Autumn Bake: Almond and Plum Crumble Cake

The flavours of autumn are everywhere. The colours are too. Look at these beautiful colours I found in Greenwich Park last weekend. The vibrancy and variety of hues is unbelievable and one of the great charms of autumn is that it seems so fleeting.

Suddenly all I want to cook with are pears, mushrooms, aubergines, beetroots… It’s so nice to start wrapping up (while it’s still light until seven-ish) and indulge in cosier tastes. I decided to get well into autumn baking with this almond and plum crumble cake. I baked it as a dessert for a family meal I hosted at my house in Greenwich. However, large slices found their way into my bag for work during the week and went down a treat with a green tea of an afternoon. I really enjoy baking with ground almonds and substituting part of the flour content in fruity cakes in particular. I think it works so well when baking with fruit because the ground almonds soak up some of the moisture that most baked fruits produce or the syrups that are sometimes used to pour over fruity cakes to penetrate the bake with its flavour (a la lemon drizzle). This cake has a subtle almond flavour which is lovely and sweet when paired with the tangy plums.

The cake batter is quite thick and needs spreading when you add it to your cake tin. I suppose this is to support the plums as this is a relatively long bake and sunken plums is not an option! Decorative eh?

The cake batter with plums arranged on top, before adding the crumble mixture. My advice is to stuff as many plums onto the top of the cake as you can as the whole effect of them is wonderful when baked - the purple colour is vibrant and the plums become soft and slightly sweeter during cooking - you definitely want a bit of plum in every mouthful.
The cake batter with plums arranged on top, before adding the crumble mixture. My advice is to stuff as many plums onto the top of the cake as you can as the whole effect of them is wonderful when baked – the purple colour is vibrant and the plums become soft and slightly sweeter during cooking – you definitely want a bit of plum in every mouthful.

I added extra brown demerara sugar to the crumble topping for extra crunch and caramelisation. Sometimes I’m a bit of a maverick with crumble and add all sorts to try and achieve crumble perfection: oats, honey, dried berries cut up finely, chopped brazil nuts… it’s all getting a bit granola isn’t it? The extra demerara was as far as I went with this one! Luckily I didn’t find there was any need to cover the cake with foil while it’s baking, even though it’s a long bake, to stop the crumble from colouring too quickly or getting burnt.

This bake doesn’t rise too much while cooking; it stands at about 6cm tall when baked and the crumble is about a half centimetre of this height. A fair amount of my previous baking experience has been layer cakes with inches of cream and frosting so setting it on my cake stand felt very strange! Where’s the rest of it, I thought. Nope, the beauty of this cake is in its autumnal rusticness and simplicity. I served it slightly warm with pouring cream or a dollop of custard (custard wins for me every day! Everyone else around me favours cream).

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 175 golden caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 22g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 85g sour cream
  • 6 plums, halved and stoned

For the crumble topping 

  • 50g ground almonds
  • 50g plain flour
  • 75g demerara sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  1. Preheat your oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Line a 22cm springform round cake tin, as deep as you’ve got, with baking paper.
  2. Make the crumble topping first. Add all the crumble ingredients to a bowl and rub until it reaches your desired texture. It should look something like this:


  3. Now move onto the cake, which is really ridiculously easy. Add the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, ground almonds and soured cream into an electric mixer or big bowl. Sift in the baking powder and flour and beat with your mixer or hand-held electric whisk until smooth.
  4. Tip all of the mixture into your tin and level out with a palette knife.
  5. Arrange the halved plums (cut side up) over the cake mixture and push in so that only the top centimetre or so of the plum is visible above the cake. It should look something like my earlier picture.
  6. Then scatter the crumble on top as evenly as you can. It should look something like this:

    The crumble mixture on top of the cake batter and plums. The quantity of crumble produces a good half a centimetre of crunchiness. I found there was no need to cover the cake with foil at any point during the bake to stop the crumble getting too dark.

