Summary

Give me cake or give me death cookies.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Suitcase Cake- Poppa's 90th Birthday

It was my grandfather's 90th birthday party today- I was appointed cake maker, and made a cake for forty people. Grandma decided to have me make it into a suitcase, because my Poppa used to sell luggage and he's very well-travelled.


Everything you see is edible- except for the string on the Happy Birthday tag.










Candles: also not for eats.










A normal Victoria sponge usually only needs two eggs. My Victoria sponge, which is a little more generous on the sponge, takes three eggs. This forty-person cake took ten eggs- which means twenty ounces of everything else. It had to be baked in two separate layers, and each layer took just over 45mins each to bake through. I filled it with strawberry jam and fresh cream, and assembly/ decorating alone took three hours.

Now that's a lot of cake.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas Dinner

I figured since you sort of bake Yorkshire puddings, this post counts as a bake (at least in part).


Instead of the usual lemon-and-herb roasted chicken, I did an orange-and-spice one, essentially stuffing my chicken with a pomander of a small orange, cloves and cardamom pods, and threw in some cinnamon, nutmeg and a star anise. It was definitely a crowd-pleaser.

Also featuring: mini Yorkshires (baked in my mini cupcake tin), sprouts, honey and rosemary roasted carrots and parsnips, mini chicken Viennas, sage and onion stuffing (made by Paxo, beefed up with various things by me) and roasted taters (Sainsbury's Taste the Difference... sometimes life's just too short).

Followed by filter coffee and my chocolate chestnut log (see below).

Hope everyone's enjoying Christmas with their loved ones!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Chocolate Chestnut Bûche de Noël- Recipe

The combination of chocolate, cream and the subtle nuttiness of chestnuts is perfection. When I made the vanilla chestnut cream to fill the bûche, I had a hard time making myself not eat it with a spoon.



I decorated my yule log with icing sugar, coconut mushrooms and chocolate leaves. I made the leaves but not the mushrooms- cut me some slack, I have a ridiculous amount of baking and cooking to do this holiday! You can use what you like- holly and berry decorations, snowflake sprinkles, robins (not real ones obviously). Whatever you feel like- go for it!

Ingredients for the 'Log':

- 5 eggs
- 4oz caster sugar
- 3oz self-raising flour
- 2oz cocoa powder

Ingredients for Simple Syrup (or 'Soaking Syrup'):

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup caster sugar
1tbsp brandy

 Ingredients for Filling:

- 300ml double cream
- 2oz caster sugar
- 200g sweetened chestnut purée
- 1tsp vanilla bean paste (or just the extract/ flavouring)

Ingredients for Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:

- 4oz softened unsalted butter
- 250g icing sugar
- 3-4tbsp milk
- 1tsp vanilla
- 100g dark chocolate, melted and cooled (70% cocoa)

Method:

1) Preheat oven to 180 degrees C and line a 34cm x 24cm (about 13" x 9") pan- I just used a shallow roasting pan, I don't own a dedicated swiss roll tin.

2) Remember I said once how you can't whip up egg whites all fluffy with egg yolks in? I lied. (Well, I didn't lie- just over exaggerated- but for several recipe you do need to keep whites and yolks completely separate). Place the whole eggs in a bowl with the sugar, and whip up until thick and fluffy, until when you lift out the whisks a thin ribbon of egg trails behind and takes a few seconds to sink back into the rest of the mixture.


3) Sift in the cocoa and flour into your whipped eggs, and fold in carefully until the colour is even- don't do this for longer than you have to, you want to keep in as much air as possible.











 4) Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan, and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes (or until the sponge springs back when poked, or a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean).











5) Take out your sponge, and whilst it's still hot flip it onto a separate sheet of baking parchment, which has been dusted with icing sugar to stop the sponge from sticking (make sure there is a bit of parchment sticking out towards you). Remove the parchment that you baked the cake on, and fold the sticking out bit of parchment that the cake is now on over the end of the sponge facing you, and roll the still-hot sponge up inside the parchment tightly and carefully. This will both help make it 'remember' the tightly rolled shape you've made it into as it cools, and make it easier to roll with the filling.



