Wednesday 29 December 2010

Roule au Chocolat avec Crème de Cassis (GF)

This divine, light as air chocolate roulade was the alternative choice to Christmas pudding that my family served after Christmas lunch. It’s an almost flourless, fatless chocolate sponge that is so light it’s almost mousse like. To enhance its deep rich chocolate flavour the sponge is drizzled in a fruity blackcurrant liqueur before being filled with lightly whipped cream and rolled into a roulade. Yum!

Have you ever noticed how saying things in French makes them sound so sophisticated and exciting? The above named Roule au Chocolat avec Crème de Cassis literally means Chocolate Roulade with Crème de Cassis (Blackcurrant Liqueur). Saying it in English still makes it sound delicious but it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. As the recipe was taken from The Roux Brothers Patisserie book (the father and uncle of the well known French restaurateur and Master Chef judge Michel Roux) I thought it deserved a French title.

We normally serve the roulade with berries and a fruity coulis but as it was Christmas, after rolling into a log, we used one of the end off cuts on top of the roulade to make it into more of a Yule Log and decorated it with holly and other assorted Christmassy things. This roulade is one of my mums signature desserts and one that my sister declares a ‘must have’ on Christmas day. It’s also completely flourless apart from two tiny teaspoons of cornflour, which is gluten free, meaning I could happily indulge with the rest of the family. If you are having a special occasion and in need of a show stopping dessert then look no further. It’s simple to make, yet people will think you have been slaving in the kitchen for hours!

Roule au Chocolat avec Crème de Cassis (GF)
(Recipe based on The Roux Brothers Patisserie)
3 egg yolks
4 egg whites
50g cocoa powder
2 tsp cornflour
80g icing sugar
40g icing sugar (separate)

Cream Filling
30g icing sugar
250ml double cream
2 tbsp Crème de Cassis (blackcurrant liqueur)

Berries or coulis to serve (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a 10x12 inch/26/30cm tin with greaseproof paper.
Beat together the egg yolks and 80g icing sugar for 3-5 minutes until the mixture becomes thick and moussy enough to form ‘ribbons’ when the beaters are lifted out of the mixture.
In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until beginning to form soft peaks. Add the 40g icing sugar and beat for a further minute until the egg whites become stiff.
Use a large metal spoon to fold one-third of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, folding it in gently while turning the bowl.
Sift over the cocoa powder and cornflour and fold until well incorporated and no streaks remain.
Gently fold in the remaining two-thirds of the egg whites. Do not over mix as you want as much air left trapped inside as possible.
Pour the chocolate mix into the prepared pan and smooth to the edges.
Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes. When done it should feel springy when pressed gently in the centre.
Immediately place a layer of greaseproof paper over the top of the roulade and cover this with a damp – not wet – tea towel and leave to cool. (This keeps the sponge moist)

To Assemble
When the sponge is cool, remove the tea towel and greaseproof. Get a new sheet of greaseproof paper and dust with icing sugar. Invert the roulade out onto the paper and carefully peel off the base greaseproof layer.
Lightly whip the cream with the 30g icing sugar until just stiff enough to form peaks.
Brush the roulade with the Crème de Cassis and spread over the whipped cream, smoothing until nearly to the edges. Leave a small edge to allow for spreading when rolling.
Starting at the narrow edge, roll a 2cm strip into the sponge. Use the greaseproof paper base to help you roll up the remaining sponge into a roll, as tightly as you can. Don’t worry too much about any cracks – these add character.
When completed, use a large fish slice to transfer the roll onto a serving dish. Cut off the two ends, at a diagonal, so you can a clean finish.
If desired, use one of the cut off ends to place on top of the roll to form the knot of the log, if making a Yule Log.
Dust lightly with extra icing sugar and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.
Serve with berries and a fruit coulis if desired – but it’s so moist it really doesn’t need it!
Can be made 24hours in advance.

Saturday 25 December 2010

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas everyone! I just wanted to share my decorated gluten free Christmas cake with you. It’s a simple design of a marbled blue fondant background with blue and white snowflakes sprinkled with blue edible glitter to give it some sparkle. 

The choice of decoration was an easy one to make considering the huge amount of snow we have had over the past few days - 8inches! That probably doesn’t sound much to some of you, but I’ve never seen so much snow in my life! It certainly adds to the festive feeling though.

