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Chocolate vanilla battenburg cake

November 4, 2011

I confess I am more than a little bit intimidated by The Great British Bake Off (a recent baking competition shown on TV). Nevertheless, I have the next series’ application form saved on my desktop, if just for the fun of filling it in. CV-shmeevy, I say. It seems much more fun to spend time this weekend answering important points such as “Do you have a signature bake?” Or “Please give an example of the most difficult…tart…you have created”. You may be beginning to see why conquering pastry is higher up on my things to do list than usual.

Each episode of this show, in any case, involves a technical bake. This is a challenge each person has to undertake – tackling a recipe they have only just seen, with basically no instructions save the ingredients list. The first episode was cake and the first technical guessed it. Battenburg cake. Coffee and walnut in this case. You can see the actual recipe on

Of course, not being content just to follow the non-recipe, I also decided to change the flavours from coffee and walnut (itself a diversion from the orignal pink-and-white version) to chocolate/walnut and vanilla. I also made my own marzipan (use bought marzipan?? Oh my garden). I also decide to ignore the tin dimensions (20cm square) and use my 22cm square tin, so my cake was a bit erm flat. But don’t worry, follow the instructions here, and all shall be well. At least there ARE instructions this time…


  • 80 g SR flour (+ 10g more, you’ll see)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 10g cocoa
  • 100g sugar
  • 100g butter
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 50 g ground almonds
  • 25 g chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
For the chocolate buttercream
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 40 g butter
  • milk, if needed
For the marzipan (or buy a pack ready-made, sigh)
  • 85g icing sugar , plus extra for dusting
  • 85 g castor sugar
  • 120g ground almonds
  • 1/2 egg plus 1/2 egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp almond essence


Preheat the oven to 180 oc / gas mark 5. Grease a 20cm square cake tin. To line, instead of buying the silly expensive half-foil-half-baking paper they suggest, try greasing one side of baking paper wide enough for the base of the tin and the same length plus double the height (usually give youtself an extra 4-5 inches). Carefully stick a piece of tin foil to the greased paper and smooth. This has now given you reinforced baking paper! Now use this to line the tin, as shown in the picture above, with a partition in the centre of the tin to separate what will be the two different flavours of cake.

Ok next to make the batter, you will need several bowls. In the first, large, mixing bowl, cream together all the butter, sugar, essence, and then stir in the ground almonds. Sift over the 80g SR flour and baking powder, then on top add the beaten eggs. Mix quickly till smooth, then move half to a separate bowl. To this, sift over the cocoa and mix, then fold in the walnuts. To the other, sift over the extra 10g flour. Add a little milk to both or either bowl if the mixture feels too stiff (it should drop off the spoon with a sharp tap). Pour each mixture into a different section of the tin, and bake for around 20 mins or until the cakes are risen and spring back when pressed. Leave to cool a while in the tin, before turning onto a wire cooling rack.

While the cakes are cooling, make the buttercream by using an electric mixer to combine the cocoa, butter and icing sugar, using a little milk if the consistency is too thick. When the sponge is done, cut each colour in half, to make two rectangles. Trim them if needed to make sure all are the same size. Use the buttercream to now sandwich all four pieces together in a checkerboard pattern, spreading buttercream between each join. Trim again, and then spread more buttercream over the entire length and sides of the battenburg.

Finally, make the marzipan. Sift together the sugars and almonds, then beat the egg and stir in along with the essence. Bring the mixture together with your hands, then turn out onto a surface dusted with icing sugar, and knead until smooth. Roll out the marzipan until it is fairly thin, with dimensions that are the same length as your cake and wide enough to wrap round the entire battenburg (you can use a piece of string to estimate how long this is). When the correct size, wrap the cake in the marzipan, which should stick thanks to the buttercream you applied. If you were greedy and ate too much buttercream this may now be trickier. Gently press the join together and turn the cake over so that the seam is the underside of the cake. To finish, dust with icing sugar and top with minstrels or walnuts. Done!


