Sunken Apple Cake

It is that time of year where warm comforting treats are needed to snuggle up with on the sofa after a long day at work and a journey home in the twilight. Luckily it is also the time of year where a lot of fantastic ingredients that have been ripening over the summer are finally in plentiful supply. I saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen’s blog a few weeks ago and couldn’t wait to try it out. I finally got around to it last night and I am smitten with this recipe. I altered the ingredients slightly based on what I had in the cupboard but in general remained faithful to the inspiration.

Ingredients

4 tiny apples – peeled, cored and halved
2 tbsp granulated sugar
juice of 1 lemon
125 g butter
80 g granulated sugar
2 tbsp honey
100 g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp semi-skimmed milk
2 eggs – separated

The only alterations I made were to account for the fact that I was short an egg to follow the recipe as described. I used a little less flour so the batter din’t become too stiff and added the milk before folding in the whipped egg whites to loosen the mixture a bit. I also left out the glaze which means that the honey flavour is very subtle but this was because Mr Elbi wanted to add custard to his! I also poured the lemon juice and sugar mixture from the apples over the cake before I put it in the oven and this gave a nice moist sticky texture to the top.

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Before and after baking

This was exactly what we were after last night to eat while watching Great British Bake Off Final having got cold and wet on the way home and suffering the first colds of the season. Soft, warming but light with fruit and an airy batter. I can’t wait to make this again perhaps with pears or plums.

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I did keep a perfect piece to photograph and upload here. Unfortunately I turned my back on it for a few seconds too long and it got scoffed by Mr Elbi. At least he enjoyed it. You can just about see here that the cake part is quite close textured. I think if using this slightly reduced mixture 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder is probably enough otherwise it rises a bit too much and collapses a little. Having said that, it did not affect the overall result too much and we had a great time eating and watching the last three great British Bakers sweating it out on the final. Everyone’s showstoppers were fantastic but I think Nancy stole the prize with her incredible edible Moulin Rouge (with moving sugar sails).

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Povitica (Pov-e-Tee-za)

Autumn has arrived in Bristol and I for one am quite please. I do like the long hot summer days but there is something so cosy about a fresh, bright autumn day that I cannot help but enjoy them. It is currently at that blissful stage where you need a jumper on the way to and from work but it is daylight when you wake up and warm enough to eat outdoors in a T-shirt comfortably at lunchtime. Adding to my current happiness is my new job situation which came about quite suddenly a few weeks ago. I have now substituted 3 hrs of daily commute with a 15 minute walk each way.

To celebrate my new lifestyle I am doing a lot more baking and this week I was inspired by the Great British Bake Off technical challenge. This European bread with an unpronounceable name is made with enriched dough and a walnut and cocoa filling looked spectacular when the contestants made it last week and I was desperate to give it a go. It is a Paul Hollywood recipe which means time consuming but delicious. Paul’s recipes always seem to involve more ingredients, more processes and lengthier resting periods. There have been numerous times where I have chose a short-cut version of a recipe rather than following his faff-tacular instructions only to be disappointed. If you follow his method to the letter, the results are almost guaranteed in my experience. This Povitica was another example of just that. Having learnt my lesson from previous failures, I did exactly as ordered by the recipe on the BBC website with the exception that I halved everything (after all, there was only Mr Elbi and myself to eat it).

After making a heavily enriched dough (which took much longer than the recipe suggested to rise), and a nutty, buttery, cocoa-y filling, the dough is stretched as large as possible and the filling spread evenly on top. Then a giant swiss roll is made and snaked into a loaf tin. After another rise and LOOOOOOOOOONG bake, the loaf is read and comes out looking ordinary and golden. The magic of this bake come when you slice into it revealing the pattern created by the swiss roll.

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This is an absolutely delicious piece of baking (if I do say so myself). The savoury flavour of the nuts balances out all the sugar in the dough and the filling to give a fantastically moreish product. This did take me about 4.5 hours to make though. Perfect for my new lifestyle / a quiet Sunday at home.

