Friday, May 28, 2010

Old-Fashioned Eccles Cakes

As I alluded to before, I sort of have a thing for blogs. I was determined to find some other food blogs to read, and finally found one I really like. I've linked to it over there => Brown Eyed Baker. 

The nice thing about her blog is that she provides lots of recipes, so if you see something you really want to try, you can! Anyway, going through her archives, I noticed every month she was participating in something called Daring Bakers. They were a group of food bloggers and each month one participant challenged everyone to make the same recipe. They had the whole month to do it, and at the end of the month, they all posted about it. It seemed interesting, so I followed her link to the website, which it seems, has grown exponentially over the past couple of years. I read some more about it and decided it was something I want to try. So, I joined the Daring Kitchen. At the beginning of each month, I'll get a new recipe to bake. On the 27th (or maybe later depending on how much I decide to procrastinate) I will post my experience with the recipe. Some of the past recipes have included different pastries and breads, so it seems like it will be challenging but fun since I'll be "assigned" a recipe. I also think this will help expand my repertoire of recipes. I'll get my first assignment in June, so be on the look out for my first Daring post at the end of next month.

For now, let's focus on pastry, puff pastry to be specific. I absolutely love puff pastry, and although there is a recipe for it in my cookbook, given my losing streak over the past few weeks, I didn't want to take any chances. Instead, for this recipe, I just used store bought, which is perfectly delicious. These little cakes, as Dan said after he bit into one, are "very British." They originated in the town of Eccles (hence the name) and have a filling made of dried fruits which I've found to be very common in British cooking. 

Here are the ingredients:

demerara sugar, golden raisins, currants, lemon, orange, brown sugar, nutmeg, ground cloves, cinnamon, apples, and butter, eggs, and puff pastry (none of which are pictured because I forgot to take them out of the fridge)

The first instruction is to roll the puff pastry out so that it is 1/4 inch thick. I took mine out of the package expecting to have to roll it out, but happily found that a store bought sheet is exactly that thick. I took out the 3 sheets I needed and laid them on a baking sheet in the fridge to rest until I was ready to use them. 

 the other two sheets are underneath

In the meantime, I combined the golden raisins, currants, and some of the zest and juice of the orange and lemon.

I added the brown sugar and spices and mixed everything together.


I added the melted butter next, and beat the eggs together. I weighed out 75g of egg and added it to the fruit mixture, reserving the remaining egg for an egg wash.

I peeled and grated 2 apples and added it to the mix. 

The recipe also calls for candied mixed peel, but there is a note that this can be replaced by the same weight of golden or regular raisins. I actually couldn't find the mixed peel in the store, so I chose to replace it with more apple since raisins aren't my favorite.

At this point, I preheated the oven and took the pastry out of the fridge. Using a circle I measured and cut out from a paper plate, I cut 6 circles from the sheets of puff pastry. I had plenty of dough left over but mostly in the form of scraps from cutting the first 6 circles. I needed to re-roll it in order to get 6 more circles, which took quite a while and I started to worry I was working with the dough too much, which would make it heavy and tough. While I worked with the remaining dough, I put the already prepared circles back in the fridge to keep them cold. With all the circles cut out (and almost every scrap of dough used), I put the circles which I had cut last in the fridge while I started to fill the ones which had already been resting. 

The method used here is to fill each circle of pastry with the fruit filling, tuck the excess pastry around the filling to form a smooth, tight ball, and then place it smooth side up onto a baking sheet.

Although the recipe says to use a heaping tablespoon of filling in each circle, I used closer to 2 tablespoons. At first, I had a hard time forming the filled bundles so they sealed with no filling showing. The filling had a lot of liquid in it which kept squeezing out of the pastry as I tried to close it, and I couldn't find a way to keep each cake sealed shut. I also found I needed to add more filling to the first few so that I didn't have too much excess pastry on the bottom of each cake. 

Once I had the pastry mostly formed around the filling, I placed each cake on a parchment-lined baking sheet and sort of tucked the pastry to try to seal it a little tighter. By the time I started with number 6, I was getting the hang of it. The key was to put enough filling into each circle so that I needed to stretch the pastry slightly in order to close it. This worked really well, and I got the remaining 7 cakes filled and sealed without too much liquid leaking out.

Finally all 12 cakes were filled and ready. I had a little filling left over, but it was mostly liquid. I knew some of the first few I did weren't quite sealed, so when I read that I now had to pick up each one and dip the top into the demerara sugar*, I laughed. Because there was just no way I was going to be able to keep them nice and formed if I had to pick them up again. I went ahead and brushed the tops with the reserved egg and just sprinkled the top heavily with the sugar instead, which worked just fine. I made two small slits in the top of each cake, and put them into the oven. 

