A Finnish Birthday Cake

Finnish Cream Cake

A Traditional Finnish Birthday Cake

I baked this for my wonderful boy’s first birthday. I chose this cake, not only because my partner is Finnish and this is a traditional Finnish cake (as the title of this post suggests!), but because it is full of fresh fruit sandwiched between layers of light, moist sponge; without the thick layer of gloopy white icing we have all come to expect from supermarket cakes aimed at young children.

I was first taught to bake this by my partner’s cousin, Sanna, who introduced me to a wonderfully simple way of measuring out the ingredients for this fatless sponge. At the time, I assumed it was a family recipe but I have since seen it crop up in a number of Scandinavian and Nordic cookbooks; so I guess it is the traditional way of making it!

So here you go, you will see that I have omitted the quantities of fruit in this recipe. This is because the amount of fruit you will need depends on how you wish to decorate your cake. Similarly, the amount of fruit required for the filling is a matter of personal taste.

Ingredients:

For Cake:

Equal quantities (in volume not weight) of:

  • Eggs (use half an egg per person)
  • Caster Sugar
  • Self-raising flour
  • Orange juice (for moistening after baking)

I usually use one of my glass tumblers (of which I have many) filled to a certain point with the eggs. Then use another, filled to the same point with the sugar and then the flour.

For topping and filling:

  • Approx. 800ml whipping cream
  • 200g Icing sugar
  • Bananas
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Kiwi

To make the Cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
  2. Follow the instructions above for measuring the eggs, sugar and flour.
  3. Place the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat vigorously until the colour lightens slightly and the mixture is light and frothy.
  4. Add the flour, little by little, folding in gently to retain the air.
  5. Bake in a tin lined with greaseproof paper for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer, inserted into the centre, comes out clean.
  6. Once the cake is baked, leave in the tin and make several small holes in the surface using a cocktail stick or fork.
  7. Using a small jug, pour the orange juice generously into the holes and let it soak into the cake while you get started on the filling and topping…

To make the filling and topping:

  1. Mix the cream with the icing sugar and whist until firm and spreadable.
  2. Crush some of the strawberries to a pulp, leaving behind enough to decorate your cake.
  3. Mash 2 or 3 bananas and mix with the crushed strawberries.
  4. Thinly slice the remaining strawberries from top to bottom for decoration later.
  5. Once your cake is completely cooled, turn out onto a wire wrack and, using a palate knife, slice evenly through the middle.
  6. Use a broad metal spatula to lift off the top layer and transfer the bottom layer carefully onto a serving plate.
  7. Spread the strawberry and banana mixture onto the base of your cake and sandwich on the top layer.
  8. Again using a palate knife, spread the sweetened whipped cream evenly over the top and sides of the cake. You could use the knife to create a peaked or wavy effect.
  9. Decorate with the thinly sliced strawberries and other fruit to finish.

Enjoy! This is a true celebration cake both in look and taste. I sometimes add a layer of butter cream to the filling. As well as balancing out the acidity of the fruit, it prevents the bottom layer of cake from becoming soggy over time. This is not a traditional addition, however, and I have left it out of the main recipe for fear of reprisals from Finns, who will undoubtedly claim that this is certainly not how their grandmothers used to make it! As well as for birthdays, this is an unashamedly summery cake, light and fresh and covered in summer berries, which wouldn’t look out of place as the centrepiece for any Summertime soiree.

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Trade shopping for food swapping!

Whilst pawing a well-known UK foodie mag recently I happened upon an article about a ‘food exchange’ network. This is where people get in touch with each other for the purpose of swapping their homemade goodies. Jam, chutney, sourdough, sausages and artisan cheese were all mooted as potential candidates for a swap and I can think of many more besides. I have been pondering this idea ever since!

For me, this wonderful notion harks back to the days when the farmer’s wife would take a box of eggs to the baker, who in exchange would give her her daily loaf. Then onto the butcher with another dozen in exchange for a hunk of beef or lamb, and so on. Despite the attention grabbing banner of this post, I’m not suggesting that us home bakers give up work to don an apron full-time and get to work on producing enough bread, buns or cakes to trade in for all our nutritional needs; but certainly we could make a larger batch once in a while, some of which we could swap for some other homemade foodie delight. What a treat!

There’s nothing I love more than sharing my home-bakes with others; and although I often toy with the idea of opening my own cafe, full to the brim with freshly baked fare, food swapping seems a much less risky way of sharing and showing off my baking talents, whilst being just as satisfying. The bonus is that you go away with the fruits of someone else’s labour in exchange for your own hard work. What could be better?