  7. Bake for 1 hour until all the usual signs of a baked cake are evident (skewer comes out clean, no wobble, no instant deflate, etc). It should look something like this:


  8. Cool in the tin and then tip out to cool fully. Cut into chunky slices and serve with cream or custard. I stored the cake in an airtight tin and it was still yummy for about 2 days. After that the plums were a little too soft for my liking so my partner and I ate all remaining cake for fear of wastage.
On baking the cake has this super mouth-watering hint of the lovely juices that the plums have released into the cake and crumble while baking.
On baking the cake has this super mouth-watering hint of the lovely juices that the plums have released into the cake and crumble while in the oven.

I can’t wait to get going with some more seasonal cooking. I picked up a handful of wild mushrooms from the nearby green grocer which I’m planning on having for brunch tomorrow: fried with some garlic, butter and parsley and served on toast with a poached egg. Actual heaven on a plate. Seasonal cooking can be every day too right?! Enjoy the cake!

Proscuitto, Manchego and Balsamic Onion Quick Bread

Have you been watching the Great British Bake Off? It’s one of my favourite programmes of the whole year. It’s light-hearted and there aren’t really any expectations for the winner at the end, although some of them have gone on to do very well in the public eye, and some non-winners have too. Ruby Tandoh’s weekly column in The Guardian is one of my favourite sources of new and interesting recipes. I am a big fan of Nadiya and Tamal. I’d be very happy if either of them won!

After each episode I always feel very inspired to produce something from the week’s theme. I’ve got a lot of experience making cakes but I feel like cake week is the only one I’d be anywhere near my comfort zone within. I’ve noted down lots of recipes from the series so far that I want to try my hand at, and BBC Food are handily publishing 5 recipes from each week on their website. Today was the perfect opportunity to return to week 3 (bread week) and bake Alvin’s proscuitto, manchego and balsamic onion quick bread which basically sounds like heaven in an oven. I’ve never made a quick bread or soda bread before, and just the thought of the combination of ingredients and flavours here make me ridiculously hungry. They’re the the kind of toppings I’d go for on a pizza, or pull together on a cheese board.

I am very lucky where I live in Greenwich to have a couple of gorgeous independent shops about 30 seconds walk from my house. It’s all very English, there’s a fishmonger, butcher, florist, green grocer and cheese shop. The Cheeseboard is a teeny shop on the corner packed with wines, olives, chutneys, dairy products, bread and baked goods and CHEESE. They’ve never let me down so far no matter how esoteric the cheese is that I’m after.

There was a fair amount of preparation to do for this recipe. All that tearing of proscuitto and basil, dicing manchego and slicing onions. The actual breadmaking part feels very short! I suppose that is the beauty of a quick bread. Take your time over preparing the onions so that they become super sweet and juicy while cooling. It’s the presence of these onions that mean you could almost eat it without butter because there is already a chutney-esque flavour running through it.

After rubbing the butter and flour together, it’s important that all the dry additions are well distributed through the breadcrumby mixture because apparently quick breads shouldn’t be handled too much. You don’t want to be kneading it excessively with the aim of distributing the fillings. The picture above is what my dry ingredients looked like all ready to receive the buttermilk.