*Demerara sugar is granulated brown sugar which I found right in the baking aisle in my regular grocery store

The cakes baked for about 35-37 minutes, 10 minutes longer than the recipe instructed. The tops were nice and golden brown, but to be sure they were done, I gently lifted a few with a fork to be sure the underside of the pastry was cooked through. 

I had split the 12 cakes between 2 trays, one of which held all of my "early" attempts which hadn't quite sealed as well. The juice leaked out of these a little, not to mention it had dripped onto the parchment while I was making the bundles, and unfortunately (but not surprisingly) it burned in the oven.
This didn't have too much of an impact on the cakes, except for the bottoms:

 At least there's no filling showing!

Thankfully, the other tray held the more successfully wrapped cakes, which came out really well.

I took these off the baking sheets and left them to cool for about 30 minutes. I wanted them to be warm, but was cautious to eat them too soon since the filling would have been molten hot. They probably only needed about 20 minutes, but the pastry was still warm and the filling was perfectly edible. 

I took one bite and was in love. It was absolutely heavenly. The sweet, tender, crispy pastry was a perfect shell for the soft, sweet, tangy filling. Frankly, I think practically anything wrapped in puff pastry is 100% delicious, and these did not disappoint. As the chef, I of course took one of the less than perfect ones that had a slightly burned bottom, but even that didn't deter from how delicious it was. I thought I would be put off by the raisins and currants since I'm not a big fan of either, but they worked so well together with the citrus and spices. I didn't really taste any apple, but I suspect it gave the filling some added sweetness. The sugar on top added a nice crunch.  

I brought these over to Dan's parent's house for dinner the next day, but really wanted them to be warm when I served them. I used the same trick as with the Apple Dried Cherry Turnovers and just put them in the oven for a few minutes to warm through, which was perfect. Everyone really liked the spice combination and there were only a few crumbs left when we finished. 

The nice thing about these is that they're very versatile. I'm sure you could substitute the raisins and currents for dried blueberries or cherries, or maybe even figs, or a combination of fruit and preserves. Or dare I say...chocolate?

Next Indulgence: Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwiches

Monday, May 24, 2010

Apple and Poppy Seed Cake

Growing up, I wasn't exactly the sporty type. While my older sister donned her cheerleading uniforms and field hockey kilts, I was more likely to be found on stage or at theater camp.

Yes, theater camp. For 3 summers. I'll just wait here while you all laugh.

All set? Good.

While I wasn't ever on the playing field, I did attend many of my sister's games, and tried to be as enthusiastic as one can be about something that doesn't really matter to them, but matters to someone close to them. Plus, I was 12 and went where I was told.

I bring this up now not to bemoan my sad lack of hand-eye coordination, but because Dan just joined a softball league and their first game is tonight. He's been talking about it for weeks, attending practices, and leaving his disgusting well-worn glove and shoes laying around, I think as a sign of pride. He's made mention a few times of me coming to his games, and I've hesitantly agreed knowing that I'll probably have to go right after work and likely won't have anyone to complaint to sit with.

Nevertheless, I am a supportive girlfriend, so when we were talking about it last week, I offered up this little gem:

Dan: I'm really looking forward to Monday night. Do you think you're going to come?
Me: Yeah, I'll be there. I can haggle the other team!
Dan: ... Heckle?
Me: *Hangs head in shame*

You see? I can't even get the sports lingo right. I think he may be rethinking his request that I attend. Or perhaps he'll just pretend he doesn't know me. Which is why it is important to bribe him with baked goods. Like Apple cake.

This was actually one of the first recipes I wanted to try when I started this book. I think it was during the phase when I thought I had lost my whisk attachment though, so I put it off and put it off. And considering how it turned out, I'm sort of happy I didn't make it in the beginning.


a tangy apple, lemon, almond flour, plain flour, salt, poppy seeds, butter (in a bowl because I left it on the hot oven and it started to melt), powdered sugar, egg, caster sugar

To begin, I preheated the oven and prepared a loaf tin by buttering it and lining it with parchment paper. I peeled the apple and grated it on a box grater. I put the apple in a bowl with some lemon zest and juice so it wouldn't brown and set it aside.

Into another bowl, I sifted the plain flour with a pinch of salt and the almond flour which I found in the natural food section of the grocery store.

The almond flour was not very fine which made it a challenge to sift. I resorted to pressing it through the sieve with a spoon, and when I couldn't stand that any more, I just dumped the rest in. I added the poppy seeds to the sifted flour and mixed it together.

