Using your Loaf

In this age of healthy, “clean” eating, is it wrong of me to confess that I always like to have cake in the house?! As I’ve said many times before, my motto is everything in moderation and a piece of cake with your afternoon tea is good for the soul – well mine, at any rate. Now there’s just me at home, though, I do have to be careful to make things that don’t go off before I have time to eat them. Loaf cakes can be the perfect solution: I often make the mixture, then cook it in two loaf tins and freeze one, or even cook just one cake and freeze half. Such a luxury to know you have cake already in the freezer when you return from holiday or have a particularly steep workload. They’re usually very quick to make too, so you can knock them up in no time.

Two of my favourites are adapted ever so slightly from Nigel Slater’s first Kitchen Diaries, both in the winter months, which is precisely when I like to cook them. They just suit the grey days at the start of the year somehow: a spicy double ginger cake for the chilly days of January and a frosted marmalade cake to make the most of the peak citrus season. My final loaf offering is one I stumbled across by chance in Waitrose’s Weekend newspaper: a “healthy” date, walnut & banana loaf.

Frosted Marmalade Cake

frosted-marmalade-cake_slice

6oz butter, softened
6oz caster sugar
1 large orange, zest and juice
3 large eggs, beaten
3oz orange marmalade
6oz self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder

For the frosting:
4oz icing sugar

One 2lb loaf tin, greased and lined

Preheat the oven to 160°C, 350°F or gas mark 4. Beat the butter, sugar, orange zest, beaten eggs, marmalade, flour and baking powder in a large bowl until pale and fluffy. Finally, gently stir in the juice of half the orange. (Nigel uses the classic sponge method and mixes these separately, butter and sugar first, then eggs, then folding in the flour – I find my method works just as well!)

Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until cooked. Leave the cake to cool in the tin – it may sink slightly – then remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

Sieve the icing sugar and mix in as much of the remaining orange juice as required to produce a smooth, slightly runny consistency, then drizzle icing over the cake, letting it run down the side, and leave to set.

Double Ginger Cake – makes 2 loaf cakes (or 1 large square cake)

ginger-cake-cooked_cropped

250g self-raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
200g golden syrup
stem ginger in syrup (3 lumps, finely chopped)
2 tbsp syrup from the ginger jar
125g butter
2 heaped tbsp sultanas (optional)
125g dark Muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
240 ml milk

Grease and base-line either 2 loaf tins or one 8″ square deep cake tin. I usually make two loaves and freeze the second.

Set the oven to 160°C, 350°F or gas mark 4. Sift the flour with the spices, bicarb and salt. Put the golden syrup, ginger syrup and butter in a small pan and warm gently. Add the chopped stem ginger, sugar and sultanas (if using – I find they ALWAYS sink to the bottom of the cake as the mixture is so wet, and they really don’t add anything to the cake, but if you like them, leave them in!). Bubble gently for a minute or so. Break the eggs into a bowl, then add the milk. Remove the syrup mixture from the heat and pour over the flour. Then add the eggs and milk, stirring gently until no traces of flour remain. The mixture will be very sloppy!

ginger-cake-pre-cooking

Pour into the prepared cake tins and bake for 35-40 minutes or until firm to the touch. Leave to cool before turning out, then serve in chunky slices with a good slathering of butter. Perfect teatime fare….

As I said, my final loaf recipe was adapted from a Waitrose recipe and is actually for a “sugar-free” cake, not that I was seeking to make any such thing. It is, of course, free from refined sugar, not sugar in any form, as it contains fruit and fruit nectar – but if you’re keen to cut down on refined sugar, do give it a go.  I happened to have a blackened banana in the fruit bowl, which was why it called out to me. The original recipe uses date nectar, which I didn’t have, so I used agave nectar instead, and two ripe bananas – there again, I only had one in the house, so I added an overripe pear – great way to use up the stragglers in your fruit bowl! I must admit, I was dubious before I made it, but it really is very light and delicious – well worth a try.

Date, Walnut & Banana Loaf

40g butter, softened
2 tbsp agave nectar (or date nectar if you have it)
1 egg, beaten
100ml semi-skimmed milk
150g wholemeal SR flour (or spelt flour if you prefer)
1 tsp baking powder (may need 2 if using spelt)
2 tsp mixed spice
2 ripe bananas, mashed (or 1 banana + 1 pear)
50g walnuts, chopped
60g chopped dates

Grease and base-line a loaf tin. Set the oven to 160°C, 350°F or gas mark 4.

Cream the butter and agave nectar together in a bowl, then add the egg and milk and combine with a hand mixer. Sift in the flour, baking powder and mixed spice. Stir to combine – it will look very odd at this stage! Add the mashed bananas/pear, dates and walnuts and mix again. Transfer to the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes or until firm to the touch. Cool and serve in slices, with butter if preferred. This won’t keep for long because of the fruit content, especially in warm weather, so do freeze half if necessary.

date-walnut-banana-loaf

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Putting the zest back into February

snowy-day-in-the-woods-feb-2017

Well, February hasn’t been much of an improvement on January so far. We even had a smattering of snow yesterday, not enough to transform everywhere into a magical winter wonderland, just leaden skies, bitter wind and uniform greyness. Yuk.

