As someone who is perpetually cold I favour the summer months weather-wise, but when it comes to food seasons, Autumn is the winner for me. Root vegetables, roasts, comforting one-pot dinners and baked fruits, sugared and spiced; you can’t beat them. With this in mind and as an ode to the season and the produce that comes with it, I’ve created a hedgerow-themed celebration cake. Made up of spiced sponges studded with Bramley apple pieces, a tart blackberry compote and smooth salted caramel Swiss meringue buttercream- it’s a bit of a project bake, but so worth the effort.
For the cakes
- 250g golden syrup
- 190g unsalted butter
- 175g light brown soft sugar
- 375g self raising flour
- 1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1tsp mixed spice
- large pinch salt
- 3 eggs
- 260ml semi-skimmed milk
- 1 very large Bramley apple, peeled, cored and diced
- 1tsp corn flour
For the blackberry compote
- 450g fresh blackberries
- zest and juice 1 lemon
- 5-6tbsp caster sugar
For the Swiss meringue buttercream (I’d only attempt this with electric whisk/beaters!)
- 150g caster sugar, 50g butter, 100ml double cream, salt (this is for the caramel which is added to a Swiss meringue buttercream base)
- 4 egg whites
- 225g caster sugar
- 275g unsalted butter, very soft (but not greasy)
- fresh blackberries, hazelnuts, apple crisps, rosemary sprigs
- Grease and line two 8 inch cake tins. Preheat the oven to 170c.
- Start off by making the cakes. To do this place the syrup, butter and light brown soft sugar in a saucepan and melt over a medium heat. Set aside to cool a little.
- In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, spices, salt and bicarbonate of soda, then make a well in the middle. Break the eggs into a jug and add the milk, then stir together with a fork and add into the well, along with the melted butter mixture. Whisk everything together with a hand whisk until just combined.
- Toss the apple pieces in corn flour and fold in, then distribute the batter between the two cake tins. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted. Once baked let the cakes cool completely in the tins.
- Meanwhile, make the blackberry compote by placing the blackberries, lemon juice and zest and sugar in a saucepan set over a medium heat. Cook, stirring often until thickened and jammy. Set aside to cool.
- For the buttercream, start off by making a salted caramel sauce.To do this put the sugar in a heavy bottom saucepan and set it over a low heat. Wait until the sugar has all melted (swirl the pan to encourage it to do so but don’t stir!) then up the heat and allow it to reach a deep golden brown. When it gets to this stage, add the butter and stir (it will spit a little), then add the cream and stir again for a couple more minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and once cool enough to taste add salt to your liking. Set aside to cool completely.
- While the caramel is cooling, place the egg whites and caster sugar in a saucepan and whisk together (just a hand whisk will do here). Keep stirring over a medium heat until the mixture is hot to the touch and the sugar has dissolved, then transfer to a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment) and whisk until it’s completely cool and will hold a stiff peak.
- Now continue to whisk, adding a heaped tablespoon of the butter every few seconds. Whisk until it’s all come together and is thick and glossy, then add 3-4 heaped tablespoons of your cooled caramel (add a little more or less to taste). Don’t worry if the mix looks curdled at any point, whisking will bring it back together with time. Once it’s ready you can start assembling the cake.
- Remove the cakes from the tins. If they’re domed at all, even off the tops, then slice each sponge in half, leaving you with 4 even layers. Place the first layer on your serving plate. Pile half the buttercream into a piping bag and pipe around the edge of the first layer twice (leaving a roughly 1.5 inch wall of buttercream). Fill this with a third of the blackberry compote then repeat the process until all the sponges are used up.
- Use the remaining buttercream to cover the whole cake, semi-naked style. Decorate as desired- I like rustic/natural decorations but the world is your oyster!
Another iteration of my all-time favourite bake, this time with fresh raspberries offset by oozing pockets of burnt butter caramel (inspired by Chin Chin Lab’s burnt butter caramel nitro ice cream). Brownies might not seem like the obvious thing to make mid-summer, but as these are studded with some token summer berries and can therefore be deemed seasonal, you should probably make them.