I set this aside, and in another bowl, creamed the butter with powdered sugar. Once it was pale and thick, I added an egg yolk and mixed to combine.

Since I only have one bowl for my stand mixer, I transferred this mixture to another large bowl and washed it out so I could use it to whisk an egg white with some caster sugar. I did my best to be patient, and let the egg white whisk until it reached stiff peaks. When I whisked egg whites for the Sachertorte, they were very foamy as there wasn't a lot of sugar in them. For this cake, there was a larger proportion of sugar to egg white, so the mixture became more like meringue: smooth and shiny.

Amazing the difference a little sugar can make

Now it was time to incorporate everything together. I added half the egg white mixture to the butter mixture and folded to incorporate, followed by half the flour mixture. I repeated the process until all the egg and flour was combined.

The last thing I folded in was the apple and lemon, which made the mixture a little wet, but it was still nice and light.

I poured the batter into the loaf pan. There is a note in the recipe cautioning against filling the loaf pan too much since the finished cake should not be more than 2 inches high. I didn't have a problem with that though as the mixture filled the loaf pan just about halfway.

I put the cake in the oven and baked it for 30 minutes. When I tested it, a toothpick came out clean, but the top of the cake was very light in color, not the golden brown it should have been. I left it for another 15 minutes, by which time the edges were turning a medium brown and the top was a little more set, but still very pale. I didn't want to over bake it, so I took it out and left it in the loaf pan to cool.

After a while, I went to check on how the cake was cooling, and found that it had shrunk! Or maybe I should say that it sunk. It was about half as tall as it had been when I removed it from the oven, which meant it was only about 1 inch high. Poor little cake.

I took the cake out of the pan and sprinkled the top with more powdered sugar. I really wanted to taste it but wasn't sure how to cut it. A loaf should really be cut into slices, but the cake was so thin! It really could be cut into squares, like brownies. I went with the slices anyway though since I only wanted a small taste.

Here was my problem with this cake: too much poppy, not enough cake. I'm not sure if I didn't bake it long enough or what, but I just didn't like the taste or texture of this. It was very crumbly and tart from the apple, which was OK, but I think I was expecting/hoping for more of a lemon poppy seed muffin type of thing. And this was not it. It wasn't sweet enough for me and left me picking seeds out of my teeth. It's rare that I just don't like something I've made, which is why I was thankful that I had waited a while to make this. Had I made it when I first picked up the book, I think it would have left me second guessing that any of the recipes would be good, and so many of them are.

Oh well, I'll guess I'll have to bring something else to Dan's game. Maybe a big sparkly sign, something like: "Softball: Not just for girls anymore!" Think he'll like it?

Next Indulgence: Old-Fashioned Eccles Cakes

Friday, May 21, 2010


Sorry I haven't updated in a while. I just haven't really felt motivated to post, possibly because everything I'm making lately has SUCKED and FAILED.

Excuse me while I take this moment to pout.

*pout pout pout*

You see, I'm a perfectionist. (I know, you had NO idea) Especially when it comes to cooking and baking. It's the one of the things I feel like I'm pretty good at, so when something I'm cooking isn't successful, I get really frustrated. Especially when I can't pinpoint what went wrong.

In the last few posts, I've had sort of an idea of maybe where I went wrong, and some of them weren't even that bad (the chocolate eclairs were certainly edible but the Coffee and Walnut Fudge, not so much). Nevertheless, I've continued to bake, hoping that my luck will just sort of pick up. I think that's why I decided to make a cake for this next post, which is something I feel a little more comfortable doing even if it's a cake I've never made before.

I went home to Virginia Beach for the weekend so my family became my taste testers.

Ok, enough with the talking. On to the failure cooking. Ingredients:

 butter, caster sugar, eggs, dark chocolate, flour (in the canister), salt, apricot preserve

I preheated the oven and prepared the cake tin by buttering it, adding parchment paper to the bottom, and flouring it. I creamed the butter with about 3/4ths of the sugar, and then added the egg yolks one at a time.

I stirred in melted chocolate and then added the flour by sifting in a little at a time and folding it in.

In a separate bowl, I whisked the egg whites with the remaining sugar and a pinch of salt. I let them whisk for as long as I could, but I don't think they quite made it to stiff peaks. 

 What can I say? I'm impatient

When I was thoroughly bored watching the egg whites whip, I added them a little at a time to the chocolate mixture, folding them in like I did the flour.

I transferred this mixture to the prepared cake pan and baked it for 45 minutes. I let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes before turning it out upside down onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Because this cake is cut in half, it's suggested that you bake it the night before to ensure it cools completely so it's easier to handle. I made mine early in the morning so it had plenty of time to cool.