6) Let it cool COMPLETELY whilst rolled up. It might feel cold on the outside after a while, but carefully check inside the roll too- if it's warm, it'll melt the filling. Whilst it's cooling, you can make everything else.

7) To make the soaking syrup, place the sugar and water in the pan and bring it up to the boil, and boil for about three minutes. (Only add the brandy last minute when you want to use the syrup- you'll brush it on the inside of the cake roll to help moisten it. This cake has no butter or oil in it, so it dries out more easily.)

8) Make the filling by whipping up the double cream and sugar until reasonably thick (but not scoopable- don't overbeat it), and stir in your chestnut purée and vanilla. Leave this out whilst the roll cools- putting it in the fridge will harden it and make it pretty much impossible to spread later.

9) Make the frosting by whipping the butter, sugar and milk again until fluffy, then adding the chocolate and vanilla. Cover this with clingfilm to stop it from crusting over while you wait for the roll to cool.

10) Once cool, gently unroll the cake- it might split a bit, but don't worry- you'll be covering any imperfections with the frosting later.

11) Brush liberally with your soaking syrup.

12) Fill right to the ends with your vanilla chestnut cream, and roll it back up again (I've shown a gap at the end in the picture, which was my mistake- for this one, you do need to spread the filling right to the end to help the log stick together).










13) Place your newly rolled-up log on whatever you're going to serve it on, and lop a bit off one of the ends at an angle. Stick the chopped off bit on the side of the main log to create a bit of a branch (I used a bit of leftover chestnut cream to do this).










14) Spread on your chocolate buttercream frosting- I piped it on, but spreading with a knife and then running a fork over it to create a wood grain effect.










15) Have fun decorating.






Have a kickass Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Chocolate Christmas Pudding

I made this pudding in October and let it mature until last week- when I turned it out, doused it in whiskey and set it on fire.

And ate it.

Yes I ate Christmas pudding before Christmas. What of it? (I have a bûche de Noël planned for the actual day, anyway.)

It was just an experiment, really- I originally wanted to make Paul A Young's 'Three Chocolates Christmas Puddings' from his book Adventures with Chocolate, but I only wanted to make a small one, and some ingredients you can only buy in a certain quantity- like Guinness. I hate beer, and I'd only need a dash of it in a scaled-down recipe, so I'd be stuck with most of a bottle of beer. In the end, I just used the recipe as vague guidelines.

The texture was beautiful- moist and surprisingly light for a Christmas pudding, but not fluffy and lacking substance. The chocolate worked really well with the fruits and spices.

I just wish I hadn't drowned it in booze.

In the original recipe, you feed your pudding with a tablespoonful of brandy once a week- this should also be enough to stave off mould. Unfortunately I lost my nerve and started doing it every day, resulting in a pudding that could get you sozzled before you even opened the drinks cabinet after dinner. It did taste good, but it was quite... potent. It would have definitely tasted better without about half of the alcohol that went into it.

On the upside, it burned like a beauty.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Gingerbread Tree




See my other blog for the story of my first Christmas tree. Yes, this is my first Christmas tree ever, which I won in a raffle today. It seemed only right to stick some edibles on it, so I rustled up and decorated some gingerbread.


I hate using silver dragées with a passion. They're so fiddly- but so pretty! At least Dr Oetker makes soft ones now, which don't shatter your teeth quite like the ones I was used to as a child. This was also my first time using royal icing- I think I managed a smooth enough finish.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

No Bakes This Week?

Not so- there have indeed been bakes. However, as they are seasonal gifts, there'd be no fun in letting on what they are, would there?