For the caramel
- 100g caster sugar
- 50g butter
- 60ml double cream
- Pinch salt
For the brownie
- 250g butter
- 150g 80% dark chocolate
- 100g 70% dark chocolate
- 3 eggs, 1 egg yolk
- 100g light brown soft sugar, 75g caster sugar
- Generous pinch salt
- 100g rye flour
- 100g good quality milk chocolate, roughly chopped
- 250g fresh raspberries
- Start off by making the caramel. To do this place the sugar in a saucepan and heat gently. Meanwhile, place the butter in a small pan and melt until just past browned (it should be foaming and have little brown specks in the bottom), then take off the heat.
- At this point the sugar will have started to dissolve. Swirl the pan until the sugar melts entirely, then allow it to reach a deep golden brown colour. Now add in the burnt butter and cream, stirring until it comes together. Remove from the heat and add the salt. Pour the caramel into a baking paper-lined container and leave to firm up for around half an hour. Preheat the oven to 180c and line a brownie tin with baking paper.
- While the caramel is setting, make the brownie batter. Roughly chop the dark chocolate and tip into a heatproof bowl. Place the butter in a saucepan and heat gently until melted. Up the heat and brown until foaming (as before), then pour directly over the chocolate. Let it sit for a moment, then stir to create a smooth glossy mixture.
- Meanwhile, place the eggs and egg yolk, both sugars and salt in a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment) and beat until pale and voluminous.
- Pour the chocolate down the side of the bowl and fold in, then add the flour and fold again.
- Chop the set caramel into rough pieces and set aside. Scape half the brownie batter into the lined tin and level out. Evenly distribute half the caramel pieces, chocolate chunks and raspberries then scrape over the remaining chocolate. Repeat the process with the caramel, chocolate and raspberries then bake for 25-35 minutes or until crisp and flaky on top but still fudgy (with a slight wobble) in the middle.
- Leave to cool completely in the tin then slice up an serve.
Crisp choux pastry, sharp roast rhubarb with a hint of vanilla, and butterscotch-sweet caramelised white chocolate cream; a delicious combination you’ve got to try, and a great way to celebrate seasonal British produce (and millennial pink… *sigh*).
Ingredients (makes 10-12)
For the choux
- 85g unsalted butter
- 220ml water
- 100g plain flour
- 3 eggs
- pinch of salt
For the filling
- 250g white chocolate (make sure it’s at least 30% cacao)
- 300ml double cream
- Pinch salt
- 4 thick stems rhubarb
- 3tbsp caster sugar
- 2 vanilla pods or 1tsp vanilla extract
- Juice and zest 1 lemon
For the topping
- 100g icing sugar
- Enough of the rhubarb syrup (leftover from roasting the rhubarb) to create an icing with a drizzle-consistency
- Dried rose petals (optional)
- Candied rhubarb ribbons (optional) (I make these by creating ribbons of rhubarb with a peeler, which I then simmer in a simple 2 parts sugar: 1 part water syrup for 5 minutes before draining off any excess liquid and cooking at 160c for 10-15 minutes, or until dried out, on a lined baking tray)
- To make the choux put the water, butter and salt in a saucepan set over a medium heat (do not let it boil at this stage). Meanwhile, sieve the flour to remove any lumps. When the butter has melted into the water, increase the heat and bring to a rolling boil, then tip in the flour and stir vigorously until you have a smooth paste-like mix which comes away from the edges of the pan. Continue to stir for another minute to cook out the rawness of the flour, then tip into a clean bowl and close cover with cling film (this eggless stage is known as a ‘panade’). Leave to cool to room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 190c. Line 2 large baking trays with greaseproof paper.
- Once the panade has cooled it’s time to add the eggs; whisk in a jug to break them up then very gradually add into the panade while beating with electric beaters. Stop adding the egg (you might have a little leftover) when the smooth, lump-free mixture reluctantly drops off the end of a spoon. Pile the choux mix into a piping bag, fitted with a large round nozzle.
- Pipe 10-12 doughnut shapes onto the prepared baking trays, leaving room for expansion. Bake the choux for 20-25 minutes or until crisp and golden, then skewer each one and return to the oven for around 10 minutes or until the middles have completely dried out. Set aside to cool and reduce the oven temperature to 180c.
- Slice the rhubarb into batons and toss in the caster sugar, lemon juice and zest and vanilla. Roast for 10-15 minutes in a high sided baking tray until the pieces are tender but still retain their shape. Set aside to cool and reduce the oven temperature to 120c.
