Clash of the Classics.

We shouldn’t take food too seriously.  Even if we love it and feel passionate about where it came from, how it was made and where the ingredients were sourced.  We should still take time to enjoy it and have some fun.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at the photograph above.

Having made a delicious, new cake, I could have finished it off with a light dusting of icing sugar and posted the photograph knowing that readers would be greeted by the sight of an elegant creation.  It would be the kind of image gracing only the most refined food blogs.  You know the type; minimalistic, tasteful and effortlessly sophisticated.

Instead, I went for squirty cream and sugar balls.  It sounds like a comedy double act, but in fact, it was just what I needed to lighten up a very tasty combination of custard, cream and fruity jam between vanilla sponge.

Soon, British people all over the world will be celebrating the Queen’s Diamond  Jubilee and this will cause an outbreak of Union Jacks, the like of which has not been seen since the end of the Second World War.  For some, it may prove too much.  For me, it’s an excuse for making cakes, as if I needed one.

I thought I’d post my offering for a jubilee celebration cake before the craziness began in earnest.    It’s my very own recipe inspired by two British favourites: the Victoria sponge cake and custard cream biscuits.  Both are close to the hearts of Brits and both are delicious.  I made a vanilla sponge and cut circles to construct miniature adaptations of the classic Victoria sponge.  I used Morrelo cherry jam and a custard cream made with not only custard, but custard cream biscuits too!  The results were fun and I’m not ashamed to say that the cakes didn’t see the afternoon.

If you decide to forego the squirty cream and sugar balls, you’ll still have a delicious set of cakes that have all the best elements of a classic cake and the morish custard cream biscuits.  Food should be fun.  Seriously.

Jubilee custard cream cakes

(For the sponge)

125g self raising flour

125g softened butter

125g caster sugar

1 tspoon vanilla paste

2 eggs

(For the cream)

2 tbslpoons double cream

2 tblspoons custard

6 custard cream biscuits

1 tspoon vanilla paste

You will also need 3 tblspoons Morrelo cherry jam

Squirty cream and sugar balls (optional)

First, make the sponge.  Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric whisk and then beat in the eggs.  Stir in the vanilla paste and then fold in the flour to finish.  The batter should be able to drop off a wooden spoon.  Add some milk if you think it is too stiff.

Pour the batter into a baking tray (with high sides) lined with greaseproof paper and bake for about twenty-five minutes at 180C.  Let the sponge cool on a wire rack before using a cookie cutter to cut six discs.  These will form the top and bottom of three cakes.

Whisk the double cream until it begins to stiffen and then add the custard and the vanilla paste.  Continue to whisk until the custard is combined and the consistency is thick.  Stir in the custard cream biscuits.

Top one of the sponge discs with a spoonful of cherry jam and then carefully drop a spoonful of custard cream on top.  Place a second sponge disc onto the cream and press down gently.  At this point, you can choose to dust the cake with icing sugar for a classic finish, or get the squirty cream and have a giggle.  Repeat with the other sponge discs and if you have any custard cream leftover, get a spoon and tuck in!

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A frangipane recipe for tough guys.

The stereotypical hunk: tall, dark, handsome and able to make a darn good frangipane.  I know what you’re thinking and the answer is no, I don’t quite fit the bill.  I’m short and my brother reckons he got all the looks.  Still, I rarely burn in the sun and my frangipane tartlets are as good as any you’ll find in these parts.  I can pretty much guarantee that last statement since I live in a part of the world that does not tolerate anything that is less than truly manly.  You’ll be surprised to learn that frangipane tartlets don’t rank very highly in the manly charts.  I know, I was as surprised as you.

A pint of bitter, a minced beef and onion pie, rugby and some sporadic sexism clock up way more in the manly stakes.  Funny then, that the top chefs in the world and some of the top pastry chefs are male.  There has always been a disparity between those who cook for a living and those who cook at home.  The former may be a cook with a modest repertoire and a list of previous employers longer than the menu of his current traditional English pub, or he might be a professional line cook with a good grounding in French cuisine and hopes of becoming his own boss one day.  Both at different ends of the spectrum, but equally understood as being dignified in their own way.

Then there’s the home cook.  Views on the male food enthusiast have begun to change over the last ten years.  For many, dad’s role was to carve meat and, if the weather permitted, cook a variety of sausages and burgers rather badly outside while the neighbours called the fire brigade.  The idea of men in the kitchen has been a source of mirth among housewives for decades.  Men not knowing their way around a kitchen, using every pot, pan and plate in the house to make even the simplest of meals and the dreadful offerings of heart-felt dross that grace tables every Valentine’s Day.  Sadly, some of these stereotypes have a firm historical truth.  In 2011, however, things are very different indeed.

As women have found their independence, so too have men found it necessary to fend for themselves in the kitchen.  Without writing an essay on social history, I think it’s safe to say that men and women have spent the last forty years re-defining their roles and the kitchen is one area that has changed dramatically.  It’s acceptable for men to cook for the family, women who lack any form of culinary knowledge are not embarrassed to say so, television chefs continue to make home-cooking a popular past time among young men and televised cookery competitions have no doubt inspired countless adolescents to pursue a career in a professional kitchen.

No matter how much things have changed, there is one thing that I suspect will not.  Your average bloke will not be boasting to the lads about his latest frangipane tartlet recipe over a pint of lager and a packet of pork scratchings.  Even with a wife and baby boy, a decent amount of self-esteem and the ability to eat my own body-weight in pizza, I feel slightly self-conscious about posting a recipe for apricot and almond frangipane tartlets.  They’re a delicate balance of flavour and texture and I think it’s impossible to make them at all manly.  Anyone for mangipanes?  Frangimans?  No, I didn’t think so.  Therefore, if my friends ask me what I’ve been making, I’ll just say something like beef brisket.

Almond and apricot frangipane tartlerts

250g shortcrust pastry

1 jar apricot jam

125g butter

125g icing sugar

125g ground almonds

40g plain flour

1 tspoon almond extract

whole almonds for decoration

Roll out the pastry and cut to the size of your tartlet trays.  Line each tray with the pastry and prick the base with a fork all over.  Trim the edges and place in the fridge until you’ve made the frangipane mixture.

To make the mixture, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy and light.  Add the eggs and beat until well combined.  Next, add the almond extract and the ground almonds.  Beat again and finally add the flour.  Beat one last time and don’t worry about the mixture having small lumps in it.

Spread jam over the base of the pastry and then pour the frangipane mixture over the top.  Don’t fill the tartlet tins to the top because the mixture will puff up in the oven and will ooze over the sides.  Leave at least a centimetre between the mixture and the top of the pastry case.  Decorate with flaked or whole almonds.

Bake in the oven at 200C for between twenty and thirty minutes.  The top will be golden and firm when the tartlets are done.  Lower the heat if the tartlets begin to burn and make sure that you leave them to cool before serving.  The jam will be extremely hot.