Saturday, 27 February 2010

Daring Bakers February 2010 Challenge: Tiramisu

Tiramisu is a much loved classic Italian dessert and one that now appears on restaurant menus worldwide. When done right it can be wonderful - layers of coffee soaked Savoiardi Biscuits, thick mascarpone, Marsala wine and a light dusting of cocoa. Unfortunately all too often restaurants and shops take shortcuts, using sponge in place of the traditional biscuits and whipped cream instead of the pricier mascarpone and with only a hint of coffee. These poor standards bear no resemblance to a traditional Tiramisu and so I was thrilled when this month’s challenge was announced.

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

On reading the recipe I started to feel a little daunted about the challenge. The description and recipe filled 6 pages and consisted of not one, not two, not even three separate compulsory components – there were four! Each of which was its own challenge in itself. We had to make:
1) Our own Savoiardi biscuits – more commonly known as Ladyfingers
2) A Zabaglione flavoured with Marsala Wine – another Italian classic
3) Vanilla pastry cream
4) Even our own Mascarpone cheese!

Despite feeling daunted, I could also feel a leap of excitement building inside of me. Here was a proper test-your-skills get-the-adrenalin-going challenge. I could see this recipe meant business and I was eager to conquer it.

The hosts chose pastry chef Carminantonio Iannaccone’s recipe for Tiramisu which is a little different from some other Tiramisu recipes as it includes a zabaglione that is also lightly cooked. This was good as it meant there was no risk to any DB members from using raw eggs. The recipe also required us to make a vanilla pastry cream to combine with the zabaglione and mascarpone to form the cream for the layers, much more decadent, and Italian, than using plain whipped cream.

We were also strictly banned from using sponge for our soaking layer, and had to make the authentic Savoiardi biscuits. These turned out to be much simpler than I expected and the results were incredibly light and airy. Completely different to the brittle shop bought biscuits I must admit I have used in the past. They were studded with airy holes which soaked up the boozy rum spiked coffee liquid they are dunked in.

The longest part was making the mascarpone as this requires chilling overnight, but once this was done I got all the other components made, baked, assembled, chilled and eaten in one day and had a whale of a time in the process. It was so much fun seeing each individual component coming together and then assembling them into the finished dessert. Tiramisu is usually made in a large square dish which is then cut into portions to serve. However, on the day I decided to make the tiramisu we were having guests to dinner, so instead I though it would be nice to make and present them in individual glasses which I think makes them look far more elegant like for a dinner party and allows the various layers to be seen through the sides of the glass. Plus it allowed me to get arty with some strips of card and the cocoa powder for decoration, making each one unique.

While making the different components I was quite surprised to find that most of them included a little lemon zest. This seemed an odd thing to add to a coffee dessert, but I went with it and hoped for the best. When I tasted the finish dessert I was pleased to find that I couldn’t detect an obvious lemon flavour but there was a fresh, vibrant flavour to the dish that I’m sure was thanks to the lemon, like when you add a little salt to baked goods to enhance the flavour. The Tiramisu also includes quite a lot of booze – Marsala wine in the Zabaglione and Rum in the coffee soaking liquid. I thought these might be a bit overpowering or fight with each other and the coffee for prominence but I needn’t have worried.

Eating a spoonful of the tiramisu certainly resulted in a bitter coffee boozy taste, but no one flavour overpowered the others, they all seemed to meld together into one heady rounded grown up flavour, with the fresh creamy mascarpone layer swooping in to sooth your taste buds in readiness for the next bite.

After dinner I couldn’t wait to taste my first mouthful and see if all the effort had been worthwhile. Tiramisu translates as ‘Pick Me Up’ in Italian and I have to say this Tiramisu didn’t just pick me up, it had me and my guests letting out sighs of enjoyment and grinning at each other in delight. It’s sublime – the best Tiramisu I have ever tasted. I feel no shame is stating this – it’s the recipe and individually flavoured components that made it so fantastically wonderful, I just followed the instructions and put them together. It’s boozy with a strong coffee hit, the layers of Savoiardi biscuits adding just a little resistance and lightness against the thick creamy indulgent mascarpone/zabaglione/pastry cream layer all finished with a dusting of bitter cocoa powder.

Yes it involved some work, but the results are definitely worth it. Next time you have a few free hours and want to make a show stopping dessert – do give this recipe a go – it’s utterly divine!

Click to see my fellow Daring Bakers and their Tiramisu’s.