I used about 250ml of buttermilk to make the dough just come together rather than the full 300ml. It looked so appetising even before going in the oven! All the different flashes of colour are lovely.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp cooking oil (olive, vegetable, rapeseed etc)
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 3 tbsp (45ml) balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22.5ml) soft brown sugar
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1 tsp (5ml) bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp (5ml) salt
  • 30g cold, diced unsalted butter
  • 80g proscuitto, torn roughly
  • 200g manchego cheese, diced into roughly 1cm chunks
  • Handful of torn basil leaves
  • 300ml buttermilk (or 300ml milk mixed with 20ml of white wine vinegar)
  • 1 tbsp (15g) butter, melted, for brushing over the finished quick bread
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas Mark 6 and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Warm the oil over medium-high heat and when hot, add the red onions and stir. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and cook for 15 minutes. Add the vinegar and sugar, increase the heat slightly, and cook, uncovered, for a further 5 minutes. Set aside to cool completely (this should take half an hour or so).
  3. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large deep bowl. Rub in the butter until it resembles very fine breadcrumbs.
  4. Put a small amount of cooked onions, manchego and proscuitto aside to top the bread with when it goes in the oven.
  5. Add the remaining onions, prosciutto, basil and cheese to the flour mixture.
  6. Mix the buttermilk with 25ml water. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture, I used about 250ml rather than the full 300ml and you’re trying to make a dough which just comes together. Add more buttermilk if the dough is too dry, or a little plain flour if it’s too wet.
  7. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, roughly shape and transfer to the prepared baking trays. Flatten the loaf to about 4cm thick. Score the top using a sharp knife and top with the reserved balsamic onions, proscuitto and manchego.
  8. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden-brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base. I covered the bread with foil 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time to make sure it didn’t get burnt. If the bread sounds hollow when you tap its base, it’s done.
  9. Transfer to a wire rack and brush with melted butter. Allow to cool fully.

The fact that this quick bread already has a handful of meat and cheese in makes it delicious on its own rather than a bread for sandwich-making. I had it with a spread of goats cheese. I was actually impressed by how soft the crumb was, as I was expecting a rather more dense loaf given the lack of kneading and yeast. Quick breads keep well in airtight containers, in the fridge for a few days or frozen when fully cooled down. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of the GBBO final next week!

September Stationery and Bookish Bloomsbury

I have been reducing my expenditure slightly on stationery over the last couple of months. I should say that this doesn’t mean the quantity of stationery I have acquired has reduced. The truism “quality over quantity” has probably sprung to your mind, but one of the best aspects of this particular passion of mine is that great, unique and usable stationery comes in all shapes and sizes, for all prices.

One piece of stationery that I love and have decided I can’t live without? Washi tape. Perhaps to some, these decorative tapes appear relatively useless. But since incorporating them into my various written pursuits, I find I can’t get enough of the stuff. Using washi tapes can add instant luxe appeal to the most drab of Paperchase sale cards. It adds splashes of colour to darkly-coloured notebooks and boring office-cupboard plastic wallets. It can be used as page markers or bookmarks. Borders, lines, boxes in a scrapbook. I am a bit obsessed. I have about 20 different washi tapes and I chop and change these in my daily collection just like my pencils and pens.

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Much of September’s stationery I bought in person and on a singular occasion. I went for the most wonderful walk in Bloomsbury recently. It’s amazing what you see when you’re actually looking for it. The British Museum is very famous for its wonderful collection of Greek antiquities, and while I nosed around museums all over Greece recently it’s noticeable how many pieces of Greek art and history are actually on loan from the British Museum… to Greece! On taking a stroll past the British Museum I noticed for the first time that many of the shops nearby have a Greek theme. That would have never caught my eye before my recent holiday. Anyway, my reason for being in the area in the first place and the eventual moral of this story is that Bloomsbury has the most fantastic aura of bookishness and literacy about it. Over the course of about four hours I strolled around with a coffee (Holborn Grind, delicious) stopping off at various independent bookstores and stationers. Best day ever.

One of my first stops was Blade Rubber Stamps. This is a shop devoted to, well, rubber stamps. I love using rubber stamps and often incorporate them into notes and letters. I’ve been lusting after a date stamp for some time, having been patiently waiting for this cute little one (number 11) to come back into stock at one of my favourite stationers’ Present & Correct. Blade Rubber Stamps has a vast range of products; seasonal motifs, short messages in vintage style type, floral designs, black cabs… you name it, it’s on a stamp. They had a great selection suitable for letter-writing, and I was particularly drawn to a tiny snail stamp (as in “snail mail”). But then I found this beauty. So far the quality of the stamp seems excellent; it produces a lovely and extremely fine colonial font. I’ve been inking it up with my Lion stamp pad as the ink comes out brilliantly black. Gorgeous isn’t it?