To decorate your baked Christmas cake you want to first level off the top with a serrated bread knife. I find I always tend to start off flat and end up going crooked halfway through. This year I thought up a solution – place your fruit cake in a shallow dish that has sides that reach just below the top of your cake. Then simply slice off the top, using the rim of the bowl as a guide and you end up with a nicely flat top on which to decorate. Don't throw the off cuts away, they are the cooks perk and will give you a hint as to the flavour of your cake.

Brush the top of the cake with Brandy and lay on a thick disc of marzipan. Colour some fondant icing the colour of your choice (or leave white) and roll out into a large circle, about 3inches/7.5cm wider in diameter than the base of your cake. This ensures it will cover the sides as well. Brush the cake all over with a little Brandy and then drape over the fondant, smooth down the sides, and trim off any excess using a sharp knife. All that’s left is to decorate to your hearts content.

Tying a bow round the finished cake not only looks pretty but also hides any small tears or creases you may have at the base of the icing.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas. I hope it’s full of lots of food and festive fun.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Daring Bakers Challenge December 2010: Stollen Wreath

December is always a great month for the Daring Bakers challenges. I look forward to seeing what new seasonal treat we are presented with and past years have never failed to disappoint. This year was no exception – Stollen – a much loved German fruit bread, that is traditionally log shaped and filled with a centre core of marzipan. For this challenge we were also required to bake the Stollen in the shape of a wreath for a festive take on this classic.

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration. As it’s the festive period we have been given a range of days we are allowed to post on – so I’m not breaking any rules by posting early this month!

Stollen is not something I consider a ‘must have’ at Christmas time, although it does often make an appearance in our household over the Christmas period. The thing I love most about Stollen is the sweet sticky centre of marzipan that runs though the middle. This particular recipe didn’t call for any marzipan, but I soon rectified this by adding a snake-like length of it to the centre of my wreath, as to me, the marzipan centre is what makes Stollen great.

This recipe involved quite a bit more work than I first anticipated. It requires a fruited and yeasted dough to be made a day ahead, before it is rolled out, rolled into a scroll, made into a wreath, slashed and baked. Although not complicated, all the little stages were quite time consuming but it was a fun way to spend a few hours.

This recipe makes a lot of dough and you end up with a huge thick wreath. Rolling the dough out flat was one of the biggest challenges, I don’t think I have ever attempted to roll out so much dough before, it really got the arm muscles working!

I made my Stollen gluten free by using a mixed gluten free flour blend from M&S. I used slightly less flour than the recipe stated as I am learning from experience that gluten free flours tend to absorb more moisture during baking than wheat flour and so I was careful not to add too much. I also replaced the candied peel with dried apricots as I couldn’t find a brand which didn’t list wheat as an ingredient. The resulting dough was very sticky but extremely attractive to look at, speckled with the purples, reds and oranges of the dried fruits. It also smelt delicious with the mingling of citrus zests, rum and spices.

I rolled the dough out in-between two layers of clingfilm which helped prevent it from sticking to the work surface and made rolling it into a log shape easier. Once assembled and baked I couldn’t wait to sample it. My first slice was still warm from the oven and it was light, soft and tender. The fruits were sweet and chewy and the marzipan soft and gooey. Delicious.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid to say that I had some later on in the evening and found that the Stollen had become quite dense and heavy. I gave it a quick burst in the microwave, which did help revive it. However, the following day it was also inedible. It had become very dry and dense, so much so that it was hard to slice and not enjoyable to eat. Stollen is a naturally dense and dried bread than most baked goods, but this was almost like a house brick. I’m afraid to say that I threw most of it in the bin. This upsets me as I hate to waste food and hardly ever throw anything away, especially when it contained so many tasty ingredients but it really did turn out to be a bit of a failure.

Looking back on it now I think I would do a few things differently. I would use even less gluten free flour, as I’m sure they helped suck the moisture out over time. I would also see if less baking time helped and I would also add some xanthan gum to try and give the bread a better rise and open texture. As I used gluten free flour there was no gluten to help support the gas bubbles created by the yeast – which I suspect led to the bread being heavy and dense. Oh well, gluten free baking is still a learning curve to me. It looked impressive, I had fun making it and I did enjoy that first slice.

