Freshly Squeezed Sunshine & Sherbet Lemon Cake!

Early mornings are the best time of day for me, when everyone else is either sleeping or getting ready to go out.  It’s usually dark when I leave & I love catching that inky blue sky as it slowly melts into an array of pretty pinks & golds.  It’s a serene time of day for me & as Christmas is getting closer, people are bustling about, bags bulging & feet burning, so I like to soak up the calm before the chaos.

Christmas cakes have been decorated with snowy scenes, presents wrapped & cards sent (except mine, because I’ve not had time to write any yet).  I’ve been sculpting little cute creatures from my homemade modelling chocolate, ready to be wrapped & hopefully not eaten.  This time of year can become a bit of a whirlwind of things to do & when this happens, I find it soothing to put on an apron & bake a cake.  Cake should be created with care, not rushed but relished & enjoyed.  A happy Cook makes a happy cake!

Cake: even the mere mention of this magical food can cause a frenzy of fresh faces at the door, eyes wide in anticipation of sweet creations.  As a child, baking always seemed like some kind of magical spell – you put a tin full of sweet tasting goo in the oven & a fluffy cloud of cake comes out!  This particular cake is the one I am best known for, my Lemon Drizzle Cake.  Lighter-than-air layers of lemon cake & whipped buttercream that seem to evaporate like a zesty zephyr with every mouthful.  It tastes like freshly squeezed sunshine & sherbet lemons, almost defying you not to feel brighter & more cheery as you eat it.  This recipe is for a seven inch three layered cake, perfect for afternoon tea with friends or a celebration of your own & yes, even Christmas!

Now you’re probably only going to need about one lemon’s worth of zest, depending on size, but you need their juice.  You all know by now that I don’t like waste, so zest all the lemons & pop spoonfuls of the extra zest in ice-cube trays & cover with a little water, then freeze for future bakes.  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

2-3 large Unwaxed Lemons, washed & dried, room temperature

For the Cake:
8oz Unsalted Butter, softened at room temperature
8oz Sugar
8oz Self-Raising Flour
4 large Eggs
2 teaspoons fresh Lemon Zest
A few drops Vanilla Extract

For the Syrup:
100ml approx of fresh Lemon Juice topped up with Sugar to 150ml (see picture here)
1 teaspoon fresh Lemon Zest

For the Buttercream:
5oz Unsalted Butter, softened at room temperature
12oz Icing Sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed Lemon Juice
1 tablespoon fresh Lemon Zest for decoration/filling

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 190*C & prepare your tins.  You will need three 7″ cake tins.  Wipe them out with a little melted butter.  I use the butter wrapper for this – you can keep them in the fridge or freezer for future bakes (you’re welcome!).  Sprinkle with a little additional flour & shake around to coat the inside of your tins.  Tap them upside down to tip out any excess flour.  Place a circle of greaseproof paper in the bottom of each tin & set them aside on your worktop.

Next, prepare your lemons.  Wash them well in warm soapy water, drying them equally well.  Once cleaned, give them a good firm roll on the worktop.  This will encourage them to give up their juice easier.

Using a zester or the fine side of a cheese grater, remove the zest of the lemons carefully.  You just want to zip off the golden skin, not the white pith underneath, so try not to use too much pressure as you zest.  Cover & set aside.

Cut each lemon in half & squeeze the juice into a cup or mug.  Don’t worry about pips, simply pour the juice into a strainer over a measuring jug.  I use a fork to juice lemons – jab it into the middle & twist while you squeeze the outside.  Set aside.

Now to make the cake batter!  Beat the butter & sugar in a large mixing bowl until a soft golden paste.

Add one egg, beating well until your mixture is glossy & fluffy.  Repeat with the rest of the eggs, one at a time.

Sift half the flour into the mixture carefully, then fold into the wet ingredients using a spatula.  Once it’s started to combine, sift in the rest of the flour & continue to fold until fully blended to a smooth, thick batter.

Sprinkle the lemon zest across the top & stir in well.

Using your whisk, give it one last beating for about 30 seconds, just to get a good gust of air in at the end.

Spoon into the prepare tins equally, smoothing down the mixture until level.

