Nusskuchen

The exam is done, and the I-don’t-have-to-get-up-today-if-I-don’t-want-to feeling has set in overwhelmingly. Yesterday I was in one of those baking moods where nothing is too much trouble, and you seem to derive endless contentment from the hours spent  dawdling over each task. This unusual patience, and the temporarily sleepy pace of my weekdays, served me well, as I’d decided to delve into Mary’s chapter on ‘Special Cakes’ and miraculously had all the ingredients in-house to make…. Nusskuchen! Its a German cake, as its name suggests, that originated around the 18th century and roughly translates as ‘nut-cake’. It is always made with hazelnuts but there are, as with most old recipes, many varieties; this one includes a reallllllllly good citrus-zesty apple filling (if you’ve read my blog before you’ve probably heard that I love citrus/sharp/sour flavours more than anything!). It isn’t complicated to bake at all really, but as I said more time and patience than usual might be beneficial! 

Was rather proud of this bake :)

Was rather proud of this bake 🙂

If it looks like a very squat cake in the picture, it is – the mixture didn’t rise very well, which I’d kind of anticipated before I put it into the oven. I don’t think I whipped the egg whites enough, and possibly over-mixed the batter without incorporating enough air. However, it still tasted pretty good! You might also note that there is no sign of the apple filling; with such a small cake I thought it would be daft to attempt to slice it in two and fill it, so instead I warmed some of the filling and served it with the cake as a nice little accompaniment. Both the cake and the apple compote-type thing also go very well with Greek yoghurt.

Mmmmmmmmmm hmmmmmmmmm.

Mmmmmmmmmm hmmmmmmmmm.

I hope you’re not thinking, ‘oh man so many things went wrong here and it looks so faffy and I can’t really be bothered to try it’, but just in case you are, let me tell you how good this cake smells in every stage of its making. I know, that sounds weird, and no matter how nice the thing you’re describing, the word ‘smells’ always sounds a bit pongy. BUT, these are good smells – aromas – that permeate the kitchen in a supremely comforting and happiness-inducing manner, especially when snow is falling thickly outside, as it was in Sheffield yesterday (sadly only for a couple of hours – now it’s chucking it down with rain).

Firstly, when you blast the hazelnuts in the oven, then chop them down finely, it releases all the amazing oils inside and produces the most incredible toasty scent. This, combined with the satisfaction of methodically crunching through the nuts with a mezzanine (see picture below) made me inexplicably content. I know, I know, get over yourself. But THEN you zest the lemon (and honestly, if you could have a perfume of that smell now I would definitely wear it, like the Romans did) and make the apple filling and it just gets better. The icing on the cake is literally, the icing on the cake – the chocolate topping obviously smells amazing, because its chocolate.

??????????

So, you’re convinced, lovely; here is the recipe as I know you just can’t wait any longer to treat your olfactory glands to those delicious aromas – they deserve it:

Ingredients:

  • 40g shelled hazelnuts
  • 100g softened butter or spread
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs, separated – you’ll need the yolks AND the whites so don’t chuck ’em
  • 1 tsp instant coffee granules
  • 1 tbsp warm milk
  • 100 g self-raising flour

Apple Filling

  • 450g eating apples (I used 4 coxes)
  • 1 tbsp apricot jam
  • grated rind and juice of 1/2 lemon

Topping

  • 50g dark chocolate

Step 1. Pre-heat the oven to 190C/Gas Mark 5. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin (a deep one, not a sandwich tin, though if that’s all you have I’m sure you could bake the mixture in two halves seeing as it’s supposed to be cut in two for filling anyway).

Step 2. Put the hazelnuts, just as they are, on a baking tray into the oven for about ten minutes. When they come out you should be able to rub the skins off by rolling them together in a clean tea towel. Don’t worry about getting every last bit of skin off. Then either grind the prepared nuts in a food processor, or chop them with a mezzanine. I quite liked the extra texture slightly bigger chunks of hazelnut gave the cake.

Step 3. Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Gradually add the egg yolks, beating away, then stir in the nuts. Warm the milk (in a mug in the microwave is easiest) and dissolve the coffee granules in it, then stir into the mixture.

??????????

Step 4. This is where all the lovely fluffy air gets in. Hopefully. Fold in the flour gently with a metal spoon (thinner edges cut through the mixture better) and when incorporated, beat the egg whites to soft peaks (separately, obviously – and the bowl has to be clean and dry or they won’t whip) then fold them in as well.

