Baking · Cake · Stencilling

Armenia: Nutmeg Cake

Even on publishing this, I’m still unsure about the correct category to place this recipe in, namely Europe or Asia. Straddling the two continents, there seems to be disagreements about where best to place this country. I am going with Europe as (a) Max says so, and (b) apparently it is said to have the most in common with Europe.

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This cake is apparently very popular in America, where many Armenian people have emigrated to, (and formed bands – during my research I discovered that System of a Down are originally from Armenia) and is sold in many places on the West Coast.  However, whilst I have found many, many recipes for Armenian Nutmeg Cake (seriously, type it into google!), I cannot find many traces of it in traditional Armenian cuisine. The question stands then – is this truly Armenian? Answers on a postcard please. What I can tell you though, is that this is delicious.

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Nutmeg Cake

Ingredients:

  • 15oz/450g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/ tsp salt
  • 6oz/165g butter
  • 12oz/350g light brown sugar
  • 360ml sour cream
  • 240ml milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 5oz chopped walnuts

Apple Filling:

  •  3 eating apples
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 tbsp water

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas mark 4, and grease a loaf tin.

Using a food processor, briefly mix the flour, nutmeg, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix in the brown sugar, sour cream, milk and eggs. Transfer the mixture  to a bowl and fold in the chopped walnuts before scraping into the pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool in the pan.

To make the apple filling, heat all the ingredients in a small pan until the apples are soft and the liquid has evaporated, adding extra water if needed to ensure a softened filling. Use a long-bladed serrated-edged knife to cut the cake in half, and spread the bottom half with the apple filling. Top with the second half of the cake, and  using a stencil, sift icing sugar over the top of the cake to create a pattern.

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Baking · Cake · Europe · Nation Cake Challenge · Uncategorized

Albania: Kabuni-Inspired Cake

Flag of Albania 1944 Nederlands: Vlag van Alba...

According to the Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Places to Visit (2011), the number 1 destination in Europe is Albania. Not, to be completely honest, the first time I read this it was a bit of a surprise – out of all the places in Europe, I can’t see why that would be number 1!. Even for us, aiming to visit every European country, Albania is not top of our list (Though Max has a rather cunning trip planned which involves travelling around Greece, Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo). However, when we do go, this is one of the places that I want to go to – Lake Ohrid, one of the deepest and most beautiful lakes in the Balkan states.

Lake_Ohrid on the Albanian side

Fact of the day: Albania has the (slightly dubious) accolade as being the first atheist state in the world, when organised religion was outlawed and heavily suppressed in 1967. Religion has started to be reinstated since the regime change in 1992, but it still enters on a list of the least religious countries in the world.

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This cake is inspired by the dessert Kabuni (a dish similar to rice pudding), though with a few notable exceptions – though I’m sure that not many of you will complain about the fact that I am not cooking the rice initially in mutton broth. It is a rice cake, flavoured with raisins, cinnamon and ground cloves. If I’m being totally honest, the cake recipe is not Albanian, instead I have adapted an Italian recipe to mimic the Albanian dessert. The recipe is taken from Two Greedy Italians by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo (Internet Link here), though there have been quite a few adaptations, for a start taking out the title ingredient… The result is a delicious, slightly chewy cake, which is great cut into squares for easy access.

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Kabuni-Inspired Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1.7 litre/3 pints milk
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 200g/7oz sugar
  • 300g/10½oz arborio rice
  • 5 large free-range eggs, separated
  • 40g/1½oz raisins
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • zest of 1 orange

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and grease and line a 10in tin. Set aside for later.

Heat the milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and cloves until the mixture comes to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the rice, cooking for about 25 minutes until the rice is al dente (with a slight bite). Add more milk if necessary to achieve this texture, and stir regularly to ensure that it does’t stick to theYou are looking for the liquid to have reduced, but for the rice to still be creamy – think rice pudding. Take off the heat and allow to cool completely.

Whisk the egg yolks until they are thick and creamy. In a different bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks – this will take a long time so be patient! Stir the egg yolks into the rice mixture before gently folding in the egg whites. Stir in the raisins and orange zest and bake for 1 hour. Remove and serve either hot or cold.

Baking · Cake · Europe · Nation Cake Challenge

Wales: Welsh Cakes

Flag of Wales

Read the following statements and tell me which you feel is the most credit-worthy.