Week 5 – Traybakes and Biscuits

YAY! This week I was very keen to get going with my bake-along. I did actually complete this bake within hours of the episode being on TV. I just haven’t quite got around to blogging about it yet. The creations of the contestants were so unusual. I especially loved Howards tower of tea flavoured biscuits and I was destraught when Frances’ beautiful tower of buttons collapsed. This week also featured one of the hardest (IMHO) technical bakes to date. I would love to have had a go at the tuiles but my other half announced that if I messed up the kitchen to that extent he would have to seriously consider continuing to live with me. Luckily I had my heart set on the Traybake anyway. The creations presented by the contestants were superb and I hope to try making most of them in the future but I wanted to do something different and of my own. I have a huge number of chopped walnuts in my baking cupboard for an unknown reason so I decided that I would use up some this excess and incorporate them into my bake.

I decided to adapt this recipe I found online but I altered it by including some coffee (1tsp instant coffee granules) in the chocolate layer. This bake was fantastic although I think that cutting it into 24 portions would be a bit mean. Sixteen seemed about the right number. The walnut biscuit was very short with a nice crumbly texture and buttery flavour. The chocolate layer recipe is more unusual and not something that I have come across before. The combination of water and butter to make this gave an almost curdled texture when raw. I was beating the mixture together with a wooden spoon and this was insufficient to get the smooth glossy texture described. I would recommend beating the ingredients together in a different order, adding the water last to make a batter although the appearance of the raw mixture was not detrimental to the final outcome. The chocolate layer was soft and slightly chewy giving a nice contrast to the biscuit base.

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I loved this bake and Mr Elbi was also very pleased describing it as tasty trail mix. The addition of coffee and high nut content tempered the sweetness normally associated with chocolate and biscuit making it ideal for consumption on our recent walking break in Wales. I am tempted to try a second generation version of this bake soon with a thin layer of carmel between the biscuit and the chocolate. This would hopefully be a more indulgent variation on this recipe perfect for afternoon tea.

Week 4 – Pies and Tarts

Argh! My own person Bake-Off challenge has ground to a serious halt. I have been baking but not putting the pictures etc. up on here. So prepare for an onslaught of baking related information. This week I took on the showstopper challenge……or did I? Last year the contestants were asked to make strudel and I was so inspired by the painstakingly slow process of gently stretching out the dough to get lovely thin strudel pastry. To me, this all seemed very similar to the filo pastry challenge but under a different name. If anyone feels strongly that this is incorrect I would love to know why but my interpretation of this challenge meant that I could try out a recipe that I have had my eye on for the last year; Catherine’s strudel from the last series of GBBO.

I modified the reipe slightly using a bit more couscous to make the filling and feta cheese to replace the slipcote cheese. I kind of wish I hadn’t done this because I think the softer cheese would have been nice in the strudel which turned out a bit dry in the middle.

Making the dough was good fun. I used the over the shoulder flinging method to need my pastry and had to remake it after a disaster which saw the first batch sail across my kitchen and land in the bin – could not have done it better if I had tried. The second batch was more successful though and stayed out of the bin. As the dough comes together, it becomes a soft elastic dough that stretches like silly putty. After resting it has to be stretched to the very thin sheet that is used to wrap the dough. This was so much easier than I expected. In fact it was so easy that I made it way too thin and then it was too delicate to manipulate around the dough. I could have read a newspaper through it though. The strudel wasn’t as neat as I had hoped but it made for great picnic fodder when walking around the Brecon Beacons this week. We ate it with plenty of yogurt mixed with chilli sauce to counteract the dry texture of the filling but this went nicely with the strudel. I am no longer scared of making this super thin pastry though and look forward to using it again.

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Week 3 – Deserts

For the third week of competitive baking, the contestants were asked to make a trifle, floating islands and petit fours. I find it hard to get massively excited about trifle as its not my favourite thing to eat. Having said that though, the inventive trifles that were produced were quite inspiring. The technical challenge was Mary Berry’s recipe for floating islands desert. This is the bake that I decided to attempt for myself from this weeks episode. I have never eaten these and I saw MIchel Roux Jr. make them on TV a while ago. I intended to have a go at theat point but never got round to it so now I thought this would be the perfect chance.

I have no electric whisk or hand mixer type equipment so I have to hand whisk everything. For that reason and the fact that there were only three of us for dinner last night, I made a half quantity of this desert. This was more than enough for the three of us and we were all feeling rather over-stuffed when we finished but I’m glad I did it. The custard that is made from this recipe is the best custard I have ever tasted. It was so rich and velvety and I could have eaten a whole tub of it.