Ultimate Tiramisu
Mascarpone Cheese – needs making the day before
(Vera’s Recipe for Homemade Mascarpone Cheese)
475ml pasteurized whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Method – Mascarpone Cheese
Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a wide pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the water is barely simmering. Pour the cream into a medium heat-resistant bowl, then place the bowl into the pan. Heat the cream, stirring often, until it reaches 90C. If you do not have a thermometer, wait until small bubbles keep trying to push up to the surface.
It will take about 15 minutes of delicate heating.
Add the lemon juice and continue heating the mixture, stirring gently, until the cream curdles. The whipping cream will become thicker, like a well-done crème anglaise. It will cover a back of your wooden spoon thickly. You will see just a few clear whey streaks when you stir. Remove the bowl from the water and let cool for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, line a sieve with four layers of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Transfer the mixture into the lined sieve. Do not squeeze the cheese in the cheesecloth or press on its surface (be patient, it will firm up after refrigeration time). Once cooled completely, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate (in the sieve) overnight or up to 24 hours.
Keep refrigerated and use within 3 to 4 days. This recipe makes around 350g of mascarpone cheese.

Note: The first time you make mascarpone you may not believe it will be cooked enough, because of its custard-like texture. However, have no fear, it firms up in the fridge yet remains lusciously creamy.

Ladyfingers/ Savoiardi Biscuits
(Recipe from Cordon Bleu At Home)
3 eggs, separated
75g caster sugar
85g plain flour
10g cornflour
50g icing sugar

Preheat your oven to 175C and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Beat the egg whites using a hand held electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gradually add the caster sugar and continue beating until the egg whites become stiff again, glossy and smooth.
In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks lightly with a fork and fold them into the meringue, using a wooden spoon. Sift the flour and cornflour over this mixture and fold gently until just mixed. It is important to fold very gently and not overdo the folding. Otherwise the batter would deflate and lose volume resulting in ladyfingers which are flat and not spongy.
Fit a pastry bag with a large plain tip and pipe the batter into 5inch/12cm long strips leaving about 1inch/3cm space in between each one.
Sprinkle half the icing sugar over the ladyfingers and wait for 5 minutes. The sugar will pearl or look wet and glisten. Now sprinkle the remaining sugar. This helps to give the ladyfingers their characteristic crispness.
Hold the parchment paper in place with your thumb and lift one side of the baking sheet and gently tap it on the work surface to remove excess sprinkled sugar.
Bake the ladyfingers for 10 minutes, then rotate the sheets and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the puff up, turn lightly golden brown and are still soft.
Allow them to cool slightly on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then remove the ladyfingers from the baking sheet with a metal spatula while still hot, and cool on a rack.
Store them in an airtight container until required.
This recipe makes approximately 24 large or 45 small ladyfingers.

Tiramisu Components
(Carminantonio's Tiramisu from The Washington Post, July 11 2007 )
2 large egg yolks
50g caster sugar
60ml Marsala wine
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp finely grated lemon zest

Vanilla Pastry Cream
55g caster sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
½ tsp finely grated lemon zest
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
175ml whole milk

Whipped Cream
235ml chilled double cream
½ tsp vanilla extract

To Assemble the Tiramisu
(I thought only 1teaspoon of rum was a little stingy so I used 420ml coffee and 50ml rum)
470ml brewed espresso, warmed
1 tsp rum
110g caster sugar
75g mascarpone cheese (recipe above – I used 125g)
36 savoiardi/ ladyfinger biscuits (recipe above)
Cocoa powder for dusting

Method - Zabaglione
Heat some water in a double boiler or place a pot with about an inch of water in it on the stove. Place a heat-proof bowl in the pot making sure the bottom does not touch the water.
In a large glass or metal mixing bowl mix together the egg yolks, sugar, Marsala, vanilla extract and lemon zest. Whisk together until the yolks are fully blended and the mixture looks smooth.
Transfer the mixture to the top of a double boiler and cook the mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, for about 8 minutes or until it resembles thick custard (mine took more like 12minutes).
Once thick, remove from the heat, transfer the mixture to a small bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

Method - Pastry Cream
Mix together the sugar, flour, lemon zest and vanilla extract in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the egg yolk and half the milk and whisk until smooth.
Now place the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from curdling.
Add the remaining milk a little at a time, still stirring constantly. After about 12 minutes the mixture will be thick, free of lumps and beginning to bubble.
Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

Method - Whipped Cream
Combine the cream and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric hand mixer until the mixture holds fairly stiff peaks. Set aside.

