Sunday, 5 June 2011

Baking Sunday: Courgette, walnut and cinnamon cake



I have loved the Hummingbird Bakery for many years now and their first cookbook is a favourite of mine.  Their cupcake recipes are great but it's their recipes for nutty apple loaf, lemon poppy seed cake, raspberry cheesecake brownies and chocolate fridge bars which make it a baking essential.  Their cupcake images became a little ubiquitous - appearing on all kinds of stationery, mini cookbooks and greeting cards so I was really pleased to see that they've followed up their first cookbook with the inventive and beautifully photographed Cake Days.  This book has a larger range and features recipes divided into sections of seasons and events: Easter, Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's, Summer afternoon tea, spring weekend breaks and rainy day treats.  Each section has its own mix of sweet and savoury recipes rather than grouping recipes together by type. I actually quite like this as it's enjoyable to browse and find inspiration for certain events and it does has a comprehensive index if you're looking for something specific. There is also a section at the back with baking and frosting tips which is worthwhile reading even for the more experienced baker.  

The range of treats is more creative in this book: chocolate Guinness cake, pistachio loaf, corn muffins, spiced apple cake with brown sugar frosting, strawberry and cream cheesecake - and plenty more.  I decided to make the unusual sounding courgette, walnut and cinnamon cake. Like most of their cakes, this makes three layers and as I didn't require such a large cake, I halved the recipe and just added this to one 8 inch tin (with no need to adjust the baking time).  The recipe reminded me of carrot cake with the spices that it uses and the light brown sugar.  I wanted to enhance the brown sugar flavour and added some caramel syrup instead of vanilla essence to the mix and also added some to the frosting.  The cake, whilst quite homely looking, was very moist without a hint of courgette but a deep caramel flavour which complemented the spices deliciously.  This is a perfect cake to have with a cuppa and I will definitely make it again.


Courgette, Walnut and Cinnamon Layer Cake
Serves 10-12
Requires three 20cm (8inch) loose bottomed sandwich tins

Ingredients
For the sponge:
3 large eggs
300ml sunflower oil
300g soft light brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence (Note: I substituted this for caramel syrup)
300g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
300g peeled and grate courgettes
100g chopped walnuts 
(plus 10-12 extra walnut halves for decoration if desired)

For the frosting:
240g unsalted butter, softened
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon, plus extra for dusting
750g icing sugar
75g plain greek yoghurt
Note: Instead of greek yoghurt, I used a tablespoon of creme fraiche. I also added a teaspoon of caramel syrup. As this was less than the 75g yoghurt, I was able to use a far less amount of icing sugar.

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celcius, and line the bases of the sandwich tins with baking paper.
2. Using a hand-held electric whisk or a free-standing electric mixer with the paddle attachment, mix together the eggs, sunflower oil, sugar and vanilla essence until they are all combined.
3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and the ground spices. With the mixer or electric whisk running on a low speed, add these to the eggs, sugar and oil in two batches, beating well after each addition until all the ingredients are incorporated. Lastly, add the courgettes and chopped walnuts to the batter, mixing them in thoroughly.
4. Divide the cake batter evenly between the prepared cake tins and bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden on the top and springy to the touch. Allow the cakes to cool in the tins for a few minutes before carefully turning them out on to a wire rack to cool completely.
5. While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting. Mix together the butter, cinnamon and icing sugar using the electric whisk or freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment. Keep mixing until the butter is fully incorporated and the mixture is sandy in consistency. 
6. Add the yoghurt and mix on a low speed until the ingredients are combined, then increase the speed and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.
7. Once the cake layers have fully cooled, place the first layer of sponge on a plate or cake card and top with 3-4 tablespoons of the frosting, smoothing it using a palette knife and adding a little more if needed. Sandwich the second layer of cake on top and add another 3-4 tablespoons of the frosting, then add the final layer and use the remaining frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake.
8. To finish, you can make a swirled pattern in the frosting using the tip of your palette knife. Dust with a little ground cinnamon and decorate with walnut halves, caramelised, if you wish.

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