Because at Christmas you can go crazy: “crazy” spiced orange cake

Christmas spiced orange cakeA month before Christmas, my parents came to dinner and my mom started browsing through the newly arrived edition of GoodFood. She flicked through the pages and then suddenly stopped, proudly announcing she had found the dessert she wanted for Christmas. Glancing at the recipe I quickly understood it was the decoration she was interested in, and not so much the cake underneath. So I decided to mix-and-match and I opted for Mary Berry’s spiced whole orange cake with orange mascarpone icing for the cake with an adaptation of the GoodFood icing recipe on top. Luckily, I was able to recruit my sister to help me out with the decorations (she made all the Christmas trees). You can of course just opt to make the cake, as with all of Mary’s recipes, it’s a fast and easy all-in-the-bowl cake mix. Here’s how to make it:

For the cake:
Grease and line two 20cm round cake tins with baking paper (if you only have one, bake in 2 batches or put everything together in a 24cm tin and stick to 3 layers instead of 4). Place 1 whole orange in a small saucepan, cover with boiling water and boil for 30 minutes, or until soft. Leave to cool (I recently read you get the same result by putting the orange in the microwave for a few minutes but I haven’t tested it yet). When the orange is cold, cut in half and remove any pips.

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Roughly chop the orange and blend, including the skin, in a food processor until medium-chunky in texture (if you don’t have a food processor, just use a hand mixer) and set aside, reserving two tablespoons for the icing.

Put 275 g self-raising flour in a large bowl with 2 tsp baking powder, 275 g sugar, 275 g softened butter, 4 eggs, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp mixed spice. Blend in a food processor or with an electric hand whisk until just smooth (be careful not to over-beat the mixture). Then, carefully stir in the pulp that you have set aside (all except the 2 tbsp for the icing), then divide between the two prepared tins and level the tops.

Bake for 35 min, or until well risen, lightly golden-brown and shrinking away from the sides of the tins. Leave to cool for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Peel off the baking paper.

For the icing, place 50 g softened butter in a mixing bowl and, using an electric hand whisk, gradually beat in 175 g icing sugar until smooth. Add 250 g mascarpone cheese and whisk together until smooth and creamy. Add the 2 tbsp reserved orange pulp and mix until smooth.

Slice each cake in half to make four layers (if you only used 1 larger tin, try slicing it in 3). Divide the icing into four and then stack the layers of cake – icing between each layer and finishing with icing on the top.

For the crazy Christmas icing:
Beat 2 egg whites with 1 tsp lemon juice and 2 tsp liquid glucose in a mixing bowl. Gradually sift in 300 g icing sugar, beating all the time until you get stiff peaks. Swirl it thickly over the cake and let it drop down the sides a bit to create a “snow” effect. For the Christmas trees, the recipe suggested making a pistachio paste, but you know me: too much work so I went for the shortcut and just opted for marzipan instead (adding some green food colouring – in my case a mix of yellow and blue – to get the right colour). Tip: when colouring marzipan, where plastic gloves or you will go to the party with green fingernails… once the colouring is thoroughly kneaded in, it won’t give off any colour anymore. To make the trees, roll small balls and flatten them, stack them from larger to smaller and finish with a cone shape. Enjoy!

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!