Rock cakes are a traditional British bake and they are one of the easiest to make. Craggy lumps of stiff cake dough are mounded onto a baking tray and bunged in the oven. The result are these scrumptious little morsels that look a bit like rocks. If you’ve never had them before, don’t worry, they are not rock-like in texture. They are in fact crumbly and utterly delicious. These sultana and prune rock cakes are a variation of the classic bake, but you can use whatever dried fruit you like.
I’ve been following Karen Burns-Booth fabulous food blog, Lavender & Lovage, pretty much since its inception. Now, we have the cookbook, newly published this month, Lavender & Lovage: a culinary notebook of memories & recipes from home & abroad. Read on for my review and a recipe for Earl Grey fruit cake with orange icing.
Once upon a time, many years ago, back in the 1960s in fact, or possibly the 1970s, reports are a bit vague, the Mayor stopped handing out the Liskeard Bun. This was an annual event when the newly invested mayor of Liskeard would hand out buns wrapped in brown paper bags to the local children. What a lovely tradition. Read on to find out about the Great Cornish Bake Off and how it was rediscovered along with a vegan recipe for Cornish saffron buns.
Saffron with its bright yellow hues and subtle floral and bitter notes is a spice which seems singularly exotic. But it has long been associated with Cornwall. It is said that the Cornish traded with the Phoenicians way back, exchanging tin for saffron and it’s been used here ever since. This may or may not be true, but saffron was a highly popular ingredient in the Middle Ages and saffron crocuses were grown in Bude until the late 19th Century.
A friend recently passed on a recipe for me to chocolatify. He reckoned that not only was this cake unusual, with its inclusion of Jerusalem artichokes, but it was also possibly the best cake he’d ever made. I was intrigued. At this time of year we have no problem getting hold of this particular root vegetable as it grows, almost of its own volition, down on our plot. I adore the taste of artichokes, but do find them a real pain to clean, so I don’t use them as often as I probably should. The cake includes roasted hazelnuts and I could see how well these would work with the nutty flavour found in artichokes.
I had planned to follow the recipe as written, apart from adding chocolate and using my usual half wholemeal, half white flour mix of course, but things went a little awry. I didn’t have any raisins for a start, so had to substitute sultanas. But mostly, I didn’t read the recipe carefully enough. I ended up using a different method entirely and added all of the sugar (50g more than I should have) to the cake rather than reserving some of it for the icing – oops! I also didn’t think I needed to peel the artichokes, which I scrubbed well cutting out any bad bits.
Some time before Christmas, I was sent three lovely bags of Cacao Barry chocolate drops. This is a new range of high quality couverture chocolate they have introduced. It uses a new fermentation method which purportedly gives a more intense taste. The Q-Fermentation TM method uses natural ferments found in the plants and soil of the plantation which is said to give a purer bean with a fuller flavour. I’m looking forward to trying the chocolate out in a few sophisticated recipes where the flavour can shine through. However, I decided as there were so many lovely ingredients in this cake it would be good to use a special chocolate too. From previous experience, I’ve found that milk chocolate chips tend to work better in this type of cake as a very dark chocolate can sometimes take over rather than enhancing. The 41% Alunga milk chocolate seemed ideal. With its strong caramel notes and high cocoa content, I found it hard to stop dipping into the bag as I went along. I’m looking forward to trying the Inaya 65% and Ocoa 70% dark chocolates in due course.
This is how I made:
Jerusalem Artichoke Cake
- Added 1 tbsp brandy to a bowl filled with 120g sultanas and placed it on the heater to soak in for about an hour.
- Toasted 80g hazelnuts in a dry frying pan for a few minutes until the nuts had browned a little and the skins had loosened. Left to cool, then rubbed the nuts in a piece of kitchen towel to remove the skins. Chopped roughly.
- Grated 200g of well scrubbed and trimmed Jerusalem artichokes in food processor.
- Creamed 150g unsalted butter with 200g soft brown sugar (should have been 150g).
- Beat in the brandied sultanas.
- Beat in 3 large eggs, one by one and alternating with a little of the flour.
- Sieved in 200g flour (half wholemeal, half white), 1 level tsp baking powder, 1 scant tsp bicarbonate of soda, a large pinch of rock salt, 1 tsp cinnamon and a good grating of nutmeg (about 1/2 tsp).
- Stirred this in lightly together with the nuts and 50g chocolate drops (41% milk).
- Folded in the artichokes.
