Sponge Cake Woes

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Candles blown out signifies another birthday over. And a traditional Victoria Sponge is a classic. Grease two 20cm round cake tins. Beat 200g/8oz sugar and butter until pale. Add a teaspoon of baking powder to 200g/8oz self-raising flour, gradually fold into the butter and sugar along with 4 eggs. If the mixture feels a bit stiff add 2tbsp milk to loosen batter. Split between the cake tins and bake at 190C/fan 170C/gas mark 5 for approximately 20 minutes, until golden brown and the cake springs back when touched. For the butter cream filling beat 100g/4oz room temperature butter, gradually add 150g/6oz of icing sugar and an optional drop of vanilla extract. Spread the butter cream onto one half of the cooled cakes and half a jar of strawberry jam onto the other, and sandwich together. Dust with icing sugar. Voila!

Baking sponge cakes is reletively simple, but there are a few mistakes that can steal perfection from the final product. Below are a few common sponge problems and the solution.

PROBLEMSOLUTION
BurntBurnt cake tastes terrible, but it can be salvaged. Simply cut away the burnt edges using a srrated knife, and smother with frosting.
Cake Mixture Overflowing Use the correct size tin for the cake, and fill your tins a maximum of two-thirds full.
Cracked TopIf the cake rises too quickly it will crack. Check the oven temperature using a thermometer. Too much raising agent will also cause the cake to crack. Decorating the cake will cover any imperfections.
Crunchy EdgesGrease the cake tin with minimal fat, otherwise as it melts it effectively frys the sponge.
DryAccuracy is essential. Use the correct size eggs and measure liquids. To much dry ingredients will absorb moisture. Check your oven is not too hot, and don’t leave in the oven too long.
Didn’t RiseAdd raising agents and check they are not out-of-date. Not baking long enough can be the reason cake hasn’t risen, pop back in the oven for a couple of minutes. If the tin is too big the sponge will spread thinly, giving the appearance it hasn’t risen
Split MixtureStop creaming butter and sugar when they begin to look curdled and add dry ingredients.
Stuck to the TinUse greaseproof paper cut to size in the base of the tin. Allow cake to cool thoroughly before attempting to remove from tin. Run a knife round the edge of the tin to loosen cake.
Sunken MixtureThe cake will sink if the batter is still raw in the middle. Add to oven for a few more minutes and insert a skewer, if it comes out clean cake is cooked. Check oven temperature is not too cool. Raising agent problems can be responsible for sunken cakes. Sunken cakes can be covered with frosting.
Tastes BadToo much raising agent will leave a bitter tase. Certain cake recipes require a lot of egg, disguise the egg taste with flavourings, for example vanilla extract.
Too HeavyNot enough raising agent can leave sponge heavy. Mixing at every stage is important, incorporating air in the batter.
UndercookedCalibrate oven correctly using a thermometer, ensuring it is not too cool.

Pork Shoulder Steaks in Honey and Mustard Sauce

A hearty and comforting pork dish, with a blend of honey, mustard and lime. Serve with choice of potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

Ingredients

  • 4 Pork Shoulder Steaks
  • Dash of Olive Oil
  • 1 0nion
  • 1 Gala Apple
  • 4 Medium Size Mushrooms
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • 1 Chicken Stock Cube
  • 1tsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp low fat fromage frais
  • Juice of 1 Lime
  • 1tbsp of Cornflour
  • Quarter Pint of Water
  • Salt and Pepper to season

Method

Pre heat oven to moderate, 180ºC, 356ºF, Gas Mark 4.

Add a dash of olive oil to a hot heavy based frying pan. Fry pork steaks until brown on both sides. Place browned pork on an oven tray and pop in the oven for 30-40 minutes.

Dice onion, apple and mushrooms and crush garlic cloves. On a moderate heat, add to the frying pan used to brown the pork. Saute gently with a wooden spatula until soft and translucent.

Add honey, mustard and lime juice, plus quarter of a pint of water and stock cube. Simmer for ten minutes allowing liquid to reduce.

Meanwhile mix the cornflour with a little water to make a slurry. Add to the frying pan and stir until thickened.

Finally add fromage frais, simmer for five minutes and season to taste

Serve with the pork shoulder steaks and choice of potatoes and veg.

Delicious!

Budget Peanut Butter and Jelly Chicken

Tasty food doesn’t need to cost the earth. Neither does it have to take hours to prepare. After a days work you want to be sat eating dinner, not slaving over a stove. Even better if your hard earned cash remains in your pocket. Why pay more when you can pay less?

The internet has made it simpler to search tasty recipes that do not break the bank, and then tweak and adjust them to your liking. This recipe I found on realfood.tesco.com.

A mix of east meets west. 5 minutes to prepare, 10 minutes to marinade, and 45 minutes in the oven. Simple!