Join me soon for a flaming chocolate Christmas pudding, and a recipe for a chocolate chestnut log!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Souffléed Spice Cake- Recipe

I got back from my 10-day holiday/ family reunion in Australia a couple of days ago and I'm still shattered- but that won't stop me from baking! Everywhere you go in Oz and the UK alike there are Christmas trees, decorations, carols and Christmas pop music- even our aeroplane cabins on the journey home were decked with faux pine garlands and red ribbons- and I came home ready to make something vaguely Christmassy.



This isn't really 100% my recipe, rather an adaptation of Nigella Lawson's snow-topped spice cake recipe from her book 'How to be a Domestic Goddess' (but then again aren't all recipes, like music, based on pre-existing models?) The changes I made were to suit my tastes, or because I thought some things were unecessary/ didn't add anything to the end result, or because I found there was a stage that did add to the end result.

It's light, fluffy and moist thanks to whipped egg whites and oil instead of butter, and aromatic without being overpowering. Nigella touts it as 'the perfect replacement for the standard Christmas cake' for those none-too-keen on the dense and often dry fruited versions.

Ingredients for Cake:

- 5 eggs, separated
- 125ml vegetable oil
- 125ml water
- 1tsp golden syrup
- 1tbsp black treacle
240g dark muscavado sugar
- 200g plain flour
- 2tsp baking powder
- Pinch salt
- 1 + 1/2 tsp ginger
- 1tsp nutmeg
- 1tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cloves
- zest of 1/2 a big orange
- 75g caster sugar

To Decorate (optional):

- thick royal icing
- icing sugar
- sprinkles

 Method:

1) Preheat oven to 180 degrees C and grease a 10" bundt pan well.
 
2) In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and oil, then whisk in the water, syrups and muscavado sugar (but NOT the caster sugar).

3) Pass the mixture through a sieve to get rid of any little rock-hard lumps of muscavado sugar, and put it back into the large bowl.

4) Stir in the flour, baking powder, spices, salt and zest, mixing thoroughly (don't worry about being too rough at this stage).

5) Whip up the egg whites in another large bowl until white, stiff and fluffy (you should be able to tip the bowl upside-down over your head and stay clean), then whisk in the caster sugar- the mixture will turn glossy but still be white and fluffy- like marshmallow fluff.

6) Take a large tablespoonfull of the egg whites and beat it into your spice batter to help loosen it up, and then carefully fold in the rest of the egg whites, using cutting and scooping motions. You don't want to be rough at this stage as you want to avoid beating the air bubbles out.

7) Fill your bundt tin until about 3/4 full with your cake batter (use the leftover batter to make little cupcakes- but don't be tempted to fill your bundt pan any more of it'll overflow when it rises during baking: I've learnt this the hard way) and bake for 45 minutes, until the cake springs back when you poke it. Cupcakes will only take about 20mins.

8) Take your cake out of the oven to cool thoroughly- let it be for 25 minutes before tipping it out of the pan. It'll shrink back down a bit, but this is normal.

9) Once it's completely cold, if you like you can ice it with royal icing: make sure it's thick though, or the spongy cake will just suck it up.

10) Decorate as you like. I've used white crystal sugar, silver dragées and edible glitter. Because it's Christmas and it's okay to be a little gaudy.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Bog-Standard Victoria Sponge- Recipe

I'm going away to Australia tomorrow. Things I have done today: bought gifts for my family on the other side of the world, hoovered, sorted out a last-minute panic concerning visas, baked a cake for my dad so he has something home-baked to eat whilst I'm away, and updated this blog with a recipe.

Things I haven't done: packed.

Here you go.

You'll also need a bit of milk- I forgot to include it in the 'ingredients photoshoot'!

