Monday, 24 January 2011

Baking through adversity

This week disaster struck.
Over Christmas I lost my baking mojo. To such an extent that the Christmas cake, that has been my go-to recipe for four years, failed me. It was baked and fed and iced and promptly thrown in the bin. Tragic, and not something that is taken lightly in our house as we hate waste, and do not throw food away without good reason (many a meal has been made up of random ingredients simply because they all need using and we cannot bare to even compost them instead of using them).
I'm not sure how I did it, but that cake was absolutely awful. Not only did it taste, not bad, but simply wrong, but about an hour after eating it we both felt a little weird. It was the same recipe I make every year and yet somehow I managed to get everything thoroughly wrong.
And so I haven't felt like baking much in the new year. I think the Christmas pounds that insist on sticking around on my tummy, despite being back at work and up and down stairs everyday, haven't helped. But mostly I just haven't trusted myself to risk expensive and lovely ingredients on even a classic recipe that clearly I am perfectly capable of ruining.
Then suddenly I was hit by inspiration. I was reading Nicole's post and knew that I just had to do something with orange and rosemary to ease our S.A.D. British winters are glum, glum, glum. Not bad, but not good. An all-round dirth of grey, and so anything to lift the spirits, especially something that involves the smell of baking filling the house, is more than welcome.
I got everything ready, picked up my scales and.....nothing. No display, no hint of life. I feared the worst, but hoped for the best and the next day whilst at work hunted out the right batteries and prayed to the god of kitchen gadgets that it would be enough. It was not. My scales are broken. Kaput.

This is not a good thing for a baker at the best of times, but for a skint baker with no back-up analogue scales this is disaster. Especially as I was perfectly inspired to bake something new and wonderful to get my mojo back.
I will get new scales*, but for now I am reduced to doing iffy conversions between ounces, grams and cup measures, which makes me even more nervy about breaking cakes in the process. So for a little while it might be even more sparse on recipes here.

I did however manage to knock out the cake I was hoping for, and it filled the house with the most wonderful smell, and paired perfectly with my afternoon tea and knitting. I feel it will be rather nice tonight with some ice cream too - because it's never too cold for ice cream with a warm piece of homemade cake.

I hope this lifts your winter spirits too...

Orange and rosemary hazelnut cake - serves 8-10

250g soft butter
200g hazelnuts
125g caster sugar
125g light muscovado sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
65g self-raising flour
1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary
zest of one large orange

Preheat the oven to 160C and grease and line a 20" round deep tin.

Place the sugars, butter, rosemary and orange zest into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat like mad until it's light and fluffy (this can take a while if your kitchen is a bit chilly and the butter isn't soft enough, but have faith, it'll get there).

While it's beating, lightly toast the hazenuts in a frying pan over a low heat, and once just golden and fragrant remove and using a food processor, or pestle and morter, grind until they are like coarse breadcrumbs (I usually like to have mine at the point at which some is very fine, but there are still some chunky bits as this add texture).

Gradually add the beaten egg to the sugar/butter mixture, making sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl so it's all combined. Add the hazelnuts and mix, and then gently fold in the flour.

Put the batter in the tin and smooth the top. Bake for aprox 45-50mins, covering the top towards the end if it looks like it might be becoming too brown. Remove from the oven and cool for at least ten minutes before removing from the tin.


*thank you Christmas bonus that I was going to spend on something ridiculously frivelous and yet can now treat me to the perfect pair of replacement scales. I just need to do the research and actually drag myself to the shops.


  1. Shame about the Christmas cake. I almost didn't make one as the last one I made wasn't cooked in the middle. This weekend witnessed another disaster when a chocolate cake completely disintegrated, it was so dry. So disappointing after all that effort.

  2. Our Christmas cake was lovely....nothing wrong with your baking mojo there. Thank you so much !

  3. This cake sounds delish! I might switch the citrus though.
    Re scales, don't get one with a bowl, get one you can zero. I've got a salter one which has a 15 year guarantee-you can get it from John Lewis-an older version of this:

  4. Ah yes, I can't be doing with scales with a bowl, and being able to "zero" is an absolute must. Think I'm going to move away from Salter though as that's what I had and they were okay, but never quite accurate enough for me. I think it's time to up the anti and actually spend proper money on some German ones! Gasp! hehe. I just need to actually get around to it!