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Apricot & Almond Tart

There’s no denying my favourite thing to bake is a cake that involves frangipane. Be it a Bakewell Tart or Rhubarb Tart I love the almond sponge. A few weeks ago mum gave me a jar of apricots that had been steeping in a thick whisky syrup and decided that combining them with a frangipane tart would be a great cake for the Easter weekend. While not necessarily a traditional Easter cake it certainly ties to spring with the colours.

While it’s lovely to use fresh fruit the wonders of preservation mean we can eat fruit all year round. I know some people are a bit stuffy about using tinned/jarred fruits but I have no such qualms as they still count as one of your 5 a day; ok maybe not when served in a cake! Preservation is an age-old method that allowed our ancestors to eat a balanced diet. If it was good enough for them it’s good enough for me. You don’t have to preserve your own fruit (though this is a great thing to do if you have a local PYO or a glut of fruit) as  there is a great choice out there. If you’re not looking for uniform fruit pieces many of the supermarket’s basic ranges are fantastic for fruit salads and fillings. Another gem  is to look in places like Home Bargains or B&M Bargins. You often get imports or more obscure end of lines for very good price. These apricots came from one of these stores. The pastry used in this tart is rich and can be rolled out quite thin which gives a fantastic crust to the pie. Certainly don’t skip the step of brushing the hot pastry with egg white as this seals the pastry and can stop filling leaking out.

Apricot & Almond Tart
serves 8-10

PASTRY

125g plain flour

Pinch of salt

75g unsalted butter, cold and diced

25g caster sugar

1 egg yolk

1 tsp cold water

1 egg white

FILLING

100g butter, softened

100g caster sugar

2 large eggs

25g plain flour

100g ground almonds

1 tsp almond extract

30g flaked almonds

20 apricot halves

1)In a large bowl mix together flour, salt and sugar then rub in butter until you have the consistency of breadcrumbs. Stir in the egg yolk and water until you have a smooth dough. Flatten into a disk, cover in clingfilm and refrigerate for 45 min.

2)On a floured surface roll out the dough until it is about 3mm thick then line a 20cm tart tin with the pastry. Lightly prick the base with a fork and chill for 30 min.

3) Preheat the oven to 180oc (160oc fan). Line the pastry case with baking parchment and baking beans then bake for 20min until pastry is a light golden colour. Remove the beans and parchment, brush the inside of the pastry shell with egg white and bake for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 min

4) While the pastry is cooling beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs and almond extract. Stir in the flour and ground almonds until well combined.

5) Pour frangipane mix into pastry case. Level out with a pallet knife. Press apricot halves in to the frangipane mixture then sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake for 35-40 until risen and golden.

6) Allow to cool in tin before eating.

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Light Chocolate Cake for Easter

Julia Parsons from A Slice of Cherry Pie has hosted an Easter Cake Bake since 2007. My previous entries have included Mini Egg Tiffin and Simnel Cupcakes. I was pleased when she announced she was hosting it again as I already had a cake in mind. Easter in the culinary world usually means chocolate and a lot of it. As we had visitors this weekend I thought it would be a great opportunity to make my first ever sandwich cake (yes you read that right, my first!) and bake something from my newest cookbook purchase – Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache by Harry Eastwood.

Sometimes I’m a bit slow to jump on the cookery bandwagon, I haven’t attempted cake pops, whoopie pies or macarons yet. When Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache was released in 2009 I admit I didn’t pay too much attention to it even if I’d been baking vegetables in cakes for a while. Until someone on twitter was talking about this book recently I didn’t really appreciate what it was about. This isn’t just about baking with vegetables it’s about gluten free baking and baking cakes without butter. Shocking at first the thought of baking without butter, but this can be replaced in the cake by vegetables. As Harry points out only use butter in cakes where it is going to be tasted. With the ever-increasing price of butter this is good advice. In the case of the Light Chocolate Cake the butter is replaced with Butternut Squash. While the majority of the recipes featured in the book use rice flour this can often be substituted with plain flour if you wanted to. I haven’t had a problem sourcing rice flour. Sainsbury’s sells Doves Farm rice flour, but you won’t find it by the conventional flour it’s but the free from foods. Holland & Barrett also sell brown rice flour.

You would never guess this moist, fluffy cake was gluten free and tasted far from virtuous. In keeping with the slightly haphazard way I bake the two layers of the cake were slightly different sizes, I was too stubborn to go and buy two identical tins but being blinded by the chocolate no one noticed. I could have trimmed the layers to make them equal, but was running out of time.