Step 5. Turn the mixture carefully into the cake tin or tins. Bake for 25 minutes, until the top is springy when lightly pressed and the cake has only just started to shrink away from the sides of the tin. Leave to cool in the tin, then turn out, remove the baking paper from the bottom and finish cooling on a wire rack.

Step 6. In the cooling window, you can make the filling and topping. Grate the rind and squeeze the juice of the lemon half into a pan, then stir in your jam. Peel, core and slice the apples (quite thinly; 3 or 4 slices to a quarter) and give them a little shake up in the pan so they’re covered with the liquid. Cover and cook very gently until the apples are soft but not mushy – they should still retain their shape. This took about 20 minutes for me.

Step 7. When the filling and cake are cool, slice the nusskuchen in two and sandwich it back together with the apple filling. Or pretend you meant to serve it as a side all along because your cake didn’t rise, like I did…

Step 8. Melt the chocolate gently, in the microwave (watch it like a hawk or it can burn so quickly) or on the hob over a bowl of simmering water. Spread over the top of the cake and leave to set.

??????????

And that’s it! You have your nusskuchen, guaranteed to impress, especially if you practice it to get that rise! If you are prone to the same baking moods as me and have time to spare, or you really are out to impress people, there is an Optional Decoration.

You need a small amount of caster sugar (probably less than 100g, depends on how many you want to make), a pan and some hazelnuts. I had seen caramelized nuts used as decoration for cakes on The Great British Bake Off before, couldn’t quite remember how they did it, but went with the impulse anyway and had a surprisingly successful go at making them!

Make sure you put the nuts on baking paper as hardened caramel is tricky to get off things!

Make sure you put the nuts on baking paper as hardened caramel is tricky to get off things!

First prepare your hazelnuts in the same way as Step 2 says above. Once toasted and skinned, pour some sugar into the pan and set on a low heat. I do know that you shouldn’t stir caramel or sugar syrup, so resist the temptation and give the pan a little shake if it needs it to melt the sugar. Once the sugar is melting, do not take your eyes off it! It can burn in a flash (and I’m speaking from numerous experiences here). When it reaches a nice light golden brown colour, turn off the heat and drop in the hazelnuts. Don’t touch the sugar, its super hot and sticks to your fingers, but roll the nuts around until covered, then lift out with a spoon, or whatever utensil works best, and place onto baking paper to set. You will need to work quite fast as it starts setting immediately! The (badly) spun sugar on top of my cake was me getting the knife and spoon stuck together and trying to pull them apart, unwittingly creating quite pretty threads of sugar, which went everywhere and had to be gently wrestled (there’s an oxymoron for you) into an artistic arrangement for photographing purposes.

**Notes**

So, I already mentioned the issue of getting a good rise; basically, I think you have to be quite gentle with your mixture but persistent in whipping the egg whites up. The size of the ground/chopped nuts probably makes a difference as well; Mary’s recipe doesn’t specify how fine they need to be but I imagine the finer they are, the lighter the cake. Also, I (typically) didn’t have one of the ingredients, so substituted it with some artistic license; orange marmalade instead of apricot jam with the apples actually added to the citrus kick already coming from the lemon, which I liked – apricot jam would be sweeter but in terms of consistency I don’t think it made a difference. For the chocolate topping, the only dark chocolate I had was 70% cocoa solids, which is very bitter, so I went half and half milk and dark chocolate – 25g each. As a general tip, Mary Berry recommends chocolate which contains around 39% cocoa solids for use in baking. Glad someone else has done the trial and error so I don’t have to!

Source: Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, p. 153

Enjoy your weekends, and if the weather is as poor as it is here it must be begging you to stay indoors and bake up a treat or two.

P.S. I have added a page with links to blogs I love; some I have just discovered and some I’ve been reading for a while. If you know any more you think I’d like, feel free to recommend in the comments, and check out the ones I’ve listed; they’re all worth a browse!

Drop Scones

My mum makes these sometimes, in a cast iron pan on the hob for a weekend breakfast. There’s something so pleasing and homely about pancakes (drop scones are basically mini, or Scotch, pancakes) and they’re so much fun to make! And who doesn’t love a hot stack of buttery pancakes drizzled with golden syrup or scattered with blueberries on a Sunday morning?

ImageN.B. This is not a Flora advertisement; I just buy whatever spread is on offer/I have coupons for and Flora Buttery, delicious as it is, is just one product in a long line of budget-based acquisitions.  

I have to have the song from Matilda on when I’m making pancakes for breakfast; you know, the one in the scene where she discovers her magical powers and cooks pancakes for herself for breakfast. The combination of that song and bubbling pancake batter on the griddle pan (my new favourite piece of kitchen equipment!) has to be the happiest way to start off any day, and I have an exam tomorrow, so I needed a happy start to my last day of revision.