- Scraped mixture into a deep 8″ lined cake tin and baked for about 1 hour at 180°C (recipe stated 30 minutes, but mine was still almost raw at that stage) until well risen, brown and an inserted skewer came out almost clean.
- Allowed to cook in the tin for 15 minutes, then turned out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- Beat 180g cream cheese (should have been 200g, but that was all I had) with 40 light brown sugar.
- Grated in the zest of an organic lemon and squeezed in nearly half of the juice.
- Beat it all together then slathered over the top of the cake.
- Shaved some dark chocolate over the top.
I couldn’t have told you there were Jerusalem artichokes in the cake, but wow, I’m sure they added to the overall nuttiness. This cake was truly delicious: chewy, crunchy, moist and abundant. The Alunga buttons left chocolatey hotspots throughout the cake which contributed nicely to the overall richness of taste. The sharp lemony icing offset the additional sugar I added by mistake and the cake, thankfully, wasn’t too sweet at all. It was similar to a carrot cake, only, dare I say it, much nicer.
How can I put this politely? I didn’t notice any, er, unfortunate consequences to eating the Jerusalem Artichokes in this way, so it got a double thumbs up from us.
This is my offering for this month’s We Should Cocoa. Linzi over at Lancashire Food is kindly hosting and has asked us to combine an ingredient we have never used with chocolate before. I was initially going to send over the paprika and cocoa roasted cauliflower that I made earlier in the month, but in the end decided this was a more unusual and worthy entry. I can honestly say, that I have never until now, eaten Jerusalem artichokes and chocolate together.
I am also using this as my entry to Family Foodies over at Bangers & Mash. The theme this month is Hidden Goodies. These artichokes are very well hidden and I suspect few would ever guess as to what the cake contained. This challenge is co-hosted by Lou at Eat Your Veg.
Not only made from scratch, but some of it grown from scratch too, I’m sending this off to Javelin Warrior for his Made with Love Mondays.
As this is the most exciting recipe I’ve posted this week, I’m entering it into Recipe of the Week with Emily of A Mummy Too.
First of all I’d like to wish everyone a Very Happy New Year. May 2014 bring you plenty of chocotunities.
When I saw this spiced stollen traybake over at How to Cook Good Food before Christmas, I knew I would have to make this or something similar very soon. I had no stollen at all last year and it is one of my favourites. A spicy stollen full of fruit and marzipan in cake form is an excellent idea. My version is actually quite different to Laura’s, but hers was the inspiration. These would have been perfect for bringing in the new year along with a glass of something special or for celebrating today, New Year’s Day.
As it happens, my mother’s birthday is on New Year’s Eve and as we were going to be out and about, I needed something portable. She’s a bit of a marzipan fan, so stollen cakes seemed to fit the bill very nicely. I’d also been sent a surprise Christmas parcel from Dr Oetker which handily contained both marzipan and chocolate chips.
This is how I made:
- Added 75g sultanas and 25g mixed peel (homemade) to a bowl together with 25g ground almonds and 2 tbsp rum and left to soak overnight.
- Creamed 150g unsalted butter with 125g cardamom (golden caster) sugar.
- Grated in the zest of a small lemon.
- Added 1/2 tsp freshly ground coriander, a good grating of nutmeg and a good grinding of black pepper.
- Creamed some more until the mixture was very light and fluffy.
- Beat in 3 small eggs.
- Sifted in 160g flour (half wholemeal, half white), 1 tsp mesquite powder (optional), 1 tsp baking powder and a pinch of bicarbonate of soda.
- Stirred this in alternately with 1 tbsp lemon juice and 2 tbsp sour milk.
- Folded in the fruit and rum mixture, 50g dark chocolate chips and 100g chopped marzipan.
- Spooned into 15 cupcake cases then scattered a few flaked almonds over the top.
- Baked at 180°C for 20 minutes, then turned onto a rack to cool.
- Dusted with vanilla sugar.
The house smelt deliciously of nutmeg and coriander whilst the cakes were baking. CT and I couldn’t help ourselves, but had to filch a warm one as they came out of the oven. Ooh, they were so delicious, sweet and seasonally spicy.
We ate another one or two whilst watching The Hobbit (second time for us, birthday treat for my mother). They may not have been as impressive as Smaug’s Hoard, but each bite uncovered buried treasure – rum soaked sultanas, marzipan and chocolate chips or occasionally all three. The sponge was light and a glorious yellow just like the dragon’s gold. And if CT takes another one without permission, I’ll be breathing fire all over him. Actually he’s unable to fulfil his desire as my mother squirrelled the remainder away and is jealously guarding her hoard.
