Five cakes for five occasions

Five Cakes post

This week we have discovered that the more people you have in a house, the longer you can keep a cold virus going. We just keep throwing it between us like a frisbee of snotty sadness. I’m a lot better at catching colds than I am at catching frisbees (twice in a week, now! I am the virus winner!), which is oddly making me feel a little better.

Anyway, after I’ve run through painkillers and melodrama, dessert is my third stop during cold season. I had to choose three of my favourite desserts to bring to an activity last week, and I just hope you never have to make such a wrenching decision, dear readers. So much good cake. So much. [tears.]

So I thought I’d try to be useful, and suggest a few shortcuts. Here are five cakes perfect for five occasions – and it should go without saying that all of them will improve your average snotastrophe NO END.

the birthday party: white chocolate and brownie torte

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This is ideal birthday fare: it’s the easiest thing in the world and looks far more impressive than it should (good for crowds), but needs eight hours in the freezer, so can’t be made on a whim (hopefully your loved one’s birthday hasn’t come as a surprise). And with only three ingredients, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it.

I inherited this recipe from my mother-in-law – if you recognise where it’s from, let me know so I can credit it!

Ingredients:

300g white chocolate

600ml/1 pint double cream

250g brownies (I use one of those boxes of mini brownies in the bakery section at Tesco)

cocoa powder

Method:

Line an 8-inch Springform tin with greaseproof paper.

Break the chocolate into pieces, and melt in a pan with 1/4 pint (150 ml) of the cream. Let it cool once it’s melted.

Crumble the brownies into pieces, and pack into the bottom of the tin (not too hard!).

Whip the remaining cream (3/4 pint, 450 ml) into soft peaks, then fold in the chocolate mixture.

Spoon into the tin, clingfilm and freeze for 8 hours (or overnight).

Transfer the torte to the fridge 45 minutes before serving. Dust with cocoa powder.

Read the full run-through here.

the valentine: Sophie Dahl’s flourless chocolate cake

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I may be just shallow, but nothing says true love to me like the BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE YOU’VE EVER HAD. Trust me, I’ve tried a lot, and this is the one I keep coming back to. Without flour, the cake relies on whipped egg whites to rise, which makes it moist (I hate that word, but when it fits…) and puddingy. Creme fraiche and raspberries on top, while deeply offending Mr Jeffcoat, counterbalance the chocolate nicely, and prevent it from being too sickly.

The recipe is here, and you can read about the first time I tried it here. The only thing I’d add is that putting chocolate in a food processor always broke my food processor, and cutting it up finely was achey and time-consuming. Just melt the chocolate with the butter in the microwave, and follow the recipe from there.

Mmmm. Romance.

the church social: lemon bars

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I do this every time: sign up to bring a dessert to some activity or other, and then forget until the last minute. I owe my friend Kathryn for this revelation: soft shortbread underneath squidgy lemon-meringue-style topping that tastes like happiness. One tray can be sliced into as many pieces as you need, and you can dress it up in individual cupcake cases if need be. Timothy always requests these to bring into the office on his birthday, at which point one of his coworkers described them as ‘like a lemon snog to the face’. I cannot give any better recommendation than this.

Crust Ingredients:

1 cup butter (this translates to about 226g)
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups flour (I use about 3/4 plain flour and 1/4 self-raising – did it this way by accident once and it worked well)

Filling ingredients:

4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sugar, any kind
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup flour (self-raising, I use)
1/4 cup lemon juice
Rind of 1 lemon, grated

Method

For crust -
1) Cream butter and icing sugar.
2) Add salt and flour, and mix well.
3) Pat into a 9 x 13 inch lined baking tin. Bake at 170 C for 15-20 mins.

For filling -
1) Mix all ingredients and pour over hot crust. Bake at 170 C for about 25-30 mins. It should be light brown on top and a curd-like consistency.
2) When done, sprinkle with icing sugar. Cut into squares when cool.

Read the full run-through here.

the Sunday lunch: Nigella’s ice cream cake

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Och, this one is amazing. Ice cream mixed with biscuits, chocolate and honeycomb, frozen into place and then covered with hot chocolate and butterscotch sauce. Ideal for Sunday lunch because it’s dead easy, and you can fill it with whatever your family or guests like best: peanuts, chocolate chips, different types of biscuit, favourite chocolate bars – even fruit, if you must.

