Pain d'Epices au Miel - Honey Gingerbread.

I was inspired by a recent post on the excellent Strong as Soup blog          http://asstrongassoup.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/black-sticky-gingerbread-random-recipe.html  to look for a recipe my neighbour gave me for a gingerbread made with honey. This is a very different gingerbread from the dark moist one on Phil's blog.
The method is unusual in that you put the dry ingredients into a bowl, then heat the honey and pour it over.
It's got a good spicy flavour and as Phil said in his post, gingerbread is great for taking on an Autumn walk, or with your afternoon cuppa, or even as a dessert with some custard.
The original French recipe used 'quatre epices' but I don't think there's much difference between that and our mixed spice, and I found some ground aniseed in a local deli, but you could leave it out if you don't like it.

250g runny honey
250g plain flour
100g caster sugar
1 tspn baking powder
1 tbspn vanilla sugar
1 tspn ground aniseed
1 tspn grated nutmeg
1 tspn cinnamon
1 tspn ginger
1 tspn mixed spice
2 eggs
10cl of warm milk

Preheat oven.160C/gas3

Put the flour, baking powder,sugars and spices in a bowl.
Heat the honey in a microwave or in a saucepan then pour the hot honey over the flour mixture.
Mix together with a wooden spoon then add the eggs a little at a time, then the warm milk and mix together.
Grease and flour a 900g loaf tin then pour the mixture in and bake for 1 to 1hr 15mins till golden.
Leave to cool in the tin and wait 24 hours before eating.

This cake keeps well, up to a week, if you wrap it in foil, so a useful standby for Christmas. Maybe a little cinnamon or ginger icing would make it look more festive? But with this cake, it's all about the flavour - spicy with a lovely honey flavour too.


Spicy Christmas Trees

We have a houseful for Christmas this year, including 2 lovely people from Poland, so thought I'd try out a few family biscuit recipes from the French friend I mentioned recently. The first one is spiced Christmas trees.
G's paternal family live in Alsace, so she's grown up with the lovely spicy biscuits and bakes they make at Christmas. I'm going to try out a few and have my grandsons help me, and then they can choose their favourites [as they're going to be here for Christmas anyway].
My daughter and dog came up for the weekend, so we roped her into helping us. She loves decorating cakes and biscuits, so she helped the boys with their trees, and the photo is of her creations. The boys didn't want their efforts put on here, so they ate them!
I expect every family in Alsace has their own recipe for Christmas biscuits, but this is the translated Ruff family one, but the decoration is the boys' idea - they wanted garlands on the trees and baubles!

100g butter at room temperature
85g soft brown sugar
250g plain flour
125g honey [I used some local honey, not the runny sort]
1 tbspn rum [opt]
1 tspn lemon zest
1 tspn baking powder
1 tspn ginger
1 tspn cinnamon
2 pinches of salt
To decorate - icing sugar and silver balls.

Preheat oven 180C/gas4        Grease and flour a baking sheet.

 Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the honey, lemon zest and rum.
Beat well together.
Add the spices, baking powder and salt to the flour, then mix gently into the batter to get a nice dough.
Make into a ball and cover in clingfilm and put in the fridge for 2-4 hrs.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface as thinly as possible. Use a Christmas tree cutter to cut out shapes and put onto the baking tray.
Bake for 8-10 mins till lightly golden and cool on a wire rack.
Make up some thickish glace icing then pipe garlands on the cooled trees. Decorate with the silver balls to look like baubles.

 You could cut the biscuits out with any Christmas cutters and decorate them as you like. It's a good basic spiced biscuit to have in your repertoire.


Crumbly Plum Cake

We love plums, but despite this being a bumper year for fruit, I've only managed to find 3 lots of British plums. Victoria's are my favourite and I wish we had the room for a tree in our small garden.
I succumbed to a BOGOF offer in the supermarket and bought some Italian plums. I decided to make a cake, one with a crumbly topping and use them as a layer in the cake. The idea for the recipe came from this recipe on the Good Food site, but I used bits from several recipes in my folder to make the final cake.