Onto some of my paper and ink acquisitions over the last month. I purchased a couple of my new washi tapes from Volte Face on Great Ormond Street, and the rest I picked up at another of my favourite stationers’ – JP Books in Soho. JP Books specialises in Japanese products and the display of books and magazines (predominantly in Japanese) fascinates me. Oh the hours I’ve spent in here. It’s ironic because the stationery collection isn’t vast, but they stock products that I just haven’t come across anywhere else. All that testing and handling and reading takes time. First and foremost I bought myself a Tsubame Cream notebook. I have read reviews of the Tsubame Fools range of notebooks online and I know that they are well respected for their bleed resistant, watermarked paper. On opening this notebook you are confronted with the creamiest of papers. The cover is soft-bound and has a leathery effect to it, and there is a great, very lightly woven linen-style binding on the spine.  I’ll update on this when I get stuck into using it properly. Oh and I’m too nervous to write my name on the cover. I don’t want to ruin the look and feel of it by scrawling my name on the front yet!

My other two purchases are disposable pens and came at a snip. These are the Pilot Uniball Signo RT1 in blue black (0.38mm) and a Kuretake brush pen. While I love a good fountain pen I do have a special place in my heart for fine gel pens. The Pilot RT1 is a very smooth pen to write with and I really like the blue black tone.  While it’s not going to win prizes with me for uniqueness, it’s a worthwhile everyday pen and I’ve been using it consistently at work ever since I added it to my weekly collection at the expense of all my other pens, which is actually quite an accolade considering how much thought I put into said weekly collection. The image at the top of this post is a sample of how the RT1 writes, very occasionally I have an issue with the ink skipping (as you can see on the word “mean”) but overall the ink is consistent. I’ve only doodled and jotted with the Kuretake brush pen so far. I’m actually attending a brush lettering workshop later this month for which I’m hugely excited. I’m planning to keep it safe to use and practice with after I’ve picked up some tips and tricks to produce beautiful brush calligraphy!

On my walk I stumbled across Persephone Books on Lamb’s Conduit Street. Persephone Books is predominantly a publishing house with a bookshop attached, specialising in female writers particularly from the early 20th century. I couldn’t walk out of this shop empty-handed. This book, “Someone at a Distance” by Dorothy Whipple, was recommended to me as featuring a meaty plot and having a very literary style of writing compared to some of the more light-hearted books on offer. I proudly walked out with this under my arm and I’m about to start reading once I finish the current book I’m on (“Confessions of a Sociopath” by M.E.Thomas). I’m looking forward to it because it seems to be different to my usual fictional choices which have recently included “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce, “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozens, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou and “A Song for Issy Bradley” by Carys Bray). Persephone Books deserves its own blog post though and I’m popping back soon to meet the staff at Persephone Books to learn more about their publishing style, book selections and future editions.

Have you used any of these products? I’d be delighted to hear your reviews.

FindTheGirlsOnTheNegatives / East London Snapshots / Diamine Bilberry Review

 

Has anybody seen Meagan Abell’s Facebook campaign to find the original photographer of some fantastic quality negatives she found in a charity shop? They are ridiculously beautiful, evocative, dreamy, wistful, summery. Here is one of the photos:

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The internet is full of stories about viral reunions. I really hope this one finds its way back to the photographer and subjects. Who knows what other great shots they’ve taken in their life.

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On my wanders this week I’ve found some great pieces of public art. Some obvious…

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Some not so obvious!

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Back to business. I’m a big fan of Diamine inks because they are so affordable and there is such a great range of colours and shades available in relatively small 30ml bottles. This means I get to try out lots of the Diamine range compared to other more expensive ranges, as I go through ink like water.

 

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There’s a slickness and professionalism about the colour, almost a masculinity. I don’t find this ink a novelty shade in any way, it’s attractive for long stretches of writing and I love the contrast against the light shades of paper that I generally use.

