Cheese and thyme scones/soda bread

I had some cream in the fridge that was nearing its use by date this morning so I whipped it in the mixer to make butter. The buttermilk was staring at me. So I made this beauty for lunch. It is a very simple soda bread that takes minutes to make and minutes to cook and is delicious warm out of the oven spread with butter (which, handily, I had).

I freshly milled the flour for it because I can. If you are a keen baker I urge you to consider the outlay for a home mill. It will change your baking game. The taste of freshly milled flour is wonderful. I am incredibly lucky to have an organic farmer just up the road (about 5 miles away) who is innovative in many ways, but not least in the grain that he grows on his farm. Mark Lea farms at Green Acres Farm in Kemberton and is worth following on twitter. This particular grain is Wakelyns YQ developed by Martin Wolfe on his agroforestry farm in Suffolk. It was bred by Martin as a diverse landrace so that it could resist both disease and drought and was bred for both yield (Y) and quality (Q). It has a protein content of 12% so just a little bit stronger than a plain flour but I have successfully made scones and biscuits with it that are tender rather than tough.

Can my old regular readers tell how grain/ bread obsessed I have become?

If you don’t happen to know a farmer who will sell you grain for you to mill at home…..(anyone?) then you can use any wholemeal flour that you have in the cupboard, spelt would be delicious. If you don’t have any wholemeal then by all means use all plain white.

300g flour (I used half wholemeal, half white)
230g butter milk (If you use all white flour, you may need a little less) (if you don’t have buttermilk, add a squeeze of lemon juice to milk)
1/2 (half) tsp fine salt
1/2 (half) tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g cheese and extra for the top
sprigs of thyme, chopped fine

Preheat your oven to 220c, 200c fan, gas mark 7 or use the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga. Lightly butter a baking tray.

Place your flours, salt, bicarbonate of soda and thyme in a large bowl. Mix well. Grate the cheese into the bowl and mix through the flour. Add the buttermilk and cut through using a knife until it starts to come together. Using your hands gather into a ball, place on the baking tray and flatten out. Cut into four using a knife. Brush a little extra buttermilk on top of the scones if you have some left. Grate cheese over the top.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. You can also flatten out on a lightly floured worktop and cut into scones using a cutter. They will be baked in 10-12 minutes this way.

Remove from the oven place on a wire rack and eat warm, spread with plenty of butter.

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Damson and tomato ketchup

damson & tomato ketchup

Our tomato harvest has been wonderful already this year and we have lots of green ones left on the vine with plenty of time left for them to turn.  We really have had a wonderful summer in terms of sunshine and warmth (I am saying this from the comparative comfort of a 16°c day and we have recently had plenty of rain. I have spent an awful lot of my time the last couple of months complaining that I was too hot and wishing it would rain to quench the brown, solid lawns and fields. Hindsight is a wonderful thing). This summer’s weather has been perfect for tomatoes if not for everything else in the garden.  We have collected a large mixing bowl full over the last few days alone.  Half the bowlful are currently oven drying for use in future tomato breads.

I neglected to change the soil in the greenhouse this year, opting instead to just add plenty of our home-made compost. I know, it’s lazy, wrong and neglectful with the potential to spread disease.  I promise to change the soil this year, honest. The bonus of this though was lots and lots of self-set tomatoes.  I planted most of them up in small pots and popped them on the outside wall, not giving them a great deal of hope as we never have much luck with tomatoes grown outside here.  They grew and demanded large pots.  I obliged and, in my shoddy gardener’s way, even gave some of them a stake to grow up. They have forgiven me my shoddiness and grown beautifully producing a bounteous crop that have been ripening for the last month or so.

The rain that we have had over the last few days has caused some of the damsons to start falling from one of our trees.  So, I went out today and picked a couple of branches worth before they were all on the ground.

It occurred to me that I could combine both bowlfuls in a ketchup.