Stollen Wreath
60ml lukewarm water (43ºC)
2 packages (14g) active dry yeast
240ml milk
140g unsalted butter
760g plain flour (I used 700g of a gluten free plain flour mix containing rice, potato, maize, tapioca & buckwheat flours)
115g caster sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon extract or orange extract
135g mixed peel (I used 100g dried apricots instead)
170g firmly packed raisins
3 tbsp rum (or orange juice if you prefer)
12 red glacé cherries, roughly chopped
100g flaked almonds

Melted butter for coating the wreath
Icing sugar for dusting the wreath

The Day Before
Soak the raisins in a small bowl with the rum or orange juice and set aside.
Pour the warm water into a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast, stir to dissolve and leave to stand until bubbling for 5-10 minutes.
In a small saucepan combine the milk and butter over a gentle heat until butter is melted. Leave to stand for 5 minutes until lukewarm.
Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add the lemon or orange and vanilla extracts.
In a large mixing bowl stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests. Stir in the yeast mixture, eggs and the lukewarm milk-butter mixture. Mix with the help of a spatula for about 2 minutes until it forms a soft, slightly sticky ball. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl with either plastic or a tea cloth and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
Add in the mixed peel (I used chopped apricots), soaked raisins, cherries and almonds. Mix with your hands to incorporate, be gentle or the cherries will get very squished.
Sprinkle (gluten free) flour a work surface, turn out the dough and gently knead to distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should be soft and satiny. Knead for approximately 5 minutes (Gluten free dough will take less time as there is no gluten to develop). You can tell when the dough is kneaded enough as the dough will become tacky rather than sticky.
Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and place in the fridge overnight.
The dough becomes very firm in the fridge and rises slowly. The raw dough can be kept in the refrigerator up to a week and then baked on the day you want.

On Day of Baking
Remove the dough from the fridge and leave it to come back to room temperature, about 2 hours. Line a large square baking tray with greaseproof paper and set aside.
Generously dust a work surface with (gluten free) flour and roll out the dough into a rectangle about 16 x 24 inches and ¼ inch (5mm) thick. (My dough was still very sticky so I rolled it out between two sheets of clingfilm to make it easier).
(I also rolled out a long rope of marzipan at this point which I placed along the bottom edge and rolled the dough around, to encase it in the centre of the dough).
Starting with a long side, roll up tightly, forming a long, thin cylinder.
Transfer the cylinder roll to the sheet pan. Join the ends together, trying to overlap the layers to make the seam stronger and pinch with your fingers to make it stick, forming a large circle.
Use kitchen scissors to make cuts along outside of circle, in 2-inch (5 cm) intervals, cutting half way through the dough.
Twist each segment outward, forming a wreath shape. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with clingfilm.
Proof for approximately 2 hours at room temperature, or until puffy and risen. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C with the oven rack on the middle shelf.

Bake the Stollen
Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for a further 20-30 minutes. It should bake to a dark golden colour and sound slightly hollow when tapped.
Transfer to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter while still hot.
Immediately tap a thick layer of icing sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter. Wait for 1 minute, then tap another layer over the first as you want it coated generously with the icing sugar.
Leave to cool for at least an hour before transferring to a plate and serving. It will take 3-4 hours to cool down completely.
When completely cool, wrap the stollen and plate in clingfilm. Or, leave it out uncovered overnight to dry out slightly – for a dry outer crust German style.
Makes one (very) large wreath or two traditional shaped Stollen loaves

Monday 20 December 2010

The Cake Slice December 2010: Fresh Cranberry Cake (GF)

Fresh cranberries instantly conjure up images of Christmas and snowy winter days, so I was delighted when this cake was voted as December’s cake. I was so excited at the prospect of using fresh cranberries. I love dried cranberries, but until I made this cake I had never tasted a fresh cranberry in any form! I know – shock horror! This is because in the UK we only have access to fresh cranberries for the few weeks either side of Christmas. They are not sold fresh or even frozen, at any other time of year. Because of this, I have never got organized enough to buy them in time before they disappeared. After having tasted them, I am so jealous of people in America who seem to have fresh or frozen cranberries available all year round – they are so zingy and fresh tasting and I adore their vibrant glossy colour, like shiny red jewels.

This cake is a vanilla cake which is studded with fresh cranberries and topped with an almond streusel that turns wonderfully golden and crunchy during baking, giving the cake a sort of almond Florentine crunchy topping that worked so well with the moist fluffy cake. The cranberries burst whilst in the oven creating little stained pools of ruby red juice dotted throughout the cake which made it look so appetizing.

