Gluten-free Banana & Nut Cake

This banana cake is moist and nutty. Give it a try, even if you’re not following a gluten-free diet. Regular self-raising flour can be used instead, if you’re not worried about gluten.

The mixture can also be used to make about a dozen banana muffins. Grease a 12-hole muffin pan, fill each one almost to the top with cake mix, arrange some banana pieces on top, then spoon over the topping. Serve as a cake or as a delicious dessert, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Cake mix:
1 cup nut meal made in the food processor (almonds, walnuts or pecans)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
¼ cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 Tbs maple syrup
1 cup gluten-free self-raising flour (or ordinary SR flour can be used)
½ tsp baking powder
4-5 ripe bananas, peeled and halved lengthwise
¼ cup brown sugar
30g butter
To serve:
Icing sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and bottom-line a shallow slab pan about 35x25cm. Or use a large loaf pan, two smaller ones or a 12-hole muffin pan.

Make nut meal in food processor by processing the nuts until they look like fine breadcrumbs. Add remaining cake mix ingredients and process till combined, scraping down the sides halfway through. You can use a balloon whisk to do this instead. Spoon cake mixture into the tin or tins and spread evenly with a knife.

Arrange banana halves over the cake mix, cut side up. Melt butter in a small saucepan and mix in the brown sugar, stirring to dissolve. Spoon butter and sugar mixture evenly over the bananas. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown all over and puffed. Check it’s cooked in the middle by inserting a toothpick which should come out clean. Individual muffins will take less time than one large cake.

Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar.

Makes about 12 servings

Note: buy nut meal/flour or make your own by blitzing shelled walnuts, pecans, almonds, or a mixture, in a food processor.

Sticky Gingerbread Loaf

I love trying new gingerbread or ginger cake recipes. I think this is the fourth one to appear on this blog since I started writing it, over ten years ago.

This recipe is adapted from one in The Great British Book of Baking by Linda Collister, written to accompany BBC2’s The Great British Bake-off with Mary Berry. She says it tastes just like a popular UK brand of sticky gingerbread, made by McVities.

Instead of using scales, I prefer to measure most of my ingredients with an Australian measuring cup, which holds 250 ml. While you can eat this cake as soon as it has cooled, if you leave it in a sealed tin for a couple of days it will get stickier. I made it in one large loaf pan, but you could use two small loaf pans, or a square or round cake pan. I used rounded to heaped teaspoons of all the spices, because I like my gingerbread to be nice and spicy.

125g butter, cut up
1/3 cup golden syrup
1/3 up black treacle (or substitute molasses)
½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup milk
1½ cups self raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon each ground ginger, cinnamon and mixed spice
1 egg

Grease and line one large loaf pan or two small ones. I used a large silicone pan which measures 23×13 cm or 9×5 inches. I just sprayed it with oil as silicone doesn’t need lining with paper. Preheat the oven to 180°C or 170°C if you have a fan-forced oven, which tends to be hotter.

In a medium to large saucepan, heat the butter, golden syrup, treacle or molasses, brown sugar and milk. Turn off the heat as soon as the butter has melted as you don’t want it to boil. Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices through a sieve and mix well with a balloon whisk. Lastly thoroughly mix in the egg, then scrape mixture into the cake pan.

Bake for 35-45 minutes. Mine was ready in 35 minutes, but my oven tends to be a bit on the hot side. When ready the cake will be firm to touch in the middle. If you’re not sure test with a skewer or toothpick inserted in the middle. It should come out clean, but you don’t want to overcook this cake.

Makes one large cake.

Rich Fruit and Nut Cake

I inherited my love of cooking from my Dad’s mum, a Scottish lady called Jessie who had worked as a cook in a stately home before she married. Cooking was never my mother’s favourite pastime – she preferred gardening – so when I started to take an interest she gave me lots of encouragement.

And so did Dad. He loved to walk into a house with the smell of baking wafting through. “What are you making lass?” he would enquire. And when I told him he would give me his signature combined wink/nod/smile and head off with a spring in his step.

