The Musette: lemon and poppy seed cake

This is an extremely moreish cake. You have been warned. I make this, cut it into squares and freeze it, otherwise it’s all too easy to keep dipping one’s hand into the cake tin for yet another piece. A moment on the lips and a lifetime on the hips unless you’re in calorie deficit after a nice long bike ride!

It’s a cross between a lemon drizzle cake and a lemon and poppy seed muffin. I imagine it’s the sort of cake my late grandmother might have baked to sell in her corner shop, just the thing to have with a morning coffee or afternoon cup of tea. It’s slightly tweaked from Dan Lepard’s excellent book Short and Sweet: The Best of Home Baking.

The cake is also very popular at our cycling club events, which is where this one ended up. Having dropped off a number of cakes for our last club event, the volunteers were seen hovering over them like buzzards. I’m assuming some of the participants got back quickly enough to have a few slices, but the tail-end Charlies were probably all too late.

This cake is too delicious for mere words

Ingredients (cuts into 32-36 small squares)

  • 400g (2 2/3 cups) caster sugar
  • 125g (9 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 100ml (6 tbsp) buttermilk
  • 50ml (3 tbsp) hot water
  • 2 tbsp finely grated organic lemon zest
  • 100ml (6 tbsp) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 large organic eggs, approx 45g (1⅔oz) each without the shell
  • 250g (1 2/3 cups) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 75g (¾ cup) fine oatmeal (or oats, finely ground in food processor)
  • 30g (4 tbsp) poppy seeds

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan).

2. Grease the base and sides of a baking tin. I typically use a disposable tin-foil one measuring 18cm x 23cm x  5cm (6” x 9” x 2″) – they’re great for storing the cakes in the freezer – which I line with a couple of strips of greaseproof paper to make it easier to remove the cake. In addition, I find it’s an easy size and shape to slice into squares for serving.

3. Beat 250g of the sugar with the butter, buttermilk and lemon zest until pale and fluffy, add in the eggs one at a time and beat well to incorporate. Then beat in the hot water.

4. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and baking powder into a medium mixing bowl, add the oats and poppy seeds, stir to combine. Spoon the dry ingredients into the egg mixture and mix gently until just combined. Do not overmix.

5. Pour the soft-dropping consistency batter into the tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

6. While the cake is cooling in its tin, gently heat the remaining sugar with the lemon juice until it dissolves. Poke holes all over the cake with a skewer and brush the lemon syrup all over the top. Leave to cool, still in the tin, on a wire rack and then dredge with more caster sugar before serving.

This cake is dangerously moreish!

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cake in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than the cake should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If you think the cake is browning too quickly, particularly at the edges, cover it with an aluminium-foil tent.

4. I have successfully made the cake substituting coconut cream or vegetable oil for the buttermilk with no noticeable change in either texture or taste.

5. If you don’t like poppy seeds, just leave them out.

The Musette: coconut financieres

When I make  crème anglais (custard), ice cream and lemon curd, I have a lot of leftover egg whites. But I don’t throw these away Instead I store or freeze them to use later in meringues, buttercream, angel food cake, pavlova, mousse, nougat, marshmallow and financieres. The latter were created in the late 1800s by a bakery near the Paris Bourse, currently being renovated and opening in 2020 as the Pinault Collection.

Paris Bourse (image: Wikipedia)

The cakes were named and made for the wealthy bankers who frequented the shop. They’re rich with brown butter, small and crumbless for portability, shaped like a gold bar – ideal for a busy banker or handy for a cyclist’s back pocket. Financieres are very forgiving and versatile cakes which can be made in a variety of small shapes and flavour combinations. Typically they’re made with ground blanched almonds which have little flavour so I like to play around with them and one of my favourite combinations uses coconut and coconut sugar which I think gives them a more unctuous and interesting flavour.