Ingredients for Sponge:

- 6oz Salted butter, softened (you can use unsalted if you like, but I think the salt gives a better flavour)
- 6oz Caster sugar
- 6oz Self raising flour
- 3 Eggs
- 1tsp vanilla
- 3tbsp milk

Notice the eggs-to-sugar/butter/flour ratio? For this basic sponge recipe the general rule is for whatever number of ounces you have of sugar, butter and flour (which are always the same as each other), you need half the amount of eggs

Ingredients for Filling:

- 150ml Double cream, whipped up
- Jam of your choice (I used strawberry conserve)

Ingredients to Decorate (optional):

- 1tbsp Icing sugar

 Method:

1) Preheat oven to 180 degrees C and line a couple of 8" sandwich cake pans with greaseproof paper, or grease and flour them so your cake won't stick
 
2) Cream together your softened butter and sugar until pale and very fluffy- this can take a few minutes











3) Thoroughly beat in the eggs one at a time (this avoids the mixture curdling)


4) Whisk in the flour- but don't beat as vigorously as when you were creaming the sugar and butter and then adding the eggs or you'll beat all the air out: you just want to whisk until it's combined

5) Divide evenly between the two pans and bake for about 25mins, or until a skewer comes out clean when you stab the cake with it, or the surface springs back if you poke it

6) Cool on a wire rack until totally cold (if you fill it when it's warm, your fillings will melt into goo)

 








7) Spread one half liberally with jam (don't forget to peel the baking parchment off!)











8) Spread liberally with cream (I was unnecessarily neat here)

 








9) Plop the other half on (and dust with icing sugar if you like)


And you have a Victoria sponge!
This is one of the few cakes I make that I don't worry about presentation too much- I think the home-baked VS should look a bit rough and ready. It looks more charming with the cream and jam oozing out of the sides of it, but since this cake needs to last my dad for a few days and I didn't want to give him extra work in terms of mess, I decided to keep it neat and keep the fillings contained.

I think everyone should know how to make a VS. Don't feel constrained by the old jam-and-cream approach, either: you can use buttercream frosting instead of fresh cream, nutella or chocolate spread, peanut butter, lemon curd... go nuts. Try it! You'll like it.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Gluten Free Chocolate Cakes

This week I created a birthday cake for my colleague's little boy, who has coeliac (an autoimmune condition triggered by gluten). I also made a cake for another colleague who's leaving the company, and ended up baking it gluten-free too for fear of cross-contamination! Although the chocolate chips of the sunflower cake weren't gluten-free, I made sure to keep them well away from the other cake.



My leaving colleague was kind enough to share out the sunflower cake- to my relief, it turned out good! I'd made a little tester with the GF flour I'd bought a week beforehand (alas, I accidentally deleted the picture of the resulting mini-cake), so it's good to know that I've found a reliable flour blend. I used Dove's Farm self-raising white gluten-free flour blend, which has added xantham gum as a binder so you don't have to worry about buying and adding it in separately (as you often need to with GF baking).

Cake at my desk! GF flour results in a slightly crumblier texture, but still soft and moist.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Healthy Banana Oatmeal Cookies- Recipe

Healthy dairy free cookies! Well. Healthy-ish. No oil, butter, eggs or refined flour, but there is a little bit of sugar from the apple sauce- you have to have some joy, right?


I was just experimenting and messing around in the kitchen when I made these- I had a decent amount of museli left that was lying around because I've gotten into porridge for the winter, and was looking for a healthy way of using them up. I mixed together a bunch of stuff and ended up with these vegan, dairy-free oatmeal cookies. They're kind of chewy- next time I think I'll add more museli and skip the quick cook porridge altogether for sturdier cookies- but I like them.


Ingredients:
 - 2 Cups rolled oats (or, in my case, cheapo museli)
- 1 Cup instant porridge oats
- 1/2 Tsp each of ground ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon
- 125g Chopped nuts of your choice (I used brazil nuts)
- 1/2 Cup sultanas
- 4 Bananas, mashed
- 125ml Apple sauce (in my case half a jar)
- 1/4 Cup water

 Method:

1) Preheat oven to 200 degrees C and line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper, lightly oiling the paper so the cookies don't stick
 
2) Stir together dry ingredients (two types of oats, spices, nuts and raisins) in a bowl

3) Stir in the wet ingredients (bananas, apple sauce and water) so your mixture looks like this:

You could actually eat it as it is right now like Swiss museli.