Ingredients

  • 600g pkt chicken thigh fillets
  • 3 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
  • 3 tbsp redcurrant jelly
  • 1 tbs sweet chilli dipping sauce
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 300g green beans
  • 325g tin sweetcorn
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1/2 red chilli
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 15g fresh basil

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to gas 6, 200°C, fan 180°C and line a baking tray with nonstick baking paper. Put the chicken on the baking tray. Mix the peanut butter with the redcurrant jelly, sweet chilli sauce and 2 tbsp olive oil. Cover the chicken with the marinade and place in the fridge for 10 mins.
  2. Chop the tomatoes and deseed and dice the chilli. Blanch the green beans in a pan of boiling water, or over a steamer for 5 minutes. Drain and mix with the sweetcorn, tomatoes and chilli. Toss with a tablespoon olive oil, the white wine vinegar and basil.
  3. Bake the chicken for 40-45 mins until crisp, golden and cooked through, basting halfway through.

I served mine with a dollop of mash potato, but you can serve with crusty bread, rice or couscous.

Casseroles: Mix it Up

Casseroles are a great start for the novice cook. And a fantastic way to use up ingredients. Invest in a slow cooker. Simply add whatever you want to the pot and switch on. Then go about your day, with the knowledge a steaming stew will be ready come evening meal.

Experiment with various cuts of meat, vegetables, pulses, herbs, spices and condiments. My latest love is adding fruit, honey, ales, wine and cider to my pot. The act of slow cooking tenderises the meat wonderfully. I don’t reccomend using mince, it has a tendacy to turn to slop and resemble pet food. With that one no-no, nothing else is off limits.

A Sunday: day of rest and all. I’ve got some sausauges nearing there use by date and baking potatoes that will soon be sprouting. The oven goes on low for the jackets, great for keeping the kitchen warm. And out comes the slow cooker. Pop in a bag of ready prepared casserole veg. In go my sausages and a tin of chopped tomatoes, followed by a can full of cold water and a stock cube. Perusing the pantry for flavours I add some mustard seeds, paprika, ground coriander and parsley. A dash of runny honey, salt, pepper. On goes the lid. Now I sit with a brew and write this post while dinner is cooking.

Beefy Sausage and Mash

You cannot beat a comforting plate of sausage and mash. Quality sausages and a good homemade gravy raise the bar, lifting the dish from a midweek meal to something special.

Beef sausages are a favourite of mine, complimented with a red wine gravy. I used a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, grown in the Central Valley region near Santiago, the countries capital. Of course use any red wine you have available, the only rule of thumb is don’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink.

I whipped this dish up after going a walk with the family around Branston Water in Burton-on-Trent, just off the A38. A full house and hungry kids to feed, I wanted quick, simple and tasty.

In a deep sided frying pan I added a tablespoon of sunflower oil, one peeled and sliced red onion and sixteen beef sausages. I fry them gently until the onions are soft and opaque and the sausages are brown, about ten minutes. Turning the heat up I add a generous dash of red wine and bring to the boil for two minutes, until the alcohol burns off. Then I add a pint of boiling water and two beef stock cubes and a slurry of cornflour. Allow the gravy to thicken and then serve with mash and peas.

Blue Garlic Mushrooms

Christmas is past and New Year is almost upon us. The fridge no longer loses its contents every time the door is opened. And only the chocolates that nobody wants to eat are left.

The family have headed home, and after a morning getting the house back in order I fancy a light lunch. Blue garlic mushrooms on toast will use up the stilton from the cheese board, and the leftover cream in the fridge.

Slicing four portabella mushrooms, I peel and dice a clove of garlic and one shallot. In a frying pan I melt a tablespoon of butter and saute the shallot, mushrooms and garlic until they begin to brown. To the pan I add a cup of double cream, which I bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer. Adding the crumbled stilton, I stir the creamy contents until the cheese has melted. Season to taste and serve on slices of buttered toast.

Any blue cheese works well with this light bite, and the end product tastes delicious, but I do apologise if the kitchen smells of smelly socks.

Simple Soup After Rich Xmas Pickings

A small serving of Christmas dinner for a 3 year old quickly amounted to a standard adult plate, inducing a few laughs. Shrinking it down to a less intimidating size was futile, and yet, my grandson sat at the head of the table tucking in enthusiastically.

Over the past couple of days I have consumed: pancakes, buffet, Christmas dinner, tremendous amounts of chocolate and pastries, puddings and desserts, all washed down with an on tap tipple. Lay in bed last night I began to pay the price with a bloated belly and heartburn. Today plain and simple are perfect companions. So I opted to make Leek and Potato Soup.

2 leeks, 4 potatoes, 1 onion and 2 cloves of garlic all chopped into dice and boiled in a pan with a pint of stock and seasoned with ground cumin, coriander, ginger, salt, pepper and nutmeg. After 15-20 minutes of simmering, blend and add a dash of cream. Mmm mmmm mmmmm the perfect homemade soup to calm bloated tummies.

