Crème Fraîche Cake

Crème fraîche is great stuff for baking. Luxurious, a little tangy, and what’s more, it’s got a lovely long shelf life! When I went on my slightly wild Waitrose shopping spree, I picked up a tub with no idea what on earth I was going to do with it when I got home. Fill a cake with it? Mix it into some chocolate for a tangy ganache?

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Nah none of the above. I baked cake with it. When downers come along, flowers and cake always help ameliorate some of that bad feeling.

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I’ve gotten more than a little flower-happy. Last time it was red peonies, but then I saw some pink ones in bud, as well as some fragrant hyacinths, and guess what – bought both. Both are beautiful.

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I still can’t believe somebody from work stole my cake tin! I didn’t have a particularly strong sentimental attachment to it, but it was cheerful, and the best receptacle I had for storing cakes. Not to mention, who would want to steal a cake tin when you’ve gone to all the effort of taking homemade cake into work for everybody?

Anyway, back to this crème fraîche cake which was absolutely delicious.

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I sat on my bed in my pyjamas, all my cookbooks spread about me, and searched for recipes containing crème fraîche (surely it’s not just me that does this, by the way?!). Then, browsing online, I was inspired by a weekend cake on Fanny’s wonderful blog Like a Strawberry Milk. Originally, I intended on whisking together some crème fraîche and double cream, and sandwiching the cake with this as well as some jam. However, it was so good plain I didn’t bother with any extra adornment.

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Moist, tangy, and beautifully fluffy, it’s a great combination.

Crème Fraîche Cake

Adapted from Like a Strawberry Milk

  • 4 eggs
  • 250g sugar (I used a mixture of golden caster sugar and granulated sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g self-raising flour (I used Waitrose sponge flour)
  • 50g salted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 150g crème fraîche

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.

Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract together until pale and frothy. Then sift in the flour and fold to combine.

Stir the melted butter, salt and creme fraiche together in the saucepan. Beat together with a large spoonful of the egg/sugar/flour mixture, and this to the egg/sugar/flour bowl, and fold through until combined.

Place in the oven and bake for around 30 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 170˚C and bake a further 20 minutes. A skewer should come out clean when the cake is done. Leave to cool then unmould. You can slice it in half and sandwich with sweetened crème fraîche mixed with double cream, and a layer of jam, or leave it plain.

Chocolate, Cream and Raspberry Cake

Currently…

Still obsessed with baking sponge cakes. I can’t seem to stop, they are just so good, so addictive, and so easy. Chocolate this time, lavishly filled with Jersey double cream and raspberries.

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Admiring the peonies. Despite being the epitome of online-social-media cliche, they are stunning flowers, and I can’t possibly get sick of looking at them at my window.

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Lusting after stand mixers. I almost bit the bullet and bought one, but my laptop chose that month to die, so I had to spend a good chunk of my salary replacing that instead. Then I decided that perhaps I didn’t need a stand mixer after all, and splashed out on the Kenwood KMix hand mixer instead. It is a beauty.

Looking for twenties-themed black tie wear. I’ve got a themed do coming up in the next few weeks, and of course (in typical female style) I have nothing, NOTHING to wear.

Anyway, back to the chocolate cake.

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I never seem to bake chocolate-based victoria sponges, always preferring my go-to recipe based on oil. So I thought I’d astonishingly break away from my vanilla and lemon habits, and make a summery chocolate cake. After all, if thickly festooned with cream and fruit, it’s got to make the rainy weather a bit better eh?

The method is exactly the same as a standard victoria sponge, just with the addition of cocoa powder into the mix. The difficulty for me often lies in how much cocoa powder to add. Some recipes state up to a whopping 100g, whilst others are much more restrained with a mere 25g. I went for a compromise of 50g cocoa powder in a 4 egg cake batter.

By magic kitchen alchemy, my chocolate cakes always respond rather differently in the oven, rising taller, cracking, the crumb itself a different, more delicate texture.

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I remembered afterwards that I forgot to add the salt. I don’t think it made much difference. Of course I had to throw on as many raspberries as I could fit, they look so pretty on top. The only downside is raspberries go mouldy so fast. You either have to eat the cake super-fast or keep it religiously in the fridge between helpings. Why do raspberries go mouldy so quickly compared with, say, strawberries? Is it the sugar content? Or their furry mould-loving nature? Absolutely no idea.

