A British classic: carrot cake

Carrot cakeNot quite sure if it is actually British, but it surely isn’t a Belgian classic! I discovered this cake on my visits to London and became a big fan, so it was about time to give it a go. I decided to try Rachel Allen‘s recipe from her cookbook Bake which seemed to use most of the ingredients I expected to find in it.

Preheat the oven to 150 C and line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper. Beat 2 eggs in a large bowl, then add 140 ml vegetable oil, 200 g soft brown sugar, 300 grated carrots, 100 g raisins and 75 g chopped nuts (use pecans or walnuts, or leave them out if you’re not a fan). Now add the dry ingredients: 180 g self-raising flour, a pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg and 1/2 tsp mixed spice and mix with a wooden or metal spoon to bring the mixture together.

Pour the mixture in the prepared loaf tin and bake in the oven for 1 h – 1h15 until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 min before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely. You can already serve it like this, or you can add a layer of cream cheese icing.

For the icing, beat 250 g cream cheese (straight from the fridge) and 50 g softened butter  in a bowl until combined. Add 1 tsp vanilla extract, 275 g icing sugar and the zest of 1 orange and mix to combine. The icing should be smooth and quite thick. Make sure the butter is softened by leaving it a room temperature for a while. This time, don’t soften it in the microwave, because it will be slightly melted which is too soft. Also, this is the recipe if you use regular cream cheese (like philadelphia), which has a good consistency. If, like me, you decide to go for a tastier option by using De Brabander (by Campina) cheese, only use half the amount stated in the recipe because it’s quite runny. I’m talking from experience here, my icing ran faster then Usain Bolt! If yours is too runny, just put it in the fridge for a while to stiffen. If that doesn’t work, add more icing sugar until you reach the right consistency (you may want to add a squeeze of lemon juice as well). If, on the other hand, yours is too hard, don’t be tempted to loosen it with water or more cheese. Just dip your knife in a bowl of hot water before spreading it out. Enjoy!

Berlin memories: sugar cookies

Sugar cookiesI recently visited a dear friend in Berlin for the weekend and stumbled upon the Ampfelmann souvenir store. That’s the figure used in traffic signs in the old eastern part of Berlin to tell pedestrians to cross or stop. It comes from a time where everyone seemingly wore a hat and it’s become a symbol of the city of Berlin. You can’t begin to imagine the number of different items and souvenirs they can come up with based on one character! Of course, like cookery stores and bookstores, this is a dangerous kind of store to let me loose in… My boyfriend already avoids the “ohs and ahs and I want that’s” by waiting calmly outside. This time I stumbled on the ideal item: a cookie cutter!!! And this is the result! As a recipe, I went for sugar cookies from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook.

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Mix 200 g softened butter with 280 g caster sugar and 1/4 tsp vanilla extract until light and fluffy. Add 1 egg and mix well. Add 400 g plain flour, 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (if you don’t have this, I think you can replace it with 1 tsp baking powder instead) and a pinch of salt and mix well, but don’t over mix. The dough should be light, soft and easy to handle. If it’s a bit crumbly, just bring it together with your hands.

Dust a clean work surface with some flour and roll out the dough with a rolling pin. Cut out shapes with your choice of biscuit cutters. Arrange the cookies on a prepared baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for about 10 –

15 min. Check on them regularly, they should be slightly golden on the outside and paler in the centre. Remove from the oven when cooked through and leave to cool slightly on the tray before moving them to a wire rack to cool completely. Decorate with royal icing or make the icing yourself by mixing 1 egg white with a squeeze of lemon juice and enough icing sugar to create a thick paste (you’ll need about 250 g). Add a drop of food colouring for a fun effect. And don’t wait too long to start icing, otherwise your cookies will be eaten already! Enjoy!

Truly delicious: lime-mango cake

lime and mango cakeA colleague of mine recently brought a home-made tart to the office for his birthday. It was so delicious, that I stalked him for the recipe so he brought his cookbook from Australian chef Bill Granger, which also contained this recipe. Now if I see lime and mango both in one recipe, I don’t have to think twice! Straight to the copy machine it was and that night the cake was already in the oven!

Heat the oven to 170 C and grease a 26 cm cake ring (or use a 22 cm round springform or whatever other combination of tins instead). In a large bowl, mix 180 g softened butter with 250 g caster sugar and 1 and 1/2 tsp lime zest (you need about 2-3 limes in total for this recipe). Add 4 eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Fold in 300 g flour in two batches, alternated with 200 ml yoghurt, also added in two batches, adding 2 and 1/2 tsp baking powder with the final batch.

Now fold in 1 mango cut in cubes and scoop the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smoothing the top with the back of a spoon. Bake for 45 min or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 min before transferring to a wire rack.

Now make the lime icing by mixing 185 g icing sugar with 2 tbsp lime juice and 20 g melted (and cooled) butter until you get a thick mixture. Add a bit more lime juice if it’s too thick. When the cake has cooled, poor over the lime icing and garnish with a sprinkle of lime zest.

A final tip: don’t do this late at night or you will be too lazy to get the icing just right and instead of a gorgeous cake you get what you see in the picture. It still tastes as great though!