Baking · Cake · History of Cake · Uncategorized

Positively Medieval – Development in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages (specifically in England) was a milestone in the development of cake as a specific baked good, as this was the first time that cake and bread became two distinct forms. As discussed previously, the two terms used to be used pretty much indiscriminately, the only differentiation being size. This all changed during this period – now the term cake was used specifically to denote a baked good sweetened with sugar.

A crucial factor in baking of this time was preservation – without the methods of food preservation that we are used to today, foods needed to be able to be stored for a significant period of time. With this in mind, the two cakes that came to the fore were gingerbread and fruitcake. The Roman influence was evident in the importance of fruitcake, which had its roots in the sweetened, fruited bread mentioned last week. These cakes served two purposes – not only were they made to last for several months, they also included ingredients which would mark out the eaters of being wealthy people able to afford such ingredients.

During this period, the function of cake also developed, and it became the main celebratory dish of the period. Cakes became very ornate and elaborate, Chaucer remarking that one cake included 13 kilograms of flour, not to mention copious amounts of of fruit, cream, nuts, sugar and butter – all very expensive ingredients that really marked the owner out as a well-off member of society.

The recipe that follows in an authentic recipe for gingerbread, taken from here.




  • 1 cup clear honey
  • 1 small loaf of brown bread, ground into breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • ground cinnamon, to finish


In a small pan, bring the honey to the boil before reducing the heat and allowing to simmer for 5 minutes, ensuring that you skim off any scum that may float to the top. Remove from the heat and add the spices, before mixing in the breadcrumbs a cup at a time.Knead the mixture until thoroughly combined and roll out  to a depth of 1cm. Cut into 1in squares or circles and dust with the remaining cinnamon.

Baking · Cake · Europe · Marzipan Modelling · Muffins · Nation Cake Challenge · Uncategorized

Norway: Espresso and Blueberry Muffins

Flag of Norway Español: Bandera de Noruega Før...

Trivia fact of the day, Scandinavian countries drink the most coffee (per capita) in the whole world. Out of the top 6 countries (according to Wikipedia), the only other country to come close is the Netherlands – hardly a surprising inclusion. We mentioned the importance of coffee during the creation of the Icelandic Slongakuka, but today we are going for a different take, and travelling rather to the mainland of Scandinavia, Norway.

Norway muffins 1

Coming in a second place – Finland takes first – Norway consumes 9.9kg of coffee per person, per year. The coffee culture in this country is on of the most developed in the world, and is an integral part of the societal culture. This cake was designed to incorporate this important flavour, but to combine it with a fruit into a muffin that could be eaten alongside. Blueberries grow throughout Norway, and their natural affinity with coffee made them a natural option to include in the cake. The coffee flavour is very strong in this recipe, hence the title ‘espresso’. If you prefer a lighter flavour, then halve the quantity.

Norway Muffins 2

Espresso and Blueberry Muffins 


  • 8oz butter
  • 8oz caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 8oz plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tbsp instant coffee
  • 3 tbsp boiling water
  • 2 punnets of blueberries
  • 120g butter
  • 375g icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp instant coffee
  • 30ml boiling water
  • White icing
  • Blue food colouring
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder.


Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 5 and line a 12-hole muffin tin with muffin liners. Cream together the butter and sugar, before adding in the eggs and vanilla extract. Beat in the flour and baking powder and mix well. Dissolve the coffee in the boiling water before adding to the cake mixture and beating until completely combined. Reserve 1/4 of the blueberries and gently fold the remainder into the cake mixture, trying not to break the berries. Spoon the mixture into the cases and bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. Leave to cool completely.

Whilst the cakes are cooling, make the flowers.Take a golf ball sized piece of white icing and briefly knead it, before using a few drops of blue food colouring to create a pale blue fondant. Roll it out to 3mm thick and cut out flower shapes using both a small and large cutter. Colour another golf ball sized piece of fondant brown using the cocoa powder before following the same process to cut out more flowers. These may be either used individually or stacked. Set aside to dry.

Once the muffins are cool, make the icing by beating the butter, icing sugar and coffee (again dissolving the instant coffee in the boiling water) until it is thick and fluffy. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a large star-shaped nozzle and pipe onto the top of each muffin, before decorating with the icing flowers and reserved blueberries.