2kg of tomatoes and damsons combined
200g onions, chopped up fairly small
2 cloves of garlic,  peeled and bashed with the side of your knife
570g distilled white vinegar (It comes in bottles of 568 g, so that is what I used)

A muslin bag or clean tea towel containing the following spices and tied with kitchen string: (if you don’t have all of these in stock or don’t like the flavour of any of them, make up your own pickling bag according to what you like and have access to)
2 tsp black peppercorns
2 dried chillies, these are hot so add more if yours are mild
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
5 allspice berries
1 star anise

200g demerara sugar
25g sea salt

Method
Chop the larger tomatoes in half.  Put the tomatoes, damsons, onions and garlic into a large preserving pan, add the vinegar and the spice bag and cook over a medium heat until everything has softened and the tomatoes and damsons have collapsed (about thirty minutes).  Strain through a sieve into a large bowl, pushing the fruit through with a large metal spoon. Keep going until all you have left in the sieve is the damson stones, skin and bits of resistant onion.  Clean the preserving pan and add the puree back in. Add the sugar and the salt and give it a good stir. Taste and see if it has enough flavour from the spices, if not put the spice bag in (it will taste overpoweringly vinegary, don’t worry that will mellow as it matures). Return to the heat and simmer gently, stirring until the sugar and salt dissolve fully. Continue to simmer for about an hour or so, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced to a sauce the consistency of ketchup.  Pour into clean, sterilised bottles and seal and it will keep for about 6 months.  If you place the unsealed bottles into a large pan and pour in water until about 2 inches from the top of the bottles and boil the water for 10 minutes, then remove the bottles and seal, the ketchup will keep indefinitely until opened. Leave to mature for one month before using so that the flavours can develop and the vinegar tang can mellow.

damsons, tomatoes and onions

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Mushrooms in vine leaves

Mushrooms in vine leaves

Mushrooms in vine leaves ready to go in the oven

This is a recipe from Elizabeth David. I have been dipping into her collection of articles ‘An Omelette and a Glass of Wine’ recently and when I read this particular recipe in an article on summer holidays I knew it was one I needed to try. We have a grape vine growing entwined with a hop on our garage wall. The grapes aren’t ready yet, they are still tiny balls of unyielding green but last year they tasted surprisingly sweet for an English grown grape.  I have no idea of the variety but they are really lovely eaten frozen with a square (or two) of chocolate, and last year I made grape jelly, which took a lot of boiling before it reached setting point. With this year’s heat I am hoping for good things from the grape harvest. In the meantime we have eaten more than our fair share worth of the leaves.  It is very simple to make and absolutely delicious. The vine leaves add a winey flavour to the juices that I, for some reason, was not expecting. When you think about it, of course, it makes absolute sense.  The photo before is uncooked, because to be honest when it is cooked it looks less attractive with brown wizened vine leaves, but do not let this put you off. You will soon become hooked.  You do need to use small tender vine leaves, as anything too big becomes too tough to eat.  If you don’t have a vine in the garden then you can use the vine leaves in brine that you can pick up from most large supermarkets or good food shops. Just give them a rinse before using.

About 20-25 small vine leaves
250g mushrooms
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled but kept whole
4-6 tbsps of good olive oil

Method
Bring a large pan of water to the boil, plunge the vine leaves into the water and leave for only a couple of seconds and then drain and rinse in cold water. Give them a good squeeze to get rid of excess water.

You can use a lidded pyrex dish for this or any ovenproof dish and cover with foil to bake. Lay half the vine leaves on the bottom of the dish. Wipe the mushrooms clean and place on top of the vine leaves. Vine leaves and mushroomsScatter the whole, peeled garlic cloves over the top along with some salt and pepper. (Elizabeth David suggests that you don’t need to eat the garlic, but I can assure you that they are delicious, they have mellowed with cooking, becoming soft and sweet and are doused with the winey juices.) Pour over a couple of tablespoons of oil over the mushrooms. Cover with the rest of the vine leaves and pack down. Pour over a few more tablespoons of oil. Cover the dish with its lid or tightly with foil.

Place into a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4 or the baking oven of the Aga for about 1 hour. The mushrooms will have shrunk, the leaves will have become brown and withered looking, but it will taste divine.

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Spelt pancakes

spelt pancakes

We have been eating these with quite some frequency lately.  I have a Komo Mill for my bread courses (that’s my excuse and I am sticking to it), so these beauties have been made with freshly milled spelt grain. I think it makes a huge difference to the taste.