Damson frangipane tart

October 18, 2011

We are well on our way to autumn, a season that I have decided shall mark the beginning of a new relationship. I have high hopes for this relationship. It will be a beautiful and fruitful union. It is a relationship…with pastry. For at the moment, I can deal with pastry; I can work with it, just about, and intrepidly. But I am no master. Moreover, I don’t just want to beat pastry into submission, I want us to be a team. Cook and dough, together as one. Clotherthanthis. I reckon this mastery will look more like a happy friendship and less like a domination. So I hope that over the autumn we will see lots more recipes with pastry in it. And thus commences the first: a damson and frangipane tart. Small windfall plums combined with frangipane, a sweet and slightly spongy french filling made with almonds, baked on a sweet shortcrust base. See the end of the ingredients for several other ideas you can substitute for the damsons, to make whatever tart takes your fancy.

I’m sure there’s a pun in there somewhere.


For the sweet pastry (taken from Leith’s baking bible):

  • 6 oz plain flour
  • 3.5 oz butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp ice water
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg yolk

For the tart:

  • 3 oz butter or margarine
  • 3 oz golden caster sugar
  • 3 oz ground almonds (I used about 40g, it was fine!)
  • 1/2 tsp almond essence
  • 1 egg

  • 200-400g damsons * (I didn’t weigh mine, see alternatives)
  • 1-2 tbsp cognac, if desired
  • 2-3 tbsp sugar


If you don’t have any damsons, substitute plums, peaches, cherries or any other soft fruit that takes your fancy! Estimate about a punnet’s worth.You could also substitute thinly sliced apples, though the thickness will determine whether they soften enough during baking. Or alternatively, spread a generous layer of jam on the tart base instead of fresh fruit, and just spoon the frangipane on top –  hey presto, an easy bakewell tart.

So pastry lesson numbero uno: the trick here is to do as little work as possible, and keep everything SUPER cold. You need to cut in the fat into the flour with as little contact as possible. Pastry and hands are not friends; the more work you do to it, the stickier the dough becomes, and the tougher the finished product is when baked. As you add flour and liquid together, strands of gluten are formed (this is what makes eg bread stick together and gives it its texture). We add fats to pastry to slow down the gluten formation however, which in pastry sort of knots the dough together, making it tough. The more gluten the pastry develops, the tougher it becomes. And the more the dough is overworked, rolled out, played with, the more gluten develops. So slow hands are bad, mmkay?


Rich sweet shortcrust pastry: This recipe makes enough for the tart tin pictured above plus a little more. Sift the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Use two knives to cut the butter into the flour, until it is the size of small peas and coated in flour. Next, use just the tips of your fingers to rub the butter into the flour until you have fine breadcrumbs. My home ec teacher always told me a sigh of good technique is to have flour only on your fingers, not anywhere else on your hands when finished (eg palms). Now, whisk together the egg yolk and water in a mug. Next add to the pastry crumbs, and use a KNIFE to start to bring the dough together. Finally use your hands to bring the dough into a ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and need only 2-3 times to bring the dough together. Wrap in cling film and chill for an hour or two (the more the merrier, you could even do the day before). In the meantime preheat the oven to 200 oc / gas 6.

When ready, grease your pie tin. Take the cold dough and roll out onto a floured piece of cling film or baking paper. Make sure to flour the rolling pin. Be gentle but time efficient. Try not to break the dough – every time you reroll your pastry will become tougher. Roll out until a large circle about 3-4″ diameter larger than the tin. Use the paper/cling film to lift onto the pie case. Ease the pastry in gently until it fits the shape of the tin. Trim off the excess pastry, leaving enough to fold inwards to give a thicker crust (see picture 1 above). Roll the pin over the top to even out the top. Prick with a fork all over, line with baking paper (scrunched and opened out to make it change shape easier), and fill with baking beans. Bake for 15 mins, then take out, remove paper and beans, and pop back in the oven for another 10-15 mins until the pastry is golden. Voila!