Feast With Yeast: The Ancient Egyptian Contribution to Baking

After last week’s neolithic oatcakes, we will be moving into the slightly more conventional field, and introducing you to arguably the most important people in the field of baking – The Ancient Egyptians. Why are these people the most important, you might ask? Well, the ancient Egyptians are the first recorded people to have made use of a leavening agent (in this case, yeast).

The addition of yeast is probably the most important event in the development of cakes as prior to this, cakes did not rise. Without a leavening agent cakes (and breads for that matter) were flat, crispy and very un-cake-like! The addition of yeast meant that for the first time a product recognisable as modern-day cakes and breads was available. As an aside, it also led to the invention of beer, a side product of the original baking process. The first large-scale bakeries were also seen, as seen in the painting below, taken from the tomb of Ramses III

A depiction of the royal bakery from an engrav...

Rather than kneading the dough, the Egyptian bakers would tread repeatedly on it (Top left hand corner of the picture). Not sure about that technique – I think I’ll stick to  hand kneading… 

At this point, bread and cake were still heavily intertwined, the terms often used interchangeably. The term ‘cake’ was used to describe a small bread roll, though one that would often be sweetened, with seeds and dried fruit added to create a more special cake. Honey was often used for a sweetener, but as this was an extremely expensive product, cakes of this nature would only be made for extremely wealthy people. For those with less money, dates or carob could be used as less expensive option.  As these small sweet ‘cakes’ were made almost exclusively for the richer echelons of society, care was taken with presentation. Some were formed into spirals, others made in the form of cows, whilst others could be dyed red to resemble roast meat – each to their own! Feel free to try one of these decorative techniques with this recipe if you wish by adding red food colouring and shaping into the form of a meat of your choice. I think I will just stick to the snail spirals.

Egypt buns

Ancient Egypt Style Honey Bread-Cakes Ingredients:

  • 50ml milk
  • 150ml hot water
  • 1 tbsp dried yeast
  • 500g strong plain flour
  • 70g butter
  • 50g caster suga
  • 10g salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100g runny honey


Firstly, make the dough by mixing together the water and milk in a measuring jug. Add the yeast and stir to dissolve before setting aside.

Place the flour in a large bowl and mix in 20g of the butter, rubbing the mixture until the texture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and salt before mixing in an egg. Finally add the yeast mixture and mix with a wooden spoon.

Turn the mixture out onto an unfloured surface and knead for 1 minute by stretching the mixture with both hands, lifting and slapping down, folding the ends to the middle. Leave to  rest for 15 minutes before continuing to knead for 5 minutes until if becomes very soft and pliable. Cover and leave to rise for 1 hour in a warm place.

Roll the risen dough into a rectangle 2cm thick. Chop the remaining 50g butter into cubes and place in the centre, before folding the dough into thirds by folding each end over the centre. Seal the edges with your fingers and roll out into a rectangle again. Repeat the folding process (minus the butter!) and set the dough aside to rise in a warm place for 1 hour. Repeat the folding and rolling, before allowing to rest for a final 30 minutes.

Cut the dough into 12 pieces and form it into 12 round buns. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, cover loosely with a towel and leave for 30 minutes for one final rise.

Brush with eggwash and bake in a preheated oven (Gas mark 6) for 20 minutes until golden. It may not traditional, but these are delicious served with butter and more honey.

[Additions: Include dried fruit or dates, chopped nuts or seeds – put your ancient Egyptian hat on and go wild!]

Baking · Desserts · Europe · Nation Cake Challenge · Pastry · Uncategorized

Montenegro: Krempita

montenegro-flag-167-pWhen visiting Dubrovnik, one of the excursions that we made was to have a day tour of Montenegro (or at least such parts as can be reached in the course of one day!). For us, the main parts of this focused on the cities (towns?) of Kotor and Budva. Now besides having an extremely delicious bowl of mussels and an extremely entertaining and informative tour guide (who would divert from the standard tour guide spiel with anecdotes about subjects ranging from James Bond to Roman Abramovich’s yacht – complete with two helipads AND two submarines!), one of my aims was to find some Montenegrin cake, and to actually see what they sell in the local bakeries. This delectable delight was one of those treats found. Whilst I didn’t try it on that trip (squishy vanilla slice on long coach trip -bad idea!), I decided that I definitely wanted to try the recipe at home.


