Lemon Viennese Whirls

Annual leave, yay! The weather has been properly disappointing in parts (rain rain, go away) but it’s so wonderful having the luxury of time to potter around doing very little, with the odd bake thrown in here or there.

I wasn’t sure whether to blog about these viennese whirls as they were a bit disappointing. Whilst I love watching Bake Off, the downside is there’s nothing like watching a couple of showstoppers to make me feel a little inadequate in the kitchen when things don’t work out! I also didn’t have my proper camera (making do with phone pics) but hey ho. Sometimes it’s worthwhile mentioning when things didn’t go right.

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So I had baked a batch of really luscious viennese whirls earlier, and filled them with cherry jam and vanilla buttercream. As I was eating them, I thought they would be great in a lemon incarnation too, but it was those of the lemon variety that didn’t turn out quite as planned.

They were far too crumbly, breaking up into powder on just gently being touched. The biscuit also tasted strange, not quite lemony enough, but a hint that reminded me a little bit of citrus washing up liquid.
IMG_1581The homemade curd was delicious though, very tangy, with a strong lemon flavour that would probably work very well in another bake. I used Nigel Slater’s recipe found here.

I packed the viennese whirls into an airtight container, and they firmed up considerably overnight. You could eat them without ending up with a pile of sandy crumbs all over the floor, hooray. They just didn’t taste particularly great. The original recipe is fantastic, so I think it’s mainly a case of tweaking my alternative flavourings a bit more, and potentially doubling the lemon zest.

I might use up the remaining curd in some macarons. I’ve been baking a plenty of macarons, but they’ve been causing me a more trouble too, hmm!

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Lemon Curd Macarons

When I first moved into the new flat, I was thankful to find out that it could bake a cake perfectly well. Then I got a hankering to bake macarons again; it had been a year since my last batch and wouldn’t it be a great test for the oven?

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They flopped, badly. I had used my hitherto almost foolproof recipe, so was aghast when I opened the oven to see some very sorry specimens, covered with cracks, and not a foot to be seen. I baked a second batch and found exactly the same problem had occurred. Third time lucky? No chance.

So I attacked the box of eggs, stocked up on ground almonds and icing sugar, and prepared to get to the bottom of what was causing my macarons to fail. After a lot of trial, error, cursing and using up approximately 15 eggs in 2 days, I think I’m getting there. Thanks A, for eating a 9 egg yolk omelette.

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Firstly, humidity levels are higher by the sea. I’ve needed to rest the macarons for much longer in order to get the shells to dry out.

Secondly, I’m getting used to using a gas oven for the first time. I’ve noticed the macaron shells brown on the bases far more quickly than they used to, and this makes sense given that the main heat source is coming from below. However, this extra burst of heat is also causing the shells to crack on top too.

So here’s what I did.

To counteract the humidity, I tried to dry out my icing sugar and ground almond mixture as much as possible by putting it in the airing cupboard overnight. Then whilst resting the trays of macarons, I left all the windows open to increase the air flow through the house to dry them out. It took around 40 minutes of resting compared to my usual 15 minutes.

Then I doubled up the baking trays in the oven to reduce the excessive amount of heat coming up below the baking macarons. I then adjusted the oven to sit between Gas Mark 2 to 4 to see which held the greatest level of success. Gas Mark 2.5 turned out to be the winner.

The remaining flaw with these macarons is they still have the dreaded hollow shells, which I am going to continue to work on in my next batch!

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I was so busy at trying to get perfectly risen macarons that I had barely even considered what they would be filled with. In the end, I stuck for a sweet and tangy homemade lemon curd. This was roughly based on the Pierre Herme recipe in my Macarons book. I’ve included a quick recipe for this below.

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Tangy Lemon Curd

Mix together two egg yolks and 1 whole egg, 125g caster sugar, and the zest and juice of two lemons. Whisk gently in a bowl sat over a pan of simmering water, until thickened. Then sieve the curd, and blitz in cubes of 100g lightly salted butter until smooth with a handheld blender.

Lemon, Almond and Pistachio Loaf Cakes

Sometimes baking is all the better for a close connection with nature. I remember several years ago, cycling to a nearby farm from my parents’ house to buy duck eggs, then collecting primroses out in the woods to be painted and sugared at home. It was a delicious cake, the duck eggs adding a rich golden lustre to the sponge, so simple yet wonderful.

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Although it’s been a while since I last popped out for a walk just because, this Spring the weather has been so glorious that I couldn’t quite help myself. It’s just wonderful to be outside right now. Mossy little dells carpeted with tiny golden and white flowers, violets peeping between hedgerows, and clusters of primroses everywhere.