Now for the rest of the tart. You can either do one of two things: cut up most of your fruit of choice finely to mix with sugar / alcohol to spread on the base of the tart, and save some for placing on the frangipane as decoration (picture 3 above)…or you can use some relevant jam on the bottom, and save the fruit just to place on top the tart, for example thinly sliced segments of peaches. If the former, de-stone your fruit and place in a bowl with the sugar, and alcohol (if using). I think Schnapps could work quite well with peaches; I went for brandy with the damsons. And more or less sugar to taste. Save some neatly-cut fruit to dot over the top. Spread the fruit-sugar mix (or jam if going for option 2) over the surface of the tart. Next mix together the butter and sugar till creamy, before adding in the egg yolk, almonds and essence. It’ll look a bit like cake mix (well, it sort of is). Spread this over the top of the fruit (picture 2 above) and even out. Finally, dot slices of fruit on top of the frangipane, pressing in slightly. The frangipane will rise a little around the fruit and will be a nice golden colour when done. When finished prepping, place the tart back in the oven for around 20-30 mins, until the frangipane looks done and the edges of the tart are golden.



Lemon chiffon layer cake

October 12, 2011

I had no idea what chiffon means, but I think it means light and fluffy. This cake is very light, very fluffy, and very lemony. Its a little bit challenging given that it’s a “whisking method” cake. These sorts of cakes are airy, given that they contain hardly any butter/oil – and instead rely on beaten egg whites to hold the “rise” in the bake. The key tricky bit therefore is to make sure that the mixture is properly combined (no streaks) when folding in the egg white mixture, yet not overmixed so that you lose all the air out of it. Be courageous though, young Jedis, the result is worth it. May the meringue force be with you.

Adapted from Sky high: I skipped making my own lemon curd (sorry, cheating I know) which also meant I adjusted the frosting recipe too. This cake is for 3 x 9 inch layers; it was too difficult to scale the recipe down, so I just made 2 layers and a few lemon chiffon cupcakes.


  • 8 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup vegetable or other flavourless oil (not olive)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice and 1 tbsp lemon zest (zest of 2 lemons, juice of one ish)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (next to the baking powder in the supermarket)
  • 1 1/2 cup castor sugar
  • 1 3/4 cup cake flour (1 cup cake flour = 7/8 plain, 1/8 corn flour)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • lemon curd, for filling and frosting


  • 4 tbsp lemon curd
  • 300 ml double cream
  • 4 tbsp castor sugar

So you need lots of big bowls for this recipe. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4, 180 oC. Line 2 (or 3) 9″ cake pans with wax paper but don’t grease them. Take the first big bowl and whisk together the egg yolks, oil, lemon juice and zest and water. In the second big bowl, whip the egg whites with cream of tartar until they begin to froth. Add in 1/2 cup of the sugar and beat until a soft meringue forms (don’t overbeat). In a third big bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and the rest of the sugar, and mix. Make a hole in the middle and pour in the egg yolk mixture, and mix to make a smooth paste. Now, take 1/4 of the egg whites and mix in. This loosens the paste, and makes folding the rest of the egg white easier. Finally, fold in the rest of the egg whites in 2-3 additions. Use a metal spoon and very gently create cutting motions to mix in the whites with minimum deflation. At the end you should have an even mixture which is hopefully still airy! Pour into the pans and bake for 16 mins (mine took about 25, but we know my oven is awful). The cakes should be springy and a toothpick inserted come out clean. If you take the cakes out too soon they will sink. Leave to cool on wire racks.

To fill, sandwich the layers together with lemon curd spread evenly over the surface. For the frosting, whip the cream with the sugar in a large, cool bowl. Don’t overwhip the cream, it needs to be a bit soft, and will stiffen when you add the lemon curd. Fold in the lemon curd and then frost the cake liberally on top and sides, using a palette knife to create a decorative pattern. Finally, garnish with a few sugar flours if you like, or use some extra frosting to pipe a pattern around your cake.