Krempita is essentially a vanilla custard slice, made with 2 layers of puff pastry sandwiched with a thick vanilla custard-cream. I used puff pastry leftover from making allumettes, but this will work perfectly well with ready-made pastry – don’t try and make life life two difficult if you don’t want to! If on the other hand you do want to have a go at making your own, check out the recipe from here.



  • 2 sheets of puff pastry
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornflour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 packages unflavored gelatin
  • 32floz/950ml double cream whipped with 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar
  • Icing sugar


Heat oven to 400°F/200°C/Gas Mark 6. Roll out each piece of puff pastry slightly  and score into 9 sections. Sandwich each puff pastry sheet between two pieces of parchment paper and two cooling racks, to keep it flat but stillcrispy. Bake for 15 minutes, before removing the top rack and top sheet of parchment paper. Replace rack and continue to bake until golden and crispy throughout, before leaving to cool completely.

Whip the egg yolks and sugar until thick and lemon colored before adding the cornflour and milk and mixing thoroughly. Transfer to a bain-marie and coook gently until the custard thickens, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat. Dissolve gelatin completely in 1/2 cup cold water and stir into the hot custard until completely dissolved.

Cool the custard in an ice bath, stirring occasionally. If, for some reason, the custard has lumps (from being cooked at too high a temperature or undissolved gelatin), strain it through a sieve.

When the custard is cool and very thick but not yet set, fold in the sweetened whipped cream. Layer over 1 sheet of baked puff pastry and top with second sheet. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before eating. Cut into rectangles and dust with icing sugar before serving.

When visiting

Bread · Europe · Nation Cake Challenge · Uncategorized

France: Pain Brié

Flag of France

Much as I hate to say it, there is only so much cake that you can eat. Particularly as a baking blogger, the question of what to do with the remaining cakes. I’m lucky in that I have a very hungry younger brother who is a willing tester for many of the recipes when he is back from university, but otherwise it can come down to just Max and I to eat it, which can leave you feeling very fat. The problem was partially solved when my mum provided me with some lovely small round baking tins which belonged to my grandmother, but even so!

Every so often then I make something else, and today that something is bread. I have mixed feelings towards bread – I love tiger bread and could quite happily eat half a loaf in one sitting, but as much of the bread around these days is plastic white sliced sandwich bread, I don’t tend to eat much of it. Homemade bread is a different matter, but my house is not made for baking bread, and I find it almost impossible to make it rise! The only way I’ve managed to successfully get dough to rise is to place the bowl on a pile of books stacked under the bathrooms heated towel rail – not the best situation to be in!


However, when I make bread, I remember why it’s worth all the hassle! This loaf is a prime example of how good proper bread can be – a Normandy-style bread, filled with both black and green olives and rosemary. Delicious for a picnic, and very simple to make! It can be served either hot or cold, and does not need any topping to improve it – the ultimate one hand snack! The recipe is taken from Rachel Khoo’s book The Little Paris Kitchen



Pain Brié


Fermented Dough:

  • 10g yeast
  • 10ml warm water
  • 200g plain flour
  • 2 generous pinches of salt

The bread:

  • 5g dried yeast
  • 4 tbsp warm water
  • 85g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • a knob of butter
  • 300g fermented dough

The filling:

  • 50g green olives, chopped
  • 50g black olives, chopped
  • 1 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 20ml olive oil


First make the fermented dough, something that must be done the night before. Mix the yeast and warm water and stir until all the yeast has dissolved. Place the flour and salt in the bowl and quickly mix before adding the yeast mixture. Stir to combine before turning out onto a floured surface and knead until it forms a smooth dough. Place in a bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour. Refrigerate overnight before continuing.

The next day, dissolve the yeast in the warm water, before mixing the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the yeast mixture, fermented dough and butter before bringing together to form a ball. On a floured surface, knead for 15 minutes until smooth, and leave to rise for 30 minutes.