Perfected Yorkshire Puddings

Do not laugh at me, but I nearly cried when after purchasing a new oven, my Yorkshire puddings once again flopped. My mix was ready, and my beef dripping heating in a hot oven 425ºFahrenheit/220ºCelsius/Gas Mark 7. I patiently rubbed my hands in glee as they cooked, convinced I would be greeted with an explosion of batter, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and filled with air. Instead I was met with stodgy depressed fairy cakes.

Defeated I resigned myself to the fact once again my Christmas dinner would consist of ready made supermarket Yorkshire puddings.

And this would have remained the end of the story. Then this evening I found myself with an empty house, and a box of eggs nearing their use by date. The determined and stubborn part of me decided to have a Yorkshire pudding fest.

This is what I did to achieve success:

Add beef dripping to a 12 cup muffin tray, and heat in an oven at 425ºFahrenheit/220ºCelsius/Gas Mark 7. Whisk 5 medium eggs, with a cup of full cream milk and a little salt. Then add a cup of plain flour and whisk batter until smooth. Remove muffin tray from the oven and quickly fill each cup no more than half full (the dripping is hot enough when the batter sizzles and begins to puff when added).

I was so busy making sure my oven was hot enough the mistake I had been making was adding too much batter to the tray.

Homemade Yorkshire puddings this Christmas. Wahey!

Skinny Mushroom and Walnut Soup

It is no secret a good mushroom soup needs a generous swirl of cream, leaving you scraping the bowl and licking your lips. But what if the reason for choosing soup is to watch the calories. What then?

One ingredient that gives the soup a creamy consistency and doesn’t leave a guilty after taste is a handful of rice, added to the pot and left to simmer for ten minutes to soften and release its starch.

Ingredients

  • 1kg Mushrooms
  • 1 Onion
  • 1-2 Garlic Cloves
  • Handful Dried Porcini Mushrooms
  • Handful Walnuts
  • Handful Rice
  • Pint Vegetable Stock
  • 1tbsp Olive Oil
  • Skimmed Milk

Method

Put dried mushrooms in a bowl and fill with cold water to hydrate. Peel and slice the onion, garlic, mushrooms, and chop the walnuts.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onion, fry on a medium heat until softened and opaque, but not brown. Add the mushrooms and garlic, stir until mushrooms begin to release their water. Add the walnuts, dried mushrooms with their liquid, and the stock. Bring to the boil, and sprinkle in the handful of rice, simmer for ten minutes until the rice and walnuts have softened.

Blend the soup and add a dash of milk. Season to taste and serve with bread.

Warm and tasty, with no guilt attached.

Choice of Spice Rub Chicken and Chorizo Jambalaya

Supermarket shelves are littered with an array of packet spice rubs, jejune and filled with additives. Yes they are precisely measured for the convenience of a single meal, but homemade spice rubs are simple to make and more often, cheaper per serving than the prepacked tasteless equivalent. I found my Creole seasoning on allrecipes.co.uk, but there are many other spice rubs and seasoning mixes online. Alternatively play around with your choice of spice blends.

Creole seasoning on allrecipes.co.uk

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 Chicken Breast
  • 100g Chorizo
  • 1 Onion
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper
  • 400g tin tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp Creole Seasoning
  • 250g Long Grain Rice
  • 350ml Water

Method

  • Prepare the vegetables by deseeding and dicing the green bell pepper and peeling and slicing the onion. Slice the chorizo and cut the chicken breast into bitesize chunks.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large deep sided frying pan on a medium heat.
  • Add the chicken and chorizo and fry for 5 minutes. Then add the onion and green bell pepper to the pan, stirring occasionally for a further 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the Creole seasoning and the long grain rice. Add the tin of tomatoes and water to the pan and stir thoroughly. Bring to the boil and simmer until the rice has cooked and the excess liquid evaporated, about 20 minutes.
  • Serve with crusty bread and side salad.

Warming Autumn Squash and Red Pepper Soup

Within a few weeks the leaves have turned golden and fallen from the trees. The days have shortened and the mercury dipped. Vibrant orange, mellow flavour with a slight hit of ginger, offers heart warming comfort food in spades.

Ingredients

  • 1 Butternut Squash
  • 1 large Onion
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • 1cm Piece of Ginger
  • 1 Chicken/Vegetable Stock Cube
  • 1 tbsp Cream Cheese
  • Dash of Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Method

Prepare the vegetables by peeling and chopping the butternut squash, deseeding and slicing the pepper, peeling and slicing the onion, peeling and crushing the garlic and peeling and grating the ginger.

Add a dash of olive oil to a large heavy based saucepan and heat on a medium hob. Soften the onion and then add the red pepper, garlic and ginger, stirring occasionally. After a couple of minutes add the butternut squash and heat with the rest of the vegetables. Add a pint of water and add the stock cube. Season and bring to the boil. Simmer until the butternut squash is soft.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool before blending, either in a food processor or using a handheld blender. Season and taste. Reheat and stir in the cream cheese until well mixed. Serve with crusty bread.