Bake on the shelf just down from the centre of the oven for approximately 18-20 minutes, until well-risen & lightly golden on top.

Using a stem of spaghetti or a skewer, gently poke the cake in the centre – if it comes out clean, it’s cooked.   Place the cakes in their tins on a cooling rack for a minute.

Slide a pallet knife between the edge of the tin & the cake to loosen it.  Turn it out very gently onto a cooling rack & peel off the greaseproof paper circle by pulling it slowly back on itself – don’t lift it up or it will bring half your cake with it.  Turn your cake over very carefully & leave to cool completely.

While the cakes are cooling, time to make the buttercream.  This is my method to blend puff-free powdered icing sugar with the butter.  It just requires a little effort & will mean you don’t have a cloud of sugar.

Tip the butter into a bowl & using a soft spatula, beat & spread it around the bowl (I usually spread it halfway up around the edges).

Very slowly add all the icing sugar – do not tip it in, use a tablespoon to scoop it into the bowl & add it as close to the butter as possible.

Using the spatula, press it into the butter & scoop from the sides of the bowl, folding & pressing until all the sugar is squished into the butter to form a very stiff paste.

Once it’s all incorporated, add a little of the lemon juice & give everything a good beating with the spatula until very light textured & fluffy.  It should be the palest, creamy colour by now.

Spoon into a piping bag with your preferred nozzle (I used a large star nozzle because that’s my favourite for this).  Fold the end & pop it into the fridge while you make the syrup.

Strain 100ml of the lemon juice into a measuring jug.  Add the sugar evenly until the liquid has risen to 150ml – you should have an equal stripe of sugar & lemon juice in the jug.

Add the lemon zest & give everything a good stir.  Either pop it in the microwave for 2 minutes on full power or dissolve in a small saucepan over a medium heat.  Once the sugar has disappeared completely, your syrup is ready.  Give it a stir again & set aside to cool slightly.

Time to start assembling your cake!  Get yourself a lovely serving plate & remove the buttercream from the fridge.  I’m going to give you a couple of tips here that I’ve learned over the years too.

Firstly, take your buttercream & pipe a small half inch splodge in the centre of your serving plate.  This will stop your cake from sliding around while you’re stacking the layers.

Take your first cake layer & flip it over, so it’s flat side up.  Lay it onto the splodge of buttercream on the plate.

Using a stem of spaghetti or a skewer, poke several holes all over the cake.

Spoon about a third of the  lemon syrup evenly all over the cake – remember, you just want to drizzle not drown the cake, so don’t overdo it or it will go soggy.  Just drizzle enough syrup all over & don’t worry if a bit goes over the edges, it will soak in.

Pipe decorative swirls around the top of the cake, to make a buttercream ring around the edge.  Fill the centre in by piping around the inner edge, getting smaller until in the middle.

Take the next layer of cake, flip it over as before & carefully lay it on top of the buttercream, making sure it’s level & even.

Repeat the above steps, poking little holes in carefully – you don’t want to go through the cake, just make little vents for the syrup to seep into.  Again, don’t worry if it goes over the edges, it will be fine.  Pipe the buttercream as before.

Place the final layer of cake on top carefully, ensuring it is level & your cake layers are all in line with each other (give it a little nudge until you’re happy with it).

Carefully poke some holes in the top cake, as before for the previous layers & add the syrup.  If you have some syrup left at the end, freeze it in ice cube trays (it’s perfect poured over ice-cream or plopped in a glass of Prosecco).

Sprinkle strands of fresh lemon zest all over the top of your cake, with a few on the plate around the edge.  That’s it, your cake is ready to slice & share!  I recommend keeping it as simple as this for an afternoon treat with friends, but if it’s for a birthday or celebration, decorate as you like!

So if you need a little sunshine, try my de-luscious & delightful Lemon Drizzle cake!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

Espresso Yourself!