Defrosted egg whites to the left (image Sheree)

Ingredients (makes 72 petit four sized cakes)

  • 180g (3 cups) desiccated coconut (unsweetened)
  • 150g (1 cup) caster sugar
  • 75g (¾ cup) coconut sugar
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 225g (8oz) egg whites (7-8 egg whites)
  • 90g (3oz) butter ‘beurre noisette’
  • 110g (4oz) clarified butter
  • 120g (1 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour

Method

1. Prepare the beurre noisette (‘hazelnut’ butter, so called for the scent of hazelnuts the browned butter produces), cut the butter into pieces, melt it in a small saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil over medium heat. Once the butter boils, keep a close eye on it — you want it to turn a golden brown. The deeper the colour, the better the flavour, but be careful not to let the butter burn and go black — something that can happen very quickly.

2. Melt the rest of the butter in another saucepan over a low heat, remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool and for the milk solids to settle.

3. In a large mixing bowl combine the coconut, sugars and salt and fold in the egg whites.

4. Add all the butters (but not the solids) in three steps, mixing thoroughly after each addition.

5. Sift the flour onto a piece of greaseproof (parchment) paper and add in three stages folding gently each time to incorporate.

6. Cover the batter with cling film (plastic wrap) and chill for several hours or overnight in the fridge. The batter will firm up considerably.

The batter will firm up in the fridge (image: Sheree)

7. Take the batter out of the fridge. Pre-heat oven to 190ºC/170ºC fan/gas mark 5 (375ºF/325ºF fan).

8. Generously butter  – financiere batter is notoriously sticky – and then sugar your preferred baking moulds – the smaller the better. I use mini muffin and mini financiere tins.

9. Fill mould three-quarters full – I use a very small ice cream scoop so that they’re all the same size – place tins on baking sheet, put in centre of oven and bake for about 15 minutes. The cakes should be a dark golden brown, springy to the touch and easy to pull away from the sides of the pan.

10. Unmould the cakes as soon as you remove the tins from the oven. If necessary, run the handle of a teaspoon or a blunt knife around the edges of the cakes to help ease them out. Transfer the financieres to a wire rack and allow them to cool to room temperature.

11. The cakes are best eaten they day they’re made but they’ll keep in the cake tin for 1-2 days, providing you can resist temptation, or sit in the freezer for a month.

Little bars and coins of chewy deliciousness (image: Sheree)

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the financieres in the oven, put the timer on for five minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. With financieres it’s all about the ratio of crisp exterior to soft chewy interior which is why they’re so often served as petit fours.

4. If you bake yours in silicone moulds, still generously butter the form as it’ll create the much-desired crispy outer crust.

5. Once you’re conversant with the recipe, experiment. I often use ground pistachios instead of coconut and add some matcha tea powder to intensify that gorgeous green colour.

6. If you make larger ones you can pop some fruit in the centre, raspberries with pistachios, pineapple with coconut, apricots or peaches with almonds – there’s no end to the possibilities.

7. You can even make savoury ones but leave out the sugar!

8. The batter will keep for a week or so in the fridge so there’s no need to bake them all at once.

The Musette: Tarta de Santiago

We used to host BBQs at the cycling club to thank our many volunteers and their families for their ongoing support as without their assistance we wouldn’t be able to hold our various events. I like to prepare from scratch the pre-BBQ nibbles, accompanying salads and all-important desserts, leaving M le President to handle the grill.

Of course, I also liked proving to the French that Brits can cook and I enjoy the challenge of mass catering. It’s as easy to cater for 100 as it is for 10, you just need to spend a bit more time on planning and preparation.

In these instances my go-to cookery book is one by Ferran Adria, the chef of the former legendary el Bulli restaurant. You can however put your chemistry sets away as this book The Family Meal contains the recipes he used to cook for his staff in the restaurant. They’re no less delicious and each recipe gives the quantities for generally 12, 20 and 75 portions. As I’ve found to my cost, particularly with baking, it’s not merely a question of doubling up a recipe however many times when you’re catering for large numbers.

The first time I made the cake, I didn’t appreciate its significance. Although it’s made all over Northern Spain, it hails from 16th century Santiago de Compostela, the city where Saint James’ body lies, and to where many make a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago (the way of St James). Typically, the cake will have the cross of St James stenciled on its top.

