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Brixton Black Cake

brixton black cake

Are you suddenly panicking that you haven’t got a Christmas cake? What if I told you that you could still make a homemade one and it’ll probably be the best you’ve ever eaten?

Here’s a recipe for a black cake which is a traditional Caribbean fruit cake made from dried fruit soaked in rum and then pureed up to make a moist textured cake. I soaked my fruit for 3 months but even 24-48 hours will be extraordinary. My cheat is to use tinned prunes for added moisture in the cake.

Adapted from Nigella’s recipe via Laurie Colwin, I baked several of these this year and was told it was better than a friend’s Jamaican granny’s cake so I’m feeling pretty damned smug about it. It doesn’t need decorating or icing or anything so you can soak the fruit today and make this over the weekend and impress everyone.

Originally published at Brixton Blog….

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Sowing the Seeds

nigella bookWatching the ghastly events at Isleworth Court this week, it was pretty much a forgone conclusion I’d be Team Nigella since it would take a lot for me to back a man who throttled his wife. But it was also because Nigella has probably been the biggest influence on my cooking career of anyone.

It was her columns in Vogue in the very late 90s that turned me from being able to make food to being able to cook and understanding the power of writing and talking about food. Prior to that, most of my food influence had been from family or watching people like Keith Floyd on TV, but Nigella introduced me to food writing. Her columns seemed incredibly grown up and very cosmopolitan. I felt so very adult cooking things she wrote about while friends made baked potatoes and Old El Paso kits when we went round for dinner before a big night out.

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Baked Alaska Mince Pies

While there are many Christmas foods I adore, I just can’t get excited about mincemeat. It’s been several years since I ate a mince pie and feeling somewhat left out, I decided to make my own this year to see if I could get myself more enthused. Unable to get my hands on enough quinces to do jelly this year, I decided to get my fix by following Nigella’s Quincemeat recipe from page 265 of How to Be a Domestic Goddess and up the fruit content of those pies.

The quincemeat went into a jar in September to mature gently and I gave myself time to get excited. I was quickly distracted when The Little Loaf and I managed to find a date that we could meet for a pre-Christmas bake. An idea to do a winter inspired chocolate brownie Baked Alaska developed a life of its own when I heard about Sainsbury’s mince pie ice cream. We just had to do Baked Alaska mince pies instead! Talk about exciting…

We decided to each take a component and prepare it in advance and because we were baking at mine, I went for the ice cream. I wanted it to be inspired by that extra thick brandy cream people top their mince pies with and decided to push the boat on it. Using the foolproof custard from David Lebovitz as a base, I tweaked it slightly to be as rich as possible. You’ll need:

250ml (1 cup) whole milk (I used unhomogenised Jersey Milk)
500ml (2 cups) double cream
100g sugar
8 egg yolks (you could use 5 if you prefer)
pinch salt
dash of vanilla extract
good slug of brandy

Heat the milk and sugar gently to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Add the cream and make sure it is nicely warmed. Then take a cupful or so of the warm dairy mixture and stir into the beaten egg yolks to temper them and stop them scrambling when you tip them all back into the milk mixture.

Gently add the tempered yolks into the warm milk and cream and cook over a low heat, stirring well. Use a spatula for this to make it easier and because you’ll know when the custard is ready when it coats the back of the spatula.

Take it off the heat immediately. Pour into a metal bowl, adding the vanilla and brandy and either chill overnight in the fridge or make an ice bath inside another larger bowl. Then once nicely chilled, pour into your machine and churn as standard. About five minutes before the end, gently add in about 250g of the quincemeat, a tablespoon at a time and let the machine mix it in well.

You’ll need scoops of ice cream for your mince pies so if you want you could shape the scoops now and freeze them on a plate or simply place in a container with a lid and freeze as normal. You can soften it slightly and do the scoops when needed but you’ll need to re-freeze them for at least two hours to prevent a fit of melting that would alarm even a climate change denier.

It was all a bit Blue Peter for me when the pies were assembled as The Little Loaf had made this beautiful clementine pastry and had rolled it out, pricked with a fork and blind baked it while I turned 3 egg whites, a teaspoon of cream of tartar and 100g of caster sugar into some meringue with the help of a hand whisk.

A scoop of ice cream went into a cooled pie case and the meringue was piped in with a disposable bag and a large star nozzle. Piping gives lots of surface area to crisp up and looks lovely, but you could also smooth the meringue over with a mini spatula and rough up with a fork. Make sure there are no gaps either way and then put the piped pies into the freezer for about 20-30 minutes.

Get the grill nice and hot and then toast the pies under it for about 2-3 minutes. Do not take your eyes off them for even a second. Meringue has a nasty habit of turning without close supervision. You can like us finish the meringue off with a blow torch for extra toastiness (and dinner party entertainment) but be careful the whole thing doesn’t ignite! Meringue is surprisingly flammable.

Serve your pies immediately to get the maximum mixture of buttery pastry, creamy cold ice cream and and crispy crunchy meringue. These Baked Alaskas are smooth and sweet with just enough bite from the quincemeat and the brandy not to be sickly. I’d use a bit less cardamom in the quincemeat in future, but otherwise this was pitch perfect. I think I’m a total mince pie convert now…