River Cottage Cakes Handbook
About Me: In the eighth of the River Cottage Handbook series, Pam Corbin offers an appealing guide to baking perfect cakes. With the reassuring voice of experience, Pam sets out basic techniques and recipes that will guarantee success.
My garden is crowded with herbs and in early summer, when they are abundant and most fragrant, I instil their uplifting essence into my baking whenever I can. Often these self-effacing plants shy away from attention by producing insignificant flowers. But crush their shapely leaves and they release the most exquisite of perfumes. A few sprigs of an intensely aromatic herb can absolutely transform an otherwise simple cake. Lightly infuse the herb in water and the resulting liquor can be added to drizzles, icings and – in the case of this recipe – the cake itself.
These little Easter cakes are inspired by Kerri Spong, an outstanding cake-maker from Axminster who supplies the River Cottage Canteen and stores with them at Easter. They make a lovely change from the classic marzipan-topped Simnel cake, and they’re quick to bake, fun to decorate and scrumptious to eat. You can use ready-mixed dried fruit or mix up a medley of your choice. Don’t just make these little sweet treats for Easter; they adapt brilliantly to other festive occasions. And of course you can soak the fruit in something a little stronger than orange juice if you like!
This cake is a nod to the pagan ritual of burning a Yule log at the winter solstice, a ceremony intended to drive away the short dark days of winter. The tradition of making a chocolate log for the festive season originates from the practice. I can assure you I’m not in the habit of burning hedgehogs but, for fun, I have traded in the customary Yule log for this bright-eyed chocolatey ‘Hedgelog’.
This recipe makes for a jolly good rich fruit cake. Ideal as a classic Christmas cake, it can also be used to make a traditional Simnel cake or a superb wedding cake. The list of ingredients is not set in stone. For instance, if you don’t care for glacé cherries, you can replace them with dried cranberries. Dried pears can be swapped for dried apricots or dried pineapple and if, for some reason, you prefer a boozefree cake, you can use fresh orange or apple juice instead of liqueur. Don’t fret if you haven’t managed to make the cake ahead of time either – it’s still lovely when freshly baked. More recipes can be found in the River Cottage Cakes Handbook http://astore.amazon.co.uk/rivecott-21/detail/1408808595
For me, one of the highlights in the lead-up to Christmas is a happy few hours spent at my friend Henriette’s house, making biscuits for the festive season. It’s an afternoon of free choice, when tree-shaped biscuits sometimes turn pink and sugared sheep can end up with multi-coloured fleeces. This is the recipe I always use – it produces lovely, crunchy, warmly spiced biscuits. They are by no means exclusively for Christmas, by the way. You can use the recipe to make ‘run, run, as fast as you can’ gingerbread men too. More great recipes available from Pam 'the jams' River Cottage Cakes Handbook available here> http://astore.amazon.co.uk/rivecott-21/detail/1408808595
The old Irish custom of making vegetable lanterns to ward off evil spirits has long been associated with Hallowe’en. Irish immigrants in America found pumpkins much easier to carve than the turnips and swedes of their homeland, and so the pumpkin lantern has become an enduring symbol of modern-day Hallowe’en. The carved-out pumpkin flesh is often used to make soup or sweet pies. This cake is another alternative: sweetly perfumed, light and crispy in texture, it’s a wicked way to make sure nothing goes to waste.
Available for only a few weeks of the year, delicious homegrown cherries are highly seasonal. What’s more, these summer gems are as coveted by the blackbirds as they are by us. Anyone lucky enough to have a cropping cherry tree will have to pit themselves against these feathered foragers in order to gather in a harvest. Otherwise you’ll need to keep a sharp eye out for them in farm shops, markets or your local greengrocer’s. Bringing home even a small bag of these lovely cherries is worthwhile, though, as this gorgeous pudding cake from Hugh F-W shows. The crumbly, nutty streusel topping is a crunchy delight.
This well-loved recipe comes from Gill Meller, head chef at River Cottage, and it is frequently served to guests at Park Farm. One of the lovely things about this cake is that the taste will vary depending on the honey you choose. Try, if you can, to use a local honey. Not only will this be uniquely flavoured by the flowers and blossoms of your region, it’s better for the environment too – bee miles, unlike other air miles, don’t count towards your carbon footprint.
These fab (and fatless) relatives of the fairy cake are a brilliant way to use up surplus produce from the veg patch. They are also perfect for enticing young reluctant veg eaters. Camouflaged in a sweet cake mix, you’ll find grated pumpkin, parsnips, carrots and courgettes disappear without a murmur of dissent...