Ingredients (serves 24)

  • 150g (1½ cups) whole blanched almonds, toasted
  • 4 large organic eggs, approx 45g each (1⅔oz) without their shells
  • 150g (1cup) golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp freshly grated organic lemon zest
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • Icing (confectioners’) sugar for dusting the top

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan).

2. Generously grease and flour a baking tin. I typically use a disposable tin-foil baking tin 18cm x 23cm x  5cm (6” x 9” x 2″). They’re easier for storing the cakes in the freezer, which I line with a couple of strips of greaseproof paper to make it simpler to remove the cake. This amount fills two tins to the required depth.

3. Finely grind the toasted and cooled almonds in a food processor.

4. With an electric mixer – or a strong arm –  beat the eggs with the sugar for around five minutes until thick, foamy and the whisk leaves ribbons in the batter. You’re aiming to get as much air as possible into the mixture.

5. Add the cinnamon and zest to the ground almonds, mixing well to combine.

6. Carefully fold the almonds into the egg mixture with a spatula so as to retain as much air as possible.

7. Pour the batter into the baking trays to a depth of around 1.5cm (about ½”) and bake in the oven for around 20 minutes, or until evenly risen, golden and shrinking away from the sides of the tin.

8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tins before turning out. Take care as it’s quite a fragile cake.

9. Just before serving, use a small fine sieve to generously dust the top of the cake with icing (confectioners’) sugar.

10. Allegedly, the cake will keep in a tin for four days but, honestly, it’s so scrummy it’s always eaten the day it’s cooked.

11. It should also keep well in the freezer for a month or so but omit the icing sugar. Dust only when fully defrosted.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cakes in the oven, put the timer on for 3-5 minutes less than the cakes should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If you think the cake is browning too quickly, particularly at the edges, cover it with an aluminium-foil tent.

4. If you don’t like cinnamon, substitute with 1 tsp of freshly grated orange zest.

5. The first time I made this cake, I served it with strawberries in balsamic caramel, but it would go equally well with other fresh fruit in season.

6. The cake would be gluten-free except that the baking tins are both greased and floured. Omit the flour and instead fully line the tins with greaseproof (parchment) paper for a truly gluten-free version.

The Musette: Coffee and walnut cake

I’m a sucker for anything coffee-flavoured, so this is one of my favourite cake combinations. I wouldn’t necessarily cover it with frosting if I were serving it at a cycling club event, but it’s a staple at my afternoon tea parties.

The French are not overly enamoured of what they perceive to be British cooking but they do agree that we make a cracking breakfast, fantastic desserts and delicious afternoon teas. Of course, without the frosting, a slice sits neatly in one’s back pocket for a spot of mid-ride refuelling with a coffee. French cafes don’t so much as blink an eyelid if you eat something you’ve brought with you after buying a drink from them.

More ingredients than usual - but worth it (image: Sheree)

More ingredients than usual – but worth it (Image: Sheree)

Ingredients (makes 16 thick slices)

Cake

  • 200ml (¾ cup) freshly made espresso coffee
  • 150g (1 cup) soft light brown sugar
  • 225g (2 sticks) butter
  • 225g (1 cup) golden syrup or honey
  • 2 tsp coffee essence
  • 1 tbsp dark rum or coffee liqueur
  • 3 large eggs, approximately 45g (1⅔oz) each without their shells, lightly beaten
  • 360g (3 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate (baking) soda
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 75g (¾ cup) toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

Frosting

  • 1 tbsp instant espresso coffee granules, dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water or rum
  • 100g mascarpone or 100g butter, softened
  • 200g icing sugar, sifted
  • Chopped walnuts or coffee-flavoured chocolate to decorate

Method

1. Preheat oven to 170°C/150°C fan/gas mark 3½ (325°F/300°F fan).

2. Grease a baking tin. I typically use a disposable tin-foil loaf tin 13cm x 23cm x 7cm (5” x 9” x 3”). They’re easier for storing the cakes in the freezer, which I line with a couple of strips of greaseproof paper to make it easier to remove the cake. This amount fills two cake tins.