Method - To Assemble the Tiramisu
Mix together the warm espresso, rum and sugar in a shallow dish, set aside to cool slightly.
Once you have your marscapone, ladyfingers, pastry cream, zabaglione, whipped cream and coffee dipping liquid done you are ready to start assembling your tiramisu.
Have ready a rectangular serving dish about 8inches/20cm square ready to hand.
In a large bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese with a spoon to break down the lumps and make it smooth and easier to fold. Add the prepared and chilled zabaglione and pastry cream, mixing until just combined. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Set aside.
Now to start assembling the tiramisu.
Workings quickly, dip 12 of the ladyfingers in the sweetened espresso, about 1 second per side, no longer or else they will start to disolve and break up. They should be moist but not soggy. Immediately transfer each ladyfinger to the platter, placing them side by side in a single row. You may break a lady finger into two, if necessary, to ensure the base of your dish is completely covered. Drizzle over a little extra of the coffee rum mix.
Spoon one-third of the cream mixture on top of the ladyfingers, then use a rubber spatula or spreading knife to cover the top evenly, all the way to the edges.
Repeat to create 2 more layers, using around 12 ladyfingers and the cream mixture for each layer, ending with a final layer of cream. Cover the dish carefully with clingfilm and refrigerate the tiramisu for at least 4 hours or overnight.
To serve, sprinkle the tiramisu with cocoa powder dusted through a fine-mesh strainer. Cut into individual portions and serve.
Serves 6

Note: This recipe also works very well when divided between 6 individual serving glasses. Just layer them up as you would for a big one.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

The Cake Slice February 2010: Mississippi Mud Cake

This month we baked a Mississippi Mud Cake. Normally I think of mud cakes as being tall, dense, sticky cakes but this cake is quite different – a cross between rocky road and brownie. It consists of a chocolate pecan studded sponge, topped with mini marshmallows and drizzled with hot chocolate sauce. Rich, sticky and very indulgent!

This cake received mixed reviews in our group, people either seemed to love it or loathe it. Personally I was firmly in the ‘love it’ category. A lot of bakers complained it was far too sweet, I didn’t find this to be the case. It was still sweeter than your average cake, but not unpleasantly so. However, I didn’t use the mound marshmallows as part of the topping which probably reduced the sweetness level quite considerably. The reason I left out the marshmallows is that no one in my family are fond of them and I wanted people to eat the cake.

I think brownie is a better description for this baked treat than cake. I consider cake to be soft, fairly light and spongy but this recipe resulted in a single layered moist, rich and sticky chocolate gooey brownie square. It was scattered with chunky pecans which added a nice textural contrast, were utterly delicious and made it seem even more brownie like.

To really push this ‘cake’ over the edge the whole thing is drizzled in a gooey chocolate glaze that sets into a thin chocolaty sugary crust. Mmmm it was divine. Just look how moist and fudgy it was. I may even use this recipe next time I want a batch of brownies! I also halved the recipe and baked it in an 8inch tin, as the full recipe made quite a large amount. My advice would be forget the marshmallows and enjoy the rich chocolaty fudgy cakey-bronwieness YUM!

Mississippi Mud Cake (brownie)
(Recipe from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott)
For the Cake (brownie)
200g butter, cut into big chunks
55g cocoa powder
4 eggs, beaten well
1 tsp vanilla extract
450g caster sugar
180g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
115g chopped pecans or walnuts

Mississippi Mud Frosting
400g icing sugar
55g cocoa powder
100g butter, melted
110ml milk or evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g mini marshmallows or large marshmallows, quartered

Method – Cake (brownie)
Heat the oven to 180C. Grease and flour a 13x9 inch pan. In a medium saucepan combine the butter and cocoa powder and cook over medium heat, stirring now and then, until the butter is melted and the mixture is well blended, about 3 – 4 minutes. Stir in the beaten eggs, vanilla, sugar, flour, salt and pecans and beat until the batter is well combined and the flour has disappeared.
Quickly pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the cake springs back when touched gently in the centre and is beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan.
While the cake bakes, prepare the frosting so it is ready to pour over the hot cake.

Method – Mud Frosting
In a medium bowl combine the icing sugar and the cocoa powder and stir to mix well. Add the melted butter, milk and vanilla and beat everything together well. Set aside until the cake is done.