So really, I just felt like baking something sweetly simple. A citrussy cake, laced with ground pistachios, almonds, drenched in zesty lemon syrup, and finished off with some flaked almonds.

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Next time I would put the flaked almonds straight onto the cake before baking, instead of toasting and sprinkling on afterwards.

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Lemon, Pistachio and Almond Loaf Cakes

Adapted from River Cafe Cookbook Easy

For the cake:

  • 125g lightly salted butter
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 20g plain flour
  • 50g pistachios, finely ground
  • 60g ground almonds
  • flaked almonds

For the syrup:

  • 30g golden caster sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 150˚C.

Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Then gradually whisk in the eggs until completely incorporated. Whisk in the lemon zest and vanilla extract, then fold in the flour and ground nuts until completely mixed in. Spoon the mixture into mini loaf cases and sprinkle over the flaked almonds. Bake for 25 minutes until golden and springy on top.

Set the cakes aside to cool.

Meanwhile, make the syrup. Combine the lemon juice, zest and sugar into a small pan. Over a medium heat, cook the liquid until it has reduced and become syrupy. Using a teaspoon, spoon the syrup over the cakes.

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Pierre Hermé Lemon Tart

This was going to be the year I finally tried baking pumpkin pie. Only when I got into Waitrose, they were point blank sold out of tinned pumpkin purée and I felt too lazy to roast and sieve out my own.

I always get this urge to bake all sorts of American-esque treats, graveyeard cakes and ghoulish fake fingers at Halloween but I usually never bother. Then Bonfire Night rolls around in quick succession, and before you know it, time for Christmas festivities and all that jazz.

But this year the weather has been playing funny. Although its November, the blue skies and warm temperatures are confusing me. What season is it supposed to be? My bake this weekend was more redolent of Summer, though I didn’t quite finish it time before the skies darkened, so there was a reminder that it is indeed the more wintry part of the year.

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When I tried the Dorie Greenspan Whole Lemon Tart recipe I published a few weeks ago, I felt it had a nice lemony flavour, but I was looking for a smoother, more creamy filling. This Pierre Hermé recipe looked just the ticket. I found the recipe on The Boy Who Bakes.

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For such a simple-looking tart, it turned out to be quite difficult. I can’t remember ever having had so many problems with my pâte sucrée before. I remade my tart case four times because it either splintered apart, or the sides slid down and deformed. On the penultimate attempt, I lined the tart with foil, only for it to stick fast, and then had an accident where it fell onto the floor and went splat.

Before you start thinking it’s all doom and gloom, let me get onto the best part of this tart, which is the curd filling. It is tangy, beautifully lemon, yet not too sweet, and tastes like a dream. Unlike the pastry, I didn’t have any problems at all. Although the recipe stated to heat it to 82˚C, it only ever reached 70˚C, but this didn’t affect the thickening process in the slightest.

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What looks like an innocent lemon curd contains an alarming quantity of butter. 300g to be precise. It makes me a little uncomfortable thinking about it! Next time, I will most definitely experiment with reducing this, as it seems a little excessive having more than one pat of butter in a single dessert. In fact, if you include the pastry, there’s probably more than two! Ergh!*

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I feel that the blogging baking craze has really quieted down from three years ago. Is this just me, or have others noticed this too? I know interest levels wax and wane, but it’s really sad to see a lot of my favourite bloggers stop posting! I miss all the weird and wacky ideas that used to constantly engage and excite me. I notice that when more successful bloggers write and publish a cookbook, that’s when the blog starts to fall by the wayside. I imagine the cookbook writing process is so intensive that you’re desperate to do something different after it’s finished, and then by that means, drift away from the blogging world. It’s such a shame, though I imagine it’s also hard always coming up with new material.

*I’ve halved the butter content since, and  although it’s not quite as thick, it does taste more or less the same. Hoorah! Still rich and lemony, but less likely to give you heart disease!

Whole Lemon Tart

What will I do now Great British Bake Off 2014 is over? No longer can I plonk myself in front of a screen every Wednesday evening, mesmerised by an alterate reality dusted with flour and icing sugar. Of course, I carry on baking.

I really was gunning for Nancy in the final, so I’m so pleased that she won. Of course Richard wowed consistently throughout the series, and Luis’ creations were stunning, but it’s so lovely to actually have an grandmother baking tasty treats for her children and grandkids winning the show. I also enjoyed the fact that the technical challenge reintroduced the basics again. I would love it if all the contestants were pitted against one another on the simplest of recipes, to really challenge them against one another. There’s nowhere to hide with them, after all!

