Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Real food or "Does palm oil belong in biscuits?"

Coffee walnut cake
It's still freezing here! To warm us up we have been having steaming mugs of tea and homemade coffee & walnut cake... any excuse ;-) The walnuts came from one of my mum's friends who has a nut tree in her garden and the recipe from River Cottage. It's the first time I made it and it definitely gets the thumbs up!

The beauty of making things yourself is that you generally know what goes into it - there are definitely no nasties such as palm oil or corn fructose syrup in this cake! I had a look at buying a packet of biscuits as a treat but there just seem to be lots and lots that use palm oil without any obvious and quick way of finding out where that palm oil came from, whether it was produced in a sustainable fashion or whether any rainforest was cleared to make way for the plantation, destroying valuable habitat for many species. There is some effort being made in some parts of the world to grow sustainable palm nuts (see Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) but if you look at articles and reports by Greenpeace on the subject, the issue is far from resolved. The farmers in the producing countries need to make a living but there has to be a way to do this properly, without the devastating consequences current production entails . As consumers we can make choices - have a look at the labels of the products you intend to buy, do your research to ensure your palm oil products are at least from sustainable sources or even better, start making your own food with "real" ingredients whenever you can.

Coffee Walnut Cake (as published on the
Serves 10

My husband's favourite cake - a hint of coffee, crunchy walnuts, light buttercream (that is not too sickly sweet or rich)...Perfect!


    For the cake
  •     200g plain flour
  •     1½ tsp baking powder
  •     200g unsalted butter, cut into small
  •     pieces and softened
  •     100g light soft brown sugar
  •     100g caster sugar
  •     3 eggs
  •     50ml coffee essence (or 1 tbsp instant
  •     coffee dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling
  •     water, or 3 tbsp very strong
  •     fresh coffee)
  •     100g chopped walnuts
  •     25–50ml milk
    For the buttercream:
  •     60g unsalted butter, cut into small
  •     pieces and softened
  •     125g icing sugar, sifted
  •     10ml coffee essence (or 2 tsp instant
  •     coffee dissolved in 2 tsp boiling
  •     water or 1 tbsp strong fresh coffee)
    For the topping
  •     200g icing sugar
  •     2 tsp coffee essence (or 2 tsp instant
  •     coffee dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling
  •     water, or 1 tbsp strong fresh coffee)
  •     50g chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas mark 4.
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder together and set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, using either a wooden spoon or a hand-held electric whisk, beat the butter to a cream. Add the brown and caster sugars and beat until light and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, adding 1 tbsp flour with each and beating thoroughly before adding the next. Stir in the coffee essence. Now carefully fold in the remaining flour, half at a time, with a large metal spoon. Fold in the chopped walnuts, and sufficient milk to give a soft dropping consistency.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tins, spreading it out evenly with the back of the spoon. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the tops are a light golden brown and the cakes spring back into shape when gently pressed. Leave in the tins for 10 minutes before turning out to cool on a wire rack.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the buttercream. Beat the butter to a cream, add the icing sugar and the coffee essence and beat until light and creamy.
  6. To make glacé icing for the topping, sift the icing sugar into the bowl, add the coffee essence and 1-2 tbsp boiling water, and mix until thick.
  7. Spread one of the cooled cakes with the buttercream. Sandwich together with the second cake and cover the top with the glacé icing. Finish with the chopped walnuts.
  8. This cake will keep for a week in an airtight tin.

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