My Komo Fidibus XL milling the spelt grain fairly finely

Anything I make with freshly milled grain tastes so much better than when made with flour that was milled goodness knows when*.  (I think every bag of flour should have a milling date stamped on it.) You don’t need to have a home mill to make these pancakes though. Buy the best flour you can afford, preferably organic, preferably stoneground and preferably wholemeal. I use spelt because I love its nutty taste but feel free to try other flours that you may have in the cupboard.

200g wholemeal spelt flour
20g light brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs
100g Greek yoghurt
50g milk ( you may need a little more)

Method
Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon in a large bowl and give a stir to mix. Add the eggs, yoghurt and milk and whisk well together.  You may need slightly more milk as freshly milled flour doesn’t absorb as much liquid as flour that was milled a while ago. You want a thick batter.

Place a pan over a medium heat and add a small knob of butter. When the butter is foaming add spoonfuls of the batter to the pan.  Allow to cook for a couple of minutes. Small holes will begin to appear on the top of the pancake and when it is almost dry on top it is time to turn it over and cook for a further 30 seconds. Remove to a warm plate, and repeat to use up the rest of the batter. It will make about 12 pancakes. Serve with butter, jam, maple syrup, bacon, cheese, fruit compote… what ever suits you best.

*Freshly milled flour is also more nutritional.  The flour hasn’t had time to oxidise or for any of the vitamins and minerals to degrade. The essential oils are all still there and because you use the whole grain you get all of the benefit of the nutrients in the germ. (The germ is often separated in industrially processed wholemeal flour because it makes the flour go rancid fairly quickly.  The germ is where the majority of the nutrients reside, so that valuable bit of nutrition goes off for animal feed).

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Salted Caramel Brownies

salted caramel brownies

My youngest daughter is doing her SATs this week so I have made brownies as a treat after school. She needs all the treats she can get; it has been a stressful year with SATs practice after practice after practice. We will all be glad when Friday comes and SATs are over with.

I have made a version of these brownies before with peanut butter, but decided on salted caramel this time as we had some cream in the fridge. I have also added some chopped almonds in there for a bit of interesting texture.

The salted caramel takes a bit of making but you do end up with a jar of caramel sauce that will last about a month in the fridge. Which is always a good thing and it’s not a massive hardship even for someone like me that normally only has to look at caramelising sugar to make it go grainy.  If you can’t be bothered with it then just use a jar of ready-made caramel sauce (aka dulce de leche) or omit it altogether as the brownies are delicious all on their own.

For the caramel sauce:
115g water
240g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
½ tsp salt
225g double cream

Method
Place the water, sugar, vanilla pod and salt in a pan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Turn up the heat and boil the sugar syrup until it turns a  dark golden colour.  Take off the heat and add the cream. It will seize up and go hard. Don’t worry. Return to the heat and stir and it will become runny again.  Heat until it reaches 110°c or turns a dark golden colour.

For the brownies:
175g butter
150g dark chocolate
50g cocoa powder
100g caster sugar
100g soft brown sugar
3 eggs
50g wholemeal spelt
50g almonds, chopped
pinch of coarse sea salt

Method
Line a 23cm round or 20cm square tin with parchment. Preheat the oven to 180°c, gas mark 4, or use the baking oven of the 4-oven Aga.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large bowl over a simmering pan of water. Stir in the cocoa powder. Leave to cool slightly.

In another large bowl whisk the eggs and the sugars together until thick and moussey. Pour the chocolate mixture over the egg mixture and fold in gently. Fold in the spelt flour and the chopped almonds. Pour the batter into the tin.  Pour some of the caramel over the top and sprinkle with the coarse sea salt.

Place the tin into the centre of the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes. The top should be crusty but the centre should still be wobbly. It will firm up on cooling and give that characteristic fudgey centre. Serve with a little more caramel sauce poured over the top.

