Posted by: seasin | September 27, 2009

Mongrel cake -bakewell crust with a spicy fruit filling


After a very long time, yesterday I was back in my kitchen, loaded with interesting ingredients, and oh so ready to rock-and-roll…but it was one of those days when the gods of cooking are grumpy and frown upon their humble subjects, and everything you try to make fails miserably (well, almost. I did make a beautiful Indian-inspired pumpkin soup that I’ll post). I’ll blog about yesterday’s fails, but before that, let me tell you something about Transilvanians.

We’re stubborn. And stubborn. And a bit mad. And when the gods of cooking are grumpy, we don’t cower and beg and give up. What we do is we give it one night, you know, once they’ve slept on it they might have a pink-er outlook on life in general, and then…then we make cake.

Every kitchen fanatic out there will agree with me, that whilst cooking might fail every now and then (tough meat, burned casserole, bland sauce, not so fresh fish), there’s NOTHING easier to fail at than baking. So making cake today, one day after my FAIL day, seemed to be the perfect way to both jump back in the saddle after a bad fall, and to wave a V-sign in the face of the gods.

And to make it all more interesting, I didn’t bake a cake following a recipe. Naaah, way to easy not to fail that (not entirely true, I’ve failed miserably following cake recipes before! but let’s pretend for a second!). I had a peak in my baking drawer and in my fridge, and a long ponder on what puddings DB would be likely to enjoy (that man is SO difficult, I’m telling ya!)…and I ended up with…

The Mongrel Cake- behold:


DB loves fruit pies. And crumbles. And Bakewell tart. And cheese cake. And rice pudding. But now I’m digressing badly. I didn’t have the makings of a cheese cake. And rice pudding-well, can anyone think of LESS of a challenge? And frankly speaking, I don’t like pie crust. There. Or tart crust. Just can’t wrap my head around the reason why people would pour lovely filling between tasteless, rock-hard cardboard. Or crumbly cardboard with the texture of coarse sand. Soooo not my style!

So I nicked Nigella’s crust for the Bakewell tart, and then I went to market with a fruit sort of filling. This is how you make the Mongrel:

For the crust: 175 g plain white flour; 30 g ground almonds; 50 g icing sugar; 125 g cold butter, diced; 1 egg, beaten; 2 tablespoons very cold milk; pinch of salt; few drops almond extract.

Put the flour, almonds and sugar in a food processor and pulse a couple of times until combined. Beat the egg with the milk, almond extract and the salt in a small bowl. Add the butter to the flour mixture and pulse a few times until it looks like oatmeal. After a couple of pulses (just a blink, really) pour the egg/milk mixture through the funnel. Now, people, heed my warning: the butter needs to be COLD. Out of the fridge, cut it into dice-sized cubes, then stick it in the freezer for a few minutes. The egg and milk mixture? Needs to be VERY COLD. Beat it up then stick the bowl in the freezer for 5 minutes. Only take them out when you’re COMPLETELY ready to make this dough. Also, DON’T overdo it. This thing literally will be ready in under two minutes. It’ll get REALLY messy and sticky if you don’t obey. Forgive the caps, but I need you to pay attention! Now, once it’s sort of mixed and you blinked twice, turn off the processor, take the blade out (remember to unplug it first, dude!) and tip the dough on a thoroughly floured surface. Now, don’t expect this to be like pie dough or tart crust. It’s very elastic and as Nigella says, quite Play-Doh-y. Quickly bring it together with your floured hands, form it into a flat disk, cover in cling film and stick it in the fridge while you make the filling.

For the filling: 2 pears ; 1 medium apple; 100 g frozen cranberries; 50 g chopped walnuts (use almonds, they’re much better but I didn’t have any); 50 g butter; 75 g brown sugar; 2 tablespoons ground almonds; 1 tablespoon flour; 1 heaped teaspoon powdered ginger; 1 heaped teaspoon powdered cinnamon; 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg; 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom; juice of half a lemon.

Peel, core and cube the apple and the pears (I used Nashi pears because DB bought some as an experiment against my express recommendations. Once he tasted the first one, he left the two remaining ones to rot in our fruit dish. After more than two years together, the man still won’t take my word for it 🙂 Geordies are more stubborn than Transilvanians, that’s a fact! So those pears were molding there and I can’t stand waste. But I wouldn’t recommend that you bake with them, generallly-they have loads of juice and a gritty texture once baked; they worked well in the Mongrel, but still I would advise you to use different, more flavourful pears) and put the cubes in a bowl; pour the lemon juice on and stir to coat them. Set aside.

Put the sugar and the butter to warm in a sauce pan. Once the butter is melted, chuck in the fruit cubes, sprinkle with the spices, stir then cover and let simmer for 15 min; they should be nicely stewed-but if you’re using normal pears or your cubes are small, even 10 might do; add the cranberries and the walnuts and boil for an extra 5 minutes, lid off. Once they’re cooked, turn the heat off and stir in the ground almonds and the flour. Set aside to cool.

To assemble & bake: dough, filling, few tablespoons fruit preserve (use something with a bit of tang, like blackberry, orange marmalade; or else with a robust flavour; I used a gorgeous wild raspberries preserve made by my mum in Transilvania-but not everyone is that lucky!)

Pre-heat the oven at 200 degrees Celsius; once it’s hot, take out the pastry from the fridge, roll out to slightly larger than a 22.5 cm springform tin. Now, if you didn’t heed my advice about the cold ingredients and the over-mixing (or maybe, who knows, even if you did!!!) your dough will stick to everything (but that’s no real problem, just dust said everything with flour like mad!) and will break apart in small little bits when you try to lift it to put it in the tin (buttered tin, I might add). Don’t panick (I didn’t!)-it’ll still work. What I did-I rolled out small bits of the dough and sort of thumbed them into the tin bottom-sort of like you do with graham cracker crust for cheese cake. Then I rolled the remaining dough into narrow strips (about 4 cm wide and 10 cm long-any longer and the little bastards broke-enough to bring me to tears, I’m telling you! But I wasn’t about to let above mentioned gods piss on my head again, was I?) and thumbed them on the edges of the tin, pressing gently but thoroughly over the dough on the bottom, to make a seamless crust. It should be just under one cm thick, and as much as possible even.

Spread the preserve on the bottom of the cake, then spoon in the filling, making sure it’s nice and evenly distributed. Shove in the hot oven, in the middle and on a cookie sheet (shouldn’t leak, but hey, you never know!) and bake for 30 minutes.

Take it out and let it cool, then gently take it out of the tin. Serve warm. Or cold. With a dusting of icing sugar on top. Voila:


You will not BELIEVE how delicious this thing is. As a hint, I could have eaten both the raw dough and the cooked filling without putting them together, and I would have been very happy indeed. Next time I’ll make it, however, I’ll make sure I have some almonds to chop and add to the filling instead of walnuts, and some almond flakes to sprinkle on top-just to carry the theme nicely.

I suppose you could serve this either with some whipped cream, or some custard, or ice cream. But why mess with perfection?


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