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Afternoon tea with Benjamina Ebuehi

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Antonio Wedral
Afternoon tea with Benjamina Ebuehi

In honour of the annual Great British Bake Off final, we thought there was no better time to put on our toques (chefs hat to me and you) and get to grips with kneading, drizzling, sifting and all things bng.

To help us out, we sat down with star baker Benjamina Ebuehi for a quick chat. Benji was a quarter finalist in the seventh season of GBBO (very fitting), runs her delicious Instagram page @BakedByBenji, and has recently launched her debut book The New Way to Cake, filled with 60 recipes of her favourite thing cake. Could we be in better hands?

Dust off your apron, you’re in for a treat.

Q: What are the best baked snacks for enjoying on the sofa?

B: Homemade biscuits or cookies are great for sofa snacking – you can make a big batch and let everyone help themselves alongside a good cup of tea. A generous slice of cake is also a favourite to snack on whilst on the sofa and brings all the cosy vibes.

Q: With lockdown we've got more time on our hands, what type of sugary treat would you recommend for beginner bakers?

B: For beginner bakers, I like to recommend bakes that don’t require tonnes of equipment. So things like chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, and scones are perfect to practice with and get your confidence up before moving on to more challenging recipes.

Q: What dessert will you be serving on Christmas day?

B: We always have a pavlova on Christmas day so I’ll definitely be making one of those! I can never just make one pudding so there’ll also be a classic Christmas cake as well as something really chocolatey for those who aren’t too keen on fruit cake.

Q: What baking trends do you see coming through in 2021?

B: For 2021, I think we’ll see a return to ‘back to basics’ baking. After a full on 2020, I think lots of the classic comforting bakes will become increasingly popular as many new, beginner bakers try to master the basics.

Q: And finally, what's your favourite week on GBBO and why?

B: Cake week is probably my favourite as it’s usually the first. It’s always great seeing the bakers for the first time and you start to get to know their personality and baking styles through the cakes they make.

We also asked Benji if she’d share a couple recipes which she thought, once made, could be the perfect companion for a night lounging in front of the TV. Here’s what she came up with:

B: Curling up on the sofa after a long day with a sweet treat is sometimes the highlight of my day. Not all bakes are ideal for enjoying on the sofa but in my opinion, you can’t go too wrong with individual cakes such as my lemon ricotta and thyme mini loaves or something easy to slice and share like almond brittle cake.

Recipe 1: Lemon Ricotta

Lemon and thyme is a pairing that I’ve loved for quite some time. Having been proven to work well together in savoury foods, I saw no reason why they couldn’t be used in a sweeter setting. The bright, zingy lemon contrasts the aromatic undertones of the fresh thyme sprigs but neither gets lost in the other. Ricotta lends itself to bring a creamier, richer texture and cuts through some of the lemons sharpness.

makes 8 mini loaves

Ingredients

200g Caster Sugar
Zest of 2 Lemons, finely grated
1 tbsp Fresh Thyme, finely chopped
120ml Sunflower or Vegetable Oil
250g Ricotta
2 Eggs
190g Plain Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
Pinch Salt

Icing:
150g Icing Sugar
Juice of 1 Lemon
8 fresh thyme sprigs

Instructions

Step 1:
Grease 8 mini loaf tins and line the base with a little strip of baking paper. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.

Step 2:
Place the sugar and zest into a large bowl. Using your fingertips, rub the zest into the sugar. This helps to release some essential oils giving a more intense fragrance. Stir in the chopped thyme.

Step 3:
Whisk in the oil, ricotta and eggs until smooth. Gently stir in the flour, baking powder and salt and divide the batter evenly into the prepared tins.

Step 4:
Bake for 27-30 minutes until the cakes are lightly golden and a toothpick inserted comes out batter free. Leave to cool for a few minutes in the tins before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Step 5:
Make the icing by mixing together the powdered sugar and enough lemon juice to make a thick but pourable glaze. If the glaze becomes too runny, you can mix in more sugar. Equally, if you think it’s too thick to pour, add in a little more lemon juice.

Step 6:
Spoon the glaze onto the cakes, letting it drip over the edges and top with a sprig of thyme.

Recipe 2: Almond Brittle Cake

The audible crack that comes from slicing into the outer brittle layer 
of this cake is most satisfying. There’s a wonderful game of contrasts happening here with the soft, cushion-like sponge lying beneath an armor of flaked almonds bound together with a buttery caramel.

This cake is my version of the popular Scandinavian toscakaka. When making the cake, it might feel a little odd to place something that feels quite heavy on top of a cake that is just set, but follow through confidently and you’ll be rewarded greatly.

Yield: 1 round 9-inch (23-cm) cake

Ingredients

For the Cake:
150 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
3 eggs
150 g caster sugar
75 ml buttermilk
70 g unsalted butter, melted

For the Topping:
150 g flaked almonds
120 g salted butter (or if using unsalted add a 1/4 tsp of flaked sea salt)
120 g light brown sugar
3 tbsp heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions
Step1:

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160 Fan/Gas 4.

Step 2:
Grease a springform or loose-bottomed 9-inch (23-cm) cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Step 3:
To make the cake, sift together the flour, baking powder and cardamom in a small bowl and set aside.

Using a stand mixer or electric whisk, whisk the eggs and sugar together for 5 minutes, or until the eggs are thick and pale. The eggs need to reach the ribbon stage: when you lift up the whisk attachment, the batter should leave a trail on the surface that holds its shape for a few seconds before dissolving back into itself.

Step 4:
Gently fold in half of the flour with a rubber spatula, being careful not to knock out too much air. Pour in the buttermilk and continue to fold the batter until the buttermilk is fully incorporated. Fold in the rest of the flour, ensuring there aren’t any pockets of flour hiding at the bottom of the bowl. Carefully pour the melted butter down the side of the bowl and fold until incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until the cake is just set. There shouldn’t be any wobble in the middle, as it needs to be firm enough to hold the weight of the almonds.

Step 5:
To make the topping, lightly toast the flaked almonds in a dry frying pan over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow
to cool until needed. In a small saucepan, melt the butter with the sugar, cream and vanilla and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it thickens slightly. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the almonds, ensuring they’re evenly coated.

Step 6:
Pour the mixture on top of the cooled cake and use an offset spatula to very gently spread it evenly over the surface. Put the cake back into the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes before running a palette knife around the edge of the cake to stop it from sticking to the sides of the pan. Let it cool completely before removing it from the pan and slicing.

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Fancy having a dabble yourself, choose one of these recipes and share the results on Instagram - the best one will be announced as the official Great Swyft Bake Off 2020 Champion.

At Swyft, we’ve also been inspired to pick up our rolling pins - keep an eye on Insta (@Swyft_Home) to see the results. Happy baking.

If you’ve enjoyed these recipes please give @BakedByBenji a follow and check out her debut book, The New Way to Cake.

All images and recipes have been reprinted with permission from The New Way to Cake by Benjamina Ebuehi, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019.
Photo credit: Holly Wulff Petersen

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