I’ve been sitting on this recipe for a while, since my enthusiasm for festive food got the best of me far before it was acceptable, but the tightness of my jeans indicates it is time.
These little darlings are based on traditional Croatian Christmas biscuits – the inclusion of black pepper sounds a little odd but it gives a subtle warmth to the biscuits, which are similar to gingerbread and have a comforting softness to them.
As I inherited a slight walnut allergy from my mother, along with sturdy thighs and a love of food, I switched out the traditional walnuts in favour of pecans. I also used a tiny squirrel cutter instead of the wooden moulds they’d be made with in Croatia, because the tiny squirrel was too cute to resist.
I might call this “Surprise Victory Cake”, instead of its actual descriptive name, because I did not expect this to work, and my god, it did. It really did.
I just about half-followed a recipe: made the topping up as I went along; tasted and guessed at the spice quantities; set to work bringing it all together with bowls strewn around the kitchen. The mixing stage was nerve-wracking, and for a split second, I wondered if it was a a waste of time and ingredients.
But then I put it in the oven and the kitchen filled with the smell of autumn. Cut into it and found it had the perfect level of springiness, just the right amount of cinnamon and nutmeg flavour.
It turned out to be a cake that you take into the office and ten minutes later start getting “Oh yes 10/10” messages. A cake that might make your flatmate mutter, “Marry me,” as they take a bite. Maybe a couple of “I feel all warm and cosy inside”s. Continue reading →
Sometimes, the things you love most are the things you fear. I adore enormous bookstores but sometimes when I walk into them my heart beats faster, because Oh, excellent, there are so many books! but also Oh no. There are so many books and there’s no way I’ll ever be able to read even a small percentage of them all, why isn’t there more time in the day?
I love holding my niece, who is six months old and squishy, with big blue eyes and very little hair, and she is wriggly and I. Must. Not. Drop. The. Squirmy. Baby. I stand her on my lap, one tiny, ticklish foot on each thigh, and I do not know what to say to her. Small talk is hard enough with a fully-grown human.
I will always want crispy bacon on my burgers, but if I grill it, I will watch it, cross-legged and unblinking on the floor like I’m on the Bake Off, just in case the fat catches and bursts into flames like it did that one time when I was a kid.
There’s a big place in my heart for huge, fluffy muffins – the properly craggy-topped ones, not supermarket double chocolates, all sticky on top and dry at the bottom – and I am convinced that I can’t make them. Continue reading →
One of the things I love about warmer weather is that you get to eat with your hands more. Lunchtime no longer means miserably slurping down soup; dessert doesn’t mean cradling a bowl of hot crumble. Instead, it’s all about barbecue food and ice cream cones. It’s nibbles and bitesize morsels, and food on sticks.
But I’m not quite ready to leave the smells of the cooler months behind, to abandon sweet spicy aromas in favour of the freshness of greener food.
So these pastries are a decent compromise: a little bit of winter, a little bit of spring. I’m pretty sure you can’t go far wrong with a pastry that’s made with cream cheese, but the cinnamon sugar really shows it off, creating a mouthful that’s like the lovechild of cinnamon bread and baklava.
Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Makes 32 pastries
Notes Using a sharp knife to cut the dough into slices (step 8) will work, but for less drag use a pizza cutter.
For the cream cheese, low fat works absolutely fine and helps to balance out all that butter guilt!
When it comes to spreading browned butter over the dough, a gentle touch is best – otherwise the warm butter can make the dough go a bit soupy.
150g butter, plus 40g for filling
150g cream cheese
160g plain flour
1tbsp icing sugar
4tbsp light brown sugar, plus a tbsp to sprinkle
3tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg yolk
1) To make the dough, using an electric whisk, beat together 150g butter and the cream cheese until light and fluffy.
2) In a small bowl, combine the flour and icing sugar, and add to the cream cheese and butter mixture, beating on the lowest speed until just combined. If your whisk’s lowest speed is still pretty fast (mine is) do this by hand with a metal spoon – you might need to get your fingers in there to fully bring the dough together.
3) Scrap the dough into a large piece of clingfilm, wrap well and chill in the fridge for two hours.
4) Mix together the sugar and cinnamon, and, in a separate bowl, mix the egg yolk with about a tablespoon of water to thin it slightly. Cover two baking trays with baking parchment. Set aside. (What’s the difference between greaseproof paper and baking parchment?)
5) When the dough has chilled, divide it into to halves and pop one back into the fridge while you prepare the other.
6) On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough into a circle (squircles also allowed) about 30cm in diameter.
7) Brown the remaining butter over medium heat, then pour onto the dough. Use the back of a tablespoon to gently spread the butter over the dough, to about 1cm from the edge. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the top.
8) Cut the dough into 16 slices (like a pizza!). Starting from the outside edge, roll each slice tightly inwards and transfer to the baking tray, spacing them about 1 inch apart, taking care to tuck the point underneath.
9) When all the slices have been rolled, pop the tray into the freezer for 15 minutes, or fridge for 30, and repeat using the second piece of dough. Preheat the oven to 160C.
10) When all the pastries are rolled and chilled, brush them with the egg wash and sprinkle the remaining sugar on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden and puffed up.
I have a confession to make: I’m one of those really annoying people who just will not follow a recipe. I can’t help it. There’s creativity in my bones, and I’m drawn to changing things in an effort to make them even better.
So naturally, I couldn’t leave this apple cake recipe alone. It could have swum on through the internet, living out a successful life on the Pinterest boards of many, untouched by my meddling fingers. But thank goodness it didn’t.
Crumble cakes are kind of brilliant. After all, why only have a cake, when you can have the lovechild of cake and crumble? Sweet, comforting, warm apple cake, with the added crunch and zing of spicy crumble topping. I fully advocate adding crumble to normal foods, especially when it comes to creating a crumble/pie hybrid that’s sure to please those in both the Apple Crumble Camp and the Apple Pie Camp (it’s not just my family that’s divided on the subject, right?).
I also discovered it’s pretty good for helping to make friends with new neighbours who may or may not think you’re a little bit mad. My only advice would be to not ambush your neighbour, foiled package in hand, sporting post-baking hair and tracksuit bottoms, to force them to take said cake off your hands so you won’t eat it all. That might come across a little nutty.
But back to the cake. The recipe is loosely based on a crumble-less apple cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and will make two loaves.
Apple filling: 3 apples, cut into chunks
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Cake: 2 3/4 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable or sunflower oil
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1) Toss apple chunks in sugar and cinnamon and set aside. Set oven to 180C.
2) Mix together salt, baking powder, and flour. In a separate bowl or jug, whisk together oil, sugar, juice, and vanilla. Add these wet ingredients to the dry, and mix well.
3) Add eggs one at a time. The mixture may seem like it’ll never come together. Stick with it!
4) To make the crumble topping, rub together the butter, sugar, and flour until you get a crumb consistency. Stir in the cinnamon and chopped pecans.
5) When the batter is thoroughly mixed, pour into your prepared loaf tin until about half full. Next, add a layer of apple chunks, and then another layer of batter to cover the apples. Finally sprinkle on the topping and bake for about an hour, or until a tester/knife comes out clean when inserted into the centre of the cake. If the topping starts to burn at any point, cover it with foil.
Although it’s delicious warm, this cake also keeps well and improves after a day – if it lasts that long!