To Serve
Remove the cake from the oven, scatter the marshmallows over the top and then return the cake to the hot oven for about 3 minutes to soften the marshmallows.
Place the cake, still in the pan, on a wire rack. Pour the frosting all over the marshmallow dotted cake and eat straight away or allow to cool to room temperature. Cut the cake into squares and serve.

Note: The recipe also works well when halved and baked in an 8inch square tin.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Celebrating 3 years of Apple & Spice with an Overnight Apple Spice Cake

Today is my blogs 3rd birthday. I can’t quite believe it. Three years ago I was at university and sitting in an attic bedroom with my laptop, huddled under the sloping eves and deciding to make my first tentative steps into blogging. A lot has changed since then, both for me and my blog. I feel I have developed more as a cook, baker and general foodie, the world of blogging opening my eyes and imagination to new recipes, cooking techniques and flavours. So thank you to all my fellow bloggers, commenters and followers for your support and inspiration, you help make my day shine.

Every year on this date I always ensure I have an apple and spice themed dessert to celebrate my little blog. The 1st year was a delicious apple packed Spiced Apple Cake and last year some yummy Apple & Cinnamon Oat Crumbles. This year is no exception, and I present to you an overnight apple spice cake. It’s basically LOTS of apple layered with spiced sugar and slowly baked until soft, tender and bursting full of concentrated apple flavour. It couldn’t be more apple packed if you tried!

The dessert is baked in a very low oven overnight – 12 hours of gently baking to be precise, to allow the water from the fruit to evaporate and become more concentrated. The fruit softens and becomes more compact as it bakes. It’s not so much a cake, more of a layered compote. I saw this recipe on Desert Candy’s blog using orange zest and apples, but being a lover of spices I removed the orange and used a lovely warming blend of spices in its place. The result was heavenly.

I put the cake in the oven before I went to bed and in the morning I opened the kitchen door to be greeted by a cloud of intoxicating spiced apple aroma, filling the kitchen with its sweet fragrance. Just divine. Once baked, the cake is inverted while the apple juices that seeped out during baking are reduced and drizzled over the top as a sticky glaze.

Cutting a slice revealed the layers of apple and spices. You need to use firm apples that will survive a long cooking or else you’ll end up with mush. I was pleased to see mine stayed together well, whilst still becoming soft and tender. I enjoyed my first slice au natural, letting the full burst of intense apple flavour shine through but I think it would be wonderful served in a pool of custard too. Or, seeing as it’s also Pancake Day today, on top of some fluffy American style pancakes!

Overnight Apple Spice Cake
(Recipe adapted from Desert Candy blog)
2kg firm fleshed and quite tart apples (I used 1kg Breaburn & 1kg Granny Smith)
Juice of 1 lemon
150g caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cardamom

Line a 7-8inch/18-20cm deep springform tin with a layer of greaseproof paper.
Peel and core the apples using an apple corer, to allow the apple to remain whole. Alternatively, cut into quarters and remove the core this way.
Add the juice of the lemon to a large bowl of water. Finely slice the apples into 2mm thick rings and place them into the liquid to prevent them from turning brown while you slice the remaining apples.
Mix the spices into the sugar and stir together to mix.
Preheat the oven to 85C.
Drain the water from the apple slices and pat dry with a kitchen towel. Arrange a layer of apple rings into the base of the tin. Sprinkle over 2-3 tsp of the spiced sugar and cover with another layer of apple. Repeat the process of apple, sugar, apple…until both are used up.
Cut a disc of greaseproof paper the size of the tin and place on top of the layered apples and press down lightly.
Wrap the tin in a sheet of foil and place into a baking tray to catch any juices that escape during baking.
Place the tin in the oven for 12 hours (yes really!).
Once the 12 hours are up, remove the tin from the oven and carefully remove the foil. Do this over the baking tray as lots of juices will have collected in the base and you want to keep them.
Press down gently on the top of the apple cake to extract any remaining apple juices.
Invert the apple cake onto a plate and remove the greaseproof base.
Pour the apple juices into a small pan and bring to a simmer. Allow to bubble slowly for 10-12 minutes until reduced by half and syrupy.
Drizzle the apple syrup all over the upturned apple cake and serve.
Also tastes delicious cold and can be served with custard, cream, yogurt or simple on its own.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Chocolate Raspberry Buttermilk Cupcakes for Valentines Day

Valentines Day is nearly here and it provides the perfect excuse to start thinking of pink, cute and heart shaped sweet treats. I decided to bake some Valentines themed cupcakes to share around with my friends and family, as even though I am currently without that special someone, I see that as no reason not to enjoy the baking opportunity it provides.