The beautiful golden yellow sponge was the result of some local free range eggs which I buy whenever I am able. I am thus entering it into this month’s Tea Time Treats where the theme is eggs. This has been chosen by the new co-host Jane of The Hedgecombers. I’m pleased to say that Karen of Lavender and Lovage remains.
With those local eggs in mind where the chickens truly run freely, I am entering this into Shop Local at Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary.
I’m also submitting this to Jac’s Bookmarked Recipes over at Tinned Tomatoes where you can see last month’s round-up.
Homemade mincemeat is a revelation, once made it’s hard to go back to a commercial product. Even inveterate mincemeat sceptics like CT are happy to partake of this. In fact it was hard to keep his hands off the Chilli and Chocolate Mincemeat Slice I made last year.
Ros chose V for Alpha Bakes this month, oh my goodness! Other than Vanilla and Victoria sandwich, I wasn’t having many ideas and although vanilla is fantastic, it’s such a common ingredient in cakes, I wanted something a little different. I’ve seen Viennese whirls popping up all over the place which is a great idea, but again not quite what I was looking for. So I turned to trusty Pam Corbin in her wonderful book Cakes and there it was at the bottom of the V list, Vinegar Cake. Traditionally made when hens were off lay, this is an eggless fruit cake from East Anglia. I added a few ingredients not mentioned in Pam’s recipe.
This is how I made it:
- Placed 1 tbsp mesquite powder and 1 tbsp maca powder onto the scales than added white flour to make the weight up to 250g.
- Sifted into a bowl along with 250g wholemeal flour and a pinch of salt.
- Rubbed in 200g unsalted butter cut into bits, until the mixture resembled breadcrumbs.
- Stirred in 500g dried fruit made up of sultanas, raisins, chopped dried apples, goji berries and crystallised orange peel (homemade).
- Stirred in 50g chopped Maya Gold chocolate (G&B dark orange spiced).
- Poured 300ml milk into a large bowl (didn’t have a jug big enough) and added 50ml cider vinegar.
- Stirred 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda into 1 tbsp milk.
- Added this to the milk and watched in amazement as it frothed up and up and up!
- Poured this onto the dry ingredients together with 2 tbsp golden syrup and mixed until just incorporated.
- Spooned into a 23cm cake mould and smoothed the top.
- Sprinkled 1 tbsp demerara sugar over the top and baked at 170C for 50 minutes.
- Left to cool in mould for 20 minutes then turned out onto a wire rack to cool almost completely – couldn’t wait any longer!
Watching the milk and vinegar mixture whoosh up when the bicarb was added was impressive. It reminded me of one those school science lessons which probably no longer occur due to health and safety reasons. Whatever the underlying chemistry of it all, it seemed to work: the cake rose really well. Unfortunately, I took it out a little too soon, so it sank in the middle. Surprisingly, the taste of vinegar was noticeable by its absence. It had a lovely crunchy top and would have been great served warm with clotted cream or ice-cream. I’m not a fan of heavy fruit cakes, but this was just about right, plenty of fruit but plenty of cake too. CT is also not a fan of heavy fruitcakes, which he associates with being dense, dry & and desiccated with bucket loads of horrible mixed peel. This one, he opined, was pleasantly fruity with an unexpected sort of spritliness about it. It had a nice soft crumb and tasted slightly malty which I put down to the mesquite I added. We both felt thoroughly virtuous eating this because of the healthful properties of the maca I had included.
Alpha Bakes is a monthly blogging challenge where a random letter is picked from the alphabet which then inspires the theme of the bake. It’s hosted alternately by Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline Makes.
We are just back from a rather damp week spent on the Lizard. For those wondering, the Lizard is not a large scaly reptile, although there is a reptilian link. It’s a peninsula lying at the most southerly point of mainland UK and is made of serpentine rock. It’s actually a piece of sea floor which somehow ended up in the wrong place. The serpentine has unusual chemical properties which leads to a unique habitat, making it a Mecca for botanists – CT was in his element. Despite the fact we only had one morning of sun the entire duration of our stay, it wasn’t as wet as it might have been and we had a lovely time, spoilt only by the fact it passed far too quickly.