Dad loved fruit cake so Mum did her best to make sure there was usually one on the go. When she was newly-married and unable to boil an egg, her mother-in-law taught her to make a few basics, to keep body and soul together, otherwise we might have starved. Nana taught Mum to make a “ten, ten, twenty” cake mixture, which she made for the rest of her life. Well, until Dad died and there was nobody left to bake for. The recipe used 10 ounces of butter, 10 ounces of sugar and 20 ounces of self-raising flour, plus a couple of eggs and some milk. Mum learnt to add dried fruit and spices to half the mixture and make a fruit cake she called “Cut and Come Again”. Half of the remaining mixture became an Eve’s Pudding – stewed apples topped with cake mixture, baked and served with custard. With the last quarter Mum made a dozen cup cakes (which we called buns) or a slab cake, which she iced and decorated with glacé cherries. Sometimes she made a cake from stale bread, which I learnt later was a typical Maltese Bread Pudding.

Mum wasn’t a bad cook – what she made was always tasty – but she didn’t enjoy cooking and her repertoire was fairly limited. However, when I look back, I realise that we ate pretty well, compared with the rest of the British middle-class population at that time. When my friends were invited to stay for dinner, (or tea as we called it back then), they were shocked to be served one of Mum’s “foreign” dishes such as Kedgeree, Chicken Curry or  Spaghetti Bolognese.  Believe me, they weren’t common in England in the sixties, unless of course you were “foreign”. We came to think of these dishes as normal, but our friends usually pushed the food around their plates and said they weren’t hungry.

A rich fruit cake will keep for weeks in a sealed tin, although you’ll find it disappears quite quickly if you have any fruit cake fans in the house. I’m quite partial myself to a small piece with a cuppa. I thought of Dad as I made this cake. He would have loved it.

750g sultanas or raisins, or a mixture of the two
250g pitted dates
250g dried figs, stems removed
2/3 cup brandy, rum or whisky
2/3 cup any liqueur that needs using up!
250g butter, at room temperature
¼ cup peanut butter
200g soft brown sugar
4 eggs
250g plain flour
25g (¼ cup) cocoa powder
1 tsp each ground nutmeg and cinnamon
1 cup skinned hazelnuts (or almonds or walnuts or a mix), roughly chopped

Place the dates and figs in a food processor and process (using the pulse button) until coarsely chopped. Place all the dried fruit in a bowl, mix in the two alcohols (I used brandy and Bailey’s Irish Cream), then cover and leave for a few hours or overnight. Stir a few times.

Preheat oven to 150°C. If you have the option to turn off the fan then do so. Line a 22cm (9 inch) square or round cake pan with baking paper. In a large bowl, with electric beaters, mix the butter, peanut butter and sugar. When smooth add the eggs and lastly the sifted flour, cocoa and spices. Fold in the fruit and nuts by hand, then scrape into the cake pan and smooth the top.

Bake for two and a half to three and a half hours, or until cooked. Ovens vary so test with a skewer which should come out clean when inserted in the middle. Cake should feel firm on top when it’s ready.

Cool then store in an airtight tin. Keep for a week or two (perhaps I should say hide for a week or two!) to mature.

Note: If liked, swap some of the dried fruit for dried currants or chopped dried apricots.

Apple Charlotte

Thick stewed apples surrounded by crisp buttered toast, this is another dessert to add to my list of ones that everyone, including the grandkids, loves. When all hands go up for a second helping I know I’ve found a winner.

When I served it over Christmas it was described by family members as French Toast with Apples and Tarte Tatin with crunchy toast instead of pastry.

My version is loosely-based on one by Rick Stein which he makes in a pudding bowl. I decided to use a metal cake tin, because it makes it easier for the bread to crisp up. Increase the ingredients by 50% and use a bigger 10-12 inch tin to serve a bigger crowd.