Make the filling by mixing together the olives, rosemary and oil. Roll out the risen dough so that is it 1 inch thick and about the size of a piece of A4 paper. Spread the olive mixture on top of the dough, and roll up lengthways into a long roll. Place join-side down on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Us a sharp knife to cut deep slits in the dough (ensuring that you d not cut all the way through!)  and cover with a damp tea towel before allowing to rise for 1 hour (it should have doubled in size).

Preheat the oven to Gas mark 9/240°C/475°F with a baking tray in the middle and a roasting tin in the bottom. Once hot, slide the roll (still on the baking paper) onto the hot baking tray, and pour a galss of water into the roasting tin. Bake for 5 minutes before reducing the heat to gas mark 7/210°C/425°F and bake for a further 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Cake · Europe · Nation Cake Challenge · Uncategorized

Hungary: Dobos Torte

flag of Hungary ►

From Hungary, introducing the Dobos Torte. This cake has a wealth of history attached to it, and it went on to become famous throughout the world. Invented in 1885 by the confectioner József C. Dobos, the cake was first shown at the 1885 National General Exhibition of Budapest, where some of its first samplers included Franz Joseph I and his wife. The cake used buttercream which was practically unknown at the time, and differed from the other cakes of the time due to its elegance and simplicity (in the case of mine,a rather more rustic elegance!). Dobos spent much of his time travelling around Europe, introducing this cake to different countries, resulting in the cake achieving international acclaim.


Dobos invented the cake and buttercream himself, keeping the recipe secret until his retirement in 1906. At this point he gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners and Gingerbread Makers Chamber of Industry, on the proviso that anyone could take advantage of the recipe. The recipe used for this cake is an adaption of Rick Rodger’s torte, taken from here.


This cake has a lot of components to it, but actually I was surprised to find that it doesn’t take that long to make. So don’t be put off by the daunting scale of the recipe – it is great fun to do, and oh-so-impressive when completed! As you can see from the picture below, my cake has 7 layers in it, however these are very thin layers which make it quite tricky to construct (let alone getting them off the paper in one piece – I originally made 14!) Make it easier on yourself and make the layers a bit thicker! I also used scissors to trim the layers into shape, as I found that worked far better than a knife.


As you can see, it is very rich and delectable, a real treat of a cake, and one that should definitely be in your reportoire! However, if you eat this and feel like your clothes are getting smaller, in the next post I’m going to be writing about some vegan desserts which I been working on, and am actually quite proud of, considering I’ve never had any experience in this field before. These probably can’t really be called healthy, but they taste as decadent as full-fat versions, but make you feel healthier, which can’t be bad!

Dobos Torte


Sponge cake layers

  • 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups (162g) icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
  • 95g plain flour
  • 17g cornflour
  • pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) caster sugar
  • 4oz (110g) good-quality dark chocolate, chopped
  • 250g butter (at room temperature

Caramel topping

  • 1 cup (200g) caster sugar
  • 12 tbsp (180 ml) water
  • 8 tsp (40 ml) lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sunflower oil

Finishing touches

  • 12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
  • ½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts


The Sponge Layers (Can be prepared before hand and stored in the fridge)

Position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C). Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9″ (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over.

Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture becomes thick and pale yellow. (The whisk should leave a ribbon-like trail when lifted from the bowl.)

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form then beat in the remaining icing sugar until until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt, before sifting half the flour over the eggs, and folding in. Repeat with the remaining flour.
Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a spatula, spread about 3/4 cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers (6 is a good number but if you have more batter, make more layers!). Completely cool the layers. Using an 8″ springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. I found a pair of scissors worked best for completing this.

The Chocolate Buttercream (this can also be prepared in advance)

Whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened. Place the bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (the water should not touch the bowl) and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes. Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. When cool, beat in the soft butter, a bit at a time. Chill whilst you make the caramel topping.

The Caramel Topping

Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper and butter the paper. Place a reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges.

Put the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the contents. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel. The caramel in the picture is probably a little over, though still very delicious – I think that’s a little too dark to be called ‘amber’. However, after tasting we decided that it really wasn’t an issue as far as taste went!

Ensure the cake layer is not too cold, or the caramel will set too fast. Pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer and quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using an oiled knife, quickly cut through the layer along the score lines, making sure that you use one clean cut. (If all else fails, I waited until it had cooled enough to handle and – again – attacked it with a pair of scissors! Not up to professional standards but effective!)

