Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus! (Happy Saint David’s Day!) …For yesterday! The Welsh weather was hilariously on form all weekend – one minute sunny, the next minute rain, thunder, hail stones… And so my Saint David’s Day weekend was spent indoors (are we ever going to get a dry weekend?). Most of my Saturday was spent pottering around in the kitchen whipping up a few of my favourite Welsh Bakes to dole out to family and friends, and then on Sunday – I scoffed the lot. Standard. Obviously I made a massive batch of Welshcakes (I mean, it’s criminal not to scoff at least a dozen Welshcakes on Saint David’s Day, I think you’ll agree…), tried my hand at Aberffraw Shortbread, and I also made these Bara Brith Blondies.
Let’s be honest, Welsh Cakes and Bakes are never going to win any beauty contests; they’re pretty much the equivalent of me first thing on Sunday morning when I’m plodding around in my yoga pants and glasses walking the dog – unappetizing, no frills, what you see is pretty much what you get (and is at its finest when paired with a cup of tea). Welsh baking is simple and homely – it’s supposed to taste good, not look good, and usually be made with whatever you’ve got bashing around in your cupboard. And that’s why I love it.
I fancied making some Bara Brith over the weekend, but I wanted to try something a little different to the traditional tea loaf we all know and love (find my recipe for that right here). I wanted something a bit more bitesized – perfect for lunchboxes, for tea breaks, and for warming up in the microwave and serving with ice cream (I also saw someone serving up pancakes topped with little bits of Bara Brith over the weekend on social media – how genius is that!?). And so, I came up with these Bara Brith Blondies. They’re a really easy twist on the traditional recipe, with the same tea-soaked sultanas and mixed spice flavour, a super moist sponge and a honey drizzled crust. Yum! 🙂
Bara Brith Blondies
300ml boiling hot water
1 black teabag (I used Earl Grey)
170g melted butter(cooled)
125g caster sugar
100g dark muscovado sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
260g plain flour
runny honey to glaze
Soak your sultanas and teabag in the boiling hot water – leaving them to steep overnight if possible, or for a couple of hours. The sultanas should plump and soak up either all or most of the tea. Discard any leftover water.
Grease and line a deep, rectangular baking tin, and set your oven to 160C.
To make the batter, cream together the melted butter and sugars. Stir in the eggs, mixed spice and vanilla bean paste, and then fold in the flour and tea-soaked sultanas.
Try not to overwork the batter – call it quits when all the ingredients have more or less come together – and then pour it into your baking tin, gently smoothing it into the corners.
Bake for 1 hour, then leave to cool.
Brush the surface with runny honey, and then chop up and scoff with a cuppa. 🙂
Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus, pawb! (Happy Saint David’s Day Everyone!) 💛 You can find a video of this recipe (along with two other easy Welsh Bakes with a Twist) over on my IGTV.
Sweet and Sticky and perfect served warm with ice cream…
What a wild weekend, right? Hopefully – wherever you’re reading this from – you escaped the worst of storm Dennis (the Menace). Here in Cardiff we’ve experienced the worst flooding in at least forty years. The Taff was the highest that I’ve ever seen it, Bute Park and Pontcanna Fields became a swamp on Sunday morning, and the water slurped so far beyond its normal level that swans were seen strolling down streets in Grangetown. Thankfully my house is on a hill, but other’s haven’t been nearly as lucky. It’s been a bizarre and sad weekend, and one best spent cosying up indoors with a good book and plenty of cake. Good thing I whipped this baby up on Friday!
I feel like bananas are a bit of a divisive fruit. I know people who will absolutely no way – under no circumstances – go anywhere near them, and then there are those who find them… a’peeling (har de har). I absolutely love them; I’ve always got a few banging around in my fruit bowl – and whether they’re soft and freckled, or practically green, they’re hands down the star of this Caramel and Banana Upside Down Cake. With a sticky, sweet and slightly crisp caramel crust on the outside, the cake itself is moist and crumbly and slightly spiced with cinnamon (and rum, if you’re feeling it!). Topped with sliced bananas, you can scoff it cold, or even better, slightly warmed with either cream, ice cream or custard.
…I know what you’re thinking. “Hey Nia, where’s the rest of the cake?” Well, funny story. Whilst the cake itself is very, very easy to make – you can’t rush it out of the tin (no matter how good it smells!). Which is exactly what I did and I ended up with hot caramel all over my kitchen counter. Oops. Do yourself a favour; leave the cake to completely cool in the tin before you turn it out and flip it onto a plate. 😉
Sticky Banana Upside Down Cake
For the Banana Caramel Topping:
100g caster sugar
50g dark muscovado sugar
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 large bananas sliced lengthways
For the Cake:
150g self raising flour
125g caster sugar
125g softened butter
2 eggs, whisked
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
100ml dark rum (optional)
Set your oven to 170C. Lightly grease a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin.