3. Put the coffee in a pan and add the sugar, butter and syrup or honey. Heat gently, without boiling, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour into a jug and leave to cool. Whisk in the coffee essence, eggs and rum.

4. Sift the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) into a large mixing bowl and add the chopped walnuts. Make a well in the centre and slowly pour in the wet mixture, fold the flour in gradually with a wooden spoon or spatula. Pour the mix into the prepared tins and bake in the oven for about 50-60 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

5. Leave to cool in the tins for ten minutes then turn out onto a wire rack, peel off the paper and turn the right way up. Leave to cool completely.

6. Dissolve the espresso powder in 1 tbsp hot water or rum and leave to cool. Put the mascarpone and icing sugar into a mixing bowl and beat together. Gradually add the cooled coffee. You should end up with a smooth, soft mixture.

7. Spread the frosting over the cooled cake and then leave it to firm up a bit. I topped the cake with coffee-flavoured chocolate beans but a scattering of toasted chopped walnuts would also be good.

So good, half disappeared before I cold photo it! (image: Sheree)

So good, half disappeared before I could even photo it! (Image: Sheree)

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cakes in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If you think the cakes are browning too much at the edges, cover them with an aluminium foil tent.

4.  Each cake provides eight fat slices.

5. The cake will keep for a couple of days in a cake tin or, unfrosted, in the freezer for a month.

Where’s the car keys?

It’s been a while since we’ve had a key incident. And, when I say “we,” I mean my beloved.

At Christmas time I often make biscuits, cookies, truffles, Christmas cakes and brownies to give as presents or to offer to unexpected guests who pop in during the Festive Season. As a result, there’s usually the warm and comforting fug of baking all around the apartment.

A selection of some of my baked goodies
A selection of some of my baked goodies

Saturday afternoon, we drove round to friends for an unanticipated pre-Christmas high tea. We parked the car in my usual spot near their apartment that only fits SMART cars and, laden with parcels of baked goodies and presents, headed inside where we passed several enjoyable hours catching up with a number of friends, most of whom were heading back to parental homes for either Christmas or New Year. My baked offerings were well received, some of which I had made specifically to be taken home to their parents for Christmas.

A number of the other guests had newly returned from their teams’ first training camps and were already in restraint mode in anticipation of the forthcoming cycling season. I’m always amused when professional cyclists initially refuse my wares on account of weight-maintenance. They’ll then unobtrusively cut a piece of cake in half and eat first the one half and, a few minutes later, the other. A technique they’ll use to taste all of the cakes and cookies, at least once.

I had taken round some of my race winning brownies so it was understandable they were keen to tuck in but I’m not sure the benefits will last until the Europe Tour season opener, the GP Marseillaise. In no time at all, the guests had reduced the brimming plates to the odd crumb or two.

One of my friends’ adorable sons, a notoriously picky eater, single-handedly polished off four brownies. I was impressed, these are seriously dark, rich, sticky and typically adult only. He passed on the truffles but dug into the cookies, particularly the hazelnut and chocolate caramel ones.

Before taking our leave, we popped down to our friends’ cave to pick up some brochures. At which point my beloved asked me for the car keys. I replied that he hadn’t given me the keys. I usually take them off him as soon as we park up, but my hands had been full of parcels, so hadn’t taken possession of them. We returned to the flat, where I emptied my handbag – no car keys! My beloved checked he hadn’t left them in the car. He hadn’t. At which point, we were inundated with offers of lifts to fetch our spare set of keys.

Whenever my beloved loses anything, I attempt to re-trace his steps. This typically helps us locate the item in question. He had entered the flat and taken off his shoes. Had he left the keys on the shelf? No! He had played with our friends’ children. Were they on the floor or down the side of the sofa? No! Were they on the coffee or dinner tables? No! En route to the car, we had gone down to the cave. Had he put the keys down in the cave? Yes!