Needless to say, there’s still nothing doing in the garden, although this is the perfect time to get on with ordering/buying seeds, potatoes and dahlias for the summer and indulge in a little wistful poring over the catalogues, online or print, to while away the grey days. I’ve been buying my seeds as I see them on offer in local garden centres, often half-price at this time of year, but still had to order a few specials online, like the Ammi visnaga from Sarah Raven, and squashes Crown Prince and Squashkin (a butternut/ Crown Prince hybrid from Marshall’s that sounded too tempting to miss!). I haven’t been overly impressed with the potato selections on offer in my local gardening emporia this year, so ended up ordering those online too: Jazzy from Thompson & Morgan, and Anya, a lovely waxy, salad variety I’ve had before and enjoyed, again from Marshall’s. They came ultra-quickly and are now chitting away in eggboxes in the conservatory – so I suppose that’s some progress!

I couldn’t resist ordering new dahlias too; not sure where I’m going to put them, but I’m sure I’ll find room – and there’s my son’s wedding to grow flowers for this year, of course! This year’s additions are Indian Summer, a spiky scarlet cactus variety, Labyrinth, a fabulous pastel peach confection (I did try this one last year, but with no success; fingers crossed it comes up this year) and Mel’s Orange Marmalade, another extravagant cactus type, purely because I loved the name and couldn’t resist the marmalade colour and fringed, almost marine-like petals.

Despite the lack of action in the garden, miserable weather is always a good excuse to spend time messing about in the kitchen and what better ingredients to use to add some zing to a grey day than citrus fruit? It’s the peak season for citrus just now, so my morning ruby grapefruits are extra-delicious and lemons and limes are plentiful. A neighbour, who I cat-sit for when they’re on holiday, very kindly brought around a big pot of home-made Seville orange marmalade on Friday and I even managed to buy my absolute favourite citrus fruits, blood oranges, in Lidl yesterday – they only have a very short season, so all the more reason to snap them up when you find them!

blood-oranges

So what did I make on this cold winter Sunday? First, a carrot, orange & ginger soup to add a touch of sunshine to a chilly lunchtime. Then I finally got round to using up some egg yolks that have been sitting in the fridge since last weekend, when I used the whites in a pineapple & coconut meringue roulade for my younger son’s birthday celebrations. Five egg yolks is quite a lot to have hanging around, especially when you’re cooking for one. The usual contenders of custard, or pastry, only use one or two yolks and my standby gooseberry & crème fraiche tart is best made in summer with fresh, not frozen gooseberries (too much liquid) and for a party to boot! A colleague on Foodie Translators had posted a tempting-looking recipe for lemon bars, based on a recipe by the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network, which sounded interesting, but used whole eggs. Researching further found an article in the Guardian by Ruby Tandoh, in which she makes lemon curd with just the yolks – and thus an idea was born….

First, the soup though. I make several variations on carrot soup, including carrot & coriander and a carrot & lentil from an ancient M&S cookery book. Both excellent, but if you fancy something both citrussy and slightly spicy, this really hits the spot.

Carrot, Orange & Ginger Soup -serves 6-8

carrot-orange-ginger-soup

750g carrots, peeled & chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 orange, juice and grated zest
1 cooking apple, peeled and chopped
1 2.5cm piece root ginger, grated (I store in the freezer and grate from frozen)
50g butter
Salt and pepper
1.25 l chicken stock (or you can use vegetable stock if you prefer)
Few sprigs thyme, leaves only

Melt the butter in a large pan, then add the onions, garlic and celery. Sweat gently for 5 minutes or so while you prepare the carrots and apple, then add to the pan with the grated ginger and thyme leaves. Continue to cook for a few more minutes, then add the grated orange zest and juice. Pour in the stock, season and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and cook for 30 minutes, or until the carrots are tender. Leave to cool slightly, then purée in a liquidiser until smooth. You may need to add more stock at this stage, depending how thick you like your soup – or you could add cream or milk if you prefer. Garnish with coriander or parsley if you have any; otherwise eat as it is and enjoy your little bowl of sunshine!

Needless to say, I had to tweak the Barefoot Contessa’s lemon bar recipe to suit the five egg yolks I had lurking in the fridge, so I more or less halved the quantities, cut down the sugar content, and went from there, adjusting as I went. I was delighted with the results, tangy yet buttery at the same time, but you might wish to tweak further!

Lemon Bars – serves 12

lemon-bars

125g butter
50g caster sugar
150g plain flour
pinch salt
Grated rind of 1 lemon

5 egg yolks
200g caster sugar
Grated rind of 3 lemons
Juice of 3/4 lemons (110-120ml juice in total)
50g plain flour, sifted

Put the first five ingredients, for the shortbread base, into a food processor and blend together until mixed and starting to form a ball. Remove, knead together lightly and press into a greased 17.5cm (7″) square tin. Prick with a fork, then bake in the oven at 160°C, Gas 4 for 15-20 minutes until light golden.

Meanwhile, make the filling: blend the egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and zest and flour with a hand whisk, then pour over the cooked shortbread base. Return to the oven for 25 – 30 minutes, or until set. Leave to cool, then dust with icing sugar and serve with a nice cup of tea. Amazingly good!