria sponges and, today, individual pork pies.

I’ve heard from so many people that they are no good at making pastry, their hands are too hot/cold/rough or whatever.  Hot water pastry is like play-dough: beautifully malleable and forgiving. Left-overs can be stored in the fridge or freezer for another day.  Pork pies and raised game pies are the traditional uses but I’ve made open tartlets and even used a vegetable filling.

We have been experimenting with different fats for those who don’t want to use lard.  Trex is based on oil and is one possibility and those who feel self-indulgent could use all-butter.

One of the plus points with this pastry is that it can be moulded very thin – not like those wedges of dough in shop-bought pies.  You can therefore pretend that it is nearly good for you.

The beaten egg brushed over the pastry is primarily for those who eat with their eyes – it makes no difference to the taste.

 

Hot water pastry:

100ml water.

90g lard.

200g plain flour.

50g strong white bread flour.

Flat teaspoon ground mace (optional).

Flat teaspoon salt.

50g butter.

 

Filling:

About 300g sausage meat.

Ground black pepper.

Fresh thyme leaves.

1 lemon, zest only.

1 egg, beaten.

 

Preheat oven to 200C, Gas 6.

Place the water and lard in a pan and heat gently until the lard has just melted.

Meanwhile, mix the flours, salt and mace (if using) in a bowl.

Rub in the butter.

Pour in the water and lard and stir with a wooden spoon.

Use your hands to make a dough ball and allow it to cool (press out and put on a cold plate in the fridge).

Mix black pepper, the herbs and lemon zest into the sausage meat.

Line the pie tins with the pastry (either roll out or mould with your hands).

Fill with sausage meat and press out a lid and mould over the pies.

Make a hole in each pie top to let steam escape, brush with the beaten egg.

Place on a tray in the oven for 10 minutes and then reduce the heat to 140C, Gas 2 for 20 minutes.  If you have a probe thermometer, check that the filling has reached 70C.  Cover with a loose double layer of foil to stop the pastry over-cooking if necessary.

 

My Tips:

I will use a bun tin with loose bottoms or small foil containers with high sides.

It is difficult to be accurate about the amount of filling you will need as it depends on the size of your pie tins, how thin you get the pastry etc.  The above quantities made three generous individual pork pies.

Trex or butter might replace the lard although I haven’t tried it.

If I was experimenting with a wheat-free flour, I’d try adding about a teaspoon of xanthium gum to the flour – but no guarantees!

Vegetable fillings are equally possible but will need part-cooking beforehand so that the mix has cooled.  I’ve used: sautéed onion, mushroom, courgette, potato, fresh thyme, seasoning.

If you want to chill the pies, you might consider adding some “jelly”: a stock pot/cube, a little water and some gelatine to make the jelly that is poured into the steam hole.  Good to do this while the pie is still warm and it will spread through the pie.

 

 

Awning gap.

Nightmare as making preparations for the first outdoor entertaining: day before, tested the electric awning over the terrace.  Went out beautifully; retracted perfectly. Then, entirely of its own volition, extended again and promptly stopped, refusing to respond to frantic presses on the remote control.

All would have been well other than for the gale force winds and rain that then ensued.  Result: one dramatically flagging large awning, dipping down to about a foot off the ground, filling with water and banging on the house.  Too risky for the sous-chef to resolve without another pair of eyes to monitor troubleshooting in such a hazardous situation.  Fortunately, located a couple of experts who cut out the canvas and tied up the frame – electrics and motor burned out.

But I did manage to feed the visitors despite the chaos and finished with an experimental chocolate cake.  I’m convinced that most people rely on their eyes to taste the chocolate so, if its brown with cocoa powder, it’s OK – but not so for us who can’t see it.

Here’s a better version based on the famous Viennese Sachertorte:

 

150g plain chocolate, melted and cooling.

6 eggs, separated.

150g butter.

100g castor sugar.

Half teaspoon vanilla extract.

55g plain flour.

100g ground almonds.

1 heaped tablespoon cocoa powder.

 

Whisk the egg whites to soft peak stage.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Whisk in the chocolate and vanilla. Followed by the egg yolks (one at a time) on full speed.

Fold in the flour, ground almonds and cocoa powder.

Fold in one third of the egg whites and then the remainder, gently.

Pour in to 23cm tin (buttered and base lined with parchment paper) in one go and level gently.

Cook in pre-heated oven at 180C or Gas 4 for 45-50 minutes.

To finish the cooled cake (optional), brush with warmed apricot jam and cover with a chocolate icing made of 200ml double cream heated and poured over at least 115g plain chocolate -cool before covering cake.

(I made two smaller cakes and cooked for about 20 minutes by when the internal temperature had reached over 95C.  The finished cake keeps well and retains its moistness for at least a week – there was only this scrap left by then).

 

 

 

 

Back to basics

I’ve been doing a series of on-line live bake-ins exclusively for visually impaired people – and even getting bakers taking part from different parts of the world.