Merigue at the ready
Merigue at the ready

This recipe was really easy to follow and I had very little trouble with it although I will not be writing quenelling merigue as a skill on my CV any time soon. My only concern was how long to cook the ‘islands for.’ The recipe calls for 8-10 minutes which contradicts what a number of other blogs say. When I poached the meringue, the islands puffed up and were massive but by the time they came they had shrunk back down again. I didn’t leave it for any longer than the recipe suggested and the texture of the meringue was like a mousse. Did I overcook them?

Poaching the 'islands'
Poaching the ‘islands’

I don’t know how this desert is supposed to taste but it was a loss less sweet than I thought it was going to be. My main experience with meringe is that stuff that crumbles into pure sugar in your mouth. I really enjoyed it but my other half in his usual supportive way decided it tasted like wierdly sweet scrambled egg………….he’s so lovely.

Plated and ready to munch
Plated and ready to munch

I will make this desert again as it has a very satisfying comforting feel to it but I think the spun sugar/some caramel is important to balance the flavours.

Week 2 – Bread – Part 2

In bread week I was also inspired by the technical challenge – English Muffins. I have tried to make these before a number of times with limited success. Normally, I cook them on the griddle and although burnt on the outside, when I cut them open, they are very dense and doughy and have to be toasted. I was a bit apprehensive about this bake but I was determined to give Paul’s recipe a go.

The dough is incredibly wet. Having watched the episode and seen the contestants struggle with this, I was not unprepared for this. Even still, it felt very wrong and after 10  minutes I did add a little bit of extra flour to bring it together. It really did feel like it had gone wrong and I hand kneaded for 20-25 minutes before the dough came together. At this stage I was worried that this might mean it had been overworked but I had to keep going. The dough proved slowly but effectively and I shaped it by hand instead of using a cutter (I didn’t want to waste any dough and I quite like the rustic uneven look of the batch.

The second rise was the most eventful part of the bake. During this episode of the bake off one of the contestants (Howard) is talking to Sue and she leans on his muffins leaving a mould of her elbow on his lovingly crafted muffins. As I covered mine with a tea towel, I was reminded of this moment and smirked to myself. Then I left the kitchen. When I returned, my lovely boyfriend had cleared the kitchen and stacked the washing up ready to get on with it. Unfortunately the bottom of the stack was my muffins. That’s what you get for being amused by another’s misfortune. Luckily there was nothing to heavy in the washing up and some gentle prodding revitalised my muffins.

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Part of me is loath to say it but that Paul Hollywood know what he’s doing. Look at those beauties. Brown tops and bottoms with white round the side. Those muffins were fluffy and rich and so much better than shop-bought. We ate them with cream cheese and smoked salmon and I can now confidently say that I CAN make muffins. I think I added too much extra flour when I made muffins previously.

Week 2 – Bread – Part 1

The second episode of the Great British Bake Off was all about bread. The bakers faced three challenges that all relied on well-behaved yeast and ovens to prevent them falling foul of Paul Hollywood’s thumb. All of the contestants seemingly handled the prospect of Paul compressing their carefully baked loaves back into dough with ease and the creativity on show was truly impressive.

In the signature challenge, the bakers had to make 48 consistent breadsticks. I absolutely loved the giant matchbox that Frances had made to house hers. In fact, after this and the sandwich shaped sandwich cake she made in week 1, I am eagerly looking forward to what she will come up in future episodes.  I tried my hand at this first challenge this weekend and made a batch of 20 cheddar cheese and black pepper breadsticks. I am very proud of these even though they are uneven and wonky. I never really considered making breadsticks but there was something very satisfying about this bake.

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I wasn’t sure of the best way to shape the breadsticks and ended up rolling the dough between my hands a la play dough spaghetti. This gave an uneven breadstick with lumps and bumps that would have made Paul Hollywood feel faint. However, they had a very satisfying snap and were quite morish. I would make these again but would use more cheese to give a stronger cheese flavour. I also have an idea for a sweet breadstick……..Watch this space!

Recipe

1 teaspoon of fast action dried yeast was combined with 2 teaspoons of sugar in 3 tablespoons of lukewarm water and left until frothy. This was then combine with 225 g strong white bread flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 150 ml of warm water. This was mixed together and then 20 g of finely grated mature cheddar and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated black pepper were added prior to kneading for 5 minutes. The dough was left to rise for 30 min and then shaped. The shaped breadsticks were left to prove for 30 min and then baked at 150 degC for 45 min.