Chocolate, Cream and Raspberry Cake

  • 225g unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 75g golden caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 175g self-raising or sponge flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp instant coffee powder
  • milk
  • 300g double cream (I used extra-thick Jersey cream which is utterly sinfully gorgeous)
  • punnet of raspberries

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin. Beat the butter until light and creamy, then beat in the salt, followed by the sugar until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs together in a jug, then slowly add to the creamed mixture, whisking religiously as you go to incorporate as much air in as you can. Then sift in the flour, cocoa powder and coffee, and fold in until just combined. Add a dash of milk to get it to dropping consistency and scrape the cake batter into your prepared tin. Bake for 45-50 minutes until springy and a sharp knife comes out clean. Leave to cool, then unmould and slice into two halves.

Whisk the cream to soft peaks, then sandwich half between the cakes, and spread half the cream on top. Decorate with raspberries.

Jam and Clotted Cream Cake

It’s a simple combination but oh it’s a good one. Jam and cream, yum yum yum. Jam and clotted cream? Oh be still my beating heart! (Oh wait….)

As well as a heart attack waiting to happen, jam and clotted cream also sing of warm scones, the hum of bees amongst the roses, sunny skies and grassy picnics. It’s pretty much the epitome of an English summer. So I baked a victoria sponge, and smothered the cake in creamy jammy goodness.

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My usual rigamarole is  brushing the cake in sugar syrup, then piping the cream in, sternly telling it to stay put, and filling the middle with jam, carefully arranged in cream-shaped crater so it doesn’t ooze out. This time, I felt supremely lazy, left out the syrup, slathered the filling onto the sponge willy-nilly, and immediately cut out a juicily large slice.

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It was absolutely delicious. Just look at that thick layer of clotted cream! I’m a big fan of mascarpone-based icings as they are less sweet, but I think using clotted cream is another brilliant option and easier by far. No need for sugar, vanilla, or any prep really, just whip it to spreadable consistency and away you go!

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I’m a real convert to using the best quality ingredients I can afford, and I really think it makes a huge difference. Lescure butter, jersey cream, and sponge flour all cost a pretty penny, but oh how delicious the cakes are as a result! A liked the last one I made for him so much he declared it too good to take into work to share with his colleagues! What a compliment.

No Sardines in Sardinia

When we came back from Naples, A and I had uneasy thoughts about our next trip to Italy. Naples had been a shock to the system, grimy, gritty, hard to love. Would Sardinia be the same?

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At first, we weren’t sure. Rolling our suitcase out of Alghero’s tiny airport, we headed for the car rental stall, only to see a group of angry Germans arguing furiously with a group of 5 sunglasses-clad deeply bronzed Italians manning the desk. It took all 5 of them to sort out one car for this increasingly irate man.

Thankfully, our own car hire was a smooth, relatively uneventful process. The Ford Fiesta was a step up from the car I had originally picked, and soon we were driving out of the airport, deep into the midst of olive groves, green hills, the roads lined with poppies and other wildflowers. Blue skies ahead, I felt utterly content.

The hotel too was a dream, surrounded by gloriously green countryside. I completely fell in love with the swimming pool, and A was rather bemused at how much time I spent floating about in it. 

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With huddles of sheep in the distance, and the trill of birdsong in the air, tortoises crawling across the road, you just couldn’t get further away from the busy urban life of work, London and commuting.

I’m not sure I remember doing much in the way of tourist attractions apart from exploring some of Sardinia’s nuraghe, stone towers that are the last remnants of an ancient civilisation. So much more interesting than Stonehenge, and dotted just about everywhere.

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The rest of the short holiday was naturally spent happily doing laps in the gorgeous hotel swimming pool, or sunning myself on a virtually empty beach, hills dotted with purple blooms of wild orchids rising into the background.

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It was just simply perfect. Not to mention the fresh seafood, grilled on the beach, and served up with a fresh tablecloth, napkins, and squeeze of lemon, because fish and chips has a totally different meaning Italian-style.

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When all you want is a little R n’ R, I cannot recommend Sardinia highly enough. It was a perfect holiday destination, and I can’t wait to go back.