If the plums aren't very ripe, I like to roast them first to add to their flavour.

Put 450g of plums cut side up in a tin, sprinkle with 2 tsbps of granulated sugar and bake them in oven 180C/gas4 for about 20 mins till they've become soft. Take out, but leave the oven on.

You need a 20cm springform tin lined with baking paper.

It's an all in one cake, so put 175g soft brown sugar. 175g butter or margarine, 175g sr flour, 2 eggs, 1/2 tspn baking powder and 1 tspn vanilla extract in a bowl and beat together till nice and creamy.
Pour the batter into the tin, then put the plums in a layer on top and pour in the juice [shouldn't be much].

Make the topping by melting 50g butter, then take it off the hob and add 50g flour, 1 tspn cinnamon, 25g oats and 25g flaked almonds. Stir them together, then sprinkle over to cover the plums.
Bake 180C/gas4 for about an hour or so till the top is nice and golden.

The idea was a crumble topped cake, but when the cake was cooked, a lot of the topping had sunk down into the cake, and the cake itself had a flapjack type of taste with a nice chewy top. You could use apples, or any fruit of choice instead of the plums. A good versatile recipe for a dessert or a cake for tea.


Pear and Almond Cake

My friend gave me some pears from her tree, so I had to use the ripe ones quickly. Pears are one of my favourite fruit, but there seems to be such a short time between being unripe, ripe and too ripe.
Another flavour we love is almond, and pear and almond go well together.
When living in France I went on several cookery courses, and the lady who ran them became a friend. Her recipes were family ones, and she's kindly let me use any of her recipes on my blog. This is one of them.
It always impresses guests because it looks like something you'd buy in a patisserie [at least I hope mine does too!], but is easy to make. I've used British cake tins and temperatures and translated her recipe.

Grease and line a 20cm springform tin and preheat oven 180C/gas4

Cream together 175g butter and 175g caster sugar and 1 tspn vanilla extract till nice and fluffy, then beat in 3 eggs. In a bowl add 175g sr flour, 50g ground almonds and 1/2 tspn baking powder. Mix together then add to the batter.
Peel and core a large ripe pear [about 300g unpeeled], then thinly slice a quarter and chop the rest up finely.
Fold the chopped pear into the cake mixture with about 2 tbspns of milk to make a nice dropping batter.
Spoon the mixture into the tin and arrange the pear slices on top, pressing them down gently so that they lie in the batter but you can still see them.
Bake for 1-1/4hrs till golden. Brush the top with a tbspn of apricot conserve or jam which has been warmed, then leave the cake to cool in the tin.

It's a good mix of textures, the almond flavoured sponge and then the softness of the pear chunks. We ate ours as a dessert with some creme fraiche, but it would be equally good with a cuppa.


Nutmeg Cake

This is a very plain looking cake, but it's full of flavour. It comes from Indonesia and has been influenced by the spice traders who passed through during the centuries. I love spices, but haven't made a cake with nutmeg before - the odd grated bit in a cake, but this one has 2 tspns of it.
It's made by the rubbing-in method and a half the crumbs are put into the base of the cake tin then covered with the rest of the crumbs which has been mixed into a batter mixture.
The recipe has been adapted from one I found in 'Bake Your Cake', a book I borrowed from the library a while ago. It's by an Australian author, but I forgot to write down her name!

250g plain flour
250g brown sugar
1 tbspn mixed spice
2 tspns baking powder
130g butter
1 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1 egg
2 tspns nutmeg
150ml milk
2 tbspns caster sugar

Preheat oven 180C/gas4
Grease the sides of a 20cm spring form tin then line the bottom with baking paper.

Mix the flour, brown sugar, mixed spice and baking powder together in a bowl, then rub in the butter till it’s like breadcrumbs.
Spoon half of this into the tin.
Whisk the egg, bicarb and nutmeg into the milk and add into the rest of the cake mix. Stir well to mix.
Pour this over the mixture in the tin and sprinkle the caster sugar on top.
Bake for about an hour till golden and nice and springy.
Cool in the tin for 5 mins then turn onto a wire rack.
That’s it! Enjoy!

iI has a crumbly texture and a lovely spicy flavour. It's also good as a dessert served warm with some cream.


