Cheddar, Apple and Walnut Loaf

Before we go any further, I need to stress that this is not a loaf in the traditional meaning of the word. Rather, it falls under the French definition of the word ‘cake’ (in English), that is a savoury one. Indeed, weirdly enough, a ‘cake’ in French is a sponge-based loaf or round concoction where traditionally sweet ingredients are paired up with savoury ones, such as cheese and meat. I don’t need to remind you, I hope, that apples, prunes, figs, pears and apricots go really well with cheese, especially if we are talking about goat’s cheese or a strong and mature cheddar. The possibilities are endless, but I have to say the sweetness of the fruit complements very well the tang and/or creaminess of the salty cheese.

This creation is the result of a very quiet day work-wise. Not that I am a full-time baker, I’ll have you know, and I currently juggle an academic with a freelance career. Yes, I like to keep my hands busy. Anyway, there are days when my work schedule allows me to spend more time in the kitchen and this is the result. I have slightly adapted a recipe from one of the GBBO’s books by changing some quantities and swapping some ingredients. The result is a very dry loaf which you can serve with jam or as an accompaniment to a crunchy salad.

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Ingredients

  • 50g walnut halves
  • 170g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 125g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
  • 50g rolled oats
  • 125g extra mature Cheddar cheese, grated + 25g extra to sprinkle on top
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and cut into small pieces
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • a splash of milk

Method

  1. To make this loaf cake you will need a 450g loaf tin, greased and lined with baking parchment. I have a silicon one which, needless to say, you don’t need to line and/or grease. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Spread the walnut halves onto a baking tray and roast for 8 minutes, until they turn a light golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the side. Leave the oven on.
  3. Combine the flour, raising agents and salt in a large bowl, then tumble in the butter cubes and and rub them in until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Add the rolled oats, grated cheese and apple pieces. When the walnut halves have cooled down, roughly chop them and add them to the mixture.
  4. In a bowl, lightly whisk the eggs together to combine, then pour them into the bowl with the rest of the mixture. Add the milk, then use a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon to combine. The mixture should be very stiff and hard, which will give you a beautifully crumbly texture afterwards.
  5. Transfer the mixture to the prepared (or not) tin, level the top, then sprinkle the extra cheese and bake for 45-50 minutes. Check with a skewer that the cake has cooked completely before removing from the oven.
  6. Allow to cool completely before attempting to slice it. It will keep for 2 days wrapped in cling film or foil. Enjoy!

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Caribbean Layer Cake

It’s that period of the year when the days have become increasingly shorter (it gets dark by 15:00) and the nights seem to be endless. Winter has arrived and the temperatures have now dropped quite quickly. So quickly, in fact, that I still can’t believe I need to wear my winter coat when I go out and I insist on wearing my trusted leather jacket. Sooner or later, I will have to give up. Either the jacket or my hands. Leeds has now undergone a substantial transformation, mostly dictated by the fact the city has gone Christmas-y (yes, already), the lights have been switched on and the (non)traditional Christmas Market is now proudly erect on Millennium Square. Go at your peril.

For those of you who don’t quite want the summer to end, this is the perfect recipe. The Caribbean twist of the cake is provided by the pineapple jam, the lime juice and the coconut, which permeates the cakes and is also present, albeit in spirit form, in the butter cream. The recipe is Jo Wheatley’s – she was the first ever winner of the Great British Bake Off and is a true talent in the kitchen. The quantities have been amended to create 3 x 20cm sponges. You don’t have to be super retro to serve this, although you could add cocktail umbrellas to each slice, if you don’t think it’s a bit over the top.

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Ingredients (for the sponges)

  • 337g unsalted butter, softened
  • 337g golden caster sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 330g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • splash of milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract or paste

Ingredients (for the butter cream and the filling)

  • 50g desiccated coconut, toasted in a pan, then cooled
  • 5 tbsp pineapple jam
  • juice 1 lime
  • 400g icing sugar
  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 tbsp Malibu (coconut liqueur)

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line 3 x 20cm sandwich tins with baking parchment.
  2. If you are using a freestanding mixer, cream the butter and the sugar in the bowl using the paddle attachment. Alternatively, a hand-held mixer or a bowl and wooden spoon would do just fine. Add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla, beating well after each addition and occasionally scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  3. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and approximately 20g of the toasted coconut. Add to the batter mixture and fold it in very carefully using a rubber spatula, then add the milk and divide the mixture among the three tins. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until well risen and golden. A skewer inserted in the middle of the cakes should come out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
  4. To make the icing, pour the Malibu into a small saucepan, the bring to the boil and reduce down to 2 tbsp. Set aside to cool slightly.
  5. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, combine the butter and the icing sugar and mix together with the paddle attachment until thoroughly combined. I usually add the sugar in two batches and cover the whole mixer with a tea towel to avoid turning my kitchen into a complete mess. Beat on high speed until light and fluffy, then pour in the hot liqueur with the paddle on low speed and beat well until combined and glossy.
  6. Once your sponges have cooled down completely, mix the pineapple jam with the lime juice in a bowl. To assemble the cake, position the first sponge upside down on a cake platter/base, then cover with half of the jam and sprinkle over some of the desiccated coconut. Top with about 1/3 of the butter cream, then cover with the second sponge and repeat using the remaining pineapple jam. Top the last layer with the remaining butter cream and sprinkle with the remaining toasted coconut. Enjoy!

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Chicken with Red Peppers, Chorizo and Chilli

Not being a big carnivore myself, when I plan my weekly meals (yes, that’s correct) I always try to include some vegetarian or meat-free dishes. In addition to ensuring I am not contributing to the overdepletion of our meat resources worldwide, I thoroughly enjoy cooking and baking with vegetables. This recipe, however, pays homage to my more meat-eating nature and is a very easy and fuss-free alternative to a steak and/or to pasta bake. Basically, all of the ingredients are roasted together in the same tin and you simply add a flavoursome marinade to the chicken once it’s completely cooked. How easier could it get?

Needless to say, you really should go for corn-fed or free range chicken. I honestly don’t even see the point in buying the battery farmed variety. By doing so you are fostering a very cruel and money-driven practice which bears no respect to the animals and simply rears them to produce more and more meat. Also, from a cooking point of view, the meat of battery farmed chicken is full of chemicals to make it bigger and juicier, but lacks in flavour and taste. Therefore, next time you see those massive whole chicken on offer at the supermarket for only £4 (or less) ask yourself, is this really worth it?

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Ingredients (for the roast)

  • 4 red peppers
  • 350g cooking chorizo (the sausages, not the sliced salami)
  • 1.5kg free range chicken, giblets removed
  • 400ml white wine
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Ingredients (for the sauce)

  • 2 large shallots, finely diced
  • 1 large bunch of parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 red + 1 green chilli, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 bunch fresh chives, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp sherry
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juice
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Deseed the peppers and cut them lengthways into 8 strips. Cut the chorizo into 1cm slices. Place the peppers and the chorizo in a large casserole dish or roasting tin, then put the chicken on top. Pour the wine over, then drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid or foil and roast in the hot oven for 1 hour.
  3. Remove the lid or the foil tent and roast for another 30 minutes.
  4. To make the sauce, combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, mix well, then season with salt and pepper.
  5. Check the chicken is cooked by pricking the leg joint. The juices should run clear. Allow to rest for a good 5 minutes, then pour the sauce ingredients over the chicken while it is in the casserole/tin and serve it immediately. Enjoy!

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