Unencumbered as I am by ‘normal’ adult concerns like mortgages and small children, my brain generally concerns itself with questions such as, ‘Whose turn is it to put the kettle on?’, ‘Do I watch too much Black Books?’ and ‘What am I going to do with all those egg whites cluttering up the fridge?’ I’m keen on custard-making, which has the unfortunate (ha!) side-effect of using every egg yolk you can get your hands on, leaving you with bowls of sad-looking whites, destined for meringues that will never be made. Normal procedure is to leave them in the fridge until they go all watery, then chuck them out when you need the space to chill another bottle of wine.

These little cakes, from Lucas Hollweg’s Good Things to Eat, use five eggs whites. Five! Joy of joys. They’re very simple to make too, with no creaming of butter and sugar necessary; you needn’t even bother remembering to take the butter out of the fridge to soften, as it just needs to be melted. I used vanilla extract (Hollweg’s suggested alternative) instead of lemon zest, just because I fancied something vanilla-y with the raspberries.

Right – I’m off to make five egg yolks’ worth of custard.

Little almond cakes with raspberries (or almondberry cakes, as I’ve dubbed them)

Makes 12

175g butter, plus extra for greasing
250g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
140g ground almonds
60g plain flour
finely grated zest of 1 lemon (I substituted about a teaspoon of vanilla extract, which I stirred in just after the egg whites)
5 medium egg whites (I used large, and this doesn’t seem to have hurt the cakes at all)
12 raspberries (or blueberries, blackberries or blackcurrants, as Hollweg suggests. I agree with him that strawberries would be BAD)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, and smear the holes of a 12-hole muffin tin with plenty of butter.
  2. Melt the butter gently until frothy and bubbly. Mix together the 250g icing sugar, almonds, flour and lemon zest (if using) in a large bowl. Stir in the egg whites and beat vigorously for about 10 seconds, until everything is nice and smooth, with no clumps of almond or sugar. Add the vanilla extract now, if using. Pour in the butter and mix it well – it’ll take a bit of elbow grease to get it incorporated. What you’ll have now is much runnier than a normal cake batter.
  3. Divide the mixture between the 12 holes of your tin (easier said than done when it’s this runny. I used a ladle and it still went everywhere). Put a raspberry on the top of each one – no need to push it in – and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. They’re done when they’re golden brown round the edges and still a little unset in the middle; this will become firmer as the cakes cool.
  4. Leave them in the tins to cool before prising out with the help of a metal spoon, then dust with a little icing sugar just before serving. Enjoy.

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I’d managed to resist the whole whoopie pie craze until now, but a bit of Christmas money and too much Amazon browsing time meant an impulse purchase of Claire Ptak’s book on the subject. I really liked the way she followed each recipe with a recommended filling recipe, but gave it all a mix-and-match feel so that, you imagine, strawberry buttercream filling could go into a chocolate whoopie if the fancy took you.

Thanks to a huge bag of carrots from the farmer’s market, I was immediately drawn to the carrot cake whoopies with orange mascarpone filling – cream cheese icing and carrot cake is a match made in heaven, as any fool could tell you. The mixture was straightforward to make (see recipe below), and I used an ice-cream scoop to dollop my 18 equally sized blobs on to the prepared baking sheets. Claire Ptak recommends a 5cm gap between scoops of mixture, but if you have the space then I’d leave a larger gap if you possibly can; I watched, powerless, as mine merged in the oven.

Once cool (cooling doesn’t take too long, as the cakes are relatively thin), you need to whizz up your filling, sandwich the cakes together and scoff them down.

Verdict: delicious, sweet, greedy, and a great way to transport a cake + icing combo around without the topping ending up smeared all over the place. No wonder the Amish take them in their lunchboxes. I don’t think there’s anything particularly cutting-edge here though – it’s just a standard cake but with the icing on the inside. I’m going to eat another one now, just to make sure.

