A Slice of Well-Baked Heaven, or the Bakewell Slice
Second only to the absolute queen of cakes, the venerable Victoria Sponge, this is almost my favourite baked thing. The beauteous almond is a source of boundless joy (second only to the hazelnut, in terms of nut-joy) and amazing flavour and texture. Anything with frangipane is delectable. People who dislike marzipan due to its sweetness I can sympathise with, but surely all things Bakewell are to be universally admired. I cannot understand why this baked delight doesn’t get more attention. I hear a lot about how English cooking isn’t very good. This is the result of pure ignorance, or never having had a good Bakewell Tart. I would rather have an English cake than anything else I have ever tasted.
It’s a colleague’s birthday this week, and I always make a cake for work birthdays. I have chosen to make this because it can be made gluten-free with very little disruption to the overall texture, and this means I will be able to have some. As I try to avoid sugar and I don’t eat gluten, making a cake containing regular flour for work birthdays stops me battling my self-control, since gluten is the one thing I simply will not eat. I love Bakewell anything, and I want to eat some of this particular birthday cake.
When I quit gluten about 18 months ago I began to search for gluten free recipes. It took me a while to realise that lots of the recipes I already used could tolerate substitution with gluten-free flour very well. This is one of them.
I tried a number of recipes for Bakewell type cakes before I settled on this version, which I think is perfect. It’s largely taken from a recipe I found in the Guardian by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Kudos! This is an absolute winner. You can use strawberry or raspberry jam, I think. Some people have a preference. Purists will say raspberry. I try to use the no added sugar Meridian jam. Seriously, you won’t be able to tell the difference. Otherwise I buy supermarket value stuff. This one has a shortbread base which is more decadent and ten times more delicious than pastry – it really makes it.
This is a very forgiving recipe, and I do love a recipe you can’t mess up. I suppose this is what you would call a traybake, but I'm not keen on that word - it sounds a bit indecorous, or a bit casual, like something practical and economical, whereas I feel this bake is an event.
I have to admit that this is the worst one I’ve made – typical, since it was to be used for my first post. As happens sometimes, I knocked the dial on my oven twice while baking it so it didn’t cook at the right speed, but it still turned out delicious, and I decided to be authentic and stick with it! Also, knowing it was a fool-proof recipe, I daringly put some courgettes in the oven to roast at the same time which I probably shouldn’t have done (and would never do with a sensitive dessert, or an actual cake). But having to cook many things with one oven and having limited time, it was a calculated risk I had to take. But it is still utterly scrumptious.
For the shortbread base
200g unsalted butter at room temperature
100g caster sugar
200g plain flour (gluten-free if preferred)
a generous pinch of salt
For the filling
50g plain flour (gluten-free if preferred)
150g ground almonds
150g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter at room temperature
about half a jar of strawberry or raspberry jam
a few drops of almond essence (optional)
50g flaked almonds
icing sugar to dust (optional)
Preheat oven to 170C/335F/Gas Mark 3, and grease a tin 22cmx22cm - give or take a couple shouldn't matter. The easiest way to line it is to cut a square piece of greaseproof paper about three inches bigger than the base of the tin, and then press it into the tin, snipping a downward diagonal cut into each corner to allow it to sit snugly. You can then fold the flaps in or trim them.
Beat the butter and sugar for the base until soft (you can do this by hand with a wooden spoon but obviously it’s easier and quicker with a table top mixer or handheld electric mix) and then add the flour and salt. It will make a sticky dough which doesn’t seem very spreadable but it will be fine once it’s in the tin. Put a bit of flour on your hands to stop them sticking to it as you work it into the base of the lined tin. It will spread out evenly once it goes in the oven anyway, but try and cover all the gaps as much as you can. You don’t need to be too precise.
Bake for about 20-25 mins until it starts to turn golden. It needs to be hardish to the touch, but be careful not to go too far or it will be crumbly and dry. Once it comes out it will firm up a bit. Leave it to cool for a few minutes while you make the filling.
Combine the ground almonds and the flour. Then, in a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar, and once soft add the eggs one at a time with a spoonful of the flour mixture after each one, then fold in the rest of the mixture until completely mixed in. Add the almond essence, if using.
Scoop the jam into a bowl and give it a mash with a fork to make it more uniform and spreadable, and then spread it over the cooled base. You really don’t need too much jam or it becomes quite sickly. Then spread the filling on top of the jam and even it out with a spatula.
Scatter the flaked almonds over the top.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes.
You can lightly dust with icing sugar for decoration.
You can eat this Bakewell slice as a pudding with cream, custard or ice cream, or as a piece of afternoon cake. You can also stick it in the microwave for 30 seconds to reheat for dessert. Bake well!