Saturday, 16 December 2017

Makowiec (Polish Poppy Seed Cake)

Makowiec Poppy Seed Couronne

Makowiec Poppy Seed Couronne Slice

The Christmas bake-a-thon has begun and I've been fairly overwhelmed practising my bakes for both my boyfriend's and my families. This bake is for my boyfriend's family. I adore Polish baking, and I honestly think it's not appreciated well enough in the UK. This poppy seed cake is a delight - a sweet (but not overly sugary) bread (although it's called a cake, it is bread, odd but yummy) dough, filled with a sweetened poppy seed paste with walnuts, raisins, and homemade candied orange and lemon peel. It's served at Christmas, so it's a perfect bake for me to test my bread-making skills and bake something different for the holiday season.

Traditionally this is served as a log, with swirls of filling inside. This is delicious, however, I decided to take a step away from tradition and shaped my bread like a couronne, which is like a crown where the filling sort of spills out of the bread. I've seen it done before with apricot fillings and the like, so I figured, why not try it with this bread.

I think it turned out pretty well - the only step I now wish I'd taken would be to brush a little sieved apricot jam over the bread after it comes out of the oven - this would give the bread a lovely shine.

Makes 1 large couronne


For the bread:

  • 7g pack of dried fast-action yeast
  • 30g (2 tbsp) caster sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 160g (1 & 1/3 cups) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1/2 tbsp vodka (I used a lovely Polish vodka called zoladkowa gorzka, but any should work fine)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract/paste
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 60ml milk (1/4 cup) (I used skimmed milk), lukewarm
  • 50g butter (1/4 cup) - melted then cooled until it is lukewarm

For the filling:

  • 160g (1 & 1/3 cups) poppy seeds
  • 60g (1/3 cup) light soft brown sugar
  • 75g (1/2 cup) raisins/sultanas
  • 50g (1/2 cup) chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 2 tbsp honey/maple syrup
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tbsp softened butter
  • 50g (1/2 cup) candied oranges/lemons (see below)
  • 2 egg whites

For the candied oranges and lemons:

  • 1 large orange
  • 1 lemon
  • 100g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
  • 100ml (2/5 cup) water
To finish:

  • 50g (3 tbsp) apricot jam, boiled, then sieved


1. Firstly, make the dough as it needs a long time to prove. Sift the plain flour into a large bowl. Add the salt and sugar to one side of the bowl, and the yeast to the opposite side. Briefly, stir.

2. Make a well in the centre of the flour, and add the vodka, lukewarm milk, vanilla, and egg yolks. Bring the dough together. If it is very sticky add a little more flour. The dough should slightly stick to your hands but should be manageable.

3.  If you have a stand mixer at this stage, use the dough hook attachment to work the dough for 6 - 8 minutes, until it is smooth and bounces back when lightly pressed.
If you're working the dough by hand, knead the dough for 8-10 minutes.

4. Slowly pour over the lukewarm butter and knead until the butter has all been incorporated.

5. Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly greased bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave for at least 4 hours, until it has doubled in size.

6. Meanwhile, prepare the candied oranges and lemons. Wash the orange and lemon under hot water (in case they have a wax covering), then slice as thinly as possible.

7. Place the orange and lemon slices in a saucepan and cover with the sugar and water. Bring to the boil and cook for 10 - 15 minutes, until the white pith is starting to turn translucent.

8. Remove the slices from the syrup and leave to dry on greaseproof paper.

9. To make the poppy seed filling, pour the poppy seeds into a large bowl and cover with freshly boiled water. Set aside until the water has completely cooled down.

10. Drain the poppy seeds well, then place in a blender (or use a pestle and mortar). Blitz/grind briefly to break down the seeds. Pour into a large bowl and add the brown sugar, raisins/sultanas, almond extract, honey/maple syrup, cinnamon and softened butter, and beat well.

11. Chop the candied orange and lemon slices finely, and add 50g to the poppy seed mix. Stir to incorporate.

12. Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks when the whisk is lifted from the bowl. Fold into the poppy seed mixture.

13. Once the dough has doubled in size, turn out onto lightly floured baking parchment. Roll the dough until it is a 35 x 25 cm rectangle. Turn the dough so that the long edge is facing you.

14. Spread over the poppy seed filling, as evenly as possible, leaving 1/2 cm border bare.

15. Roll the dough like a swiss roll (rolling up from the long edge), as tightly as possible.

16. Use a sharp knife to cut down the roll lengthways, leaving a cm or so uncut (imagine a pair of jeans). Twist these "legs" over each over, turning the dough to make a circular crown. Gently press the bottom and top of the dough together to seal.