  1. Katherine Jenkins ran the London Marathon, finishing with a rather respectable time of 5.5 hours.
  2. She raised £250,000 for her chosen charity.
  3. She wore make-up and designer sunglasses whilst doing it.

I will accept either of the first two answers, but sadly for her and for society in general, the tabloid newspapers have tried to cheapen this by saying that the fact that she completed this achievement whilst wearing make-up shows more consideration for her own self-promotion rather than any concern for the event or for the charity. Basically, by wearing make-up, she is trying to draw the focus onto herself and away from other issues.

I find it really sad that this is what we’ve come to – that we cannot even support someone in an act like this without feeling the need to knock her for a totally superficial reason. Anyone who can run the London Marathon and raise that amount of money for a charity deserves praise, not to be knocked for her choice of clothes. I don’t feel that her wish to look good whilst running the marathon cheapens the result, frankly if she can run a marathon and still look good at the end to it, kudos to her – I know I couldn’t!

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We celebrate so much mediocrity these days, celebrating people with little or no talent, and achievements which are barely worth the name. Let us not allow an actual achievement to be degraded through means like this. Katherine, these Welsh Cakes are for you.

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Welsh Cakes

Ingredients:

225g/8oz self-raising flour, sieved

  • 110g/4oz (preferably Welsh) salted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 handful of sultanas
  • A splash of milk
  • 85g/3oz caster sugar
  • A splash of olive oil

Instructions:

Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, dried fruit and the egg. Mix and shape into a ball, using small amount of milk if necessary. Roll out to about 5mm thick and use a round cutter to make 12 rounds, re rolling the trimmings if necessary.

Heat up a large frying pan and wipe a smear of olive oil around the pan. Place the cakes on the plan and cook for 2-3 minutes each side, until golden brown and crispy. Remove and sprinkle with caster sugar whilst still warm. Serve warm with butter.

Baking · Cake · Europe · Nation Cake Challenge · Uncategorized

Greece: Honey and Pistachio Cake with Yoghurt Frosting

Co-national flag for use on sea and abroad. Fr...

I always think of Greece with a slightly sad heart. I haven’t been, so this is not based on prior experience, but raather based on what was not to be. On a flight home from Berlin last year, the EasyJet in flight magazine had a list of the top 50 places to visit in Europe, and one in particular caught my eye.

Mount Athos, Greece. A beautiful coastline dotted with 20 monastaries, accessible only by boat and seemingly one of the most idyllic spots ever. However, a slight issue – no women allowed. At all, ever. So sadly I let this dream go and cheered myself up by making this delicious cake.

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With regard to Greek desserts, the two things that always spring to mind for me are honey and Greek Yoghurt. Stereotypical this may be, but for good reason – these ingredients are central components of Greek cuisine and work really well together in this cake. The cake itself is made from honey and pistachio nuts, creating a lovely, slightly sticky texture and nutty flavour. This is complemented by the Greek yoghurt frosting, the slight sharpness and acidity of which cuts through the sweetness of the cake to produce a winning combination. The cake is then decorated with candied pistachio nuts.

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Honey and Pistachio Cake with Yoghurt Frosting

Ingredients:

Cake

  • 3/4 cup Greek honey
  • 2/3 cup caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup LESS 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2+3/4 cups plain flour
  • 1/4 pound roughly chopped pistachios
  • 1/3 pound cream cheese/ricotta
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Honey Yoghurt Frosting

  • 1 cup Greek yoghurt frosting
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Honey-Roasted Pistachio Nuts

  • 1 cup shelled pistachios
  • 2 tbsp Greek honey
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 390°F (200°C). Oil a loaf pan with a little olive oil and dust with flour.

In a saucepan, combine honey, sugar, brandy, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and cook for 5-6 minutes. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes before continuing.

Beat together the oil and eggs, before adding the flour, pistachio nuts, cheese, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove mixture, salt, and baking powder. Add the cooled honey and sugar mixture and beat until thoroughly combined.

Transfer the batter to the pan and bake at 390°F (200°C) for about 50 minutes, until and inserted skewer comes out clean.

Remove cake from the oven and immediately turn the cake out upside down onto a rack to cool. Turn back over when cooled before icing.

To make the frosting, mix all the ingredients together until fully combined, before allowing to thicken in the fridge for  at least 30 minutes. Top the cake with the frosting.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the honey in a medium bowl and microwave for 10 seconds to warm it slightly. Add nuts to the honey bowl and toss to coat well, then add the sugar and salt and toss again. Spread the nuts onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, separating so they do not clump together, and bake for 10 minutes. Stir the nuts after 5 minutes.