Nigella’s recipe is here, but it’s not an exact science: just a tub of ice cream, your favourite things, and a Springform tin. The recipes for hot chocolate sauce is here, and the butterscotch sauce is here. One would do, but using both makes it a thing of beauty.

Read the full run-through here.

the comfort eat: cinnamon roll cake

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I speak here as someone obsessed with cinnamon rolls, but without the patience (or breadmaker) to make them. I first made this on a rainy afternoon with friends, so heavily pregnant I looked like a giant cheeseburger, and I swear to you I nearly buried my face in it. It’s another tray bake (though you could put it in any shaped tin you like) which is somewhat dangerous: you start off virtuously with a small square, and before you know it, it’s half gone.

The recipe is from The Girl Who Ate Everything, and it’s here. I use a cream cheese frosting rather than her suggested icing, which is at the bottom of the page, here (I generally halve this recipe, because it’s insane). And while I’d recommend checking the cake after the recommended 25-30 minutes, it actually takes just over an hour in my oven. Maybe it’s an altitude thing.

Read the full run-through here.

Head cold, I spit in your face. And eat cake. So much cake. [tears.]

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Cakery Bakery: Cinnamon roll cake

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I finished work on Friday. Not forever, but for long enough. Oh, it was like being let out of school before the long summer holiday, only with several hundred added Braxton Hicks. I bought a newborn car seat, in celebration (by heck do I know how to live). And then I made a cake.

It felt like a conquered mountain in itself, this cake. Baking is rather difficult at present, with a) Henry trying to get his tongue into the egg whites and b) all of this foetus to carry around. And I am generally obsessed with cinnamon rolls, but without a breadmaker can never be bothered to go through with them. Well, have a look at this: cinnamon roll cake, from The Girl Who Ate Everything (still working my way through her website. Still in love). It’s like a giant cinnamon roll, but without any dough palaver. Why didn’t anyone think of this before?

It didn’t go entirely smoothly, I admit. It started well: the cake mix is one of those wonderful throw-everything-in-a-bowl-and-press-go types, which always makes me happy. I used my free-standing mixer, but a handheld electric one would work just as well. That part is over and in a baking tin before you can say LITTLE BOY, PLEASE MOVE YOUR FACE AWAY FROM THAT EGG.

Then you prepare what the recipe calls topping, but is more like filling: cinnamon, soft butter, brown sugar and pecans all mixed together. My butter wasn’t quite soft enough, so I prepared the pecans separately, thinking it might be easier to whisk without them (it was). The instructions said to put tablespoonfuls of the filling on top of the cake mix, then use a knife to ‘marble’ it in. Well. My filling spoonfuls sat on top of the cake mix like daubs of cold peanut butter, and clearly weren’t going to marble anywhere at all. I ended up mashing them in any old how. It was messy, and left my cake looking like it had a bad case of acne (especially once I put the pecans on top), but we forged on.

Marbling [mashing]. Before and after.

Marbling [mashing]. Before and after.

Then came the real trouble. In the oven for 25-30 minutes, said the recipe. Which I did. I took the cake out, poked in a knife, and was utterly horrified when a lava-flow of grease came flooding out. I realised it was the butter/sugar solution, partying away on the inside. Who on earth would want to eat a grease cake?! I put it back in for another ten minutes. No grease this time, but lots of raw cake mix. Another ten minutes. And another ten. Thirty-five minutes after the recipe said it would be done, it was done. I wasn’t at all sure it would be edible, by this point.

Thank goodness for cream cheese frosting. The recipe gives instructions for a glaze that looks like a thin form of icing. But cinnamon rolls need cream cheese frosting, yes? It just feels right. I used this recipe, halved. It’s the sort of thing I can happily eat from the bowl, with a spatula. I would eat it on toast. I would probably lick it off a wall, to be honest, but for the time being it was jolly lovely on the cake.

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The verdict, then:

Deliciousness: Do you know, after all that, it was wonderful. Extremely fluffy, gloriously messy and crumbly. I don’t know why it took half an hour longer in the oven than it should’ve done, but it didn’t suffer for it. The filling makes sandy little cinnamon blobs in the middle of every slice, and the frosting and pecans together are lovely.

Complexity: If I can work out the correct oven time, it’s a cinch: measure, mix, dump in a tin. So much easier than proper cinnamon rolls. Now I have an ominous feeling.

Washing-up pile: Two bowls and some cutlery. Nice and easy (not – um – that I actually did the clearing up. Thanks, kitchen wonders!).