17. Cover lightly with cling film, and leave for an hour to prove.

18. Preheat the oven to 190c (170c fan)/375f/gas mark 5.

19. Remove the clingfilm and place the baking parchment with the bread onto a baking tray. Cover loosely with another layer of baking parchment (the bread browns very very quickly before the dough is cooked if you don't do this). Bake for 20-25 minutes - until the top is brown and when you lightly press the centre of the couronne, it feels firm.

20. Take out of the oven, and brush over the apricot jam. Leave to cool.

21. Enjoy!

Makowiec Poppy Seed Couronne

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Sunday, 3 December 2017

Hummingbird Cake

Handpainted Hummingbird Cake

I made this cake for my mum's birthday, as she had requested a fruit-filled cake. A Hummingbird cake is, to my understanding, a banana and pineapple cake, with spices like cinnamon and allspice thrown in, and toasted nuts for extra jazz. I've been wanting to make it for a while, but haven't had the opportunity. Now was my chance. I baked her two layers of Hummingbird cake, frosted and filled the cake with a cinnamon buttercream and then covered the cake with fondant. I used the fondant as I wanted to try some "cake art" - using concentrated food colourings (mine are from Wilton), I painted a Hummingbird on top of the cake (as well as some flowers). I'm no artist, so I was so happy when my mum immediately knew what kind of bird I'd attempted (before I'd told her what the cake was).
The cake itself I am told was delicious (I'm allergic to bananas so couldn't give you my opinion!), and it looked and smelled amazing. The spicing gives it an extra dimension of flavour (as well as a slight Christmassy feel because of the cinnamon), and the cake easily serves 12.

Makes one 20cm cake (two layers)


For the cake:

  • 190g (1 & 1/2 cups) chopped walnuts
  • 370g (3 cups) self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mixed spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ripe bananas, mashed
  • one 200g can crushed pineapple
  • 3 eggs
  • 160ml (2/3 cup) vegetable oil
  • 1 & 3/4 cups (350g) soft light or dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the buttercream:

  • 200g (7/8 cup) softened butter
  • 400g (4 cups) icing sugar
  • 1-2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger

To finish:

  • 500g ready to roll fondant
  • Concentrated gel food colourings


1. Preheat your oven to 180c (160c fan)/355f/ gas mark 4. Grease the bases of two springform 20cm round cake tins and dust the bottoms and sides of the tin with a little flour.

2. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, and pour over the chopped walnuts. Bake for around 5 minutes, until toasted (they'll smell strongly of toasted nuts when they're ready).

3. Pour the toasted walnuts, flour, cinnamon, mixed spice, brown sugar and salt into a bowl and stir briefly (making sure the break up the sugar if there are any lumps).

4. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and pour in the oil and eggs. Beat briefly until evenly distributed.

5. Add the mashed bananas and the pineapple and fold in until evenly distributed. Divide the mixture between the two cake tins.

6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until lightly springy to the touch, and a skewer inserted into the centre has no uncooked mixture on it (it may be a little wet due to the pineapple). Leave to cool in the cake tins for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

7. For the buttercream, beat the butter until is very soft and spreadable. Sift over half of the icing sugar and 1 tbsp of milk, and beat in. Once you can no longer see any icing sugar, add the other half the icing sugar, the cinnamon and ginger, and beat. If the mixture seems very stiff, add more milk, a teaspoon at a time. It is ready when it is easy to spread, but holds it's shape.

8. To assemble the cake, level both cakes by using a serrated knife to trim off any dome of the baked cake.  Place a tablespoon of buttercream on your serving dish/board.

9. Place your first sponge on the board/dish, pressing down lightly to stick the cake to the board. Top with a third of the buttercream and spread evenly over the top of the sponge.

10. Place the second sponge on top of the first, and press down lightly. Cover the top and sides of the cake with the remaining buttercream. Use a palette knife to smooth the tops and sides (this will help when you put the fondant on the cake). Place the cake in the fridge for around 10 minutes.

11. Dust your work surface with icing sugar, and roll the fondant out until it is around 25cm in diameter (and a rough circle). I roll the fondant out on a silicon mat as I find the fondant is less prone to stick to it than my work surface.