As chocolate and Valentines Day seem to go hand and hand, I obviously settled on chocolate cupcakes but wanted to add a little something extra to make them a bit more special. After thinking of flavour pairings I decided to mix some raspberry jam into both the cake batter and the frosting. I’m sure some people will disagree, but in my opinion chocolate and raspberries are a wonderful flavour pairing, more so than chocolate and strawberries as I find the raspberry flavour more intense against the bitter chocolate.
I have recently been experimenting with replacing some of the butter in cake mixes with buttermilk. I have found it results in a slightly denser, more fudgy yet moister cake. You don’t always want fudgy cupcakes but for a chocolate Valentines themed cake it’s perfect. When topped with a swirl of pink raspberry buttercream and a scattering of cute teeny tiny heart sprinkles it is a sweet treat emulating love and romance. A combination of fudgy chocolate base with sweet and creamy frosting finished with a hint of fruitiness. Go ahead and bake some for your friends or loved ones and whatever you do this weekend for Valentines, I hope it’s a happy one.

Chocolate Raspberry Buttermilk Cupcakes for Valentines Day
Chocolate Raspberry Buttermilk Cupcakes

120g self raising flour
100g caster sugar
60g butter
80ml buttermilk
20g cocoa powder
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp raspberry jam

Raspberry Buttercream
130g butter
260g icing sugar
2 tbsp seedless raspberry jam
Pink food dye
Heart sprinkles to decorate

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a cupcake tray with 12 paper cases.
Your butter needs to be soft so either leave it out for a few hours or warm it gently in the microwave to soften.
Weigh out the flour, sugar, butter, baking powder and cocoa powder into a bowl. Add the eggs and beat until the mixture starts to form a thick batter. Add the jam and pour in the buttermilk. Whisk until smooth, creamy and slightly lighter in colour, about 1 minute.
Divide the batter equally between the paper cases and bake for 20-22 minutes until the cupcakes are risen and springy to the touch.
Allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the buttercream. Beat the butter until soft and creamy before sifting in half the icing sugar. Beat until all the sugar has been incorporated and then add the remaining half of the sugar.
Tint the buttercream a pale pink and beat in the seedless raspberry jam. If the mixture seems very stiff add milk, half a tablespoon at a time, until it becomes a soft spreadable consistency.
Once the cupcakes have cooled, pipe on the raspberry buttercream and decorate with heart shaped sugar sprinkles or other sprinkles of your choice.
Share, eat and enjoy with friends or loved ones.
Makes 12, easily doubled.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Pumpkin & Butternut Squash Soup

Soup is so warming and comforting at this time of year. I am especially fond of winter and root vegetable soups whose natural sweetness always cheer the soul on a cold day. So, when I was recently given a pumpkin as a present I knew instantly that it was time to make some soup.

Pumpkins and squashes are quite unique in that despite them being tough and often frustratingly hard when raw, once cooked they transform into soft and tender flesh that almost seems to melt like butter, adding a lovely creaminess to soups. For this soup I decided to go all out for silkiness and combined pumpkin and butternut squash together.

The resulting soup was heavenly. I think it may in fact be my favourite soup to date. Thick, and so velvety smooth that a spoonful seemed to caress the back of my throat, flooding my senses with a deep earthy sweetness. This soup just made me smile and sigh with contentment as it warmed me from the inside.

There is something so comforting about its beautiful orange amber colour, watching the floating spirals of steam drifting up from the bowl and breathing in its creamy earthy aroma. It’s hard to believe that something so simple can taste so good. All that’s required is some bread for dipping and you’re good to go. This is truly a soup for the soul.

Apparently it’s also National Homemade Soup day! Souper!