30g butter
2-3 Tbs sugar (to taste)
1 kg apples, peeled and sliced (see note below)
Grated rind and juice from 1 lemon or 1 small orange
Optional: raisins, cinnamon, ground cloves etc
About 12 slices white bread, crusts removed
125g butter, melted (you may need more)
To serve:
Icing sugar
4 Tbs smooth apricot jam (push through a sieve if lumpy)
Thick cream or custard

Preheat oven to 180°C. While you are peeling the apples, put the 30g butter and sugar in a saucepan and cook, stirring, until starting to caramelise. Add the apples, lemon or orange rind and juice and cook until the liquid has evaporated and the apples have become thick and pulpy. Some apple varieties break up more easily than others. Check for sweetness and feel free to add a few raisins and a good pinch of cinnamon or cloves.

Melt the butter and use a pastry brush to butter an 8″ (20cm) metal cake pan. Cut the bread slices in halves to form two triangles, brush them with butter and use to line the bottom and sides of the cake tin, slightly overlapping each piece. Scrape apple filling into the tin and smooth the top. Bring the bread slices from the sides over the top and use more pieces to fill any gaps, so that the filling is completely encased. Brush more butter all over the top. Can be made ahead to this point and kept refrigerated.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until light golden brown on top. Carefully tip out onto a shallow baking tray and brush with any leftover melted butter. Put back in the oven for 10 minutes or until evenly browned all over.

To serve, dust with icing sugar. Heat the apricot jam, then drizzle over the top. Serve with cream or custard.

Serves 8-10

Tip: after removing the bread crusts make them into crumbs by blitzing in the food processor. Freeze in a plastic bag and use in toppings for recipes such as Seafood Mornay

Note: Bramley cooking apples are traditionally used in the UK  because they aren’t too sweet and cook down to a pulp. They are hard to find in Australia, so basically use whatever apples you have on hand. Rick Stein uses half Bramleys and half eating apples.

Quick Coffee Cake with Caramel Icing

A cake made in a loaf tin is just the right size, now there are just two of us. Any bigger and it gets stale before we can finish it and it ends up going to the birds. One solution with a big cake is to put half in the freezer, but cakes are always nicer when freshly made.

I learnt to cook all the basics at Chatham Grammar School for Girls in England where I grew up. Home Economics was a weekly double class for the seven years I spent there and it was one of my three favourite subjects, along with French and Spanish. The classes took place in a large room divided into six (or maybe it was eight?) kitchens, each with its own oven and sink. When we made cakes by the creamed method, Mrs Wood would walk around to make sure we had thoroughly creamed the butter and sugar before we were allowed to add the eggs and the dry ingredients. We creamed away like demons, until our arms nearly dropped off, trying to be the first to get her tick of approval.

Nowadays I use my Magimix to do this job. So long as the butter is at room temperature this method works well. The trick is not to over mix once you’ve added the flour – just enough to combine everything. If you haven’t got a food processor, use a stand mixer or give your biceps a work out!

2 Tbs instant coffee
¼ cup boiling water
200g butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup condensed milk from a 400g can
3 eggs
2 cups self-raising flour, sifted
½ cup milk
Caramel Icing:
The rest of the condensed milk
2 Tbs Golden Syrup
60g butter
To decorate: 
Walnut or pecan halves (optional)

Grease and line a loaf pan with baking paper. Or use a silicone one which doesn’t need to be lined. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Mix coffee with boiling water. Place butter, sugar and condensed milk in food processor and mix until smooth and creamy, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Add the eggs, sifted flour, milk and coffee and mix just enough to combine all the ingredients, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Scrape into the loaf pan and bake for 35 minutes, or until well-risen, golden and a toothpick or skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool, then ice and decorate with nuts.

Icing: place all ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes until thick and golden. Cool slightly before using.


Quick Lemon Loaf

I had a sudden urge to whip up a cake in Covid lockdown. We have heaps of lemons on our tree at the moment so I didn’t have to think too far about which flavour.

There’s just the two of us at the moment and no visiting allowed, so I didn’t want to make anything huge. This little loaf was perfect and SO lemony! Lemons vary in size and the amount of juice they produce, but you will need about 3 lemons for this recipe.

125g butter at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1½ cups self-raising flour, sifted
Grated zest of 2 lemons
¼ cup lemon juice
6 Tbs lemon juice
6 Tbs icing sugar

Grease and line a loaf tin with baking paper, or use a silicone pan (shown in the photo) which doesn’t need to be lined. Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix butter and sugar in food processor until smooth and creamy, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Add the eggs and when combined add the sifted lour and lastly the lemon juice. Scrape into the loaf tin and smooth the top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to touch in the middle. A skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean. Don’t overcook or cake will be dry and crumbly.

Meanwhile for the syrup mix the lemon juice and icing sugar in a small bowl. When cake is ready prick it all over with a toothpick or skewer to make holes right to the bottom. Pour the syrup slowly and evenly over the hot cake. Leave to cool.


Swedish Almond Cake

Swedish Almond Cake (Mandeltarta) was made internationally famous by IKEA who sell it frozen in their stores. I decided to make my own.

The recipe makes a small cake which will serve 8. To make a bigger cake use two 24-25cm cake tins and increase the ingredients by fifty per cent, using 6 eggs instead of 4.

4 eggs whites
Pinch salt
80g sugar
140g ground almonds (see note)
4 egg yolks
75g sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
125ml cream (½ cup)
2-3 Tbs flaked blanched almonds, lightly toasted by stirring in a dry pan over moderate heat
125g unsalted butter, at room temp
125ml cream (½ cup) extra
To serve:
Fresh raspberries and cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 190°C. Grease and bottom-line two 20cm cake pans. Beat egg whites and salt with electric beaters until soft peaks form, then gradually add the sugar, beating continuously, until you have a stiff meringue. Fold in the ground almonds.

Divide evenly between the cake pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 25 mins then cool. Meanwhile in a non-stick milk pan, mix the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and cream with a balloon whisk. Turn on the heat and cook, stirring continuously, until thickened. Scrape into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Cake can be prepared to this stage the day before or several hours ahead.

With electric beaters mix butter until light and airy then mix in the refrigerated custard in two lots. Add the extra cream and continue to whip for a minute or so. Remove paper from meringues and place one on a serving plate. Cover with half the filling then place the second meringue on top. Use remaining filling to cover the top of the cake. The original recipe covers the sides as well, but  I just covered the top. Sprinkle flaked almonds all over. Refrigerate until serving time.

Serve alone or with fresh berries and cream.

Serves 8

Note: make almond meal by blitzing shelled almonds (blanched or unblanched, your choice) in a food processor.

Apricot and Almond Cake

Suzanne, a fellow-subscriber to a Facebook cooking site for fans of Yotam Ottolenghi, kindly sent me this recipe.

With a dollop of thick cream it doubled as a 90th birthday cake and dessert at a celebration lunch I hosted recently. The original recipe was made in a 7 inch square cake tin and as I used a 9 inch one, I increased all the ingredients. It worked out perfectly.

The recipe uses canned apricot halves (or peaches), but I am pretty sure you could use fresh apricots, peaches or plums. As the fruit contains quite a bit of moisture I would tend towards overcooking this cake, rather than undercooking. The more cooked edges were chewy and tastier than the middle of the cake.

This cake is gluten-free and if you want to make it dairy-free use margarine instead of a dairy spread.

250g icing sugar
5 eggs
250g soft spreadable butter (or margarine)
250g shelled almonds (blanched or un-blanched)
2 x 400g cans apricot (or peach) halves (or one 800g can)
½ cup flaked or slivered almonds
1 Tbs sugar
To serve:
Icing sugar (optional)
Thick cream or whipped cream

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 9 inch (22cm) square cake pan. Place one piece of baking paper one way, covering opposite sides and the bottom and leaving a bit extending above the cake pan to make it easier to lift the cake out after cooking. Then use another rectangle of baking paper to cover the other two sides and the base. So the base will have two layers. Spray or brush with a little oil.

In a stand mixer or using electric hand held beaters whisk the eggs and sugar until thick, creamy and doubled in volume. Add the butter and continue mixing until combined. Place shelled almonds in food processor and process until fairly fine. Add almonds to the egg, sugar and butter mixture and carefully combine. Scrape batter into cake pan and smooth the top.

Thoroughly drain the apricots and pat them dry with paper towels then arrange over the top of the cake, pushing them in slightly. Mine were small and I used 5 halves each way, 25 in total, with 3-4 left over. Sprinkle flaked or slivered almonds over the cake and lastly the sugar.

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until well risen and golden brown. Test with a skewer in the middle – when cooked it should come out clean. Cook the cake for a bit longer rather than risk undercooking it in the middle.

When completely cool lift cake from the pan onto a serving plate using the paper, then carefully peel or cut it off. You may have to leave the paper on the bottom. If liked, dust a little icing sugar over the top. Serve as it is or with cream. This cake is best served the same day.

Serves about 12

Note: if. you want to make a smaller cake using a 7 inch (18-20cm) cake pan, use 4 eggs and 200g of icing sugar, spreadable butter and almonds instead of 250g.

Chocolate Brownie Cupcakes

A wet Saturday in early autumn seemed like a good time to make some cupcakes for afternoon tea. These decadent little chocolate brownie cupcakes hit the spot.

80g butter
180g dark chocolate, broken into squares
¾ cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup plain flour
2 Tbs cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
Good pinch of salt
100g ground almonds (see note below)
200g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup icing sugar
2 Tbs cocoa
100g dark chocolate, melted
To decorate (optional):
Chocolates or chocolate almonds

Preheat oven to 180°C. Place cupcake liners in a 12 hole muffin tray.

Cakes: place chocolate, butter and sugar in a bowl over simmering water and heat until just melted, stirring from time to time. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, the vanilla, the ground almonds and finally add the dry ingredients through a sieve and fold in thoroughly. Divide mixture between the cupcake liners and smooth the tops. Bake for 12-20 minutes or until risen and firm on top, but still a bit moist inside. Ovens vary and it’s best to err on the side of undercooking. Cool.

Icing: mix cream cheese with sifted icing sugar and cocoa, then lastly mix in the cooled, melted chocolate. Once they are cold, pipe or spread icing onto cakes and decorate as desired.

Makes 12 cupcakes

Substitutions: use butter or mascarpone instead of cream cheese in the icing.

Note: you can either buy the almond meal or make your own, which allows you to make it coarser than what you buy. Just blitz almonds, with or without skin (I used with) until fairly fine.

Chocolate Orange Cake

I’ve always liked the combination of orange and chocolate which works well in this quick and easy cake. It’s moist and keeps for several days in a sealed tin.

140g butter, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
3 eggs
1¾ cups SR flour
1 rounded tsp baking powder
1/3 cup milk
Grated rind 2 oranges
2 Tbs sugar
Juice 2 oranges
75g dark chocolate
Piece of Copha the size of a walnut (or substitute butter or 2 tsp oil)

Preheat oven to 180°C (170°C fan oven) and grease and line a loaf pan.  I used a silicone pan which you don’t need to grease.

With electric beaters or in a food processor, mix butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, stopping to scrape down the sides. Add sifted flour and baking powder and lastly the milk and orange rind. Scrape into loaf pan and smooth over the top with a knife. Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown, risen and firm to the touch in the middle. Leave cake to cool in the pan.

Meanwhile, place sugar and orange juice in a small saucepan and heat until sugar has dissolved. Boil for 2-3 minutes. Pierce cake all over with a skewer and spoon syrup evenly over the top. Place chocolate and Copha (butter or oil) in a bowl and stand the bowl in simmering water until melted. Cool a bit so it’s not too runny, then when the cake has cooled, drizzle chocolate all over the top,

Keeps in a tin for several days.