Cool the nuts completely, then separate once they are dry. Place the nuts in a plastic bag and pound using a rolling pin or meat pounder to coarsely crush. A food processor can be used, but be careful not to grind the nuts too finely; you still want larger pieces of pistachios, not a fine powder. These can be stored in an airtight bag until needed. Use to decorate the cake with before serving.

Baking · Cake · Europe · Nation Cake Challenge

Luxembourg: Apple and Plum Cake

Flag of Luxembourg

As a country, Luxembourg is very small and sandwiched in the middle of three much bigger powers, namely France, Germany and Belgium. Added to this, over 37% of the population consists of people who have emigrated from countries such as Portugal, Belgium, Italy and the former Yugoslavian states. The country is trilingual and children have to gain certification in German, French and Luxembourgish before graduating secondary school. As this might suggest, the cuisine of this country is just as varied, taking inspiration for all of these cultures, ranging from German peasant dishes to the more sophisticated French cuisine.

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Two of the central ingredients in Luxembourger cuisine are apples and plums, which sounded to me like a great combination – cake planned! The recipe was adapted from here, and consists of a delicious combination of cake, topped with apples and plums, and covered generously with custard, which soaks though the whole cake, creating a lovey moist texture. I love most things to do with custard, but this one is particularly good.

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Apple and Plum Cake

Ingredients:

Cake:

  • 300g/10oz flour
  • 2 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 110g/40z salted butter, cubed
  • 120ml whole milk

Fruit:

  • 2 braeburn apples, thickly sliced
  • 2 firm plums, cut into large segments

Topping:

  • 2 eggs
  • 240ml milk
  • 6oz caster sugar

Garnish:

  • 2 tbsp apricot jam
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C/Gas mark 5 and line and grease an 8in round tin. Don’t use a springform tin for this recipe as all the delicious custard mixture will leak out, and that would be very sad…

In a food processor, gently pulse the sugar, baking powder and flour together until combined. Add the butter and continue to pulse until it forms small lumps. Add the milk gradually until the mixture forms a soft dough. Take this out of the food processor CAREFULLY (we don’t want it to turn red!) and press into the pre-prepared tin.

Next prepare the fruit. Peel and slice the apples and press firmly into the dough. Do the same with the plums, arranging in a pattern of your choice – this will be the decoration of the cake, so make it pretty!

Whisk together the eggs, milk and sugar for a few minutes until completely combined, and then  pour over the cake, ensuring an equal coverage – you don’t want one part to be sodden whilst the other is bone dry! Bake for 55-60 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Whilst the cake is still warm, gently heat the apricot jam and water together, and brush over the top of the cake. Sift icing sugar and cinnamon over the cake and serve. As you can see from the pictures, the cake is a very rustic-looking cake, and so don’t worry if it isn’t completely neat at the edges! You could add cream, berries or more custard, but it’s also very delicious just eaten as it is – warm and delicious!

[Note on removing from the tin – the custard can sink down to the bottom of the cake and make it look uncooked at the bottom, so use your judgement on removing the cake as to whether it looks like custard or uncooked cake mix! If it is cooked for the amount of time stated and the skewer comes out clean it should be cooked well]

Baking · Cupcakes · Nation Cake Challenge · Natural Decorations · North America

Mexico: Chilli Chocolate Cupcakes with Horchata Frosting

Flag of Mexico See also: List of Mexican flags

Mexican food is a prime example of a fusion cuisine – the original cuisine of the Aztec people combined with the European cuisines of those who came over during the Spanish Conquest of 1519-21. Whilst the Spanish conquistadors made a failed attempt to superimpose the Spanish style on the conquered Aztec peoples, elements of the cuisine did enter the Mexican recipe books and are recognisable today. Due to the strong links between the cultural traditions and the cuisine, Mexican cuisine has been denoted an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO – the only cuisine to make the list!

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At the moment, my entire knowledge of real Mexican food has come from the delightful restaurant Wahaca, and the books of it’s founder Thomasina Miers. I love Wahaca, and it is always near the top of my list of things to do when I’m near London. These cupcakes are a homage to some of my favourite things on the menu – churros, horchata and mole. It features a chilli chocolate cupcake, filled with a chilli-chocolate ganache and topped with an almond-cinnamon buttercream frosting.I then decorated these with a red chilli and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. Enjoy!