Pumpkin & Butternut Squash Soup

1kg pumpkin – I find the small ones with the deep orange flesh are best (e.g. Ambercup, Onion or Kabocha varieties)
1kg butternut squash
1 large onion
1 baking potato
2 small or 1 large garlic cloves
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp thyme
2 pints water
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper

Peel and roughly chop and onion, potato and garlic. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the prepared veg. Give it a stir and then put the lid on and leave it for 10-15 minutes to soften and sweat. If they catch slightly on the base of the pan don’t worry, this will only add to its depth of flavour.
Meanwhile, carefully slice the skin off the pumpkin and squash. Cut in half, scrape out the seeds and fiberous membrane from the middle and chop into rough chunks. (If you find them too hard to cut, cook in the microwave for 4 minutes to soften the skin to make peeling and slicing easier).
Add the pumpkin and squash to the pan along with the herbs and season with salt and pepper.
Boil the kettle and pour over 2 pints of water. Bring the mix to the boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover with the lid and leave to cook for 45 minutes.
Check the vegetables with the tip of a knife to make sure they are fully cooked. When ready, blitz the soup until smooth using a liquidiser or hand held blender.
Serve in warmed bowls with bread for dipping.
Serves 6

Monday, 1 February 2010

Apricot & Hazelnut Cake with Caramel Meringue Frosting

It was my mums birthday last week and naturally birthdays always mean a special cake. This year I wanted to deviate away from the traditional sponge and try something a bit different. My mum is a lover of baked goods with nuts, so I decided on making a hazelnut cake by substituting some ground hazelnuts for some of the flour. Nuts can sometimes result in dense cakes, so after a little hunting I chose to bake a butterless whisked cake that relies on separating the eggs and whisking the whites to add lightness.

I was a little worried the nuts would make the layers too heavy and they wouldn’t rise properly, but they puffed up beautifully and were very flat and even. The toasting hazelnut aroma as the cake baked was wonderful. When hot the cakes were quite delicate so it’s best to let them cool in the tins, but once cooled they are quite easy to handle. On tasting the cake the ground nuts were quite apparent, adding a great flavour and nobly nutty texture which was a hit with my mum – less so with my dad but he doesn’t like cake with ‘little bits in.’

As the cake was very light it seemed pointless to choose a rich buttercream or whipped cream filling to accompany it. Instead I hit upon the idea of making a caramel meringue by beating hot caramel over egg whites to create a very light and airy frosting. This worked well and created pillowy soft mounds of meringue which literally dissolved in tiny bubbles on your tongue.

Apricots and hazelnuts complement each other well so I sandwiched the cake together with some apricot conserve and sliced apricots. Over time the juice from the fruit dissolved a little of the meringue frosting, creating a delicious syrup that seeped into the cake layers making them incredibly moist. It’s the sort of cake you could easily serve as a dessert but it also made a delicious birthday cake. If you don’t want to go the fruity route I bet it would taste delicious with some sort of chocolate filling too.

Apricot & Hazelnut Cake with Caramel Meringue Frosting
Hazelnut Cake
100g skinned hazelnuts
75g self raising flour
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp baking powder

Apricot Filling & Caramel Meringue
100g apricot jam or conserve
8 fresh or tinned apricots
3 egg whites
150g caster sugar
100ml water

Method – Hazelnut Cake
Preheat the oven to 175C. Grease and line two 8inch/20cm cake tins and set to one side.
Place the hazelnuts and flour into a food processor and blitz until you have a nutty flour with a few tiny chunks of nut remaining.
Separate the yolks and whites of the eggs into two bowls. Add the caster sugar to the egg yolks and beat until thick, pale and creamy, about 3 minutes.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold a third of the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mix to slacken it. Then add the rest of the egg whites and fold in gently.
Scatter the nutty flour and baking powder over the surface of the batter and fold in gently until no streaks remain.
Divide the batter between the two cake tins and bake for 20 minutes until golden in colour and springy to the touch.
Allow the cakes to cool in the tins before running a knife around the edge and inverting them out onto a plate.

For the Caramel Meringue
Place the water and caster sugar together in a small pan. Heat gently, stirring often, until the sugar has dissolved. Then allow the liquid to bubble and take on a light golden caramel colour. You don’t want it too dark.
Meanwhile whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Once the caramel is ready, slowly drizzle it over the egg whites while still whisking. The egg whites should take on a thick glossy look and turn amber in colour. Continue to beat for 3-4 minutes once the syrup has been used up.
Use to sandwich and frost the cake immediately.

To Assemble
Spread a generous layer of a good quality apricot jam or converse over one of the cake layers. Cut the apricots into segments and arrange over the top of the jam, reserving a few for decoration on top.
Spoon half of the caramel meringue over the top of the jam and fruit and spread gently to the edges.
Top with the remaining cake layer. Use the remaining half of the meringue to cover the top of the cake and decorate with the reserved apricot slices.
Serve straight away. Best eaten on day of baking as if left, the meringue starts to break down due to the moistness of the fruit in the cake.
Eat within 2 days. Serves 8-10