The cake is also extremely moist, although I may have undercooked mine slightly. The recipe made a huge 10inch cake which was too big for me, so I cut the quantities by a third and baked it in an 8inch tin instead. I thought this might also mean less baking time, so I checked my cake early and gave it a little shake to see if it was cooked – big mistake – the middle wasn’t quite set with the result that the centre sank! I left it in the oven for the rest of its baking time but unfortunately the damage was done. However, this didn’t decrease from the deliciousness of this cake, so no real harm done.

I adored the flavour of the cranberries in this cake. They seemed to pop when you bit into one releasing their zingy, slightly tart juices. The sweetness of the cake and the golden crispy crunchy almond topping prevented the berries from being too sharp and made for one delicious cake. My family kept cutting off little slices just to ‘neaten’ the edges.

I am now a fresh cranberry convert and have bought an extra two bags which I have stashed away in the freezer to use at a later date. This cake was also really easy to convert to being gluten free and was so festive that I bet it would make a great alternative to the traditional Christmas fruit cake if dried fruit’s not your thing. Click here to see the other Cake Slice bakers cranberry cakes.

Fresh Cranberry Cake (GF)
(Recipe adapted from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman)
Streusel Topping
65g flaked almonds
20g unsalted butter, melted
20g light soft brown sugar

Cranberry Cake
160g plain flour (I used Doves GF flour blend)
¾ tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
300g caster sugar (I only used 225g)
100g butter, melted and cooled
¾ tsp vanilla extract
230g fresh cranberries

Method – Streusel
Heat the oven to 150C. Grease an 8inch round spring form pan.
Combine the butter, almonds and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Work the mixture between your fingers to form large crumbs. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Method – Cake
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Combine the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium high speed until the mixture is lightened and increased in volume, about 5 minutes.
With the mixer on low speed, add the butter in a slow stream. Turn the mixer to medium speed and beat for another 2 minutes. Stir in the vanilla.
Gently but thoroughly fold in the flour mixture, half a cup at a time. Then stir in the cranberries.
Scrape the butter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the streusel over the batter. Bake the cake until it is golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 1 hour to 1hour 10minutes.
Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Release the sides of the pan and use a large spatula to slide the cake from the pan bottom onto the wire rack. Cool completely before cutting into wedges and serving.
Store uneaten cake in a cake keeper or wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Makes one 8 inch round cake

Thursday 16 December 2010

Heritage Beetroot & Goats Cheese Bruschetta (GF)

Beetroot. What springs to mind when you hear that word? I’d wager it’s a round rooty vegetable with a deep purple colour – be it raw, sliced, diced or picked, the colour purple is often what we imagine. Now think bright gold, striped blushing pink and pearly whites. Think Sainsbury’s Heritage Beetroot.

I love beetroot. I never ate it growing up. I was never forced to eat the sharp pickled variety which seems to have put a lot of people off beetroot for life. I came to beetroot later, raw or roasted in salads and instantly loved its earthy flavour and finger staining purple colour. I’ve seen other colours and varieties of beetroot used on tv, but never actually seen any to buy or taste myself, so I was delighted to be offered the chance to sample some of Sainsbury’s new Heritage Beetroot bunch – complete with three stunning varieties of differently coloured beets.

They looked attractive even before I cut into them, but once sliced open they positively glowed with rich vibrant colours. I dithered over how to taste them and eventually decided to simply roast them and serve them on some toast (gluten free) with some goat’s cheese – bruschetta style.

As they roasted, the outer surface became slightly duller in colour, but once bitten into the full force of their colours were once again apparent. If anything I found this to be more exciting, as it was so attractive to take a bite and be rewarded by such a beautiful vibrant colour. If you want to keep the beetroots full colour for presentation too, then I would suggest roasting them whole before cutting into wedges.

I toasted some Genius fresh brown gluten free bread (I’m so impressed by this brand compared to others I’ve tried – it really is quite Genius!) and rubbed the toast with a cut clove of garlic before piling on the roasted beets and crumbling over some young soft goats cheese. The combination of the soft creamy cheese with the sweet earthy beetroots and nutty bread was delicious and made for a very tasty lunch.

The beetroots themselves had subtle differences in flavour. The golden variety was the sweetest and closest to the traditional purple kind, while I thought the white variety the most subtle. All of them had a great flavour and weren’t as earthy as traditional beetroot, so might appeal to normal beetroot haters. I was delighted to get the chance to taste them and I am so happy at the prospect of being able to have regular access to them. At only £2 a mixed bunch they are worth it to add a little sunshine to your meal.