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Veg Patch Loaf Project Instalment 2

The wheat is growing in our veg patch.
You can catch up with the latest instalment here

The wheat on Thursday 9th may 2018

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Wild garlic pull-apart loaf

Wild garlic pull apart loafNow that the wild garlic season is in full swing we have been having this bread quite a bit.  It is very garlicky and buttery, with each ball of dough filled with garlic butter.  If you are looking for something less buttery then have a look at my other wild garlic loaf which just makes use of the garlic leaves in the dough.

We have a lot of wild garlic in our garden and the surrounding area. It is fairly easy to identify and the smell of garlic gives it away but if you are unsure what you are looking for check out the Woodland Trust’s page to make sure you know what you are picking.

These loaves are destined for today’s local community lunch along with a seeded spelt and a white loaf for those that prefer their breath not tainted by garlic at lunchtime.

You only need a generous handful of garlic leaves for this recipe. Make sure they aren’t picked from the side of paths where a passing dog might have, well you know, passed. Because there is so much of the stuff near here I am not shy about picking it as close to the ground as possible and pulling up 1 or two cloves as well. The garlic fragrance is stronger nearer the base of the plant and in the clove. You can control the garlic-y-ness of your loaf by choosing to include more green leaves for a more delicate taste or including more white stem for a more knock-out taste.  I also include the flowers because they bring another taste dimension to it as well. I add a bit of garlic to the bread dough because the garlic taste transfers during fermentation. You can miss this step out if you prefer.

Always wash your wild garlic well before using.

To make one pull-apart loaf:
For the bread:
500g white strong bread flour
1 sachet of easy bake yeast or 15g fresh yeast
5-10g of fine sea salt
320-350g water (it will depend on your flour how much you need so add 320g to begin with and then add more carefully as you mix. You want to have a softly sticky dough rather than a dry dough or a wet dough.)
20g wild garlic chopped finely (optional)

For the garlic butter
A large handful of wild garlic, finely chopped (how much you use is up to you taste wise)
50g softened unsalted butter
a large pinch of flaked sea salt

Method
Make the garlic butter by combining all of the ingredients and then popping it in the fridge.

For the bread, place the flour, yeast (if using fresh yeast crumble it into the flour until the pieces are fairly small), salt (keep the yeast and salt separate as salt will kill yeast on contact) and chopped wild garlic in a large bowl. Add 320g of water and using one hand start to mix and squeeze the dough. Carefully add more water until the dough comes cleanly away from the bowl, there are no dry bits, and the dough feels on the wetter side. I describe it as softly sticky.  Cover with clingfilm (or a large inflated bag) and allow to rest for at least ten minutes.

Remove clingfilm. Keep the dough in the bowl and grab the bit furthest away from you, stretch up and fold over the remaining dough. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the stretch and fold. Repeat this about 6-10 times until you feel the dough starts to resist you. Cover with clingfilm again and leave to rest for at least ten minutes. You will need to repeat the stretch and fold procedure and then rest period in full as described above at least twice more. You can go for a third if you have the time. Once you have completed the stretches and folds cover your dough and you can either place in the fridge overnight or leave at room temperature for the dough to get airy and double in size.

Take the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured work surface.  Cut the dough into about 20 pieces.  Take each piece, flatten slightly, place a large knob of garlic butter in the centre and wrap the dough around the butter to encase it completely to make a small roll of dough. Place each roll into a 2lb loaf tin.

The rolls ready to prove

The rolls ready to prove

Cover the loaf tin with cling film or a large inflated bag and leave to prove for about 30 minutes at room temperature, or longer in the fridge. In the meantime preheat your oven to its highest setting and place a baking tray on the centre shelf. Bread benefits from being placed onto a hot solid surface.

When the rolls have risen and look airy, place tin the oven. Mist the bread with water several times using a plant mister (avoid the light and glass door). This creates steam and helps the bread achieve maximum oven spring. Turn the oven down to 220°c, gas mark 6 and bake for about 30 minutes until the bread is golden.  Turn onto a wire rack to cool.

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The Veg Patch Loaf Project

This post is a re-post from my sister site www.vegpatchkitchen.co.uk, the home of my cookery school.  I thought the project might interest readers of The Ordinary Cook too. You can read the original post here.