Although it’s barely the beginning of March, we have been enjoying plenty of gloriously golden sunshine & blue skies, lifting everyone’s spirits.  Dainty flowers are flourishing in hedgerows & borders, a vast array of vibrant colours emerging & encouraging us to believe Spring has arrived.  It’s like we’ve just opened a window after Winter, a breathe of beautiful freshness after the cold snap.  This time of year is the most exciting for me, when the sleepy seeds & bulbs are stirring in the ground, springing from the soil & bringing a new season of flowers, vegetables & recipes!  There are always lovely smiling faces at my local shops too & although I only popped in for eggs, I always end up with a basket full of goodies (including a potted Oregano to add to my ever increasing hoard of herbs on the patio, but not the walnuts that I only remembered as I pulled into the driveway).  Whilst waiting at the checkout, I got chatting with one of our Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Fire Fighters (hi Anna!).  It never ceases to amaze me how our Fire Fighters head off into potentially highly dangerous situations (obviously they have lots of training & nerves of steel), so huge thanks & appreciation for their service!

Today would have been my Grandma’s birthday, Mamma as she was fondly known to us & she was one of the best bakers I know.  Her velvety rich chocolate cake was rather famous in our family & I would love sitting at the huge table in her kitchen, watching her carefully create this magical masterpiece.  Saturday afternoons would involve watching wrestling with Grandad (it was Giant Haystacks & Big Daddy in those days), then curling up on the sofa with Mamma & a slice of cake while we watched Calamity Jane or another old Hollywood classic.  Cake should invoke happy memories, both to the baker & the eater – birthdays, weddings, anniversaries & afternoons with your favourite people are all accompanied by a good cake (or they should be).  It’s a fabulous way to show someone how much you care & baking a cake for someone is personal, unique & one of the easiest ways to make them smile.

Perfect for Springtime afternoons, my lusciously light & lovely Coffee & Walnut cake is one of my Husband’s favourites & something I’ve been making for many years.  When I worked in an office, I would bake cakes for client meetings & once made this for an important new client – I shelled the walnuts myself & a piece accidentally got in the cake, which obviously ended up in her slice!  This recipe began as a few scribbles in the back of a notebook one afternoon, when I decided to bake & discovered a lack of sugar, so used golden syrup instead (one of my best experiments!).  Before we get started, I just want to address the type of sugar for this particular recipe.  Because golden caster sugar is not always easy to find, I tend to use light golden Demerara or Vanilla sugar (just put regular sugar in a jar with a snapped vanilla pod overnight).  It blends perfectly without any grittiness, but if you’re concerned just chuck it into a coffee grinder to make it fine.  Ready to get baking?  Hands washed & aprons on, here we go!

What you need:

6oz Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
6oz Self-Raising Flour
(plus a little extra Butter & Flour for prepping your cake tins)
4oz Sugar (I use either Demerara or Vanilla Sugar as mentioned)
2oz Golden Syrup
3 large Eggs
4oz Walnut pieces (plus 12 walnut halves for decorating the top)
4 tablespoons Espresso Coffee (leftover from the morning’s fresh pot or just strong coffee mixed in cold water)

For the buttercream:
10oz Icing Sugar
5oz Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
2 teaspoons Espresso Coffee (saved from the mixture above)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C & put the shelf in the centre of the oven.

Prepare your cake tins – you will need two 7 inch cake tins for this cake.  Grease with a little butter all around the inside (you can use the butter wrapper or just smudge around with your fingers).  Chuck in a spoonful of flour & shake it all around, until all the butter is covered.  Tip out the excess.

Cut two circles of greaseproof paper out to fit the bottom of your tins & pop one in each.  Although the butter & flour will make your tins non-stick, this will ensure your cake comes out clean too.

Put the softened butter into a large mixing bowl, pour in the golden syrup & tip the sugar on top.  Using an electric whisk (or a wooden spoon if you like), whip up the butter, syrup & sugar until light, smooth & a pale cream colour.

Crack in one egg at a time & whisk thoroughly into the mixture (it will become looser, so don’t panic).

Once all your eggs are combined, sift in the flour & then fold into the mixture.  Folding is just stirring in a figure of eight style around the bowl, until your dry ingredients are mixed into the wet.

Stir a little of the coffee into the cake mixture gently, just a spoonful at a time & taste it (it should be delicately coffee flavoured, not “smack you round the face” cake!).

Add the walnut pieces & stir in gently to combine.

Divide the mixture equally between the two cake tins, spreading out to the edges with a spatula (just to even out the mixture).

Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 25 minutes, until the centre has risen & turned a gorgeous golden brown on top.

To test if your cake is ready, poke a stick of spaghetti into the centre & if it comes out clean, your cake is done!  Pop your tins onto a cake rack to cool for a minute.

Slide a pallet knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the tin, then tip it onto your (oven gloved) hand, peel off the greaseproof paper from the base (pull it back onto itself, not straight up or you’ll break your cake) & place the cake carefully onto the cooling rack, bottom side down.  Repeat with the other one & leave to go completely cold.

Now to make the filling!  I have a certain method for making buttercream, because I really don’t like using an electric whisk & being showered in sugar!  This is the way I do it & it’s really easy, but your arms might ache after (it’s all worth it in the end!).

Tip the butter into a large mixing bowl & give it a good beating with a wooden spoon or spatula, just to make it smooth.

Add all the sugar & using your spatula, press it into the creamed butter, using the sides of the bowl as you do.

Continue until all the sugar & butter are blended into a thick, creamy mixture.  Add a little coffee, mix in & taste (again, it should be delicately flavoured).  If it becomes too loose, add another tablespoon of icing sugar & blend again.  It needs to be stiff enough to pipe onto the cake.

Pop your buttercream into a piping bag, either with a nozzle or your choice or without (I’ve used a plastic bag with a corner snipped off when I’ve not had a piping bag to hand).

Once the cake is cold, it will be easier to decorate & less likely to break up (if the weather is hot, give it 10 mins in the fridge after the cake has gone cold & this will give you a much better base to work on).

Place your bottom layer of cake onto a serving plate & pipe around the edge of the cake – I pipe a pretty pattern around the edge & then fill in the centre bit by just piping long swirls tapering off in the middle.

Carefully place the top layer of cake onto the buttercream, pressing gently down & making sure it’s even all the way around.

Pipe a small swirl of buttercream in the centre of the cake & pop a walnut half on top, pressing gently.

Pipe further swirls around the cake at equal spaces, dotting with the walnut halves as above.  If you do have any leftover buttercream, don’t throw it away – pipe little swirls or flowers onto a strip of greaseproof paper & freeze for future bakes.  Next time you have a cake emergency (yes they do exist), you have ready-made decorations.  Sometimes, I like to dust all over with a spoonful of icing sugar (put a teaspoonful in a tea strainer & shake it over your cake like a dredging of sugary snow).

Leave to set for ……. as if I’d make you wait!  Get slicing & sharing your beautiful baking!  If you do have any leftovers, wrap in cling film & freeze for an afternoon treat.  Whether you’re celebrating or just fancy a slice of sweetness, why not “Espresso yourself” & whip up my Coffee & Walnut cake to share!  Stay hungry! A 😉 x

 

 

 

 

Flip Your Stack!

Mornings can be a bit difficult at this time of year, especially if you work different shifts or random hours.  There are those days when the alarm goes off (several times, because you hit snooze like you’re playing a drum solo) & you lurch more than launch your body from it’s snuggly, fluffy duvet.  We’ve all been there – you really can’t be bothered with much more than a cup of coffee & a slice of toast for breakfast, the cat is curled up in your spot on the sofa & you’d rather watch Spongebob than the news (actually, I always watch cartoons in the morning – the news can be rather depressing, so it’s much better to start the day with a smile!).

You don’t need me to tell you that breakfasts are important – they kick-start your day & give you an energy boost before you boot up your laptop.  Most days, I’m up at 5.30am (fyi, it’s dark) & sometimes I don’t feel like eating much or cooking anything (especially when it’s cold & soggy outside!).  As I’m a huge fan of preparing in advance, there are usually a few of my apricot oat bars in a tub or my Husband’s homemade croissants in the freezer (they warm up lovely in the oven), so I don’t have to do much apart from put them on a plate.  Then there are perfectly plump pancakes.  I’m not talking about the delicately thin, elegant crêpes we usually eat on Pancake Day though.  Breakfast pancakes are duvet-like delicacies – substantially thick, warming & with a fluffy filling.  What they shouldn’t be is fiddly, time-consuming & boring!  Now I’m not saying you need to be standing around the stove, flipping fluffy pancakes for all you’re worth at stupid o’clock (as if I would suggest such a thing!).  The best way to get your pancake fix without the faff is to make a batch in advance & keep some ready made in the fridge (or freezer if you really want to be organised).

