cake

Rhubarb, Almond & Cardamom Custard Cake

Rhubarb and custard is yet another quintessentially British combination that just reminds everyone of their childhood. It seems, however, to be another marmite-esque divider. It might be the general association of rhubarb with school dinner rhubarb crumble, which I won't lie, I don't think was that bad... but bad school dinner associations generally, yeah, I totally get that.  

In an attempt to make everyone love rhubarb a little bit more, and to improve your chances of winning the next pub quiz you participate in, here is some rhubarb history. The perky pink fruit may be quintessentially British, but it's actually yet another ingredient that came over here from Asia. I always used to wonder about the difference between forced rhubarb and normal rhubarb, and it turns out that apparently the forced variety came about when Asian supplies of the stuff began to run dry. In desperate need of meeting demand, farmers in the UK found that they could replicate the ideal environment by growing it in a dark, heated room (am I the only one now wondering if I can grow rhubarb in my yoga classes...?)

Forced rhubarb is generally thinner and sweeter, and is apparently picked by candelight around February time (roses are so last year...). Unforced rhubarb is, as you might have guessed, grown naturally outside, and it tends to be thicker and sharper in flavour. People who don't like rhubarb are therefore probably more likely to tolerate the forced variety, but let's be honest, either way it looks like pink celery, so it's basically salad and everyone should eat more of it.

That's my philosophy, at least.

Here's a rhubarb, almond & custard cake recipe to win you over if not. It worked for my brother, so there is hope! Also, I am definitely going to make a habit of baking layers of custard into my cakes. You should too.

Ingredients

For the sponge
250g unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
200g ground almonds
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder

For the custard
570ml milk
6 egg yolks
50g golden caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or seeds of 1 vanilla pod)
1 tsp ground cardamom

For the topping
4-5 sticks of rhubarb, chopped into lengths of about 8cm
1 tbsp golden caster sugar
1/2 tsp cardamom
50g flaked almonds 

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line and grease a 23cm round cake tin.
2. Start by making the custard. Place the milk, vanilla and cardamom into a medium saucepan and warm over a gentle heat - make sure the milk doesn't boil! 
3. In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour to make a paste. Once the milk is just steaming, pour into the eggs and sugar in a steady stream, whisking constantly. 
4. Place the whole mixture back onto the heat, and gently whisk until it begins to thicken. Take off the heat and cover with clingfilm (make sure the clingfilm touches the surface of the custard so a skin doesn't form), and set aside to cool.
5. Next, prepare the rhubarb. In a small bowl, toss the cut rhubarb together with the cardamom and sugar, and set aside.
6. Now make the sponge. In a freestanding electric mixer or using an electric whisk, cream together the butter and sugar. When light and fluffy, add in the eggs one at a time, making sure the mixture is well combined after each addition.
8. In a separate bowl, combine the ground almonds, flour and baking powder. Gently fold this into the wet mixture with a spatula. 
9. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin, making sure it is level. Then, pour over a thin and even layer of your cooled custard. Finally, carefully and lightly place the lengths of rhubarb around the cake like the hands of a clock (be careful not to push them into the batter so that they don't sink) and sprinkle the edges with flaked almonds.
10. Bake in the oven for about 40-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. If it begins to brown too quickly, cover it with some tin foil, but don't open the oven for the first 20 minutes at least!
11. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Serve immediately with a good cup of tea, and bask in the fact that you are definitely consuming one of your five a day! 
 

Pear & Pecan Spice Cake

One of the best things that came from my travels was the foodie inspiration - you know, alongside finding myself and being at one with nature. Much to the dismay of my waistline, Bali and Australia were filled to the brim with incredible cafés, serving up some of the most beautiful dishes I have ever seen. I genuinely don't think anyone can beat the Aussies on the art of plating.

pearcake.jpg

One dish in particular remains etched in my mind. It was at The Kettle Black, one of my favourite brunch spots in Melbourne, set in a beautiful old Federation bungalow. I ordered the bircher muesli, and out it came topped with all kinds of fruit - kiwi, orange, blueberries, pear - cut and arranged to perfection. Somehow they made the fruit look cool.

The beautifully thinly sliced pear in said bowl of muesli was the inspiration for this pear & pecan spice cake. I realise how ridiculous that probably sounds - I won't lie, it has to be one of my more niche sources of inspiration. It is inspiration nonetheless, and as the photos show, it's just amazing how a simple cut of fruit can completely transform a bake. 

Recipe

Ingredients

200g unsalted butter

3 medium eggs

250g coconut sugar (can use caster sugar or golden caster sugar, but reduce to 200g)

200g spelt flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cardamom

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp all spice

50g roughly chopped pecans, plus extra to decorate

2-3 conference pears 

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line and grease a 23cm cake tin.

2. Peel, core, and finely slice the pears. Place them in a bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent them browning.

3. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or using an electric mixer until light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes).

4. Gradually add in the eggs one by one, making sure each one is incorporated before adding the next.

5. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices in a separate bowl, and gradually fold into the wet mixture in 3 inclusions. Carefully fold in the pecans.

6. Pour the batter into your prepared tin and arrange your sliced pears on top. Don't actually push them into the batter as they'll just disappear into the cake in the oven, so just place them on top. Scatter with your extra rougly chopped pecans. 

7. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

8. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

9. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt and a cuppa!

Lemon, Raspberry & Almond Friands

Friands are a winner. They're simple, they're versatile, and most importantly, they use up ingredients that I often have sitting in my cupboard (perfect to avoid making those dreaded trips to the supermarket for that one ingredient that like, nobody has at home). It also helps that they taste ridiculously good. I mean they're French, and they're cake, need I explain more?

They're also just fun to bake - you can experiment with them like crazy. Their light and fluffy sponge can be flavoured with basically anything, within baking reason. Fresh citrus zests work really well, but you could also add in a couple of drops of your favourite essence - try lavender if you're feeling crazy, or almond for something a bit more subtle. They look great topped with all kinds of berries, or you can try peaches, rhubarb, caramelised oranges...or whatever fancy fruit is in season. Figs anyone? Yah.

To make your friands a bit different, you can also use any shaped mould. I've just used a standard muffin tin here, but they also look great in little ovals, or mini loaves (multiply all of the ingredients by 1.5 to make sure you have enough batter for this). 

Bonus point - they keep well in an airtight container for 3-4 days, so you can make some and enjoy them for daaaays.

If you still need convincing, the super simple recipe will have you sold. Here goes...

Ingredients
200g unsalted butter
100g plain flour
200g icing sugar, plus extra to decorate
200g ground almonds
zest of 2 lemons
pinch of salt
6 egg whites
raspberries 

Makes 12 friands in a muffin tray

Recipe
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and lightly grease a muffin tray.

2. Firstly, melt the butter. Then leave aside to cool completely.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour and icing sugar by hand. Add in the ground almonds, lemon zest, and salt and mix by hand until all are well combined.

4. Using an electric whisk or mixer, begin to whisk the egg whites on a low speed. As they form bubbles, gradually increase the speed to medium, and then high, whisking until they form stiff peaks. Be careful not to over whisk them (you'll know when this has happened as it'll look like cotton wool).

5. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, and scoop the whisked egg whites into it. Fold them in gently. 

6. Pour in the cooled butter and stir lightly until fully combined. 

7. Divide the batter equally between the muffin holes, and press two raspberries into the top of each. Sprinkle over some flaked almonds, and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar, and serve!