Now in the Great British Bake Off final, the contestants were tasked with making a so-called simple tart au citron. I had a lot of pastry ends to use up, so I thought I’d give it a go. I’ve never made a tart au citron before, so it was a bit of a new adventure!

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Well, this tarte au citron was kinda different from Mary Berry’s version. I used the recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets. This recipe involves blitzing an entire lemon into a purée, and enfolding it into a mixture of sugar, eggs, butter and a little cornflour.

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It looks very different from the versions I’ve been used to seeing! The pastry case encloses a bubbly sticky lemon filling that’s like chewy toffees in texture. You only need a thin sliver – it’s rich stuff. The pastry looks very dark in the photos but I promise it isn’t burnt.

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I looked online afterwards to see that a lot of people had problems with this lemon tart recipe. Issues included the filling not setting, being too sweet, too sour, cooking too fast, spilling over and separating out so the butter ended up floating on top. Hmmm, unappealling.

My lemon had a thick layer of white pith, so I followed the advice online and cut some of this away, making up the weight with a small piece of a second lemon. This seemed to work pretty well. Would I make this tart again? I’m not completely sure. I think Dorie Greenspan’s recipe needs a few alterations to make it workable in my kitchen. Here’s my version below.

Whole Lemon Tart

Adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan

  • shortcrust pastry
  • 130g lemon
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 yolk
  • 1 heaped tbsp cornflour
  • 115g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Line a 24cm tart case with shortcrust pastry and pop into the fridge to chill. Prick the base with a fork, then bake in the oven for 15 minutes until lightly golden. Leave to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 160˚C.

Cut the lemon(s) into thin slices, removing the seeds. If there is a lot of white pith, remove half of this. Blitz the lemon in a blender with the sugar until puréed. Then pour into a bowl and whisk lightly with the eggs and cornflour. Slowly pour in the melted cooled butter and whisk into combine.

Pour the lemon filling into the tart case, making sure you leave a lip of pastry around the edge to allow for the filling bubbling up when it is cooking. Pop the tart into the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until bubbling and slightly browned. Leave to cool to room temperature before slicing and eating.

Lemon and Raspberry Cake

Wooohoo, the Great British Bake Off is back! I’m so excited to have this on our screens again, and particularly pleased at how the first episode didn’t go into wild and wonderful, but concentrated on making some really excellent classic recipes again. If it continues this way, I’ll be very happy. It was getting a little too esoteric and the level of achievement somewhat impossible in the last series.

Anyway, the last few weeks have been busy, and I’ve been neglecting the baking. I have on the other hand discovered Richmond Park is utterly gorgeous. Deer everywhere just casually sunning themselves along the road. How can I have lived so close to such a stunning place for so many years and never noticed?

Anyway, the return of GBBO is a fantastic motivator for turning the oven back on. I found a neglected pat of butter in the fridge, a few lemons, some eggs….and hey presto, lemon cake.

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This time I paired it with some juicy raspberries, and a generous slathering of jam to sandwich the two layers together.

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It was sweet, and tangy, a glorious cake perfect for tea time. I took far too many photos, but I’m still trying to get the hang of the manual settings on my camera. I keep over or underexposing.

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I wish I’d had my camera with me in Richmond Park. There’s always next time, eh?

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The pairing of raspberry and lemon worked really well. It was a tad on the dry side – I think I overbaked the sponges in my determination not to under bake them, and by trimming the sponges whilst they were still hot, probably let them dry out even more in the process. It makes me feel a bit better that some of the GBBO contestants overbaked their sponges too.

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Also, on a more bakey themed note, I was wistfully window shopping in Anya Hinmarch a few weeks back and saw the MOST AWESOME BAG ever. It’s a giant golden custard cream!

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The downside is…you don’t want to know how much it costs. You could buy approximately 3,000 packets of custard creams with the amount.

Cherry and Lemon Cake

I am utterly devastated at the bombshell that was the season finale of the TV series Revenge. Without giving away any spoilers, I cannot believe what the screenwriters made happen! If I could conjure up Emojis on WordPress, they would be crying floods of tears.