- Chop up the white chocolate and scatter on a lined baking tray in an even layer. Place in the oven to allow the chocolate to melt for 10 minutes, then stir/turn and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. Repeat this step 2-3 more times until the chocolate reaches a deep golden colour, then scrape into a bowl and mix in a splash of cream to loosen the consistency (it can get a little grainy at this stage so pass through a sieve if necessary). Leave to cool.
- Once the white chocolate has cooled, place in a bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment) and add in the cream and salt. Whisk until pipe-able.
- Slice the cooled choux nuts in half horizontally and pipe in a generous helping of caramelised white chocolate cream. Slice the roast rhubarb pieces thinly and arrange these on top of the cream, then pop the choux lid on top.
- For the pink icing, pour the cooking syrup from the rhubarb tray into the icing sugar and mix to create a smooth drizzle-like consistency (add in a little water if you don’t have enough syrup). Spoon this over the filled choux-nuts and garnish with edible petals and rhubarb ribbons.
I made this cake last weekend for my Dad’s birthday and it went down a storm. Granted, the flavours aren’t subtle and it’s not for the faint hearted (which neatly mirrors my Dad’s personality actually), but the punchy combination of bitter coffee, nutty hazelnut, rich but surprisingly light chocolate sponge and salted milk chocolate ganache just work (duh- that amount of cream, sugar, salt and chocolate is always going to be delicious).
Ingredients (serves 12-14)
For the hazelnut praline caramel
- 100g blanched hazelnuts, toasted
- 100g caster sugar
- 100ml double cream
- Generous pinch sea salt
For the sponges
- 375g plain flour
- 300g caster sugar
- 85g cocoa powder
- 2tsp baking powder
- 2tsp bicarbonate of soda
- large pinch sea salt
- 3 eggs
- 325ml milk
- 175ml vegetable oil
- 2tsp vanilla extract
- 100g dark chocolate
- 325ml just boiled water
- 2tsp instant coffee
For the salted milk chocolate ganache
- 200g milk chocolate
- 75g dark chocolate
- 275ml double cream
- Generous pinch sea salt
For the coffee mascarpone filling
- 2tbsp instant coffee
- 2tbsp caster sugar
- 200g mascarpone
- 100ml double cream
- Start off by making the hazelnut praline caramel.To do this simply place the caster sugar in a heavy bottom pan over a medium heat and swirl the pan until it melts. Once melted, up the heat until the sugar reaches a deep golden brown. At this stage add the toasted hazelnuts, stir to coat then tip onto a baking paper lined baking tray. Leave to set hard, then blitz into a paste. Set aside. Pour the cream into a saucepan and gently heat. Once the cream is gently simmering add in the praline paste and stir to create a caramel. Cook down for a few minutes until thickened, then set aside to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 170c. Grease and line two 8 inch baking tins. Melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (or in the microwave in short stints, stirring often). Set aside.
- In a large bowl stir together the flour, caster sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. In a jug, lightly whisk the eggs, milk, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the contents of the jug into it. Stir the wet and dry ingredients together until well combined then add the melted chocolate and stir again (I just use a balloon whisk for this- nothing electric is required as you don’t need to incorporate much air).
- Pour your just boiled water over the instant coffee granules and once they’ve dissolved, gradually add to the chocolate batter, stirring gently with your whisk as you go. The final cake batter will be very thin but don’t worry, it bakes beautifully.
- Split the mix evenly between the prepared tins and bake for 45-55 minutes (until a skewer comes out clean with a few moist crumbs attached). Once baked leave to cool completely in the tins.
- While the cakes are cooling make the ganache. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a saucepan until it meets scalding point then pour over the chocolate. Allow the cream to melt the chocolate for a few minutes then stir until smooth and glossy. Add salt to taste then set aside to cool.
- For the coffee mascarpone crush the coffee into a fine powder then just whisk together all the ingredients until smooth.
- When all the elements are cool you’re ready to assemble the cake. Your cakes will probably have a domed top, so trim these off then divide each one into two even layers (leaving you with 4 layers overall).
- Scrape the hazelnut praline caramel into a piping bag. Split the mascarpone into thirds. Spread one third of the mascarpone over the first sponge layer then pipe over a third of the caramel in a zigzag (so that each slice will have some caramel inside!). Repeat this step until you’ve used up the sponges, then rustically cover the whole cake in the thickened ganache.
- Garnish with edible dried flower petals.