I don’t own any round cake tins – the kind that are used for Victoria sponges and the like. Neither do I understand how to make those things rise perfectly or what to put in the middle. Any past attempt I made at icing seemed to have gravitational pull- no sooner did I have the perfect white topping than it swiftly left the cake and dribbled down to the cake plate, taking the glace cherries/walnut halves with it. I am sure there are ways to solve these problems – but I just don’t care enough to learn them. I am definitely a ‘TB’ ( a Trivial Baker as opposed to Obsessive or Perfectionist) In fact I don’t understand how people produce baking that looks identical time after time – I like the odd wobble, the lobsided and the endearing quality of the tilted and unsymmetrical. So, after a few tries many years ago I decided this kind of perfection baking was not for me. I still admire the wondrous rows of powdery tops, delicate icing and even tiny yet perfect rossettes of piping which adorn my fellow bakers’ offerings.
Then I discovered the term ‘tray bake’ – from brownies to blondies, choc chip squares, coconut and lemon or even orange slices , plus oats and dates and a myriad of other lovelies. “These are a few of my favourite things’ as Julie Andrews once sang. They need little decorating – my abilities there lie in the range of ‘pass the distemper bucket’ It is so simple – you find a tin roughly the right size ( ‘tray bakes’ have a slightly haphazard nature which appeals to me) – you mix the butter and sugar together until it is creamy ( or something a bit like creamy) – them you slowly whisk in flour and eggs and finally tip in anything else and let it all go whizzing round in the mixer . Don’t overdo the later as you may knock out too much air and create a rather heavy product – just till it is all blended! Once baked – and cooled, slice it up and eat! In the fine tradition of finger food there is of course no need for ceremony, no cake forks and fancy doilies for tray-bake eaters!
Here is my absolutely – well usually – fail-safe recipe for Almond Slices
175g/6oz plain flour
125g/4oz cold unsalted butter
25g/1oz cater sugar
1 egg yolk
about 1 tbsp cold water
115g/4oz unsalted butter
115g/4oz caster sugar
115g/40z ground almonds
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp almond essence
4 tbsp raspberry jam ( you could use other jam,/jelly but this is traditional)
2 tbsp flaked almonds
First make the pastry. Sift the flour into a bowl and rub in the cold butter until you have a fine breadcrumb texture. Stir in the caster sugar. Mix the egg yolk with the water this liquid to the bowl. It will make a dough quite quickly – avoid handling it too long. Chill it for a while before attempting to roll it out as it will be too soft to handle immediately.
Preheat the oven to 200c /400f/gas mark 6.
Roll out dough an a floured surface and use to line a 9″ square tin. (I use a sheet of non-stick parchment cut to fit along the length of the tin – with a 2″ extension at each end to facilitate lifting when the almond slices are cool enough to handle) I also make a 1/2 inch ridge all round and press a fork into it to make a surround. This will hold in the filling and make it easier to cut into slices. Chill for 10 minutes before putting into the hot oven for ten minutes. Remove as soon as this is over and just check the shape in case any of the sides have slipped down – at this stage it is easy to put them back again.
In the meantime, cream together the caster sugar and butter until it is light and as fluffy as you can get. ( They always say ‘fluffy’ – but I don’t often see it – where does this phrase come from?) Then beat in the ground almonds, almond essence and beaten eggs. Make sure the mix is well beaten or you will get strange bubbles when you cook the mix.
Spread the jam over the base of the pastry case – then top with the almond mixture, spreading evenly. Sprinkle the almond slices over the top of the mixture.
Bake in the pre-heated oven (200c) for ten minutes and then reduce to 180c/350f/gas mark 4 and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the filling begins to to brown and is firm to the touch. Once it is cool, cut into slices and just eat …..