Sunday, 17 June 2012

Yet More Cake...


Well, I was asked for my own coffee cake recipe, so here goes....

First of all, let me start by saying that my love of baking comes from my mother. She was a “home cook”, but very good. Pavlova was her speciality dessert (I’m sure I’ll blog it before too long!) but she baked daily – brown bread, tarts, cakes, buns, crumbles, not to mind all the cooking of dinners and the like. However, by the time my own interest in baking was sparked, I was living in London … it’s hard to get a lesson on baking brown bread or pastry- making over the phone! When I was home, she’d take me through her bread making process and I started from there.

Unfortunately, just at the time I was moving back to Ireland, my lovely Mum died an untimely death at just 61 years of age. That’s 10 years ago this September, and it is still bringing tears to my eyes.

Anyhow, of all my mother’s cakes, buns, tarts and desserts, my own favourite was always her coffee cake. After cracking buns, I thought I’d give cake a whirl. To say it didn’t go well is an understatement! Actually, the first cake I made turned out fine, but everyone after that was terrible – undercooked and flat as a pancake. They’d look great as you took them out of the oven, but as they cooled they would deflate and flatten into two, thin, inedible discs.

So I turned to the cook I should have consulted in the first place (in the absence of my own mother, of course). Why didn’t I think of it sooner – Delia Smith! I really must say to anyone who is wary of baking or cooking, really do consult Delia; if you follow her instructions to the letter, you cannot fail. She tells you what size pan to use, explains all the terms, shows you how much eggs need to be whisked to be soft or stiff peaks, tells you how to line a tin – all the things your mum would’ve shown you, if only she was there. If you want something very advanced and flash, then perhaps there are other cooks to go to, but for the basics, for the absolute “how to”, Delia rocks. And her website is brilliant, all the “how to” bits are included (even how to cook toast – do ignore this, obviously that’s a step too far!).

"Irel" chicory & coffee essence
In the first of Delia’s “How To Cook” series is a recipe for an Austrian coffee cake. I read the recipe and realised that I didn’t really want to make that cake, it was not the coffee cake of my childhood. However, I could see that basic cake recipe was totally straight forward, so I used that (it’s just the regular, all-in-one sponge cake) and added an ingredient I remember my mother used to flavour her coffee cake – “IREL”, a sweetened chicory and coffee essence, used in the 1950s and 60s to make coffee when it wasn’t readily available in the west of Ireland. I think the UK product “Camp” is similar. You should be able to buy it from the baking aisle of your local supermarket.

Anyhow, it’s great. It gives the coffee cake a lovely sort of a butterscotch flavour. If you want a “true” coffee cake, by all means follow the recipes that use lots of real coffee (although having tried a few, I have to say that a good quality instant coffee gives the best results, made very strong – one part coffee to one part boiling water) but for something a little different, a little softer, give the “Irel” a go.

A couple of quick remarks before we get started – it is vitally important in baking to have the ingredients at room temperature before you start. Consequently, I never store my eggs in the fridge, and the butter needs to be taken out ideally the night before. If, like me, you always forget (or decide to bake at the last minute), then the best thing to do is to weigh out the butter, chop it into small cubes and leave somewhere warm – for me, this is the windowsill above the radiator, it usually softens then quickly enough. It needs to be soft enough that a regular kitchen knife would push down through it with ease (Delia's website has pictures). Don’t be tempted to stick in the microwave, this just melts it. Also, the oven must be pre-heated and the tins must be the right size. For this recipe, two 8 inch (20cm) round sandwich tins are required, lightly greased and the bases lined with parchment paper (the type that has been treated with silicone).

Sarah’s Coffee Cake (with a big nod to Delia Smith)



For the cake
A well annotated cook book
·         6oz (75g) self raising flour
·         6oz (75g) softened butter
·         6oz (75g) caster sugar
·         3 large eggs
·         1½ teaspoons baking powder
·         1 dessertspoon Irel
·         1 tablespoon milk (optional)
·         40g chopped walnuts (optional)

For the butter icing
·         150g softened butter
·         300g icing sugar
·         2 dessertspoons Irel
·         20g chopped walnuts & some walnut halves, to decorate

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C / gas mark 3



1.     Firstly, cream together the flour, butter, sugar, eggs and baking powder – if the butter is nice and soft, all you do is go in with an electric hand whisk / beater and beat them all together for about one minute, then beat in the Irel
2.     The mixture should now be at a nice “dropping consistency”, that is it should drop off the spoon when given a sharp tap on the edge of the bowl. If you at all concerned, add a tablespoon of milk
3.     Fold in the walnut pieces (if using), or you could use pecan nuts either
4.     Spoon the mixture into the prepared tins and pop in the oven and bake for 30 minutes – DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN! 
5.     After 30 minutes, check the cakes – I find the easiest method is literally to touch the top of the cake, is should be nice and springy to the touch; if it seems a bit too wobbly, pop it back in for another few minutes and make a note for the next time (see my very abused cookery book, above). Alternatively, a skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean (huh?! This confuses me! How clean is clean?!)
6.     Leave them in the tin on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then remove and leave to cool fully, while you get on with the icing
7.     Beat the butter til creamy, then beat in the icing sugar (you might find that 250g icing sugar is enough, as it really is tooth-meltingly sweet)
8.     Add the Irel and beat again
9.     Assemble the cakes – you might need to cut a bit off to make them nice and flat. Place one cake on a pretty plate and  spread with plenty of icing. Place the other cake on top, spread with even more icing (you might have some leftover, don’t worry it stores perfectly for weeks in the fridge, just warm it up to room temperature and maybe beat it before using again), and decorate with walnut halves and chopped nuts (if using)
Here's the finished cake, without walnuts

Sarah xx

PS - I really should have put that cake on a nice plate for the photo, shouldn't I? Lesson duly noted and learned...

1 comment:

  1. Lovely, lovely post and story. I love a recipe with a story, and that's just...lovely! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete