Sunday, 27 January 2013

Coffee Cake Recipe - for Edinburgh Cake Ladies East West Cake event

Here is the recipe for the coffee cake I made for Edinburgh Cake Ladies East West Cake Event this January. It’s based on the coffee cake recipe from Ballymaloe’s 12 Week Professional Cookery Course. Unlike most Ballymaloe recipes where vanilla extract is used and never essence, this uses coffee essence, (really chicory). Camp is the most common brand in the UK. I love cooking with things like this, it's one of those ingredients that feels really nostalgic and old fashioned to use. I suppose it's the same as when people buy golden syrup in a tin instead of those practical plastic bottles. The cake itself is really intense and coffee-ish, even though the sponge on it's own has a quite delicate flavour. You can decorate it how you like, add chocolate curls and bitter cocoa or keep it simple.

My version

This is the recipe from Ballymaloe, I have multiplied the cake ingredients by 50% to make three thick layers from the original two, as I wanted to give the cake more height for the East West Cake theme, 'showstopper cakes'. I did the same for the coffee icing ingredients. The butter cream is increased by 100%. To decorate I added cocoa, chocolate curls and some gold sugar decorations.

Coffee Cake

12oz soft butter
12oz caster sugar
6 large eggs (preferably organic)
12oz plain white flour
11/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp Camp coffee essence

Coffee Butter Cream

4oz butter
8oz icing sugar
4 tsp Camp coffee essence

Coffee Icing

11/2 lb icing sugar
 3 tbsp Camp coffee essence
Boiling water

To decorate (all optional)

3 oz walnut halves
2 oz dark chocolate
2 tbsp cocoa powder
Gold cake decorations


2 or 3 x 8in round sandwich tins

A note on logistics - I only have two sandwich tins, so made this in two batches. I made two thirds of the cake mixture up first, poured it into the two tins and baked them. Once they were cooked and the cakes cooling, I made up the smaller second batch to fill one tin. I also have a gas oven, with only enough room on one shelf for two tins. If you have enough tins and enough shelf space, two ovens or a fan oven enabling you to cook on multiple shelves you can make the cake in one go.
You can't make it all in one go and then keep a third of the batter back while you wait for the first two to cook as the raising agent will have started to react and the cake won't rise when you eventually bake it. You will also get holes on the top of the cake as it will not  have been put into the heat of the oven quickly enough. You could just cook it with two layers, decreasing the ingredients as above, it will still look impressive as per Ballymaloe here:

Pam's coffee cake from Ballymaloe demo, how I would love to have an oven like theirs!

Right, on with the recipe!

The cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4
  2. Line the base of the tins with greaseproof or silicon paper. Brush the sides with melted butter and dust with flour
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar, by hand using a wooden spoon or in a food mixer (I use a Kenwood Chef, using the K beater). I recommend a mixer as you need to really beat the butter and sugar till it is pale and fluffy. If you think it's ready still beat it a bit more!
  4. Whisk the eggs and add to the mixture bit by bit, mixing well between each addition
  5. Sieve the flour with the baking powder and stir gently in by hand. Don't over beat the mixture here, almost fold it in with your spoon.
  6. Finally add the coffee essence and mix in, again fold it in gently.
  7. Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared tins, paddling it round with a metal spoon (you can use an electric scales if you're that way inclined for a perfect split)
  8. Bake for 30 minutes, till the cakes are firm and springy in the middle as well as the sides.
  9. Rest in the tin for a minute or two, then turn out onto a cooling rack.
  10. If you are making it in two batches, repeat steps 1-9 above from scratch.
  11. While it's in the oven melt the chocolate for the chocolate curls over simmering water. Pour over the back of a plate or baking tray and leave somewhere cool.
  12. Make the coffee butter cream. Sieve the icing sugar into a large mixing bowl - yes this takes a lot of time but really does give a better result.
  13. Whisk the icing sugar with the butter, by hand or machine, as it starts to come together add the coffee essence. Continue to whisk till light and fluffy. Cover with cling film till ready to use.
  14. When the cakes are cooled sandwich together the sponges with two layers of icing, evening them out with a bread knife if need be. Have enough cream to fill in the sides to give a straightish line for the icing.


  1. One the cake is assembled make the icing. Again sieve the icing sugar, add the coffee essence and then enough boiling water to make it the consistency of double cream. Add the water sparingly, not too much in one go or you will be back and forth adding more sugar and liquid all day to get it right!
  2. Pour icing over the top and paddle it out and down over the sides, smoothing it with a palate knife. Work quickly or do it in batches, patching it up where needed as the icing can slide down the cake before it dries.  
  3. Add walnut halves around the bottom of the cake to decorate, they will hold to the icing. You can also use hazelnuts as they do at Ballymaloe.
  4. Once the icing has started to set sieve the cocoa powder over the top. If it's set a bit you can dust off any that has stuck to the sides for a neater finish. You could also combine the cocoa with some fine espresso/instant coffee powder.
  5. Scrape the chocolate curls from the plate/tin, using a wide Parmesan slice. Try and take long confident sweeps. If the chocolate is too hard or too soft put it somewhere warmer/colder for a bit. It will soften quickly so you may need to wait and do two batches. I hold my hands under a freezing tap as long as possible to stop the chocolate melting, it helps but it hurts! The curls don't need to be perfect as they're all piled on the top, but a bit of practice and they can start to look surprisingly good.
  6. Pile the chocolate curls on the top with the gold cake decorations.

Edinburgh Cake Ladies - East West Cake Event

In December I signed up for an Edinburgh Cake Ladies event, they are a group of bakers (not just ladies!) in the city that meet up throughout the year to share their creations each other and eat loads of tasty cake. They organise regular events with different themes and in January they held their biggest get together yet, East West Cake, where they were joined by a group of Glasgow bakers for a serious cake-off. I'd been reading about their cake exploits online for a while but this was the first time I had actually applied for a place and gone along.

Cake as far as the eye can see...
Despite it's popularity I'm not someone that does a lot of baking, though I'd like to do more. At Ballymaloe I learnt loads on the subject but back home it never seems right to bake for only one or two people. I don't have a huge family up here to feed all the cake to and I don't want to end up the size of a house eating it all! Being the office feeder has never appealed and it's also a bit science-y for me, with all the stretching proteins, bubbles of air and exact temperatures. I've always been a far more intuitive cook, before Ballymaloe I rarely measured anything and only started getting interested in the science of food once I realised it would make me a better one.

However baking is both scientific and creative and that creative side definitely appeals to me, I loved making cakes as a child and decorating them from recipes in a Jane Asher cook book. My mother still tells the story of us dancing along to the sound of the Kenwood Chef (dear lord...) and I have cooked loads of tasty cakes over the years, this time though, I was a bit out of practice.

Ahead of this cake extravaganza I planned on making an Italian cake 'Torta Mimosa' from Tessa Kiros' gorgeous book Limoncello & Linen Water. The theme was 'showstopper cakes', this one is decorated to resemble mimosa blossoms, bright yellow from lots of organic yolks, a bit like a sweet version of the Eggs Mimosa dish at Ballymaloe. I thought it fitted the bill, yes I would have time to rustle up some crystallized flowers for the top! Christmas came and went, then the flurry of Hogmanay, January was racing by and suddenly I had no time to practice a cake that required 10 eggs and a bottle of Limoncello. I consider a bottle of Limoncello a sound investment but I didn't want to risk taking something I'd never made before. What if it was a disaster, these ladies' cakes are really good...

My three layer coffee cake, with chocolate curls
Yes, I wussed out and instead made the delicious coffee cake we had at Ballymaloe. I'd made the chocolate cake that week but the differences are really only in the flavouring and icing, and I had most of the ingredients in. I baked a third layer to give it a bit more height, and added additional decoration to the top of dusted cocoa powder and homemade dark chocolate curls. The cake itself has a really intense coffee flavour, especially from the icing and cream, the sponge itself is a bit more delicate and balanced but still strong enough for a coffee fiend like me. There's no chopped or ground nuts in it, it's pure coffee, although I did add halved walnuts at the base and covered the top in cocoa and chocolate curls.

Once the cake was made (recipe in my next post), on its stand and safe in a cardboard box it was time to set off. Carrying it down from the second floor, across the icy pavements, into the car, and keeping it save driving across town was a challenge. "Not the cobbles!" I cried to my poor driver, protective of my precious cargo. Good job I wasn't going to Glasgow, my heart was in my mouth the whole time and we only drove two miles. I've since discovered the sensible thing to do for these things is buy a plastic cake carrier, then assemble it on the stand at the venue. Lakeland, here I come.

The event itself was great, the cake made it there in better shape than me after the journey and took its place with all the other fabulous cakes on display. There were all types, chocolate, chocolate and fruit, gingerbread and Guinness, Malteser, pavlova, carrot, tortes, cakes with macaroons, I could go on and on. I tried as much as possible, I managed about five or six slices, some smaller than others. After that there was no way I could eat anything sweet for the rest of the day! A sugar coma beckoned...but I still took back a huge box full of cake and we ate the rest over the week. It was nice to meet some new people in Edinburgh who were all super friendly and hugely creative with their skills and ideas. I'm definitely looking forward to the next one.

Here are some pictures of the fab cakes from the day:

This George Square cake was too good to eat!

Mine on the table

Nom nom

There's more...

...and more

The icing on this one was amazing!

Rosewater in this one was lovely


The Links Hotel, Bar & Kitchen - Edinburgh

This month I have been out not once, but twice, to watch something pretty unlikely for me, the football competition known as 'The Capital One Cup'. As I don't have a TV, let alone Sky Sports One HD, we had to find somewhere local to watch two semi-finals (the same teams play each other at home and away). It was a short walk in the wintry evenings to the Links Hotel, located over the far side of the Bruntsfield Links. It's a smart, medium sized hotel housed in traditional stone Victorian buildings with a public bar and restaurant and a great view over the Links.

The bar's a 'sports' type one, with lots of wood, pool table and pictures of golfers and people I've never heard of. Both times I went in it was quiet to start with (good for a table right in front of the massive tv...) but got busier with what looked like a mix of residents and visitors; it was a pretty relaxed atmosphere. They serve food both in the bar and restaurant, the restaurant I have yet to visit but it has a tasty looking menu, if a bit safe. In the bar there's decent pub grub, an interesting tapas menu and daily specials. I also heard the waitress telling hotel guests all their deserts are home made. As the football was on at dinner time we had to eat! Tuesdays and Wednesdays the burgers are on offer, two for £12 (£8-10 full price) so we tried those. We ordered at the bar but they take orders at the tables too. Service was friendly, quick and both times a member of staff came back to check our meals were okay.

Cheeseburger and trimmings

The burgers come presented on a board with a bowl of really tasty chips, house coleslaw and a few onion rings. Sometimes it's a gamble choosing a burger but other times it's exactly what you were craving for. These burgers were really impressive, rich and meaty, cooked through but not dry with loads of burgery juices. They were tall enough to struggle taking a bite out of and the buns were substantial enough to hold everything together, not disintegrating at the sight of mayonnaise. The chips were hot and crispy, perfect covered in a bit of salt for dipping in sauces and coleslaw. The sauces are the usual bottled brands and none the worse for it, but the coleslaw is made on the premises and really tasty. The onion rings were only a few but a nice touch and well cooked.

We had the cheeseburger and the salsa burger, on return the blue cheese and bacon, all include lettuce and slices of tomato. The meat was the best part, minced steak with great flavour, from both the steak and the cooking. The cheeseburger was the best of the three, but the others were good too. It's just the blue cheese escaped more easily and though I like salsa, I think a burger needs cheese. Also the burgers are big enough that the bacon was a bit surplus to requirements, I'm not sure it added anything extra.

The Bacon & Blue Cheese Behemoth

We drank a bottle of the Spanish house white, £13.50, again good value, especially if there's two of you and you know you're going to be there for a couple of nail biting hours. For two people it was £25.50 for a bottle of wine, burgers and burger trimmings, more than great for the price. We'll be checking out the menu again as there is now a final to go and see...both nights we were celebrating more than the burgers! Next time I'll have another look at the wine list too, fingers crossed we will be ordering something more than the house wine!

Details here:The Links Hotel, 4 Alvanley Terrace, Edinburgh EH9 1DU

Monday, 21 January 2013

Illegal Jack's South West Grill - Edinburgh

I have walked back home up Lothian Road lots of times since I moved to Edinburgh, usually lugging food shopping or another purchase all the way back from the city centre, getting tired and cold by this point and more than a bit hungry (admittedly this is still nearer town than my home to my shame). Many a time I have fancied going into the Burrito/South West place that it Illegal Jack's South West Grill on Lothian Road and this weekend I eventually went in for a tasty dinner.

Conveniently situated just up from the Usher Hall and Lyceum Theatre (I was heading there after) they offer a medium sized menu of tortilla dishes, burritos, quesadillas, fajitas, tacos, plus chilli bowls and nachos and all the SW trimmings. The burritos are made up to order,  filled with a combination of rice, chicken, pork, steak, veggie, pinto beans, fresh salsas, Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream and guacamole. I love this sort of food and there's a good selection to choose from, not so long it takes forever to decide and order, not too short that you couldn't go back a few times and try different things.

It is both takeaway and sitting in, the decor inside is relaxed and basic, pretty cheap and cheerful but that fits in about right for the menu and style of the food. On arrival you get a paper place mat-sized menu, decide, go up to order and they make up the burritos there and then using an ingenious tortillas press that heats them in a second. You get drinks and pay at the end so it's pretty quick, then take the food back to the table instead of waitress service.  For the drinks they have a few wines, Mexican beers, artisan cider and margaritas which I would try next time. Other dishes such as chilli are ordered and brought to your table later by the staff. There's cutlery, napkins and hot sauce on the side and you help yourself.

For two people we both had identical burritos; rice, roast pork, pinto beans, hot salsa, cheese, sour cream, guacamole and jalapenos. The burritos were huge and the meat and combination of flavours were really good, smoky, oniony and hot enough for me, though I still added chilli sauce to the occasional bite. The burritos are wrapped up snug in foil, then you unpeel and eat them as you go. The food looks and tastes fresh and full of flavour, instead of the usual bland salsas and sauces you often find in american/tex mex places so that is a major plus. I'm quite picky about guacamole and hate any of the ready made stuff you usually get but this was far superior. The ingredients they use such as Scottish beef seem up to scratch.

The only thing was the basic price is listed, then extra for meat fillings, plus extra for each of guacamole, sour cream and jalapenos. Who doesn't like all three of those in tortillas anyway? I imagine this pricing structure works well for them, but for me I'd rather just pay one price for everything rather than seeing a lower price to start with that then creeps up and up. On the other hand it's great to find somewhere quick and casual that serves fresh, flavoursome food instead of charging the same or more for the usual bland dishes, using poor quality ingredients or ready made sauces bought in.

For 2 people for 2 burritos plus a very great bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc (£14.50) it was £32.50 so pretty decent for some tasty, fresh food that was served quickly, ideal when you are heading out afterwards to the theatre/cinema/etc or have limited time. Maybe not the place for a long, lingering feast although I could graze over this sort of food all night. It is however perfect for breaking up the (not very) long, cold walk home, some much-welcomed heat and colour after traipsing round a damp and grey city centre!

Half munched burrito, foil scraps, wine, hot sauce

Full menu here: Illegal Jack's South West Grill, 113-117 Lothian Rd Edinburgh EH3 9AN