I woke up late Saturday morning, with thunder rumbling on overhead. With not much inclination for an early morning run whilst the rain was sheeting from the skies, I decided to head off to the shops, and go dress-shopping. With a wedding to go to later on the Saturday, I’d decided last minute that I didn’t like any of my existing dresses, so hey presto. Luckily, it didn’t take long, which is unusual for me, as I’m not one of those people who manages to go clothes shopping and find a lot of things I like. Particularly as I like dresses that are slightly fitted, and show off some collar and a smidgeon of chest. Everything in the shops these days is really boxy and goes right up to your neck. Eh, unflattering.

Anyway, dress sorted, and off to the wedding. The sun came out, and everybody had a glorious time doing Gangam Style.

Today’s bake isn’t even remotely wedding themed but is based on a really scrummy recipe I saw on foodbeam a few weeks ago, and was desperate to test out. With a bag of fresh cherries waiting to be used, I knew they had to go in.

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Cherry Cake by itself sounds oh so English, but it’s been zazzled and franglaised by adding in lemon zest and replacing most of the butter with double cream.

The cake had a really good rise, despite me opening the oven twice during the baking process. It did take a lot longer to bake through than expected, but I know this is often the case when you’ve added fresh fruit to the cake batter.

My cherries weren’t good at standing still, I’m afraid they all migrated to the bottom of the cake, but still they looked beautiful, in delicious pinky-red contrast with the soft yellow crumb of the cake. Perhaps fruit might disperse more successfully in a thicker cake batter.

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Cherry and Lemon Cake

  • 4 eggs
  • 200g caster sugar
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 200g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 150g double cream
  • 50g butter, melted
  • handful fresh cherries, stoned and halved
  • softened butter, extra for piping

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Butter and line a loaf tin. Put the extra softened butter into a piping bag, and cut a small hole in the tip.

Whip the eggs and sugar together until thick and doubled in size. In another bowl, mix together the flour, salt and baking powder. Fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Then pour a little of this into the cream and melted butter. Mix well, and transfer this back to the main batter mixture, and fold together gently. Gently fold in half the cherries. Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin. Sprinkle the remaining cherries on the top of the batter.

Pipe a line of butter across the cake; and bake for 55 minutes, until the cake is springy, and knife inserted comes back clean.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes in the tin, then turn out onto a cooling rack.

Quatre-Quarts au Citron

I’m starting to sound like a broken record. If you haven’t guessed already, I kinda have un petit fixation with French baked goods.

So when I saw that Beurre d’Insigny was being stocked on the shelves of my local Tesco, I actually jumped for joy. And maybe squealed too. You know, just for good measure. I think A already knows he’s going out with somebody a little weird, but it doesn’t hurt to give him an extra reminder every now and again ;).

So with the butter at hand, I needed to make something good to showcase it in. In the end, the internet as usual came to the rescue. How about that classic buttery French pound cake, le Quatre-Quarts?

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It is more or less the same as my recipe for a Victoria sponge. I baked it in a loaf tin to be traditional, but added the zest of 2 lemons for extra fragrance. I also borrowed a tip from French blog foodbeam, and piped a line of butter down the centre of my cake before it went into the oven, to see if that would achieve the perfect crack down the centre. It did work beautifully, although you can’t see it in the photos, because I had a little mishap when flipping the cake out of the tin, and a little bit of the crust came away.

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The urge to turn my French quatre-quarts into an English lemon drizzle cake was quite overwhelming. I didn’t quite give in to temptation, but I did add a little syrup to the finished cake for extra flavour and delicious zing.

Forgive me for sounding giddily over-enthusiastic, but this cake is THE BOMB. It’s really, really delicious. The crumb is soft and pillowy, the flavours delicately buttery and fragrantly citrus, with a melty, crunchy crust. It’s not too sweet, and there’s a definite sharp tang from the lemon syrup. Scrummy yum yum.

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Quatre-Quarts au Citron

Makes one loaf cake

  • 3 eggs, weighed in their shells
  • The weight of the 3 eggs in butter, caster sugar, and plain flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • a little milk
  • the juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 dsp caster sugar
  • extra butter

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Butter and line a loaf tin with overhanging strips of paper. Squidge a extra few spoonfuls of butter together into a piping bag, and set aside until later.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

Beat the measured butter until soft and creamy, then add the sugar and continue to whisk together until pale and creamy.  Slowly dribble into the creamed mixture the egg, whisking all the while, and then the lemon zest. Finally fold in the flour.

Add just enough milk, and a squeeze of lemon juice to loosen the mixture up to dropping consistency, then dollop the cake batter into the loaf tin, and level the surface. Pipe a thin line of soft butter down the centre of the cake.