I have had the Veg Patch Loaf Project in my mind for the last year or so. The idea is that I will plant wheat in our veg patch next to our bread kitchen. This wheat will grow, (unfettered by bad weather, pest, disease or squirrel) and at the end of this year I will bake a loaf from home-grown wheat.

Well, I have finally managed to plant my wheat seeds today.  I had hoped to plant some winter wheat seeds in the autumn last year, but with life being busy I didn’t get round to it somehow. I thought that perhaps I had missed the boat. Then, I was reading the latest copy of True Loaf magazine from The Real Bread Campaign and an article reminded me of The Brockwell Bake Association and their project to encourage allotmenteers, schools and community projects to grow heritage wheat. I visited their website and was very pleased to find that I could still order some spring wheat seeds from them. I know that I am far behind most farmers and growers but this is my first time attempting to grow wheat so even though I am really hoping I will get a small crop my expectations for success are fairly low. I am just going to give it a go and see what happens.

Brockwell Bake Association sent me 40g of April Bearded seed.

Here is the planted plot and how it looks today:

The wheat patch at Veg Patch Kitchen

The wheat patch at Veg Patch Kitchen

The plot is roughly 3m x 2m with a path through the middle so I can get in and weed.  I broadcast the seeds randomly, raked them in and then used a large piece of cardboard (a Shipton Mill delivery box as it happens) laid on the soil to tread the seed in. The canes and string are there as a collie disruption mechanism, in other words to stop our collie, Rascal, from digging up my seeds. For some reason his favourite game is to dig large holes in this particular patch.

I am an erratic gardener. I try my best every year to be better than the last. We always have a degree of success and a fair few meals from our garden every summer and autumn, but my gardening leaves a fair amount to be desired. Inevitably the weeds get the better of me.  I hate pulling up self-seeded borage, nasturtiums and poppies because the bees and other pollinators love them so much.  As a result our veg tends to be a little drowned out by these. Only the very strong wins through.  I am going to try my hardest to be a diligent weeder of the wheat patch and I am hoping that the squirrels and pigeons give me a break when it comes to harvest time (if the crop survives that long).  I will report the progress of the Veg Patch Loaf throughout the season. I very much hope I will be able to post a loaf that uses at least a bit of the wheat later in the year.  Watch this space.

 

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Intensely lemon cake

Intensely lemon cake

This cake is an adaptation of Claudia Roden’s Orange and almond cake. I was asked if I could bake a lemon drizzle cake that was lemony and not too sweet for an upcoming course.   I have been meaning to try Roden’s recipe with lemons instead of the oranges ever since I first made the orange version years ago. This was my opportunity.

It certainly lives up to its intensely lemon moniker.  It is like eating a bit of (tart!) sunshine. The colour of this cake is also intensely yellow, although I think that is due to the eggs being laid by our own chickens who generally roam free and eat a diet of maize, oats, sunflower seeds, anything they might find on the ground and vegetable kitchen scraps (and bread, lots of bread – they now look at me in disgust “What, bread again?”).

It is gluten-free if you make sure you get the GF baking powder. I suggest that you buy the whole, blanched almonds and grind them up in a food processor if you have one. This means that you get some superfine crumbs of almond, like flour in texture, along with some knobbly bits. This adds a wonderful texture to the cake that is more interesting to eat. The almonds also taste fresher when freshly ground.

I added a drizzle to the cake as soon as it came out of the oven to add another level of zinginess but if you want a more toned down lemonyness then feel free to  ignore this last step.

The top of this cake is a tad overcooked, I wasn’t being diligent enough and had gone off to so something else whilst it baked, but actually the contrast is rather stunning both visually and in taste.

If you like your lemon cakes to have a punch to them then I urge you to try this recipe, with the drizzle. Let me know what you think.

2 lemons
6 eggs
200g caster sugar
250g ground almonds (grind whole blanched almonds yourself if you can)
1 tsp baking powder

For the drizzle
Juice of 1 lemon (you can add the zest too if you like)
50g caster sugar

Method
Place the lemons in a small pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer until tender and soft (can take two hours). I pop mine in the simmering oven of the Aga. Drain and leave the lemons until cool enough to handle.