Carrot cake whoopie pies (adapted from The Whoopie Pie Book by Claire Ptak)
Makes 9 large or 24 small whoopie pies

250g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp salt
125g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar
100g light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract (use the best you can afford)
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
zest of 1 orange (or use the zest of about ¾ of an orange here and the remainder in the filling)

Filling:
250g cream cheese
150g mascarpone
100g icing sugar
Zest and juice of half an orange – see note above if you abhor orange waste, like I do

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line 2 large baking sheets with baking paper.
  2. Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon and ginger. Stir in the salt, and set this bowl aside for now.
  3. In a separate large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together until the mixture is really light and fluffy. The more air you can get in at this stage, the better. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and mix well until it’s all well combined and not curdled-looking. Add the grated carrot and orange zest, and mix again. Add the bowl of dry ingredients and mix once more, until everything’s just incorporated. Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes (transferred to a Tupperware container if you have an enormous mixing bowl and a tiny fridge).
  4. Put 18 scoops of the mixture 5cm apart on your prepared trays, or 48 scoops for mini whoopies. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10–12 mins (for large ones) or 8–10 (for mini ones). I had to do the baking in two batches, as I have a normal person’s oven and do not work in a school/prison canteen.
  5. Move them onto a cooling rack and leave until cold – actually cold, not just cool, or the filling will ooze all over the place.
  6. Whisk the cream cheese until smooth, then add the mascarpone and mix again. Sift in the icing sugar, and mix till smooth. Add the zest and juice of half an orange (see note above) and mix to combine.
  7. Spread a heaped tablespoon of filling over the flat surface of one of the cakes, then sandwich it together with another. If yours aren’t exactly uniform in size, you might need to audit your cakes first to pair them up appropriately and prevent filling overspill.
  8. EAT! Or store for a couple of days, layered up with greaseproof paper so they don’t stick together.

The snack table in the office is looking distinctly bare, post-Christmas. Throughout December, it was piled high with boxes of posh biscuits, mince pies, and even brandy butter, but you’d be lucky to find a stale crumb this week. I’m still enough in the Christmas state of mind for three meals a day to not be quite enough, so it’s normally good to know that there’s a sweet treat to snack on. Something must be done.

My answer to the crisis is Nigel Slater’s iced marmalade loaf cake. It’s a very quick mixture to whip up in the evening, but the marmalade in the mixture adds interest and the drizzled icing makes it all a bit more special. I follow Nigel’s advice and add a drop of orange flower water to the icing too, but as long as you’ve got a jar of marmalade in the fridge and can pick up an orange on the way home you can probably make this cake without a special shopping trip.

A frosted marmalade cake (adapted from The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater)

175g soft unsalted butter
175 golden caster sugar (it’s not a disaster if you only have the white stuff in the cupboard)
A large orange
3 large eggs
75g orange marmalade
175g self-raising flour

For the frosting:
100g icing sugar
2 tbsp orange juice (from the orange whose zest you’ll use in the cake mixture)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Line a loaf tin about 25 x 11cm, 7cm deep (mine’s shorter than this, about 21 x 9cm, but seems to work fine if the cake has a little longer in the oven; see step 6) – butter the tin lightly, then line with baking parchment.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar with a hand-held mixer until pale and fluffy.
  3. Beat the eggs into a small bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Pour in the beaten egg a little at a time, with the mixer running, beating well after each addition.
  4. Finely grate the orange zest, and beat it into the cake mixture along with the marmalade.
  5. Fold in the flour gently with a metal spoon, working carefully but making sure that it’s all well combined. Gently stir in the juice of half the orange.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the tin, smooth the top lightly and bake in the preheated oven for 35–45 minutes. Check the cake after 35 minutes by inserting a metal skewer and checking that it comes out cleanly, not covered with raw mixture. I don’t know if it’s my oven or the size of my tin, but the cake was perfectly golden on top after 35 minutes but still a bit uncooked within. I covered the top lightly with a piece of foil at this stage and gave it another 20 minutes in the oven to cook through, checking it a couple of times.
  7. When it’s cooked, let the cake cool a little in the tin before removing to cool completely on a wire rack. Remove the baking parchment once cooled.
  8. Make the icing by sifting the icing sugar and mixing it with the juice from the remaining orange half, adding a splash of orange flower water if you have it. Drizzle the icing over the cake, letting it drip down the sides, and leave to set before scoffing it down.