The goal is to make enough different bakes to create a celebration tea when we are all able to mix again.  So fa, we have achieved ginger biscuits, soda bread and, this week, lemon Victoria sponges.    Our next session will celebrate World Baking Day on 17 May  https://www.daysoftheyear.com/days/world-baking-day/ – and we will try hot-water pastry for pork pies.

This week, with the joys of Zoom (and a difficult echo) a whole group creamed, folded and drizzled our delicious individual cakes.  A couple of mine went over the road to cheer-up neighbours  – something as quick and simple as a homebake can bring a smile to faces when we are all feeling a bit glum.

Touch is key for me with this cake: I have to feel when the butter and sugar have become light and fluffy and when the cakes are cooked – that soft sponginess.  But I have also found that a temperature probe reading (literally) 98 degrees Centigrade is also a good test.

The flavour variations are endless as long as you remember that the sponge probably isn’t dense/strong enough to hold up a lot of fruit – who wants sunken cherries?  Ideas might include: basic vanilla; chopped dates and ginger; lemon and orange St Clement’s; mixed spice and a few sultanas; coffee and walnut.

I’ve added a couple of handfuls of fresh raspberries (in China) and chopped coriander and chilli (in Costa Rica) – there’s no end to the madness.

It’s an easy recipe to remember: just weigh the eggs and everything else is the same – so you can make a smaller or bigger cake just as easily.  Here’s my lemon drizzle version:

2 lemons, zest and juice.

1 tablespoon caster sugar.

3 eggs, weighed in their shells.

Same weight butter, softened.

Same weight caster sugar.

Same weight self-raising flour.

Gently heat lemon juice and tablespoon of sugar in microwave until the sugar is dissolving – leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C, Gas 4.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time, each with a teaspoon of flour.

Fold in the remaining flour and lemon zest.

Spoon into a bun tin or two sponge tins or a loaf tin.

Cook for 20 minutes (probably 25 minutes for sponge tins and 30 for loaf tin).

Test cakes are cooked.

While still hot, prick with a cocktail stick (I can’t remember the last time I used one with a cherry) and then spoon the lemon juice syrup over the cakes.

Allow to cool enough to avoid burning your mouth.

 

 

 

.

Here’s one I made earlier.

My hand injury is still recovering so the beekeeping sous chef has been responsible for conjuring up outstanding flapjacks for friends who have dropped in for tea since we could meeting the garden.  Even though most of us have done very little for months, it is amazing how much talking is still needed to bring each other up-to-date.   And how good to hear others laughing.

This is our Easter Spring cake: a cross between a Christmas cum Simnel recipe that I had started at least two months before the injury. Although there are lots of ingredients, it actually takes longer to weigh out than mix.

The dried fruit had been soaking in brandy for a month and the strained residue was later injected into the finished cake (syringe, needle and all).

The sous chef’s home-produced honey replaced the usual sugar, with a little extra flour to offset its 17% water content.  This made a lighter and more flavoursome cake.

To stop the cake drying out, I gave up on the traditional Simnel top layer of marzipan plus 11 apostle balls.  Instead, and completely optional, the cake was covered top-to-toe with more marzipan.  The sous chef made and lovingly applied the final finishing touches of royal icing plus festive birds and bees. (He has to get all the praise as he posts these pieces for me!).  The cake is so unctuous and moist that it nearly needs serving with a spoon.

 

4oz currants

4oz sultanas

8oz raisins

Enough brandy to cover the dried fruit.

8oz butter

8oz honey

4eggs

16oz self-raising flour

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons mixed spice

Half teaspoon salt

2oz candied peel, chopped.

250g glace cherries.

2oz soft dried apricots, chopped.

2oz dried apple flakes, chopped (optional).

2oz dried dates, stoned and chopped.

Zest and juice of 1 orange.

Zest and juice of 1 lemon.

3oz whole almonds chopped

3oz Brazil nuts, chopped.

500g pack marzipan.

 

Soak the currants, raisins and sultanas in brandy – ideally for a month but a week would do.

Drain and set aside the strained brandy.

Cream   the butter and honey until light and fluffy.

Whisk in each egg with a teaspoonful of flour.

Fold in the flour and the remaining cake ingredients.

Fill a cake tin halfway and top with a layer of marzipan, pressed out to fit the tin.  Fill the tin on top of the marzipan.

Cook Gas 1, 140C for 2 hours 15 minutes, reduce heat for a further 45 minutes.  Internal cake temperature should reach at least 96C.

This quantity was bigger than my cake tin.  I put the extra into a loaf tin and cooked at the same time on the oven second shelf for 2 hours 15 minutes.

Optional: once cake has cooled and been removed from tin, inject with strained brandy over a week.  Brush with warmed apricot jam and cover with marzipan (around 750g) and allow to dry for a few days.  Cover with royal icing and allow to dry.  Decorate with whatever grabs your imagination.

Please don’t forget the live on-line bake-in on Monday 12 April at 1030.