Heritage Beetroot & Goats Cheese Bruschetta (GF)
1 bunch Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Heritage Beetroot (4 beetroot)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme
60g young soft goats cheese
1 clove garlic
4 slices gluten free bread (or normal)
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 190C. Top and tail the beetroot, wash them well in warm water and remove any wispy roots but leave the skin on (its so paper thin you can eat it after roasting)
Cut the beetroot in half and then slice each half into quarters. Arrange the beetroot on a foil lined tray, drizzle with the olive oil and scatter over the thyme.
Roast in the oven for 30 minutes until softened.
Once roasted, toast your bread of choice before rubbing gently with a cut clove of garlic. Crumble over the soft goats cheese and arrange a mixed assortment of roasted beetroot slices on top. Season with a little salt and pepper and enjoy.
Serves 2 as a light lunch or 4 as a starter.

Sunday 12 December 2010

My Mums Apple & Almond Sponge Pudding

This is a delicious pudding which is perfect for this time of year. It’s warm, comforting, relatively healthy, a doddle to put together and more importantly delicious!

It’s a simple mixture of lightly cooked apple topped with a quick almond batter that bakes into a delicious sponge-topped apple pudding. The sponge is made using ground almonds, rather than flour meaning it’s also gluten free – I didn’t adapt it to be this way, this is the way my mum has baked this dessert for years. You can’t go wrong with the pairing of apple and almond.

The only change I have made to my mums version is to use light brown sugar in the topping rather than white sugar. This results in a more golden coloured sponge and a subtle caramel overtone, which is delicious with the apple.

I love Bramley apples for their juicy tartness and the way they easily cook down into fluffy mounds of smooth apple puree. I have often enjoyed tucking in to bowlfuls of this on its own, especially for breakfast with yogurt or porridge. However for this pudding you also want some pieces of apple to add texture and bite. A simple way to achieve this is to stir some raw apple slices through the puree just before baking. The apple gets fully cooked in the oven but retains its shape and provides a good contrast to the smooth apple puree.

This pudding is comfort in a bowl, perfect for this time of year. To me it needs no accompaniment, but I wouldn’t say no to serving it with some thick creamy custard either.

Apple & Almond Sponge Pudding
700g Bramley apples
50g caster sugar
½ tsp cinnamon

Almond Topping
80g ground almonds
50g light soft brown sugar
60g butter
1 egg
½ tsp almond extract

Fill a large bowl with water and squeeze the juice of half a lemon, lime or orange into it. Peel, core and slice the apples into 1cm thick slices, placing them in the citrus water to prevent them from browning.
Transfer two-thirds of the apple into a large saucepan and add 1 tbsp water. Heat gently until the apples start to break down and soften. Add the sugar and cinnamon and cook until the apple has almost completely broken down. Taste the apple and add a little more sugar if it is too tart for you (the sponge topping will add sweetness).
Remove the pan from the heat and stir through the remaining third of raw apple. Transfer the apple mix into a large oblong or square pudding basin, you will want the apple mix to fill it almost to the top.
Preheat the oven to 190C and prepare the spongy topping.
Melt the butter in the microwave or a small saucepan. Add the brown sugar and mix well with a spoon or spatula. Lightly whisk the egg and then beat into the butter mixture, followed by the almond extract and ground almonds.
Pour the runny batter evenly over the top of the apple mixture, smoothing it into the corners.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until the topping is golden brown, risen and springy to the touch.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before spooning into serving bowls and enjoying with custard, cream or on its own.
Leftovers taste great cold but can also be reheated by a short burst in the microwave.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Spiced Pear Cake with Star Anise

It was my dads birthday at the end of November and I created this cake especially for him. He shares my love of cake and so I really wanted to create him a cake using some flavours he might not have tasted before. I was originally hovering around the idea of beetroot, but I casually suggested beetroot flavoured desserts during conversation and he wasn’t keen so I knew I had to come up with something different. My next thought was something with some spice.

As I was hunting through our spice cupboard (we literally have an entire three shelved cupboard donated just to herbs, spices and seasonings) I came across some star anise I bought a few months back but have never done anything with. I gave it a sniff and the smell instantly reminded me of liquorice. I decided to see what would happen if I blitzed it in our spice grinder, seeds, husk and all.