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I’m going to get a picture and update this post with a daytime shot of this ink to demonstrate what it looks like against a blander coloured paper. There’s something really natural about its shade that evokes autumn; the colour of blackberries and sloes. Bilberry is so deeply saturated that the colour is very consistent, although as I’ve mentioned above I sway between thinking this is a blue and purple ink depending on any kind of external circumstance! Something I love about using Bilberry is that it’s exciting for me because I appreciate the different tones and saturation, but this isn’t immediately obvious to others, it isn’t for showing off or attracting attention.

If you’re a fan of using deep, inconspicuous and almost surreptitious shades in your writing, give Bilberry a go.

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Clerkenwell, Sunshine and Stationery

What a day. Every so often the sun throws her English expectations out of the window and comes out in full force. Today was one of those days: blue skies, no clouds, warm breeze, people everywhere. It’s impossible not to be enamoured by a day like this in London. I spent the opportunity being outside as much as possible. Unfortunately a good part of this outdoor pursuit involved visiting a site I’m working on in Hammersmith, right on the Broadway. Heat and exhaust fumes don’t make for the most charming summer memories. But this afternoon when I skipped out of work I took a long walk to Clerkenwell.

One of life’s great pleasures for me is stumbling upon a new place. Luckily there are endless possibilities for this to happen in London. I found a green space called Spa Fields, just south of the wonderful Exmouth Market. It’s not the largest park in the world, and probably took me about 5 minutes to stroll through in its entirety. I thought it was incredibly characterful though, with some interesting landscape architecture elements including a rolling set of mounds comparable to a mini BMX track, a lavender plantation, vine covered arches and a pyramidal centre building. The yellow grass shows quite how warm it’s been recently.

 

What was noticeable about this park was the range of people using and enjoying it. There were locals and young people, office workers with their trousers rolled up and families. There are many playful elements wrapped up in this green space that make it seem a bit quirky.

Coming out of the park I headed towards Arlington Way, just past Sadlers Wells theatre on the way to Angel. I was intentionally heading here to visit the fabulous Present & Correct shop. Clerkenwell is so full of fantastic architecture. The street layout, other than the trunk-like Farringdon Road, is fine, organic and dense lending itself to a range of functions; churches and old school buildings are found in the centre of small neighbourhoods that are definable because of their common architectural features. One standout building for me was this residential complex on Rosebery Avenue called The Laboratory Building. Predictably it was an old laboratory. I loved the art deco features on this building, the curvature of the frontage and its floor-to-ceiling windows. If you look around the building these windows delineate the height of three floors, and all the floors have their own window type.

Arlington Way itself is a typical Islington street in many ways. On one side there is a 60s style fabricated estate development, with traditional two-up two-down town houses opposite. A number of these town houses have ground-level retail functions with beautifully decorated frontages. There are also some vintage features that have remained such as a traditional painted wall advertising funeral services.

Present & Correct was really the highlight of my day. It’s a beautiful and tiny shop devoted to stationery and products associated with everyday artistry. It’s full of unique designs with a quality and bespoke feel. The shop is also immaculately presented. I would like to devote a whole post to this shop soon. If you are a fan of the genuinely written word as I am, check this shop out for yourself. It’s probably my favourite shop in London at the moment.

My purchases. Detail is everything. My shopping bag from Present & Correct comes complete with a record card a la 1950s library. And yes I continued to Angel and stopped off at the Hummingbird Bakery for my favourite pick, the black bottom cupcake.

Here is today’s haul. It consists of a Palomino Blackwing 602 graphite pencil, a “from the desk of” stamp and Lion ink pad and a vintage telegram. I’m going to save the telegram to write a letter to someone that I know will appreciate this as much as I would! Honestly, if I received a letter like this from a friend, it would be in a frame and up on the wall. I’m intending to do a review of the Blackwing soon.

I hope you are enjoying this beautiful London evening!

Oh and also, while I was loitering in Spa Fields, I read an interesting Guardian article which is essentially a dummy’s guide to building a city. I’ll probably write a response to this article in more depth but as an urbanist I think there are some good points here, but also some critical considerations missing. Disaster-proofing for example. Thoughts welcome.