Assembling the cake

Divide the buttercream into six equal parts. Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of the serving plate and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with the other layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake, pressing the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides. Prop a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, and arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern.

Baking · Cake · Europe · Nation Cake Challenge · Uncategorized

Andorra: Peach, Almond and Rosemary Coque

The flag of Andorra Español: La bandera de And...

Despite being a microstate (a term I did not know existed, but I like it!), Andorra is unique in that it has two co-princes; namely the president of France and the Bishop of Urgell. This means that François Hollande is not only premier of France, but also an elected reigning monarch of Andorra. As a result he is the only monarch in the world to be elected by the common people – granted not those of the country he rules, but still!

Andorran cuisine shares much of its basis with Catalan cuisine, and so will often seem very Spanish in preparation. However, one thing that sprung out at me was the prevalence of preparations that combine both sweet and savoury foods, an idea which I was excited about the possibility of trying out in cake form. My first thought was to combine this idea with a recipe for coques, a sweet dough recipe, including fruit and a sweet almond picada (a herb and nut mixture similar to a pesto, but without cheese).


I was unable to find a suitable coques recipe so the following recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. I used the basic dough recipe, spread the dough with a sweet almond and rosemay picada and topped this with a layer of peaches. Crumbled amaretti biscuits are crumbled on top before the cake is baked in the oven. Lovely hot or cold, this can also be created with other fruits – if you have access to blackcurrants these make a delicious addition. I love this as a breakfast cake, or eating a slice with a cup of tea in the evening – really I could eat it anytime!

[Note on yeast – the first time I made this, it didn’t rise. Still tasted delicious but wasn’t quite as soft and pillowy as I would have hoped for. It turned out that the yeast I was using was too old, and therefore did not react as it should have done. You can test to see if you yeast will work effectively by dissolving it in lukewarm water – if bubbles form after about 3 minutes then it is alive and raring to go! Otherwise, sadly it is no longer with you and will not help in your cake-making quests!

Andorran-Inspired Peach and Almond Coque



  • 400 gram(s) strong white bread flour
  • ½ teaspoon(s) salt
  • 50 gram(s) caster sugar
  • 1 packet(s) yeast (easy blend, about 3g)
  • 2 medium egg(s)
  • ½ teaspoon(s) vanilla extract
  • ½ lemon (juice)
  • ¼ teaspoon(s) ground cinnamon
  • 125 ml milk (luke warm)
  • 50 gram(s) butter (softened)


  • 24 blanched almonds
  • 1 spring of rosemary
  • 1 slice stale bread, toasted, crust removed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon amaretto
  • 2 teaspoons of water
  • 4 peaches
  • 100g/4oz Flour
  • 75g/3oz Butter or margarine
  • 75g/3oz Sugar
  • 50g/2oz crushed Amaretti Biscuits


Place 350g of flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a bowl and set aside. In a different bowl, beat the eggs before adding them to the lukewarm milk, along with the vanilla extract, lemon zest and cinnamon. Gradually start to add the liquids to the flour mixture, mixing them to form a smooth dough (You may need to add more flour if it is too sticky). Add the softened butter and knead for 10 minutes, until smooth. Cover and leave in a warm room for about an hour until doubled in size, before punching down and stretching into a baking tin (greased and lined). Leave for 15-20 minutes to prove (a final rise aimed at ensuring a final fermentation of the yeast) before brushing with beaten egg

To make the picada, process the blanched almonds until finely ground. Add in the amaretto, water, cocoa, rosemary leaves and the slice of bread, and process to a puree, adding a little more amaretto if it is a bit dry – you are aiming for a smooth paste. Spread the mixture on top of the dough.

Make the crumble by working the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles rolled oats. Add the sugar and crushed amaretti biscuits and mix to combine. Chop the peaches and use to top the dough, before covering with the crumble topping. Bake in an oven preheated to 200°C/Gas Mark 6 for 15 minutes, before turning the oven down to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 and baking for another 20 minutes.  The dough should be golden brown and the topping will be set (not crunchy). Leave to cool, and cut into large pieces for ultimate enjoyment!