I could put the recipe below, but if you followed it probably wouldn’t work as the recipes from this fantastic cookbook are not simply recipes they are a revolution in baking. To get the most out of the recipe you need to read the introduction in the beginning of the book that explains the ingredients and methods that are different to traditional baking. To give you an idea about the recipes in Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache Harry has put a few of the recipes on her website. I wholeheartedly recommend buying the book and look forward to baking from it again soon.

Long awaited Hot Cross Buns

I’ve been trying to bake the perfect Hot Cross Buns for the last few Easters and until now these doughy treats had eluded me. Past Hot Cross Buns have resembled rock cakes, the crosses had dribbled off or they were frankly inedible.

Deciding not to be beaten, this year I decided to consult my bread bible, Bread: River Cottage Handbook. I’ve used it for many recipes in the past including focaccia and bagels and never has it let me down. The reason I love this book so much is that not only does it produce great recipes, it isn’t patronising (like lots of bread baking books can be) and it advises how you can adapt the recipes and make them your own.

The one thing I accidently missed out of the recipe was the egg, this is added to enrich the dough. Given I forgot it, the buns still tasted delicious. Especially warm from the oven, split and slathered in butter. I think this recipe may be making appearance outside the Easter season minus the crosses. But then again, if the supermarkets are anything to go by it’s Easter all year round. Trust me, these homemade versions are worth waiting for.

Hot Cross Buns
From Bread: River Cottage Handbook – Dan Stevens
Makes 8 large buns

250g strong white bread flour
250g plain white flour
1 tsp mixed spice
125ml milk, at room temperature
125ml water, at room temperature
7g fast action yeast
10g fine salt
50g caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
50g butter, softened
100g dried mixed fruit

For the crosses:
plain flour
water

For the glaze:
2 tbsp apricot jam (you could also use marmalade)
2 tbsp water

1) Combine all of the dough ingredients and knead for 10 minutes until you have soft, elastic dough. Shape into a round and leave to rise until doubled in size. In our house this usually takes 1-2 hours.

2) Once the dough has doubled in size knock back the dough and divide into 8 equal pieces. Shape into buns and leave on a floured board, covered with a clean tea towel, to prove for 30 min.

3) Preheat oven to 200°c. Transfer the buns onto a floured baking tray. Mix together a small amount of plain flour & water until you have a thick paste. Pipe the crosses onto the buns. Bake for 15-20 min until risen and golden.

4) While the buns are still hot, mix together the two glaze ingredients then brush over the buns. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.

Mini Egg Tiffin

I can’t believe how fast this week has gone. I’m already half the way through my Easter hols. It’s now Good Friday and our Easter tree has been up for about a week. I was first introduced to Easter trees 20 years ago in Germany and decided I wanted one in our house this year. Traditionally you are meant to have some branches in buds, but apart from hacking away at nextdoor’s plants I decided to use some decorative branches we already had in the house. I picked up the decorations at a garden centre. It’s added a nice bit of colour to the lounge.

I’ve done quite a bit of Easter baking recently; primarily Simnel Cupcakes and Mini Egg Tiffin for work. I’ve made the tiffin 3 times in the last few week. First was for my work mates, second for Hubby’s workmates (who consequently threatened to hold Hubby to ransom until I made them some more!) and then I decided I couldn’t let Hubby & I go without. As I have quite a few other things on my plate at the moment it had to be a quick Easter cake…plus Mini Eggs are my weakness. Forget creme eggs, far too sickly sweet for me, I love mini eggs.

The word tiffin originates from the British India meaning a light meal coming from the old English tiffing as in to take a little drink or sip. Oop North it also relates to a refrigerator cake.

This cake is based on my Malteser cake and the basic recipe can be easily adapted to add different fillings. It’s really easy for kids to make, so much so we’ll be making a similar cake in Cookery Club, and can be prepared in 5 minutes. Julia @ A Slice of Cherry Pie is hosting her Easter Cake Bake again this year and I’ve submitted my Mini Egg Tiffin.

Mini Egg Tiffin
Fills 1 x 1lb tin

85g butter
2 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp cocoa
170g digestives, crushed (I usually blitz them in a food processor)
170g mini eggs, lightly crushed
30g mini eggs, left whole

1) Gently melt butter and golden syrup in large pan. Stir in cocoa, digestives and crushed mini eggs.

2) Line a 1lb loaf tin with cling film. Press mixture into tin then press the whole mini eggs into the top. Refrigerate until set.

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