Put the cake into the oven and bake until springy and a skewer comes out clean. Cover with foil around 30 minutes into baking so the top doesn’t get scorched. It takes around 45-50 minutes in total.

While the cake is baking, put the remaining lemon juice and the two spoonfuls of caster sugar into a saucepan, and gently heat until the sugar has dissolved. Using a pastry brush, brush the warm cake with the syrup.

Cool the cake in the tin for 5 minutes, then use a knife to loosen the cake from the tin, and turn it out onto a cooling rack.

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Luscious Lemon Cheesecake

New Year, new resolutions. I didn’t intend to make any, but it turns out I’ve done some without realising. First up was throwing out an enormous pile of accumulated journals, and second was the stultifying task of sorting through my finances. What a grotty process – especially unearthing sneaky direct debits that have been leaching money out of your bank accounts for goodness knows how long. 😦

Anyway, post-Christmas I’m sure a lot of people are suffering a bit of the post-holiday blues. Sadly January isn’t the most giving of months. You get bogged down with the waiting – for lengthening days, warmer times, and sunnier skies. Meanwhile you have to put up with dark mornings, ice, and roads so windy your car gets blown from side to side. Nice.

But…and here is the good bit…. what a great time to say goodbye to stodgy Christmas cake, mincemeat and dried fruit puddings. It’s time to move onto lighter, zingier horizons…and I’m not talking about diet food here!

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To most people outside of the UK, cheesecake is probably most familiar in its baked American-style incarnation. But there’s all that stress with wobbly centres, soggy bottoms, cracked tops, and water baths. Why bother with that when you can make an unbaked version? It’s lighter in texture, almost moussey, and very, very moreish. Not only that, it’s so easy that it only takes minutes to assemble. I’ve kept it as simple as possible here but you can easily dress this cheesecake up on top with fresh fruit, lemon zest curls, curd and whatever else takes your fancy. I’ve also made this with limes, and it was just as lovely.

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Luscious Lemon Cheesecake

Makes a 15cm cheesecake

  • 100g gingernuts, crushed into crumbs
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 200g cream cheese
  • 250g sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 large lemon, juice and zest

Mix the biscuit crumbs and melted butter, and pat firmly into the base of a 15cm springform cake tin. Chill for 30 minutes.

Beat the cream cheese and condensed milk together, then add the lemon zest and juice and beat until thickened. Pour this on top of the chilled biscuit base, and tap the cake tin firmly to get rid of any bubbles. Leave the cheesecake to set in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Then unmould from the cake tin, and cut into slices with a hot, sharp knife.

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Lemon Cake

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When I’m living in my teeny-weeny London flat, with an accompanying tiny kitchen, it makes me appreciate how much easier it is to cook in other circumstances. Not only the issues of space, but that of ventilation, temperature and even the equipment available.

Lately, my London kitchen has been as hot as a furnace. It retains heat like metal to a magnet. Baking (being the delicate diva it is) doesn’t like the temperatures at all, making itself harder work than usual. I see why baking is more popular in colder climates!

Although I’m not fond of using lemons in baking, everyone around me seems to love them, so I had a go at a lemon sponge, sandwiched with lemon curd and lemony mascarpone cream. It’s based on the victoria sponge method, as opposed to the more exotic methods of cakes I have been churning out lately, with good reason. It has a great texture and flavour, and honestly – the lemon yoghurt version wasn’t half as good.

The cakes didn’t rise a lot, given the clement weather within the kitchen, although I did my best to do some of the basic cake preparation work in a cooler room. However, the advantage of this was that they remained flat topped – no trimming necessary!

It went down very well, friends together on the flat balcony, enjoying the balmy sun.

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Lemon Cake

  • 3 eggs
  • the combined egg weight in soft butter, caster sugar, and self-raising flour
  • the zest of 2 lemons
  • generous tablespoon of lemon curd
  • 200g mascarpone
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • lemon juice
  • icing sugar, to taste

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease and line 2 18cm cake tins. Beat the butter, sugar, eggs, the zest of 2 lemons and flour together until just combined, then pour into the cake tins and bake for around 20 minutes until springy and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool.

Then beat the mascarpone until smooth, and add a little icing sugar to taste. Add the zest of 1 lemon, and a little lemon juice to loosen the cream if it is too thick. Spread half the mascarpone cream onto one of the cakes, and spread the spoonful of lemon curd in the centre. Do not spread too much lemon curd onto the cakes or it will leak out everywhere.

Spread the remaining half of the mascarpone onto the top of the other cake, and stack it on top of the other.