Once cool, I cut the cake in half and placed the bottom half onto a paper plate I cut to fit the size of the cake. This was my sister's idea since the recipe called for a cardboard cake card, which I didn't have, and it's much easier to move a cake dripping in chocolate when it has something solid to rest on. 

The cake was surprisingly not crumby or crumbly. The cut surface was perfectly smooth which sounds strange, but it's hard to describe. It was light but also very solid which made it really easy to cut in half. 

I measured out the right amount of apricot preserve and brought it to a boil in a small saucepan. I poured it through a sieve to make a kind of syrup.

Using a pastry brush, I brushed some of the syrup onto the bottom layer of the cake, but only brushed one thin layer of the syrup because I didn't want it to be too overwhelming. (I remembered the Lemon Cake which was way too lemony.) I placed the top layer onto the cake and brushed the top and sides with more apricot syrup.

 I let my sister help with this and she was much more liberal with the syrup, although you can see that I had some leftover in the bowl behind the cake

Finally, it was time to make the chocolate glaze for the top of the cake. I boiled water and more sugar together, and immediately added the chopped chocolate off the heat. 

I stirred slowly and gently as too vigorous stirring would result in a dull and less smooth glaze. But as the chocolate melted, I could tell something wasn't right. The glaze was grainy and not smooth, like the chocolate hadn't completely melted.

 Exhibit A

I thought perhaps the sugar water mixture had cooled off too quickly, so I returned the pan to the heat so the chocolate would melt more. This did seem to help somewhat, but it still was not as smooth as it should have been, and was getting thinner.

Exhibit B-

There were only 3 steps to this process. Seriously, how could I have messed it up? I resigned myself to the fact that the glaze just wouldn't be perfectly smooth, but at least it would still taste good. I poured it over the cake and prepared to spread it in as few motions as possible to keep it nice (ha) and shiny (ha ha).


Epic Fail.

All the glaze just slipped right off the cake like the watery chocolate it was and there was no stopping it. I stood there staring at it forlornly as my sister and mom tried to make helpful suggestions.

Me? I wanted to take my knife and stab the cake until it was dead dead dead.

Damn cake.

I had no idea what went wrong. After a few minutes I picked up the parchment paper that had caught all the fallen chocolate and poured it back over the cake. The glaze had thickened slightly, so this helped a little. 


I was still extremely disappointed that something so simple had failed so tremendously. But my sister and mother were not so easily defeated.

But, when all else fails, add more chocolate.  

My mom melted some plain semi-sweet chocolate and poured it over the top. 

This didn't really help the appearance of the cake (clearly), but whatever, there was more chocolate now and that was all that mattered.

When we tried it after dinner that night, I think we all agreed that it was good, but not great. The cake was nice and light, but didn't have a lot of flavor. 

Theoretically the apricot should have made up for this, but I made the wrong decision when I left half of the apricot syrup on the bowl. You could barely taste it and the middle layer had completely soaked into the cake so there was no filling. 

Now, I'm not one to typically mix fruit with my chocolate (chocolate and orange: blech. Mint and chocolate? no thanks. I may be the only person in the country who hates HATES Thin Mint girl scout cookies. Ew.), but I sort of wished for more apricot. The thin layer I brushed in the middle of the cake was completely absorbed and made no impact. I was thankful my sister had used a heavier hand with the top and sides of the cake, because you could just taste the apricot under the chocolate, and I really liked it. It was a nice light flavor, and since the chocolate of the cake wasn't overwhelming, I think it was a welcome addition I would have liked more of (and could have been accomplished by using all the apricot syrup I had). The glaze actually tasted fine. Nice and chocolatey and it did harden, but to a dull finish.

When I told Dan about this EPIC FAILURE because I'd failed! FAILED! I am a disgrace to my craft! (this was in the midst of the chocolate glaze debacle when I was being perhaps a teensy bit dramatic. Just a smidge), he brought up a point that I am aware of but sometimes choose to ignore: it takes more than 1 try to perfect a recipe. And I know this. Every time I make something new, I think, "Oh good. Now I know for next time that I should reduce the baking time by 10 minutes" or "Next time I'll definitely add LESS lemon syrup" etc. etc.

And I know this. But right now, that's not really my concern. I'm more interested in working my way through this book than I am perfecting every recipe. The irony of course is that I want everything to be perfect the first time. And that's just not going to happen. So I'll press on, but this next cake had better go well. If it knows what's good for it...

Next Indulgence: Apple and Poppy Seed Cake
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