 

Baking Books: An Obsession.

Just a few!

Just a few!

I have already hinted at my uncontrollable cookbook-buying habit. The delivery man from Amazon can actually be heard saying “you again!” as I open the door, hand eagerly outstretched ready to snatch at the plastic toothpick; scrawling my name whilst simultaneously tearing the package to shreds to reveal my new purchase.

I’ve bought some cracking new baking books recently. ‘How to Bake’ by the Silver Fox himself, Paul Hollywood is a winner for me. I love the layout of this book. The preamble to each chapter is absorbing and I appreciate the fact he includes the little details which make all the difference, like the number of loaves, preparation and baking time clearly at the top of each recipe. Some argue that this is a book for the amateur baker, but I disagree. For me, there can never be too many hints and tips about baking, even if they do concern the basics like how to knead and prove your dough. All bakers have a slightly different slant on how to conduct these elemental tasks. Therefore I collect hints and tips just as I collect the recipes themselves. They change the fabric of my baking experience; as I test out the ones I like the sound of, discarding those which bring nothing to my endeavor and incorporating the morsels which will enhance the taste and beauty of my future bakes.

Another book I am wholly impressed with is ‘Nordic Bakery’ by Miisa Mink. Now this may not appeal to the more mainstream bakers among you, as this is, as the title suggests, a collection of traditional (mainly Finnish) Nordic recipes. I won’t go too far into why I have a fervent interest in the baking of our Northern European friends (see future posts…), but I was specifically looking for traditional Finnish recipes which I could practice and replicate in order to evoke many a happy memory of the country. This book certainly delivers. It contains recipes for many of the traditional treats you see in cafes and homes all over Finland. My mother-in-law (who is Finnish), even commented that her Mummo (grandmother) used to bake many of the recipes for her when she was a child. I have tried the Karelian Pies, Potato Flatbreads and the Date Cake and all are out of this world! A definite must-have for anyone wanting  to discover more about Nordic baking or indeed anyone who enjoys delicious baked goodies!

When I first started baking, in my naivety, I believed that when you buy a new book and follow one of the, often beautifully presented and well laid out, recipes therein, the fruits of your labour will necessarily match up to the mouth-watering picture nestled attractively beside it. Surely any recipe which boasts a product, the following of which (without tampering) it will never produce is an issue for Trading Standards? After all, if I knew beforehand that the recipes in a given book were almost without exception full of errors, typos and untested claims; there isn’t a yeast-spore’s chance in a bag of salt that I would give up my hard earned cash in exchange for it! My veil of ignorance has since been lifted! Let’s start with Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’. Now it is, among other things, Nigella’s gift of the gab which most entices me to buy each new book she releases; but after ‘How to Eat’, I have also come to expect well tested, trustworthy recipes. Certainly not in this case! This book is full of unforgivable typos (whoever added 1 tablespoon of salt to a 500g loaf?) which will sadly lead to the unsuspecting baker wasting good ingredients and suffering unpalatable results. I will red-flag more books which are the audacious ambassadors of untested recipes soon (see future posts).

In the meantime, my advice to anyone afflicted with this cookbook obsession is twofold:

1) Read the reviews before you buy! If there are shameless errors in a book, the brigade of trusty reviewers are sure to tell us! And become a reviewer yourself – the more of us who air our opinions, the more rounded a picture we will be privy to when we put our buyers hat on – and hence the better value for money we will receive!

2) If your pockets aren’t as deep as Mary Poppins’ bag, steer clear of Amazon’s ‘One-Click’ feature! Should you have the misfortune to be as bedeviled as I am by the baking-book-bug you will surely bankrupt yourself within a year!

Why baking bread isn’t rocket science…

Do cookery writers have some vested interest in making bread baking sound like rocket science? Hang on a minute, I suppose they do! ‘Bread making is an exact science’, ‘water must be weighed rather than measured to ensure accurate quantities’…? Anyone wondering how they’ve ever managed to turn out a half decent loaf?

There are several myths surrounding how to bake bread that are very likely to deter the majority of people from going within a foot of a bag of flour and some yeast! Below, I will try to reassure you that bread-making is not as precise and difficult as we are sometimes led to believe…

Weigh your Water?