12. When ready to cover the cake, take the cake out of the fridge. There are two ways to transfer the fondant. I transferred mine by rolling the fondant over a non-stick rolling pin and then gently moving the rolling pin over the cake (unrolling the fondant over the cake in the process). If you've used a mat, you could also simply flip the mat onto the cake, then unpeel the mat off to reveal the fondant.

13. Quickly but gently, ease the sides of the fondant down over the cake. If you come to a crease, unfold it and lightly press down. If you notice any air bubbles on top of the cake, use a pin to pop them. If you notice air bubbles on the side, gently smooth the fondant down, effectively pressing the air out of the bottom of the cake. You can then use fondant smoothers to smoothen out the sides and top of the cake.

14. Leave the cake to firm up for at least 1 hour. Paint your cake as desired - I used Wilton food colourings and sugarcraft paintbrushes, and just had a go. Have fun with it :)

15. Enjoy!

Handpainted Hummingbird Cake

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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

My Simple but Effective Christmas Cake

On the 26th November, it's Stir up Sunday - your "last" time to bake a Christmas cake or pudding and give it time to mature before Christmas. Although baking last minute works, the maturation does give extra satisfaction (and extra flavour hopefully!). This is the Christmas cake I've baked this year - obviously, it's not decorated yet as it'd be a bit early. However, I'm going to update the post after Christmas with those pictures.
In case any of you aren't aware, the traditional Christmas cake is a heavily fruit filled spiced sponge. It's made in advance and kept moist with brandy. I think there are a lot of lovers and haters of it in the UK, but this recipe tastes great honestly!! Things always taste better when you make them I think :) I've seen Christmas cakes covered with marzipan and fondant icing and eaten after the Christmas dinner, but I've also observed it being left without these coverings and served with cheese.
The recipe is very easy and versatile. The only step to remember is to soak your dried fruit in brandy (or another spirit of your choice if you dislike brandy - whisky or rum would both work well) overnight. This plumps the fruit up nicely to give a moist fruit-filled cake.

I baked this in a 20cm cake tin, but if you'd like a smaller but deeper cake, use a 15cm tin and bake for around 30-45 minutes longer.

Makes 1 20cm cake


  • 800g (4 & 1/2 cups) mixed dried fruit of your choosing (at least 500g should be raisins, sultanas or currants, ideally. I used around 200g of raisins, sultanas and currants, then added 100g dried cranberries, 50g dried figs and 50g mixed peel)
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) brandy
  • 125g (1/2 cup) softened butter or margarine, plus extra for greasing
  • 125g (5/8 cup) dark soft brown sugar
  • 130g (1 cup) plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 50g (3/8 cup) ground almonds
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • Pinch of salt
  • 50g (1/2 cup) flaked almonds
  • 50g (3 tbsp) finely chopped crystallized ginger

1. The day before you want to cook the cake, pour the mixed dried fruit, brandy and crystallized ginger into a large mixing bowl, and stir together briefly. Cover, and leave overnight.

2. Preheat your oven to 160c (140c fan)/320F/gas mark 3. Grease the base and sides of a 20cm circular cake tin with butter. Line the base and sides of the tin with greaseproof paper.

3. Cream the butter/margarine and brown sugar together until they are light and fluffy. In a separate bowl sift the plain flour, baking powder, ground cinnamon, ground ginger and mixed spice.

4. Beat the eggs briefly, then add one egg at a time to the butter/sugar mixture, with a tablespoon of the flour. Beat well after each addition. 

5. Pour the remaining flour mixture, salt and ground almonds onto the cake mixture. Fold in until no more flour speckles can be seen. 

6. Add the soaked dried fruit, and flaked almonds onto the cake mixture, and fold in to evenly distribute the fruit.

7. Pour into the prepared tin and level. Bake for 60 minutes. At this point open the oven the door and cover the top of the cake with foil. 

8. Bake for another 30 minutes. At this point, open the oven door and gently press the top of the cake - if cooked it should have a slight spring back. The cake is also cooked when a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean (i.e. no cake mixture is on the skewer, it won't be completely dry because of the huge amount of fruit). If the cake isn't cooked yet, close the oven door and check every 10 minutes until fully cooked.

9. Take the cake out of the oven and leave to cool in the tin. Once completely cool, press skewer holes all over the surface of the cake and brush over a tablespoon of brandy. Wrap well in greaseproof paper and store in an airtight container.

10.  Every 2 weeks, brush two tablespoons of brandy over the cake.

About a week before Christmas, you'll want to ice the cake. I'll be writing a post about that nearer to the Christmas (as I haven't done this step yet with this cake!), but until then, follow this guide

11. Enjoy!

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