To make the caramel, gently heat together the butter, dark muscovado sugar and caster sugar (don’t stir yet!) until melted and combined. Stir in the vanilla bean paste. Pour a little into the bottom of your cake tin, then arrange the bananas (sliced side down) on top. Pour in the rest of the caramel.
To make the cake, cream together the butter and sugar, then stir in the whisked eggs. Sift together the flour, salt and cinnamon, then pour it into the bowl and mix with the butter and sugar. Finally stir in the yogurt (and rum).
Pour the cake batter into the tin on top of the caramel and bananas, then bake for 50 minutes (or until an inserted skewer comes out clean).
Important bit! Lightly run a knife around the edge of the cake, and then leave the cake in the tin to cool (if you release it from the tin at this point then the whole thing will collapse and spew molten caramel EVERYWHERE… Speaking from experience!).
Once the cake has completely cooled, turn it out onto a plate with the bananas and caramel facing up. Serve with cream, custard (or ice cream!).
Tell you what, my 2020 so far has been bloody spectacular (…are you picking up on the sarcastic subtext of that statement?). Firstly, a new year dog walk around the block with my mother-in-law resulted in a five hour wait in A&E after Bungle bolted and dragged her up a hill by the wrist. Not a day after the house emptied and a bit of normality resumed, Sunny went down with the flu. And a day after that, the other hairy bloke in my life caught bog-eye from shoving his face in too many butts (…I’m talking about Bungle, in case that wasn’t obvious). Then yesterday, the council oh so kindly informed me that pulling into a bus lay-by to drop your husband off for his Christmas Party is not cool and will result in a £75 fine. Awesome.
It’s been a howler so far, and so I shouldn’t really have been surprised that my first bake of the year turned out to be howler too. I’ve made plenty of cakes in my time – enough to be honestly surprised when one goes tits up – but the science behind it all still kind of eludes me – it is all just chemistry after all. All the basic ingredients need to be there and need to be balanced in a very specific way before you even get around to adding flavours and fillings. For example if you put too much structure-building flour into a cake, then it’s going to be dry. And sugar is responsible for more than just its sweet taste; sugar plays a huge part in the soft, spongy texture of cakes due to the way sugar crystals trap little pockets of air. Too little sugar and your cake’s not going to have a soft texture. Aaaand, if you put too much liquid into a cake – which I found out when I tried to make this London Fog Cake – then your cake’s going to be heavy and dense and is probs gonna end up going straight in the bin. I knew I’d put too much liquid in it as soon as it came out of the oven – but hindsight’s 2020, innit? (Badump tshhhh.)
Anyway, I managed to turn this baking fail into a baking win by making it my mission to read up a bit into the science behind good cakes, and now – hopefully – none of my future cake experiments will end up in the bin. I went back to the drawing board, and I have to say, my second attempt was much, much better. Pretty damn good, in fact.
If you’ve never heard of London Fog before (Just a heads-up, I’m not talking about the weather in London…), it’s basically just an Earl Grey Latte. Lovely bergamot-infused black tea made with frothy, hot milk. The perfect drink for glum (and sometimes foggy) January days. This cake is essentially the drink in cake form – a black tea-enriched sponge, with a creamy, vanilla-flavoured frosting.
London Fog Cake
3 Earl Grey teabags
75ml boiling hot water
3 large eggs, whisked
50g caster sugar
50g dark muscovado sugar
175g self-raising flour, sifted
For the buttercream icing:
400g icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
First things first, make some tea! Empty the contents of the teabags into a cup, then pour on the 75ml of boiling hot water. Leave to steep, then cool.
Set your oven to 170°C and grease a small, loose-bottomed cake tin.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. Pour in the eggs, then stir to combine.
Pour in the flour and tea mixture, alternating between the two. Stir to make a soft batter.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 50 minutes, then leave to cool. Meanwhile make the buttercream by whipping together the icing sugar, butter and vanilla bean paste.
Decorate the surface of the cake, then scoff (…with tea 🙂).
Have a lovely week! How’s 2020 treating you so far? 💓
A moist but structured white sponge cake, and the creamiest buttercream you’ll ever make…
Full disclosure; today’s post was supposed to be a recipe for some very Bonfire Night appropriate Smores Brownies(*sigh* they were going to be so good! If you’re looking for some Bonfire Bakes then check out this post…). But, the truth is that Mercury Retrograde found me, and last weekend everything mysteriously went a bit Pete Tong. Now, I’m not really someone who really believes in all that astrology stuff (although, when NASA announced that all the star signs were off and that I was actually a Libra instead of a Scorpio, I was understandably outraged), but on Friday it was like some cosmic switch got flicked and everything suddenly and inexplicably went tits up. I just felt a bit off and then I started making these really stupid mistakes all over the place. I managed to cut my finger and split my nail whilst grating a carrot of all things, my steam mop – out of nowhere – gave up the ghost just when I desperately needed to use it (muddy paw prints, everywhere!), I gave my lounge wall a bruising Glasgow Kiss when I bent over to pick something up, and I even managed to cock up not one, but two very simple bakes when I made a really stupid mathematical error in dividing down quantities. Ugh! What the hell had happened?Desperate to find something to blame my sudden inability to count and to function as a normal human being on, I rolled my eyes as I actually googled the words “Is Mercury in Retrograde?”, and ended up feeling a bit freaked out when – surprise! – it was. It had literally shifted on Thursday night. Spooky, no?