Raisin, Pecan and Banana Upside Down Cake

Haven't been well lately, so no baking.
Had some family coming today so thought I'd better make and effort and make this cake. It's one I've made many times, using many different toppings, but as I had a lot of uneaten bananas thought I'd use them for a change. It's quite a big cake, made in a 26cm tin ,and served warm, makes a great dessert.
The original recipe was in a French magazine I bought when we lived there, but it's been adapted so many times that I'm going to claim it as mine!
If you like upside down cakes, this is one with a difference.

You make the topping first.
Melt 80g of butter in a heavy pan then sprinkle over 200g caster sugar and 100g brown sugar; add the juice of a lemon and 2 tbspns of boiling water. Bring this to the boil then simmer for 10 mins till a golden colour and like caramel.
Then slice 5 small ripe bananas into thick slices and add these to the pan with 100g pecans and 100g raisins. Cook for 3 mins over a high heat so that everything's coated in caramel. Spoon this into a 26cm springform tin which has been lined with parchment.
Preheat oven 180C/gas4
Beat 250g butter and 250g soft brown sugar together till creamy, then add 4 eggs. Add 250ml buttermilk or sour cream and mix together.
In another bowl sift 380g sr flour with 1/1/2 tspns baking powder, 2 tspns cinnamon and 2 tspns ginger, then add this to the batter. Mix together gently.
Pour over the nut mixture and bake for 75 mins till nice and springy.
Leave to cool in the tin for 5 mins, then place a plate on top of the tin and turn it over. Take off the sides, then the base and the paper. You should have an upside down cake!

Sorry, it's not a very clear photo, but the cake has gone so I can't take another one!

You can vary the topping to other nuts and fruit, or use different spices in the cake. It's got a good spicy flavour and a lovely contrast between the cake and topping. The bananas were a good addition and the caramel gave them a new dimension. As I said earlier, it's a great dessert with some cream or creme fraiche or even ice cream.


Hazelnut and Almond Gateau

Because we're now just 2 of us most of the time, I've decided not to join in any more challenges. I felt I was baking just for the challenges, and then we had to eat it. I know challenges are meant to do just that, but unless it's something that will fit in with us, I'm not going to join in.
So there will only be 'fancy' cakes as my Mum would say, when we have the children or visitors. But looking through my cookery books and great files of recipes, there are many simpler cakes I've never baked which we'd enjoy, so that's a challenge!
This cake came about because I found a packet of ground hazelnuts in my baking cupboard, and they needed using up. I've made this recipe before just using ground almonds, and replacing these with half ground hazelnuts worked fine; it made a slightly nutty cake. The filling is not the usual one for this recipe;T It's a bit extravagant, but delicious.
It's such an easy recipe to do, and takes very little time to make. The filling is the longest part, and this could be changed to a simple chocolate butter cream or even Nutella!

Grease 2x18cm sandwich tins and lines them. Preheat oven 190C/gas5.

Whisk 4 eggs with 100g caster sugar till white and creamy. Fold in 50g ground hazelnuts and 50g ground almonds. Then fold in 50g plain flour. That's it - just spoon it into the tins, scatter 50g flaked almonds over the top and bake for 15-20 mins till nice and springy. Cool on a wire rack.

Filling:   Melt 100g dark chocolate, take off the heat and add 15g chopped up butter. Leave it to slightly cool.
Whip 300ml double cream till just holding its shape, then fold it into the chocolate mixture.Stir gently till mixed.
Put the cake without almonds on a plate and spread over the filling; put the other cake on top and chill for about and hour to let the filling set. Eat!

A nice light sponge with a nutty texture. There's a lot of filling, so maybe half the amount would be sufficient.
Nice contrast between the cake and the filling and the crunchy almond topping.

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