A well baked plan

Apple and polenta cake

Apple and polenta cake

Sat, Mar 5, 2011, 00:00

Here are some fantastic baking recipes, guaranteed to feed a happy gang

REGULAR READERS of this column will know that I am not the best baker – by a long shot. So when I do find a recipe that produces fine results, I am quite simply delighted with myself. This sticky toffee pudding is from The Great British Menu Cookbook,which I’m currently ploughing through. It documents a great competition that is completely at odds with the frippery of shows such as Ready, Steady, Cook and it’s inspiring to see the lengths these mega-chefs go to in order to create something unique and quintessentially “British”. Maybe we should have our own competition for the Great Irish Menu?

But back to this pudding . . . the thought of a sticky toffee bread and butter pudding was just too good a notion not to try out. I whisked the heck out of the eggs and sugar and it made the custard-style base really aerated, which, when baked, seemed to give the pudding a real lightness or “soufflé quality” as my sister declared, in between mouthfuls.

But there were a few issues with this original recipe: the suggested bread quantity was a bit bonkers, and the picture nearly put me off: it was an exquisitely neat looking pudding, perfectly turned out from a dariole mould, which I knew was unlikely to happen if mere mortals like me were to have a go at this recipe. Therefore I would recommend doing this in a big gratin dish (mine was 28x16cm base measurements).

You’ll also see that bicarbonate of soda is added to the dates when they’re simmering, which help the dates to break down more easily. This is because the bicarbonate of soda makes the water alkaline, which makes vegetables and fruits go “mushy” with prolonged boiling. This is perfect for what you’re trying to achieve in this recipe, which is a delicious, dry, date mush, to sandwich in between layers of buttery bread.

The other dessert is a cake from one of Nigel Slater’s books, Tender: Volume II. It was originally for rhubarb, which I found nigh impossible to get. Having bought the polenta, I was determined to have a go at the cake, rhubarb or no rhubarb, so I used apple instead.

The result was lovely, but I felt it needed a little more sweetness. This is not obligatory, but drizzling this cake with the leftover toffee sauce from the sticky toffee pudding recipe was a marriage made in heaven. I also wrapped it up and let it sit in the fridge for a few days and it still tasted great. A really fantastic and dead easy cake.

Sticky toffee bread and butter pudding

Serves 6

200g pitted dates

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

12 slices white bread

75g butter, very soft

3 eggs

3 egg yolks

1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla essence

75g caster sugar

500ml cream

Sprinkle demerara sugar

Sticky toffee sauce

100g butter

100g golden syrup

100g soft dark brown sugar

100ml crème fraiche

Heat the dates with about 300ml of water and the bicarbonate of soda. The water should just cover the dates. Simmer for about five to 10 minutes until the mixture is quite dry, but the texture is mushy and still spreadable. Cut the crusts off the bread. Butter the bread generously on both sides and put six slices on the base of the gratin dish. Hopefully they will snugly fit in one, neat layer. When the dates are ready, spread them over the bread, and then finish with the last six slices of bread. Whisk the eggs (and egg yolks) along with the sugar. Scrape the vanilla seeds into this, or add the essence, and whisk like crazy. Heat the cream with the empty vanilla pod until just starting to boil. When the eggs are light and voluminous, pour the hot cream on top and keep whisking. Then pour this on to the bread and date layers and leave to soak for at least half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 170 degress/gas mark three. Sprinkle with the demerara sugar before baking this for about 25 minutes. It will still be a bit wobbly in the centre, but should be a gorgeous golden brown. Don’t overcook it, otherwise it will lose the lovely soft and silky quality. So err on the side of less cooking time and the custard base will keep on cooking even when it’s removed from the oven.

Serve with the toffee sauce and a big blob of whipped cream or ice-cream.

To make the toffee sauce, heat the butter, syrup and sugar in a non-stick small saucepan until the sugar has melted and it’s a thick but fairly smooth paste. Take off the heat and whisk in the crème fraiche. Be careful as it may splutter a bit. This will keep for a few days in the fridge.

Apple and polenta cake

6 large apples, Cox’s or Braeburn

75g sugar

Good tsp cinnamon

125g coarse polenta

200g flour

1 tsp baking powder

150g butter

1 egg

80ml milk

2 tbsp demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/gas mark four. The apples, when peeled, cored and chopped, should total about 500-600g. Toss them in a bowl with the 75g of sugar and cinnamon. Line the base of a 20cm springform cake tin with parchment paper and grease the sides. In a food processor, whiz the polenta, flour and baking powder. Add lumps of the butter to make a breadcrumb texture after more pulse whizzing. Then add the egg and milk to form a soft, but very sticky dough. Spread two thirds of the cake mix into the cake tin. Spread the apples on top. Then dot the remaining third of the cake mix over the apples. It really is sticky, so do this patchwork style, but as evenly as you can.

Sprinkle with the demerara sugar and bake for about 40 minutes until it is a pale golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. This is delicious when it has cooled down to room temperature and is even better with a drizzle of the toffee sauce.

See also itsa.ie