These plump little pillows take minutes to prepare & seconds to cook.  You can make some at the weekend & stash them in the fridge (they last for a few days in an airtight container), then warm them through in the toaster when you need one or three.  Here’s how to get your fluffy fix – aprons on & whisks at the ready!

What you need:

8oz Self-Raising Flour (or use Plain Flour with 4 teaspoons Baking Powder if you don’t have Self-Raising)
1oz Vanilla Sugar (just stick a vanilla pod in a jar of sugar overnight)
Quarter of a pint of Semi-Skimmed Milk
2 large Eggs
1oz Salted Butter, melted

What to do:

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl (no need to sieve it).  Add the baking powder if you’re using plain flour & give it a stir.

Add the sugar, eggs & milk, giving everything a brisk whisk to combine your mixture completely – whisk it by hand, you don’t need to get the electric one out.

Add the melted butter slowly & whisk in as you do so (the butter stops the pancakes from sticking to the pan without the need for additional fat).  It should be the consistency of double cream or natural yoghurt, so if it’s a bit too thick just add a little more milk & give it a whisk again until it leaves a trail when you lift the whisk out.

Before you start cooking, get yourself a large plate & rip up some  greaseproof paper into six inch long thin strips.  Lay one on the plate & leave the rest to one side.

Heat up a large skillet or frying pan on a medium heat – your pan needs to be nice & hot before you start cooking your pancakes.

Using a large spoon or a ladle, pour a little pancake batter slowly into the pan to make small discs, about four inches across.  Do this about three or four times, depending on the size of your pan & leave about an inch gap between them as they will grow in all directions.

After about 30 seconds or so, you will see little bubbles appearing on the surface, so carefully slide a spatula under each pancake & quickly flip it over.  Give it another 30 seconds & flip it back – it should be lightly golden & have a popped bubble sort of texture all over, which means they’re ready.

Remove each pancake, one at a time & lay on the plate with a strip of greaseproof paper in between each one to separate them.

Repeat the above steps until you have cooked all the mixture.  You should have enough for about twelve pancakes in all.

If you’re serving them immediately, cover the plate with an upside-down mixing bowl to keep them warm & transfer to the table.  If not, leave them to cool & wrap a couple at a time in clingfilm, then put them in the fridge or freezer.  You can put them in an airtight container too, just keep them separated with the greaseproof paper strips, then serve when you want some.  To reheat your pancakes, simply pop a couple in the toaster for about 30 seconds to warm through & that’s breakfast prepared!

These fabulous fluffed up pancakes don’t have to be dull either!  They are perfect with an array of fresh fruit, beautiful berries or just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice & a drizzle of golden syrup.  If I have a couple of punnets of fresh berries going spare, I’ll put them in a saucepan with some golden syrup & simmer gently until they become soft & squishy, making a warm fruit sauce to pour on top.  These soft little flatcakes also taste scrumptious with scrambled eggs – great if you fancy something a bit more exciting than cereal (which is obviously for midnight snacks).

If you’re having an impromptu dinner party, they also make a delightfully light dessert.  Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes or circles, then build them with up however you like – try layering with rich, dark black cherry jam & a spoonful of whipped cream, dusting a little grated chocolate on the top to finish.  One of my favourite ways to serve them is to splodge spoonfuls of apricot jam in between the layers with whipped cream, top with a couple of fresh raspberries, then drizzle with pureed peaches – open a tin of peaches, chuck them in the blender, whizz up with a squeeze of lemon juice & pour into a serving jug!  If you don’t want to use cream, maybe use strawberry or raspberry ice cream instead.  These sumptuous stacks of sweetness look impressive & are really quick to assemble (especially if you have a few pancakes already made).  There would have been pictures, but they never last long enough!

Next time you fancy a fluffy breakfast without the faff, flip a stack of these fabulously plump pillows onto a plate & enjoy a little indulgence.  Stay hungry 😉 Aimee x