Image

Mary’s recipe makes quite a lot of drop scones; my boyfriend and I had loads each this morning and I still have plenty left over, ready to be reheated and slathered with Nutella for a post-exam (and, I suspect, post-alcohol intake) rejuvenating treat. She reckons 21; I think we had nearer 25-30. They are quite little, and I didn’t halve the recipe because it only calls for one egg, and splitting eggs into fractions is more trouble than its worth, especially when your brain is stuffed to the gunnels with literary paraphernalia and anything remotely unnecessary, like basic maths skills, has temporarily flown the coop.

If you don’t have a griddle pan, BUY ONE THEY ARE FANTASTIC or use an ordinary but preferably non-stick frying pan. Yet another reason why pancakes are great is that you’ll almost always – if you bake at all that is – have the ingredients in your cupboard/fridge. The genius of following Mary Berry’s Baking Bible is that whatever I fancy baking, its pretty much guaranteed I’ll find a version of it in her book – the clue’s in the title I suppose. Today was only the first of many breakfasts courtesy of Mary, and a delicious and satisfying one it was too.

Ingredients:

  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 1 level tsp baking powder
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 200ml milk

Step 1. Prepare your griddle or heavy-based (this stops them burning easily) pan by greasing lightly with oil.

Step 2. Combine the flour, baking powder and sugar in a bowl, then whisk in the egg and half the milk. Keep whisking in milk until your batter is smooth. Don’t use all the milk for the sake of it; only add what you need to get the mixture to the consistency of thick cream.

Step 3. Drop tablespoons of the mixture onto the hot pan. Space well apart or you’ll end up with one pancake blob rather than four (or however many fir in your pan) nice little ones. Turn over once bubbles form in the pancake, and cook til golden brown on each side.

Image

Step 4. Lift them out carefully with a palette knife and pop onto a wire rack with a clean tea towel thrown over to keep them soft. Serve warm with butter, golden syrup, Nutella, berries and fruits, or just one of the above if you’re feeling frugal.

Pretty damn good start to the day, feeling if not nutrition-wise!

**A few notes**

For me, one of the tricky things about cooking pancakes, drop scones or similar is keeping the temperature consistent in the pan. I can’t really offer much advice other than keep an eye on the rate at which your scones are cooking and turn the heat up or down accordingly. Medium temp is good, very high just burns them and if the pan is quite cool they will take forever to cook and you’ll be there hours. The amount of milk you need will depend on the size of your egg – I needed all 200ml but as the recipe says, take it slow and go with the flow. Well, it doesn’t say that but the implication is there.

Source: Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, p. 326

Image

That’s everything I think; mainly just enjoy making them! I had a lovely relaxed morning and got a delicious breakfast, and a blog post out of it to boot. Already dreaming of snaffling the rest of my drop scones in the bliss of exam freedom…just 16 or so more hours to go. Time to sleep I think! Wish me luck…

Admin Update!

It can’t be called a ‘Spring Clean’ yet, not even wistfully, but to my mind organising the blog has been long overdue, so here it is: a brand new theme and a lovely list of categories for readers to more easily navigate around the site and my posts. I hope you like it – sorry for the lack of warning; it was a spur-of-the-moment, finally-got-round-to-it sort of thing. I definitely do! I think it’s a lot neater and slightly more grown-up, plus the balloons are gone which is a relief as their strings were always getting in the way and annoying me. Categorizing things, and making lists, is one of the things I do best – organisation makes me happy! If you spot any glaring issues with the new layout etc. let me know in a comment. I won’t be offended! Unless you’re very rude about it. Enjoy xx

Cherry and Almond Traybake

Hello all! Or hello few…or none? If I have any readers left after my long and unexplained absence, let me apologise for the attention I have categorically not lavished on this blog for some weeks now. Also, Happy New Year! and I hope you all had lovely Christmas/other festive holiday celebrations that included lots of home cooking and baking. One of my New Year’s resolutions (aside from stop pigging out on chocolate, go back to the gym – the usual) is to get this blog back on its feet – I enjoy writing it too much to let it fade to nothing and will always, even if weeks do lapse between my stints in the kitchen, call myself a baker, so I may as well record the results for other bakers to learn a bit from and enjoy.