Before leaving, the big question was what cake to take with us? On our last stay there, two years ago, I made a well remembered chocolate mayonnaise cake which was not only delicious but lasted the whole week. I needed to replicate the delicious and lasting qualities, but wanted something a little different. In the end, the sheer number of apples I’d been given sealed the deal, it just had to be an apple cake. Leafing through my many recipe books and scraps of paper, I finally plumped for an Apple & Hazelnut cake. I’ve had this recipe for at least 14 years but have never actually made it and where it came from is now lost in the mists of time. I adapted it to include chocolate of course and made a few other amendments along the way, including brandy soaked sultanas.
This is what I did:
- Soaked 3oz sultanas in 1 tbsp brandy for a couple of hours (overnight would have been better).
- Spent an age cracking the last of last year’s hazelnuts, then toasted 3oz of them.
- When cool, blitzed them in a coffee grinder.
- Peeled, cored and chopped 1 lb cooking apples
- Creamed 8oz unsalted butter with 6oz cardamom sugar.
- Beat in 3 duck eggs.
- Stirred in 2 tsp dried orange zest.
- Sieved in 12oz flour (half wholemeal and half white), 1.5 tsp baking powder, a pinch of salt and 1 tsp cinnamon.
- Mixed in the apple and hazelnuts.
- Stirred in sultanas and 3oz milk chocolate drops (40%).
- Spooned into a 23cm cake mould.
- Sliced an unpeeled dessert apple and placed slices around the top.
- Scattered over 2 tbsp demerara sugar
- Baked for 45 mins at 180C.
Luckily the cake was delicious and it did last us the week, although with the various other treats we had whilst we were there, we probably shouldn’t have had any cake at all.
Here are a few highlights of our trip in no particular order of merit or occurrence:
Walking the coastal path on that first sunny morning somewhere near Kennack Sands.
Spotting our first view of Cornish Heath (Erica vagans) this year – no longer at its best but always exciting as the Lizard is one of the very few places that it grows in the UK.
Dodging showers around Trewidden Gardens, Penzance – 1st visit and the most impressive grove of tree ferns we’ve seen in the UK.
Kynance Cove as we saw it two years ago – this time it was hard to discern through the thick mist.
The biggest swathe of Devil’s Bit Scabious either of us have ever seen.
Dragonfly on CT’s knee.
The delightful fishing village of Cadgwith.
Posh nosh at New Yard Restaurant, Trelowarren.
Rock cakes used to be my main go to recipe when I had to bake something in a hurry or just wanted something to fill the cake tin. I haven’t made them in years, I don’t know why, they are so easy and really quite delicious. I also grew up with them. My mother used to make them with dates which I particularly liked. But at the moment I have lots of cooking apples that a friend has given me and I need to concentrate on using them up. Regular visitors may start to get bored with the ensuing number of apple cakes I may well be baking!
Anyway, this is what I did this time around:
- Put 8oz flour (1/2 spelt, 1/2 white) into a large mixing bowl together with 2 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp cinnamon.
- Rubbed 4oz unsalted butter into the flour.
- Stirred in 3oz demerara sugar.
- Added 2oz sultanas and 2oz 40% milk chocolate drops.
- Peeled, cored and finely (ish) chopped 1 cooking apple and stirred that in to the dry ingredients.
- Made a well in the centre, broke in 2 duck eggs and stirred until all combined.
- Spooned 12 large lumps onto a lined baking tray and baked for 20 minutes at 180C until lightly browned.
- Moved to a wire rack to cool.
These were just as good as I’d remembered them, firm on the outside and soft and delicious on the inside. This was the first time I’d ever used chocolate in rock cakes and as I’d guessed, it worked really well. The sweet bits of sultanas and chocolate made an excellent contrast to the sharp and flavoursome apple pieces. They were destined for friends where we were going for supper. However, I managed to snaffle one for myself, save one for CT and rush down the road to my local bookshop with two of them on a saucer, where they were gratefully received. We are lucky enough to have an independent bookshop in our small town. It is a marvellous place which somehow manages to keep going whilst many shops are closing around it. They always give excellent service and are friendly and knowledgeable. They may be small, but CT hasn’t found a book yet that they haven’t been able to order for him and he orders some rather obscure items. Surprisingly, for such humble cakes, these had rave reviews from all who ate them.
Cheekily, I’m linking this to Vanessa Kimbell’s lovely idea to Practice Random Acts of Baking. Vanessa, I had a much more random and kinder plan that this in mind, but the bakes were a disaster and I had to abort – I will relate all at a later date.
I am just about to leave on a week’s holiday – hoorah! It is two years since I had a proper holiday and it feels very much needed. We are not going far, we’re off to the Lizard and I can’t wait!