December is pretty stressful for all of us, so when I can simplify things I try to do just that. I write my Christmas cards in advance, do most my Christmas gift shopping online etc.
The same applied when I after a party weekend away for my dear colleague wanted to bake some cakes for her actual birthday in the office. In my head I wanted to do this lovely chocolate Pavlova, but when I came home tired after a great party and having had to deal with snow (!) in London, I lowered the bar somewhat.
And I’m so glad I did. Sometimes less really is more and all my colleagues loved this cake. I topped it with Maltesters but throw on whatever chocolate, fruit or berries you like.
Pavlova, serves 8
4 egg whites
220 g caster sugar
450 ml whipping cream
1 bag of Maltesers
cocoa for dusting
Pre-heat the oven to 150C.
Beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the sugar a little at the time while beating. Once added beat until stiff peaks form and you have a glossy firm meringue (you should be able to hold the bowl upside down wihout the meringue moving).
Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Using a spatula, pour the meringue out onto the parchment paper and shape it into an even circle.
Bake for 60 minutes. Then turn off the oven and leave the oven door ajar until the oven has cooled down. Leave to cool completely.
Turn the cake upside down onto a cake plate and remove the parchment paper. Lightly whip the cream and spread on top of the meringue. Top with Maltesers and dust with cocoa. Serve immediately.
Some people, like my wonderful mother, love apple pies and cakes. I actually think she could live on it alone. I, on the other hand, am a little harder to please. Raw apples – delicious. Mushy cooked ones – not so much. I want set cakes, that provide a nice contrast to the soft apples.
This cake has the Hanna seal of approval; it’s cake-y, has a nice crunchy top but is still apple-y enough for the likes of my mother. Happy days!
Crunchy apple cake, serves 8-10
3-6 apples, peeled and slices
1 tbsp caster sugar
a little (1/2 – 1 tsp) cinnamon
190 g caster sugar
70 g plain flour
Place the apple slices in a lined springform. Scatter with sugar and cinnamon. Beat eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy and mix in the flour. Pour into the tin. Bake for 60 minutes in 175C. Serve with lightly whipped cream.
These seriously-easy-to-make vanilla squares are so nice even the boys in the office asked me for the recipe. They remind me of a pastry we have in Sweden called vaniljhjärtan (vanilla hearts); a thin pastry heart filled with wonderful vanilla cream. These square are a little sharper than those, because of the fromage frais and creme fraiche, but that’s not a bad thing. I just think it adds freshness and make the squares seem lighter. Deceptive, I know.
This recipe makes a lot of cake, but you can easily halve it or just make the whole batch and put some in the freezer.
Crumbly vanilla squares, makes approx 42
Translated from and adapted after the recipe in Hemmets Journals.
500 g butter
600 g plain flour
320 g caster sugar
4 tbsp vanilla powder (a little less if using essence)
1 tbsp baking powder
200 ml fromage frais
500 ml creme fraiche
240 g caster sugar
1 tbsp vanilla powder or essence
Mix butter, flour, sugar, vanilla and baking powder until a sandy texture, using a food processor. I had to make it in two batches as my food processor isn’t very big. Press half of the crumbe onto a parchment paper in a large baking tray (I used two smaller ones).
Mix egg, fromage frais, creme fraiche, sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Pour the filling over the crumb base. Pour the rest of the crumble mixture on top. Bake for 30 minutes in the middle of the oven. Leave to cool and cut into squares.
This cake dates back to the 13th century in Siena, Italy and because the cake has been around for so long there are lots of different recipes around. I settled for Jamie Oliver’s as I thought it sounded nice with figs in it, and it was really nice. It’s a dense and quite hard cake consisting mainly of fruits and nuts (and sugar) so a small piece is enough. I totally forgot to buy rice paper for my cake but it worked well without.
Panforte di Siena, makes 20 pieces
Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s recipe.
(rice paper) spapper
300 g nuts, I used almonds, pistachios and hazelnuts
200 g mixed candied peel
75 g plain flour
175 g dried figs
1-2 tbsp sherry or vin santo
6 tbsp honey
150 g golden caster sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom
a pinch ground cloves
Cover a 22cm springform with rice paper. Toast the nuts in a dry pan and mix with the mixed peel and flour.
Pre-heat the oven to 150C. Mix the figs into a paste using a food processor. Transfer the paste to a saucepan and add 1 tbsp sherry/vin santo, honey, sugar and all the spices and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5-8 minutes and then add it to the nut mixture. Mix well and add another tbsp sherry/vin santo if the mixture is dry.
Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 30 minutes. Carefully press down a layer of rice paper on top of the cake and bake for another 10 minutes. Leave to cool in the tin.
Dust with plenty of icing sugar, cut into thin slices and serve.
This cheesecake is absolutely wonderful. It has the perfect balance of savoury and sweet in the cream cheese and dulce de leche mixture and the texture is velvety smooth – a bit like butter.
The recipe is based on this recipe for Dulce de leche cheesecake squares that I found at Smitten Kitchen, but I have changed both the base and the topping. There was no need to change the cheesecake mixture though, when I tasted the batter I realised it was pure perfection already.
I served this as a cake at work, just plain (although there is nothing plain about it) to celebrate the latest birthdays. But this would work equally well as the dessert for a dinner party or for any other occasion that needs a little pick me up.
I am making this again already next week, that’s how good it was! I hope you find it as amazing as I do. Out of the three cakes (the other two to follow) that I made for work, this was my own favourite and it went down a treat among the others too.
Dulce de leche cheesecake, serves 8
200 g digestives
75 g softened butter
2 gelatine leaves
60 ml (1/4 cup) milk
225 g cream cheese
a small pinch of salt
235 ml (1 cup) dulce de leche (you can buy it ready made, or boil a can of condensed milk for 2 and a half hours)
100 ml creme fraiche
what is left of the dulche de leche (if using a 397 g can it will be about 4 tbsp)
Mix the biscuits into crumbs into a food processor, add the butter and mix again. Line a springform with parchment paper in the bottom. Add the base-filling and press it onto the base of the tin in an even manor. Bake for about 10 minutes in 160C (without the fan on).
Place the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water. Squeeze out the water and place them in a sauce pan with the milk. Warm gently until the gelatine has dissolved. Set to the side. Mix cream cheese, eggs, dulce de leche, salt and the gelatine mixture in a bowl with an electric whisk to incorpotate properly. Pour the mixture into the springform and place the tin at the bottom of the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the mixture just started setting, it should still be quite wobbly in the middle. Remove from oven and make the topping. Just mix creme fraiche with dulche de leche and spread onto the cake. Bake for another 5 minutes. Leave to cool, then place in the fridge for a few hours until serving. Decorate with small pieces of fudge.