Did anyone else watch the Great British Sport Relief Bake Off?? Some hilarious concoctions were born that week, and I thought the celebrity guest judges were a great addition. A combination of that mini-series this January, along with a reminder about applications for the actual Great British Bake Off in the forthcoming summer (hands down my fav TV cookery programme) and the acquisition of numerous baking books around Christmas spurred me on to breathe new life into this little virtual space of mine. With this in mind, I have decided on a driving force behind the blog which I imagine will last for some time…

Mary Berry’s Baking Bible. I got this for Christmas from my mum and it is absolutely one of my most prized gifts this year. I love Mary Berry – I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before – so to have a whole book of her best recipes is very exciting for me.

Image

Naww.

So, in light of that, and due to a vague-ish plan to apply for the Bake Off myself in 2015, if it’s still running then, I will attempt to bake every single recipe in her Baking Bible and update my little blog with all the details! By the end I should become a better, more experienced and knowledgeable baker and An Inexact Science will be more interesting for it. N.B. I’m not setting a time limit, because in truth I have absolutely no idea how long it will take, and don’t even know where I’ll be living in six months time (arghhhhhhhh graduation). I will say that there are over 250 recipes…so this project will take a while.

So, no time like the present – first recipe! The delicious Cherry and Almond Traybake was the bake I chose to start with because it’s not too challenging (I am in the run-up to an exam this week so recipes requiring excess brain power were off the list) and I had some glace cherries in the cupboard. There’s no rhyme or reason to the order in which I’ll pick them, it just depends on what I fancy baking/eating and, as ever, what’s in the cupboard and the balance of my weekly budget. I do happen to love sticky, syrupy, bright red glace cherries too; when I was younger I definitely used to ask for them as treats if my mum was baking with them. The ground almond in this cake doe lend it quite a dense texture, but it’s not at all unpleasant or dry – in fact mine was very moist, but not claggy either. I made it on Tuesday morning, and every single piece has disappeared by now, so I suppose that’s a thumbs up! Or an indication of the motivation levels regarding revision in my house. Anyway, here we go:

Image

Ingredients:

  • 225g (8oz) red or natural glace cherries
  • 275g (10oz) self-raising flour
  • 2 level tsps baking powder
  • 225g (8oz) softened butter or spread
  • 225g (8oz) caster sugar
  • zest of two lemons
  • 75g (3oz) ground almonds
  • 5 large eggs
  • 25g (1oz) flaked almonds

Step 1. First wash and dry the cherries. It’s easiest to get all the syrup out if you halve or quarter them first, then run them under cold water in a sieve. Pat dry with kitchen paper – this all helps to try and stop the fruit from sinking to the bottom of your cake, something that I have unfortunately not yet managed to achieve.

Step 2. The super easy bit; weigh out all the remaining ingredients – except the flaked almonds – pop them in a bowl and beat together. It won’t take long – Mary recommends one minute’s beating time.

Step 3. Fold in the cherries. Alternatively, turn the mixture into a greased and lined baking tin and then poke the cherry pieces into the top of the cake so they (maybe) won’t sink as much. No promises, though. Sprinkle generously with the flaked almonds.

Step 4. Bake at 180C / Gas Mark 4 for about 40 minutes, after which the middle should be springy to the touch and the cake beginning to come away from the sides of the tin. The flaked almonds on top will be toasty, crunchy and delicious as well.

Step 5. Cool in the tin, then lift out and cut into squares. I reckon a drizzle of glace icing (just icing sugar and water) with a splash of lemon juice in it would not go at all amiss on the top of this cake.

Image

**Notes**

My little alterations will go here for every recipe – not because I think I’m superior to Mary in any way, but because for one we have very different ovens – and entire kitchens, for that matter – and two because I just don’t always have/want to buy all the things the recipes asks for! Okay, so I halved the recipe first of all and baked it in a loaf tin as my roasting tin was then too big. It seemed to work absolutely fine, and I used the ounce measurements given above to divide the quantities more easily. Two and a half eggs is tricky, though, so I used two eggs and added about 100ml of milk to make up the extra liquid. I immediately reflected that lemon zest really would be cracking in this cake after I’d made it with lemon juice as a substitute (didn’t have any actual lemons), which didn’t impart the same zesty flavour, unsurprisingly, so do follow Mary’s good advice there. That’s pretty much everything, except that you should know, because I like to rant about it, that my oven is the slowest thing on earth and took, I kid you not, almost an hour to bake a measly half-size cake, at a whole mark higher than the recommended temp! Grrr.

Source: Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, p. 183.

If any of you lovely readers have your own copy of said book and would like to make suggestions, recommendations, or impart your own pearls of wisdom about any of the recipes, please do! Whack them in the comments box and I will attend to your remarks asap.

Til the next installment, later this week or early next week depending on the progress of my revision…wish me luck!

Image