Anyway, thankfully one bake did work out this weekend – and that was Sunny’s birthday cake (on the second attempt…). My husband turned a ripe old age over the weekend, and I always make him a birthday cake (even when he protests), but this year I didn’t really have the time or the ingredients to pull anything particularly fancy out of the bag. So, instead, I pulled out my tried, tested and true recipe for plain old white cake with buttercream frosting. Yes, it’s basic – but sometimes that’s exactly what you need when making a birthday cake. You want a sponge that’s moist and easy to bake, but still has structure to it so you can slice it and stack it and mold it into whatever shape you need it to take. You want a simple but delicious flavour that’s going to suit everyone, and isn’t going to be too sweet once you’ve decorated it. And as for the buttercream, it needs to be thick, it needs to be creamy, it needs to hold its shape and it needs to be sweet – but not sickly. And this is the recipe I reach for when I need a cake that’s all of the above. Basic, but banging. And reliable! …Except for when Mercury moves into Retrograde, apparently… *eye roll*
Basic (but banging) Birthday Cake with Buttercream Icing
Tried, Tested and True, and your Brand New Birthday Go-To…
175g softened, salted butter
100g caster sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
225g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
For the Buttercream
250g softened, salted butter
500g icing sugar
100ml double cream
*This should make enough to both sandwich and cover the cake.Make sure you use salted butter – that’s very important!
Set your oven to 180°C and grease a deep, loose-bottomed cake tin (I like to use one with a 15cm diameter for a doorstop slice, without the excess).
In a mixing bowl, cream together your butter and sugar until you get lovely, whipped and creamy mix – the more elbow grease (or electricity if you’re using an electric mixer!) you put in at this stage, the fluffier your cake is going to be.
Pour in the beaten eggs – gradually mixing everything together – then sift in half of the flour.
Next mix in the buttermilk, and then follow it with the last of the flour and finally the baking powder to make a smooth batter.
Bake the cake for about 40 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool.
Once the cake has cooled, slice it in half as evenly as you can. Sandwich with a layer of raspberry jam and buttercream, then cover with a smooth, even layer of buttercream – building it up gradually.Decorate with rainbow sprinkles. 🙂
It was my Dad’s birthday a couple of weeks ago and so – of course – I baked him a cake. He’s a big fan of coffee and walnut cake, and so I decided to bake him one of those – but fancied levelling up the flavours a little. I have a candle in my kitchen called “Coffee Break”(a TK Maxx bargain!) that I like to burn in the morning while I’m making breakfast or cleaning; I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t drink coffee but absolutely LOVES the smell of it. Anyway, this candle smells like an American Coffee Shop in the best kind of way; it gives off a kind of nutty, syrupy, dark roast smell and I love it! I kind of gave myself the challenge of making the cake taste like that candle smells – which is a very weird thing to do, I know – but I think I kind of pulled it off! I added in a good glug of maple syrup and some brown sugar and that seemed to do the trick! Nutty, syrupy, coffee(-y) – it’s the perfect bake for Father’s Day! 🙂
Coffee, Maple and Walnut Cake
2 eggs, whisked
2 egg whites
150g ground walnuts (just blitz them in a blender until they look like wet sand)
50g dark brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp maple syrup
100g self raising flour
2 tbsp coffee granules
50g ground walnuts
200g salted butter
400g icing sugar
Set your oven to 170°C and grease and line a small, round, spring-form cake tin (less than 20cm).
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar, then pour in the eggs and egg whites. Mix until well-combined and fluffy.
Next, warm the milk in the microwave and mix in the coffee granules. Leave the coffee mixture to cool before stirring it into the batter (you don’t want to scramble the eggs!). Stir in the maple syrup.
Next, sift all the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl (that’s the flour, salt, baking powder and ground walnuts), then gradually add the mixture to the batter – stirring until well-combined.
Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 50 minutes – or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool.
Once the cake has cooled, carefully slice into two or three layers (depending on how dab-handed with a knife you are!). Sandwich the layers together with buttercream, then ice the cake with whatever you’ve got left. Sprinkle with ground walnuts and decorate with whole nuts and fresh flowers. 🙂
Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there, but mostly to my awesome Dad. ♥