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!

All’s fair in love and cheesecake.

Which wonders of the food world make you salivate at the mere thought of them?  For me, it’s a good pizza, a slice of bougatsa, Japanese curry, Cajun shrimp, souvlaki or egg and chips- probably all served on separate plates, but not necessarily.

For my favourite little food guinea pig (N), it’s likely that white chocolate cheesecake will make the list.  Alongside blondies, white chocolate cheesecake is one of my few creations that provokes such an excited reaction from her.  I always have white chocolate and cream cheese on hand in case there’s trouble at the ranch.

Perhaps there are wives or husbands across the world right now, preparing a favourite meal for their spouse: a tasty cushion to soften the blow of some bad news, an apology for dessert.  Perhaps there are families gathered around their go-to dish for particular events.  Does anyone else have an “In case of emergency eat this” dish?

I’m happy to report that I’ve not needed to break the glass on the emergency white chocolate for a long time.  In fact, it’s been over a year since the cake has made an appearance (and even then, it was to brighten up a rainy weekend).  Time then to share with you that most precious of recipes: the recipe that puts smiles on me and my dearest no matter what.  Her smile for the cheesecake, mine for her smile.  “For goodness sake!  He’s supposed to be writing about  food!  What’s is he playing at?”  Relax, here’s the oh-so easy recipe.  Enjoy.

White chocolate cheesecake

300g cream cheese

200g white chocolate

175g digestive biscuits

100g caster sugar

120g butter (melted)

60ml double cream

1 tspoon cinnamon

1 tspoon vanilla extract

Begin by crushing the biscuits and stirring in the melted butter and cinnamon.  Press the biscuits into the base of an eight inch round cake tin and place in the fridge for at least thirty minutes.

Next, use an electric whisk to combine all of the sugar, vanilla, cream cheese and cream in a bowl.  Melt the white chocolate gently over a pan of hot water and blend into the cream cheese mixture.

Tip the mixture onto the biscuit base and spread evenly using a plastic spatula.  Place the cake in the fridge for an hour or more to make it firm and easier to cut.  You can now decorate it in any way you wish, but I’ll be honest, I never get as far as that stage.

No bake chocolate cake.

I can only apologise for the delay in food action this week.  Preparation for my baby boy’s baptism have given me little or no time to get close to my beloved oven.

There’s no way that I can resist making something, so it was a real guilty treat to knock together my no bake chocolate.  Essentially, it is nothing more than melted chocolate and some tasty bits, but it does the trick.

No oven, no special techniques or weird ingredients.  Just plenty of chocolate and a gorgeous cake in no time at all.  Been promising to try a recipe out, but not had the time?  Perhaps this is the one for you.  Enjoy!

No bake chocolate cake

250g dark chocolate

230g butter

200g chocolate digestive biscuits

60g demerara sugar

4 tblspoons black coffee

100g pecans

100g glace cherries

100g mini marshmallows

half tspoon vanilla extract

Melt the butter, chocolate and sugar together in a pan and then stir in the vanilla extract.  Crush the biscuits, but not too finely.  Plenty of biscuit chunks is what you’re looking for.  (Plain digestives work just fine, but I’ll take any excuse to get more chocolate into the recipe!)

Stir the biscuits and cherries and pecans into the chocolate.  Add the marshmallows last so that they don’t melt into the chocolate, but keep their shape.

Tip the mixture into a lined loaf tin and place in the fridge until it is set.  Cut thin slices and serve with coffee.


Caramel monster cake.

The first Halloween at The Last Piece of Cake!  I’ve been determined to make something special for Halloween, but I promise to spare you the awful puns and themed vocabulary.

The marketing monsters have really cranked Halloween up in England and not a shop is without a splash of orange, a little purple or a cobweb in the window.  Yes, I think America would be proud of the influence it has had on Halloween festivities here.  Soon, however, the plastic spiders, the chattering skulls and glow-in-the-dark witch’s fingers will be packed away and quickly replaced with snowy scenes and glitter-covered dangly decorations.

Swiftly then, let’s get onto the good stuff!  As I’ve mentioned before, my mum is The Queen of Puddings.  It’s not an official title and to be fair, it’s likely that somewhere in the world, there is a genuine Queen of Puddings who would become rather flustered if she were to hear me bestowing the title on my mum in a food blog.  The fact is, my mum lives for everything that is sweet in this world and far from simply gorging on it, she also creates a fair amount of sugary awesomeness for her adoring family.

This week, mum made some very chocolatey brownies to welcome us back from a trip to London.  Yesterday, she visited with the rest of the brownies because there were too many for her to get through.  You can see how hard my life is, can’t you?

My childhood was one long list of amazing birthday cakes and scrumptious bakes as mum enjoyed being creative and serving up beautiful, warm, joy fresh from the oven.  Birthday cakes ranged from wonderfully iced squares with our name and age to WWF (as it was then) wrestling rings complete with sugar laces for ropes and marshmallows for turnbuckles.  Whatever me and my brother were into at that time, mum would find a way to make a cake from that theme.  She did it with so much love and it has always touched me that she used her creativity in such a wonderful way.  It’s something I’d like to do for my family and I’ve got a feeling that this caramel monster cake will be making an appearance beyond Halloween.

I’d spotted the red food colouring weeks ago during a re-shuffle in my ingredient cupboard.  I knew there and then that the cake I’d make for Halloween would be bright red, but I didn’t know what kind of cake it would be.  Where to start?  Well, red velvet cake is pretty simple to make, but doesn’t really taste of anything.  I wanted a cake that was tasty and not just a novelty because of how it was decorated.  My mum’s cakes always tasted fantastic, regardless of the theme.  Why make a cake that isn’t full of flavour?