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Chilli Chocolate Cupcakes with Horchata Frosting

[Note on the spicing: I like my chilli and so enjoyed the quantities shown here. The cakes were not burn-your-mouth-off hot, but there was a definite after-heat from the dried chilli. If you are not a chilli fiend, feel free to decrease the quantities, they will still work well]

Ingredients: (Makes 12)

Chilli Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 4oz plain flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 4oz butter
  • 4oz caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp ground almonds
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp chilli flakes

Chilli Chocolate Ganache:

  • 100g good-quality chilli chocolate
  • 100ml double cream

Horchata Frosting:

  • 40g butter
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 10ml almond milk (plain milk will do)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ground almonds

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4. Line a 12 hole baking tin with paper cases and set aside.

To make the cake, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth, before adding in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour, baking powder, cocoa and almonds and mix thoroughly. Add the chilli flakes and stir through. Pour the mixture into the bun cases and bake in the oven for 30 minutes until firm and well risen.Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Make the chocolate chilli ganache by melting the chocolate in a bain-marie, before adding the cream to the mixture. Leave in the fridge to cool for 30 minutes before using.

Use either a cupcake corer or an apple corer to remove the middle of each cupcake.Fill with a small amount of chilli-chocolate ganache and leave to cool for 20 minutes.

Make the horchata frosting by mixing together the butter and icing sugar until thick and fluffy (about 5 minutes) Add the almonds, cinnamon and milk and beat for another 5 minutes. Spread onto the cupcakes and top with a red chilli and a spinkle of ground cinnamon.

To make the chili flowers shown here, cut the chilli into 8 segments, ensuring you do not cut all the way to the stem (thus leaving the segments attached to the stem and head of the fruit. Place in iced water and leave until curled as shown. This may take quite a while, so don’t worry if it doesn’t happen immediately!

Baking · Cake · Europe · Nation Cake Challenge

Georgia: Walnut Cake

Flag of Republic of Georgia Italiano: Bandiera...

For a small country, the influence of Georgian food has spread though much of the former USSR, due to the immigration of many Georgians to different countries. It is extremely diverse, taking influence from the cuisines of the Middle East, Europe and Asia. In Russia, it is said that all cities have a Georgian restaurant and other restaurants will tend to include some form of Georgian Cuisine on their menus. Having said this, all my research seemed to turn up was either the cuisine of Georgia, USA or the cuisine of the Georgian and Regency periods – neither of which are massively useful!

I kept searching, willing the internet and what books I had to provide interesting ideas. I read a lot about the Supra style of dining and the role of the tamada, whose job it is to make highly philosophical toasts thoughout the meal. I learnt that Georgia has three distinct alphabets and that the story of the Golden Fleece originates from Georgia, as they used to use fleeces to sift gold particles out of the river. I even learn that my favourite Masterchef Australia contestant from last year Alice Zaslavsky is from Georgia. All good stuff, but did it help me in the cake hunt? No it did not!

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Finally, I came upon this recipe for a Georgian walnut cake. This cake is similar to a gateaux in many ways, consisting of layers of cake and walnut meringue, covered with a chocolate glaze. Don’t be put off by the sour cream in the glaze – you can’t taste it in the final mixture – I was quite glad about this, as it’s not my favourite flavour!  The recipe is adapted from here.

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Walnut Cake

Ingredients:

Dough

  • 200g butter
  • 350g plain flour
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Filling:

  • 3 egg whites
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2 cups chopped walnuts

Glaze:

  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease a loaf tin. Set aside.

Mix together the butter, sugar, baking powder and flour before adding the egg yolks and sour cream to form a ball. Turn out and knead for a couple of minutes before placing in the fridge to cool for about 20 minutes.

To make the filling, whip the egg whites and sugar until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold in the chopped walnuts.

To assemble the cake, take the chilled dough and cut into three pieces. Roll out the first piece and place in the bottom of the greased tin. Add a layer of the filling to cover this first layer. Roll out the second piece of dough and repeat the process, layering up the dough and filling before finishing with a final layer of dough. Bake for 30 minutes before removing and leaving to cool. Remove from the tin after 5 minutes to finish cooling on a wire rack.

Make the glaze by combining the sugar, cocoa powder and sour cream in a small pan. Heat gently until the mixture combines and becomes glossy. Cover the cake with the glaze and leave to set. Decorate with chopped walnuts as desired.