– I don’t think so! Of course, there are quantities that it is prudent to stick to; but any recipe worth its salt will advise that different brands of flour absorb water differently, and so often it is better to go by the following simple rule: whilst combining your dry ingredients with water (mixing with one hand and pouring with the other), generally you have added enough when the dough begins picking up flour from the sides of the bowl, leaving it looking clean. Also, wetter dough is considered preferable to a dough which is too dry, so that little drop extra shouldn’t mean the death knell for your loaf! Just keep kneading it past that sticky phase (if you aren’t used to making bread this requires some faith and perseverance to begin with – but it will happen eventually!) and you should end up with a light and silky dough.

Dough in the Airing Cupboard?

-Not anymore! Recipes of old would suggest rising and proving dough in a warm, draft free airing cupboard (or similar). However, whilst it is true that a draft is the enemy of your dough, keeping it in the airing cupboard is no longer required in this day and age; when homes are generally well heated and insulated all the year round. A warm kitchen is absolutely fine for rising and proving your dough.

Over-kneaded?

If you are kneading your dough by hand over-kneading is nigh on impossible! If you’re using a mixer with dough-hook, you need to be a bit more careful! Check every few minutes and if your dough begins to feel dense it may be time to stop mixing! Generally, once your dough begins to become elastic; form a kind of cohesive skin on the outside; when it wants to come together in a ball rather than sticking to the surface, it’s ready to prove. The other test for how well you’ve developed the gluten in your dough (this being the main purpose of kneading), is the ‘gluten window’ test. Using two hands, pull the edges of your dough out leaving the majority to hang down. If the dough stretches far and thinly enough so that you can see light shining through (the ‘gluten window’) then the gluten is well developed. However, if it tears before the light can be seen through it, it needs more kneading!

To me, the art of baking your own bread is actually very forgiving. Adding a little bit of this and a touch of that often pays off and even if you end up with a disastrous loaf at the end, you will invariably know the reason why and adapt your recipe for next time… And what if you don’t? Well, then there’s an army of knowledgeable bloggers on hand to answer your every baking conundrum!

The Yeasty Thing

Let me introduce you to…The Yeasty Thing…

The latest sourdough starter to come out of Charlton!

The latest sourdough starter to come out of Charlton!

Yes baking fans, you guessed it, this is my latest sourdough starter, bubbling away vigorously in its garish Sainsbury’s picnic jug!

The thing I love about making a sourdough starter is the fact that every single one is unique. The bread I bake from this one will be different from the bloke’s down the road, from those I’ve made from other starters, even from the loaf I baked from it yesterday! The character of a starter is down to the airborne yeast spores that happened to be merrily floating by on the day I started it, coupled with how long it’s been fermenting away – and I love that about it!

While preparing my starter and growing it ready for the first bake, I like to pretend that I am a scientist, working methodically and observing closely as I go. However, the reality of growing a starter are not quite as precise. All it takes is a bit of strong white flour (this must be organic, I’m told, otherwise the yeasties will steer clear!); roughly 100g, and some warm water. Mix this to a thick paste (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, henceforth HFW for obvious reasons, suggests it should resemble the consistency of ‘thick paint’) and leave in an airtight-ish container (like my trusty picnic jug) until you see little bubbles forming on the surface. This seems to happen for me in a matter of hours, but apparently it can take up to 3 days! So some patience may be required!

I have read some instructions for building sourdough starters, which prescribe adding all manner of grated fruit to this simple flour and water mix in order to encourage the yeast to settle and grow. I have never tried this and see it as totally unnecessary; especially since you are often advised to remove said fruit once the yeast has got going – err, no thanks!

Whisk the flour and water together, to create lots of aeration, and wait for the magic to happen! When the bubbles appear, it’s time to feed your new pet. Actually, this is why mine is now known, in our household, as ‘The Yeasty Thing’; because my two year-old likes to sniff it each morning and watch me ‘feeding it’ as if it’s a new addition to the family! I rather like this way of thinking about it, and it is conducive to me remembering to feed it every day rather than leaving it languish and turn into, well, a floury bloody mess!

Yes, that is everyday – as in, every 24 hours you must feed your starter another 100g of organic strong white flour and mix in enough water (it can be cool water straight from the tap from hereon in) so as to bring it back to that thick paint consistency. You will start to see your starter bubbling up with delight each time you feed it and then over night it will begin to fall back frothily in anticipation of its next meal.

Once you have lovingly repeated this routine for at least 7 days you’re ready to bake!

Look out for future posts with more juicy sourdough deets!