No birthday excuse? This recipe also makes quite good cupcakes. I make around 6 with the leftover mix instead of one layer. When cool, I scopped out the centre of each cupcake, filled with a dollop of lemon curd, replaced the ‘lid’ and frosted with the same cupcake. Lemon surprise ahoy!

Banoffee crumble loaf cake

October 7, 2011

I was watching the final of the Great British Bake-off last night, which funnily enough featured banoffee not once, but twice. There must be something about the onset of autumn that makes sweetened banana with that hint of caramel irristable. Perhaps it’s the increasing chill that pervades, or the toffee coloured leaves that shout at susceptible bakers to start using these flavours right away.

It has also come to my attention that I should point out that banana + toffee = banoffee. It gives me great joy when I get to experience people reaslising the beloved banoffee pie is named so for a rather good and logical reason. If only all foods were so straightforward. Mochaccino  anyone? Mocha (a reliable source beginning with ‘W’ informs me) comes from the town of Mocha, in Yemen and also Ethiopia, producers of Mocha beans. I think we should rename our sweet beverage the chocaccino. All in agreement say aye.

Anyways, this recipe is both accurately named (I keep thinking of Title and Registration by Death Cab for Cutie, check it out) and a great excuse to use up those over ripe bananas you accidentally let sit in the cupboard too long. Plus you get to put a toffee yoghurt into a cake recipe. I think that’s novel enough to warrant investigation. I adapted this recipe from bbcgoodfood, changing the ingredients a bit and also including a crumble topping. Its a nice crunch on the top of each slice.


  • 2 ripe bananas , mashed,
  • 2 medium eggs , beaten
  • 100g butter , melted
  • 100g/4oz toffee yogurt (eg toffee muller light, half the pot)
  • 130g brown sugar (or muscovado)
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 100g pecans , roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Crumble topping:

  • 1-2 tbsp butter plus double quantity demerara sugar and rest of pecan pieces

Heat oven to gas mark 4 (180 ish). Find a loaf tin. Cream butter and sugar together, add mashed bananas, yoghurt and eggs and whisk, then fold in sifted SR flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Finally fold in 3/4 chopped pecans. Pour into a tin lined with baking paper. To make the topping, mix together the extra butter and sugar and dot evenly over top of loaf, then scatter over the rest of the pecans. Bake for 50 mins, then check (mine took another 10-20 mins more), a skewer inserted into the centre of the loaf should come out clean and the cake spring back lightly when touched. When ready, leave to cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle extra demerara sugar over the top when cool.

Perfect for afternoon tea after a weekend walk in the park. I advise you to start “accidentally forgetting” to eat your bananas right away.

Fantastic fuss-free freezer cookies

September 27, 2011

Cookie dough. Instant cookies. Cookie dough AND instant cookies. Any time of day, faster than the time it’d take you to say ben and jerry’s phish food ten times (ok, well maybe a few times more). It is not possible! You say. Do not torment us so! you shout. But I torment not…

So this recipe is pretty speedy to start with (about 20 mins prep, most of which is waiting around whilst the dough firms up in the fridge, perfect cup of tea interval time), and pretty speedy to bake, but the real joy is that you can make loads of dough to start with, then FREEZE IT! Fast forward a few days (or hours, midnight is a hungry, hungry, lonely time), whip out the dough, take a sharp knife, cut some rounds, and pop them straight into the preheated oven. You just have to remember to preheat the oven. Still too slow? Just want to eat the cookie dough? Well that’s pretty instant, help yourself. I warn you though, this is one occasion where the biscuits taste better than the raw material. Coming from me, queen of the unbaked snacking, that’s pretty strong.