I took the lid off the grinder and was hit with an intense spicy, liquorice, almost aniseed aroma that was just intoxicating. Wow – this could be fun! I decided to combine it with fresh pears and added the other spices to help mellow and balance the anise. I added a little extra flour to help combat the juices that were sure to seep out the pear during baking and used a mix of caster and soft brown sugar for flavour.

The cake baked up well and I loved how little chunks of pear poked out of the top and sides. I decided to use a simple plain buttercream to fill and top the cake as I wanted the cake layers themselves to be the stars of the show. However, I did use a recipe for evaporated milk buttercream that my grandmother gave me. It follows the same principles as standard buttercream only you use a tin of evaporated milk instead of regular milk. For some reason you can use a lot more of the evaporated milk than usual, without the buttercream turning runny. It seems to thicken up as you whisk it in creating a very light and creamy buttercream.

I went for a simple decoration by cutting the outline of a pear out of paper to create a stencil that I then dusted cinnamon over. I thought this looked quite stylish and hinted at what was inside the cake. The finished cake smelt divine, warm and spicy but in a different and slightly unusual way.

The cake cut easily and was much enjoyed by the family. As I hadn’t made it gluten free I had to sit there are watch them all eating it (so hard), but my reward came from the many groans and exclamations of appreciation I got from the tasters. The pear kept the cake wonderfully moist and everyone was so excited over the unusual spicing. They had fun guessing what it was and my dad guessed correctly in the end – well done dad!

They ate the cake over three days and I’m told that the spices developed even more the longer it stood, like a good gingerbread, and that it stayed fresh and moist thanks to the pear. I’m longing to try converting this recipe into a gluten free cake, and I’ll defiantly be using star anise again in the future.

Spiced Pear Cake with Star Anise
(An Apple & Spice creation)
210g self raising flour
100g butter
100g caster sugar
80g soft brown sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp freshly ground star anise*(see note below)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 large ripe pear – 250g whole/200g peeled, cored and diced
1½ tsp baking powder
50ml milk

Evaporated Milk Buttercream
180g butter
360g icing sugar
75-100ml evaporated milk
Cinnamon for dusting

Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease two 8inch/20cm cake tins and line the bases with greaseproof paper.
Make sure your butter is softened and add to a bowl along with the flour, sugars, baking powder and spices.
Peel, core and finely dice the pear into 1-1.5cm cubes and set aside (you don’t have to be too precise).
Add the eggs to the dry mix and beat with an electric mixer until the batter starts to combine. Add the milk and beat again until the batter is smooth, light and well combined, about 1 minute.
Carefully fold in the diced pear using a spatula.
Divide the cake mix between the two cake tins and level the surface. Bake for 28-30 minutes until the cakes are lightly golden brown and springy to the touch when pressed in the centre.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes before turning out of the pan and carefully peeling away the greaseproof paper. Leave to cool while you make the buttercream.

Make sure your butter is soft. Beat the butter with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Sift over the icing sugar, half at a time and use a spatula to start to work the sugar into the butter. (Don’t go straight in with the whisk or else you’ll create a sugar dust cloud!)
Add a tablespoon of the milk to slacken, before adding the rest of the icing sugar and working it in with a spatula as before. Once the icing sugar is starting to form clumps with the butter, add another tablespoon of the evaporated milk and switch to the electric mixer. Beat until smooth and creamy.
With the electric mixer still running, slowly drizzle in the rest of the evaporated milk until you have a thick creamy buttercream. It may seem like a lot but it should take most of it – some icing sugars may take a little more or less so use your judgement.
Keep whisking until you have a smooth, light and creamy buttercream.

Place one of the cooled pear cake layers on a serving plate and cover with two-thirds of the buttercream. Top with the second layer of pear cake and use the remaining buttercream to cover the top of the cake.
Scatter the top of the cake with a light dusting of ground cinnamon, either all over or through a stencil to create a design (I made a pear outline stencil).
Serve in generous slices.
Makes one 8inch/20cm cake

*Note: If you don’t have a spice grinder to create your own star anise powder then simply crush two whole star anise and add them to the milk required in the cake mix. Heat the milk until it comes to the boil then remove it from the heat and leave to steep for 1 hour to allow the star anise flavour to permeate the milk. Then remove the star anise and use the scented milk as above.