Preheat your oven to 180°c, gas mark 4 or use the lowest shelf in the baking oven of the four-oven Aga. Line a 23cm round spring-form cake tin.

Take off any green end bits off the lemons (no idea what they are called), cut in half and take out any seeds. Place in a food processor and whizz until finely pureed. If you don’t have a food processor then chop away until the lemon is finely minced, catching any juices.

Whisk the eggs until slightly thickened and then add the sugar gradually whisking all the time and continue to whisk until the mixture is light and mousse-like. Fold in the almonds, baking powder and lemons. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes until it starts to shrink slightly away from the sides.

Just before the cake is cooked mix the sugar with the lemon juice. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven make holes all over the cake with a skewer and spoon the sugar and lemon mixture all over the surface of the cake. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 20 minutes and then finish cooling on a wire rack.

This cake keeps for several days,  if it isn’t eaten in one sitting.

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Simnel cupcakes

simnel cupcakes

This is another post that sees me preparing for my Easter baking course. Veg Patch Kitchen keeps me busy and I rarely get the time to bake for pleasure these days. If I am making cakes they are very likely to be for a course and are being made along with lunch items and I don’t have the time to experiment with a new recipe or post it here.  Recipe development for the courses are a different matter though. They are researched and tested ahead of time so I know that we will be able to recreate them with success during the class and they give me an opportunity to still post here.  This blog has given me pleasure, inspiration and returned my lost confidence to me many times over the last nine years and I don’t want to stop posting here when I get the opportunity. So apologies again for thinking of Easter when we haven’t left January yet.

These little morsels of deliciousness will be made by students on my Easter baking course, along with Greek Tsoureki, hot cross buns and, if we get time, Easter biscuits (aka poorly biscuits in this house).

I adore marzipan, and so do my girls. They make it just to eat, and if they can be bothered with the tiny extra effort they will cut them into animal shapes or make them into marzipan chocolates, but most likely they will just eat it in lump form. It is easy to make and so much more delicious than the bought variety.  But by all means buy some if you want to miss out the step of making the marzipan.

These little cakes are very good, moist with the rum soaked fruit and streak of marzipan and just the right amount of sweetness with the marzipan top. Don’t wait until Easter, make them now.

You don’t need to soak your dried fruit in rum but it does make these cakes extra special.  I keep a jar topped up all year so it’s always there if I need it. But, if you haven’t got a jar of  rum soaked fruit sitting on the side (and really who, apart from me, has?) All they really need is an hour or so sitting in a few tablespoonfuls of rum.

For the marzipan: (to make about 325g)
150g ground almonds
75g icing sugar
75g caster sugar
1 small egg
1 tsp lemon juice
a few drops of almond extract (optional)

Method
Place all of the ingredients (you may not need all of the egg so put half in to begin with) in a food processor and whizz until it comes together. If you don’t have a food processor then just mix the ingredients together with your hands until they come together in a smooth ball.

Cut out 24 small circles (12 for popping in the middle of the batter and 12  for the top). Make some balls for the top.  Traditionally you would have 11 balls on the top of your simnel cake to represent the apostles.

Apricot jam or something similar ( I used my crabapple jelly) to brush on the top of the cooked cakes to help the marzipan disc and balls stick.

For the cakes:
150g softened unsalted butter
150g soft light brown sugar
2 eggs
150g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
150g mixed  dried fruit (optionally soaked in a few tablespoonfuls of rum for at least an hour)
zest of 1 lemon and juice of ½ lemon

You will need 12 cake cases and a 12 hole patty tin. Preheat the oven to 180°c, gas mark 4 or use the middle of the baking oven of the Aga.

Method
Cream the butter and sugar together until soft and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well between additions. Sieve the flour and baking powder into the mixture and fold these with the lemon juice and fruit gently into the mixture until well combined.

Place a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into each of the cases. Top with a disc of marzipan and then top each with another heaped teaspoon of mixture. Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until springy to the touch.

Brush the warm jam over each cake and top with a disc of marzipan and decorate with the balls. Place under a preheated grill or at the top of the roasting oven of the Aga for a few minutes until the marzipan is lightly browned. Place on a wire tray to cool completely.

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