This recipe is adapted from the wonderful Smitten Kitchen You can adapt it to any flavour that tickles your fancy: add cocoa, raisins, oats and cinnamon, poppy seeds, maybe even cheese and black pepper…


Makes 20-25*

  • 4 oz butter, room temperature (butter for once is better here, it goes firmer when cold)
  • 1/3 cup sifted icing sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 cup plain flour, sifted
  • 100g choc chips (or substitute for flavourings of your choice. Though if you add cocoa, remember to remove the same volume of flour)

If you’re going to bake some straight away, preheat the oven to gas 4/180 oC. Beat the butter and sugar together till light and creamy, then add in the egg yolk, essence, and stir in the choc chips or other flavours. Finally sift over the flour and mix with a wooden spoon till just mixed evenly. Turn out onto a floured surface and form into two balls (the dough will be quite soft). Wrap the balls in cling film and pop into the fridge for 20-30 mins. Or if you’re super impatient, into the freezer for about half this time.

Once they’re cooled, re-flour the surface and take each ball out separately. Shape using your hands into a cylinder of cookie-diameter (2 to 2.5″ diameter) Repeat with the other ball. This is your cookie roll! Now this can be wrapped carefully in cling film and popped back into the freezer for weeks to months. Or you can bake some straight away, though beware the dough will be a bit soft to cut. Simply take a knife and cut rounds of around 1 cm thickness. Pop them onto a baking sheet covered with greaseproof paper, and bake until just golden (12-14 mins). The golden cookie rule: do not overbake. Soft cookies coming out the oven will often harden up as they cool.

To bake the cookies from frozen, simply preheat the oven, take out your roll directly from the freezer and cut cookie rounds straight away! The sugar and fat content of the biscuits should mean with a sharp knife you will still be able to cut out cookies easily. Then pop into the oven for approximately the same time, maybe a few minutes more. Mmmmm.

*[DISCLAIMER: scientific study suggests cookie yield varies in inverse proportion to time spent tasting, sorry testing cookie dough. You may end up with just one roll of cookie dough, which may or may not then end up making it to the freezer. You have been warned].

Southern chocolate pecan pie

September 11, 2011

This Is Not A Post About Flapjack.

But WHY is it called flapjack? I have to ask. It’s not particularly flappy; did Jack create it? Is it something to make whilst in a flap? It is rather easy. If you’d like to try some, go for this recipe, which is both millionaire shortbread and flapjack in one. But don’t get me started on millionaire shortbread for a name. Pre-made caramel isn’t THAT expensive.

I just realised – this week (the 7th September, to be precise) The Bake Escape was ONE YEAR OLD! Happy birthday dear bakers. I may have to bake something else soon. I dreamed about brandy snaps last night. Brandy snaps and macaroons…

Today’s post is a rich, chocolate pecan pie. Despite the syrupy part of pecan pie (yuck) this is actually my favourite – or at least one of my favourite – desserts. Especially with caramel ice cream. And this is actually the second time this year I have made one (which is actually a lot. Despite loving it I hardly ever eat it. There’s something about the nuts AND chocolate AND syrup AND pastry all in one that sort of screams heart attack. Just a little bit). Hence you may notice the pictures feature two slightly different pies. Once you’re done leave naked (NB it, not you), or dust generously with cocoa powder depending on your gloss/matt Dulux preferences.

I altered the recipe however, during baking, and will alter it here in retrospect. This one includes more chocolate than my book stated, and less sugar than I used this time; I will definitely be using less sugar when I make again. It was just a little too sweet; even with a pecan pie there are limits…

Makes one shallow, 20cm pie. You’ll need a loose-based pie dish like the one above, and some baking beans.


  • 180 g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 110 g chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp iced cold water
  • 100 g light brown sugar
  • 200 ml double cream
  • 100 g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 1/2 medium egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp bourbon (optional)
  • 100 g pecan halves

Preheat the oven to 200 oC / gas mark 6. First make the pastry – which takes some prep time. Place all the top ingredients into a food processor, save the water, and process until resembling fine crumbs, which may begin to come together. Add the egg yolk and pulse, continuing just until the mixture comes together into a dough. Use some or all of the water if needed. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 20-30 mins to firm up.