For some reason, the internet is awash with recipes involving caramel and salt combinations recently.  No complaints from me, but I’m not sure where the trend has come from.  I love caramel and I thought it might be cool to cover the cake with caramel frosting.  Now that would be tasty!  Plenty of salt crystals would keep me happy and stop me from reaching for the peanut butter (which I think would be a brilliant base for some frosting).  I didn’t want a peanut flavour, I wanted pure caramel.  It was an experiment from start to finish, but I’m happy with this little monster.  Maybe I can scare away the trick-or-treaters with it!

Caramel monster cake

200g self-raising flour

200g butter (softened)

100g dark muscovado sugar

100g demerara sugar

4 eggs

2 tblspoons milk

1 tblspoon ground cinnamon

2 tspoons red food colouring

1 tspoon baking powder

(For the frosting)

1 tin (390g) sweetened condensed milk

100g demerara sugar

60g dark muscovado sugar

2 tblspoons butter

2 tspoons red food colouring

1 tspoon vanilla extract

The cake itself is similar to a basic sponge cake.  The method is certainly the same.  Begin with a bowl of the flour and baking powder and cinnamon.  Add the eggs, milk and sugar and beat until smooth with an electric hand mixer.  Add the food colouring.  You may need to add more to get a really good red.

Divide the mixture between two 20cm sandwich tins lined with baking paper.  Bake in the centre of the oven at 180C for about twenty-five minutes.  The middle should be springy and a skewer should come out clean when the cakes are done.  Cool them on a wire rack until ready to decorate.

To make the frosting, heat all of the ingredients in a small pan until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved.  Stir constantly to avoid burning the pan.  Make sure the heat is not too high so as to prevent the sugar from burning.  I was careless and burned the bottom of the pan- what can I say?  I’m a genius.

Bring the caramel to the boil and cook for two minutes.  Take it off the heat and continue to stir as it cools.  At this point, I sprinkled lots of sea salt into the pan for extra texture and the lovely saltiness that complements caramel so well.  The caramel will begin to set so you need to start working with it while it is still warm, but not too hot.  I frosted between the two cakes to make a sandwich and then coated the entire cake once assembled.  All that was left to do was to add the mouth and eyes.  I used mini marshmallows for the teeth and found some Halloween jelly sweets for the eyes.  A final sprinkle of sea salt, and the caramel monster cake was complete.

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.

Trying to explain carrot cake to a Frenchman.

I’ll hold my hands up now and declare that it’s true.  I wrote at length about carrot cake.  Heck, I even baked a few!  One thing’s for sure, the recipe for this most comforting of cakes has yet to make an appearance on the blog.  “A travesty!”,  I hear you cry.  Yes, I’m aware that it is listed in the recipe drop-down menu.  “What other crimes against cakes have you committed?”, I hear you demand.  Let’s all just get a grip here.  We’re talking about cake.  A good cake, but a cake none-the-less.

Before you start throwing cinnamon in my eyes and prodding me with a wooden spoon, let me just say that the following recipe is one that has taken a long time to perfect and I’m very proud of it.  Don’t go printing it off for any old chap in the street, or one of those friends that you accepted as a friend online, but if you saw them in the street you’d dive into a shop before they saw you.  You know the ones I’m talking about.  This is a recipe that I believe will lead you to a slice of something rather special.  It’s our little secret that we can smugly keep to ourselves while basking in the praise from those lucky enough to eat it.  Okay, okay..give it to whoever you like!  The world needs good cake.

It’ll be September soon and my French father-in-law will be making his way across the water with a suitcase full of saucisson and Cotes Du Rhone.  It was on his last visit that I had to explain what carrot cake was, all the time watching him scrutinise my every facial expression for some grain of dishonesty.  He was convinced I was pulling his leg.  “But you say that the carrot is in the cake?”  He just couldn’t understand how this could be and he was even more surprised when I explained that it was not savoury.  It wasn’t until he sampled a slice, and then a second, and then another that I saw he was convinced, converted and content.  “This is a good one”, he said, “Who could believe that the carrot is inside it? Perfect!” 

My perfect carrot cake

(For the cake)

300g carrots (grated)

250g wholemeal flour

175g Muscovado sugar

175g light brown sugar

175ml vegetable oil

3 eggs

2 tblspoons Greek yoghurt

2 tspoons vanilla extract

2 tspoons cinnamon

1 tspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 tspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 tspoon salt

(For the icing)

200g cream cheese

120g icing sugar

3 tblspoons double cream

2 tspoons cinnamon

zest of 1/2 lemon

Begin by beating the eggs, vanilla, oil and all of the sugar in a medium-sized bowl.  Next, add the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, bicarbonate of soda and salt to the bowl and give it a good stir.  I usually add the Greek yoghurt next and stir it in.  Finally, stir in all of the grated carrots.

Pour the cake mixture into a 20cm cake tin and bake in the oven at 150 degrees Celsius for about an hour and a half.  It’s best to check the cake by sliding a knife into the centre.  You’ll know it’s done when the knife comes out clean.  Leave the cake to cool before trying to remove it from the tin.

For the icing, just give all of the ingredients a whisk and spread over the cooled cake.  You can grate extra lemon zest onto the cake or even add some curls of zest for decoration.  To be honest, this cake rarely lasts long enough to warrant careful decoration!

PS  I usually make this cake in a shallow sandwich tin and use the rest of the cake batter to fill a loaf tin.  I bake them both at the same time, but I put the loaf out of sight and eat it when nobody is looking.  A little carrot cake loaf is so much easier to hide!