Casualties: Here is a life lesson – you don’t want to wipe a ladleful of sugar/butter/cinnamon out of a toddler’s face and hair. Ever. That stuff clings.

Oh gosh, it's not going to come off. Is it?

This was the moment I realised it wasn’t going to come off.

The recipe for cinnamon roll cake is here, and the frosting I used is at the bottom of the page here. Go go go!

Reasons to be cheerful: loaded baked potato soup

My friends, I have needed some soul succour this week. What a cold. What a cold. It kept whipping out new and horrific symptoms like angry rabbits out of hats, just as the old ones died down. And all the rabbits wanted to claw at my face. I’ve had two days of normalcy – which means I got out of bed, dressed and consumed more food than flu medicine – and I’m still writing this to drown out my sore throat. ENOUGH.

In these circumstances, what you need is a king of meals. And this is a king among meals: a loaded baked potato soup recipe I got from my mama. If soups were people, this would be the Incredible Hulk. I was going to put it in my Meals for Not Much series, but it fails all three of my usual conditions for recipes, gloriously. It is not especially quick. It does not have an ingredients list I can count on half a hand. It is hysterically calorific. But it will make you happy, I promise you. Angels will start singing in your ear. Imagine careening down a giant slide and landing in a great pile of buttery, creamy, bacony, potatoey goodness. Oh, Americans. Oreos, and now this?

Here’s the recipe. I’ve added more English-friendly measurements where I’ve needed them.

Ingredients:

6 medium potatoes – 1.5 lbs ish (I used 5 today, and it was plenty)

6 slices of bacon, chopped

1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter

1.5 cups (about 1.5 large, or 2 small) diced onion

1/2 cup (1 stalk) diced celery

2 tsp minced garlic (never use this much, unless you want a special nickname from your friends. I use 2 cloves, chopped)

3/4 cup plain flour

5 cups (1 litre) chicken stock

1.5 cups milk

1.5 cups half-and-half (I use cream. Double cream, today. In for a penny, right?)

6 turns of the pepper grinder

1/2 tsp Cajun spice

1/3 cup sour cream

1.5 cups (90g ish) grated cheese

1/8 cup sliced green/spring onions (this is only a couple of fingerfuls)

How much of this you need to buy will depend on the type of household you live in. Personally I usually have the potatoes and twelve different types of dairy covered, so I go out and buy the veg. I hope you’re the opposite.

Method

1. Bake the potatoes. Blah, I know. I do them two at a time in the microwave for 5 mins each, then put them in the oven to finish off while I get on with the rest of it. You can also boil the potatoes, but it doesn’t work quite as well.

2. Cook chopped bacon in a soup pot until tender, but not crisp.

3. Add butter and melt. Realise you’re frying bacon in butter and feel good about your life.

4. Add onion and celery and saute for 4 minutes or until softened.

5. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

6. Sprinkle in flour a little at a time, stirring constantly. It makes a weird kind of bacony paste. I contemplated having it in sandwiches. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.

7. Bring the heat up, and add the chicken stock a little at a time. Chicken stock stumped me until they started selling these little concentrated stock pots at the supermarket. You add one to 500ml water, et voila. No chicken carcass required. As you add it, the paste absorbs the liquid and it gets creamy and smooth. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

8. Take out potatoes, slice in half and chop the insides into cubes. Stir in milk, cream (half and half), pepper, Cajun seasoning, and potatoes. You can also add here, if you want, a bit of hot sauce, and salt if it needs it (it won’t).

9. Increase heat to just under a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

10. I bet you thought we were done, didn’t you? No. Silly you. You haven’t added enough dairy yet.

11. Get the sour cream, green/spring onions and MASSIVE HANDFULS OF CHEESE and chuck it all in. Cackle a little. Heat for just a while, until the cheese has melted.

12. Garnish with sour cream, cheese, spring onions or crumbled bacon, if you must.

The best thing about this – apart from the obvious – is that it makes tons. Henry and I had it for lunch, then dinner, and there’s still a portion in the fridge and three double portions in the freezer. So, I suppose, spread over five days it’s quite cheap.

As you may have gathered, this is not for every day. Your arteries will cry. I make it when I am sad, or ill, or think Henry’s had a calorie-sparse week (he loves it). And it makes everything better. Some food can do that. Bacon does it best.

Happy eating!