Next roll out the dough on a floured surface. I use floured baking paper, which saves problems of picking the dough up to place on the tin later. It helps, believe me! Try to get it right the first time, as every time you knead or reroll the dough, it becomes tougher. Roll out into a circle several inches larger than your tin (and quite thin) and use to line it. Prick all over with a fork and chill again for 15 mins. When ready bake blind: line the pie crust with a circle of baking parchment, then fill with baking beans (this stops the pastry puffing up in the oven). Or you can use dried chickpeas instead. Bake for 15 mins blind, then a further 5-10 mins without the beans and paper until the pastry is crisp and golden. Leave to cool.

Finally to make the filling, heat the double cream and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until the sugar has completely melted and starting to simmer round the edges. Take off the heat and stir in the chocolate until smooth. Finally, add in the egg yolks and keep stirring, returning to a very low heat, until the mixture thickens (this takes a little while). When thick, take off the heat, and stir in the vanilla, bourbon and pecan halves. Pour into the cooled pastry case and chill until firm (several hours). To finish, either leave as is, dust with cocoa, or cover with chocolate shavings.

The “Southern” part is actually a bit tautologous, given that the humble pecan pie came from the South to start with. We can thank the French also, who when moving to New Orleans apparently invented the dish following their introduction to the pecan nut by their Native American neighbours. Mississippi mud pie, pecan pie, apple pie…pies will surely draw me to America. Mmm, pie.

Spiced apple and walnut cupcakes

September 1, 2011

I have recently become introduced to The Great British Bake-off on BBC 2. It is very fascinating for an amateur baker, but also strangely stressful. It makes me realise in addition, that despite being a scientist I don’t bake particularly accurately. It seems much more fun to rely on “intuition” and adjust the recipe off the cuff according to what seems a good idea or improvement. However, this is also what several others seem to do on this show, and are often judged negatively for it. It makes me wonder what these judges (as opposed to forgiving friends and family) would actually say about half the concoctions and adaptations on here.

On a plus note it was quite fun to entertain the idea of what flavour I would choose to go for to make a winning batch of cupcakes; there were some terribly inventive ones on TV. I think… pina colada cupcakes with coconut frosting. Peach melba and mango. Or maybe lemon poppyseed white white chocolate frosting. Mmmmmm

In ANY case, despite what TV judges might think, experimentation is definitely needed at times. Take for example, these spiced apple and walnut cupcakes. Another Hummingbird Bakery recipe, but like most of the recipes from them I’ve used a) they cite too much sugar in the sponge and b) the frosting recipe makes far too much. Adjusting for this, they make quite nice-tasting little cakes. Bake away.


Makes 16

  • 3 oz margarine
  • 8 oz castor sugar
  • 8.5 oz plain flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 240 mL whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 granny smith apples, cored, peeled, and cut into 1/2-1 cm cubes
  • 50 g walnuts, chopped


  • 300 g icing sugar
  • 130 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 300 g full fat cream cheese
  • Ground cinnamon, and walnut halves, for decoration


Preheat the oven to 375 oF / Gas 5 / 190 oC. Mix the sifted flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, butter and sugar together in a large bowl on slow, until all the butter is evenly distributed and the mixture looks like fine crumbs or sand. In a jug, beat together the eggs and milk, then add to the flour mixture in two separate additions, beating between each. Keep beating on medium until well mixed. Then, tip in the walnuts and apple and mix by hand to distribute. Spoon into 16 muffin/cupcake cakes (more if using fairy cases), and bake in the oven for 20-22 mins, when the cupcakes will be golden and well risen and spring back to the touch. Leave to cool on a wire rack whilst making the icing.

To decorate, beat the butter and cream cheese together with an a electric whisk, before slowly adding the sifted icing sugar. Beat on high until no lumps remain and the icing is smooth and spreadable.Add a dash of milk if it’s too thick, especially if you’re going to pipe. To cover, either fill a piping bag with a large cucpake nozzle and use to decorate, or with a small palette knife spread the frosting over each cake. To finish, dust lightly with cinnamon and top with half a walnut. The tate of autumn is in the air…