4) Drop tablespoon-sized scoops of the dough onto your baking sheets and flatten them a bit with the back of the spoon, arranging them so they're about half an inch apart (they don't spread much)

5) Bake for about 20mins until they begin to brown

That's pretty much it! Makes about 25 cookies.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Unbirthday Cake: Piping Practice

Today I made a simple cake for the sole purpose of decorating it. Well, to be eaten too I suppose, but I was actually more keen to practice stringwork and swag/ drapes, which I've never done before.

I rather hastily buttercreamed the cake up in my eagerness to get piping, so it's not perfectly smooth, but I don't mind- my stringwork drapes turned out alright for a first kick at it. I know the flower border isn't completely evenly spaced: I did mark spacers out beforehand, but I changed my mind about portion size in the middle of piping (so there's be big pieces for dad and smaller pieces for mum and I!)

I also had to photo it sideways because the central rose I made blocked the writing (I should have piped the words to curve around the border more rather than straight, but live and learn). At least I'm also getting better at writing, too.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Toffee Apple Crumble with Homemade Custard- Recipe

Tomorrow night is Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night, or Fireworks Night- whichever. All I know is it's the time of bonfires, fireworks (no sh*t, Sherlock), bangers and mash with fried onions and toffee apples. So, I made my family a three-course dinner for the 'eve' (since tomorrow is a Monday and there won't be time after work to do a three course dinner). I made pumpkin soup, cracked black pepper beef bangers (made by my good friend J Sainsbury) with carrot, swede and parsnip puree and sesame fried onions, and for dessert, my ultra-seasonal take on an autumnal English pudding- a toffee apple crumble.


See how I made this below!

Ingredients for Crumble Topping:
- 1 Cup rolled oats
- 1 1/5 Cups plain flour
- 1/2 Block (about 4oz) Cold unsalted butter, cubed/ chopped
- 3tbsp Demerara sugar
- 1tsp each ground cinnamon and nutmeg
- 1 pinch salt

Ingredients for Toffee Sauce:
- 1/4 Cup dark muscavado sugar
- 2tbsp Golden syrup
- 1tbsp Black treacle
- 1tbsp Salted (trust me) butter
- 2tbsp Milk

Ingredients for Filling:
- 3 Cooking (bramley) apples
- 1tbsp Plain flour
- 1tbsp lemon juice
- 2tbsp Golden caster sugar
- 1/2 Packet mini fudge chunks (optional- I just happened to have these floating around and it seemed like a good idea)

Ingredients for Custard:
 - 300ml Milk
- 200ml Cream (I used Elmlea light hoping to make a dent in the calorie count...)
- 2 Whole eggs (Yes, you don't have to use just yolks here!)
- 2 Level tbsp cornflour
- 2tbsp Caster sugar
- 2tsp Vanilla bean paste (or just the extract- I like seeing the little seedy things in custard)

 Method:

1) Preheat that oven! Set it to 180 degrees C.

2) Grease a large dish- I used the butter wrapper since I already had half a block to use up for this recipe.










3) Get stuck in with the crumble: rub the butter in with the oats and flour with the tips of your fingers until it's crumbly, but chunkily so (*then* you can toss in the sugar, spices and salt):



 4) Make the toffee: put all the ingredients for the toffee in a small pan and bring to a gentle boil. You can swirl it in the pan occasionally, but don't stir it to avoid it crystallising and going gritty. Boil it for about two minutes, then take it off the heat to stop it from burning.

 

5) Peel, core and chop the apples to layer in your dish. You want them with a bit of bite, but not so thick that they won't cook properly. Every so often when layering, sprinkle with lemon juice to stop the apples from going brown, and sprinkle the flour and sugar (the flour will help thicken the toffee when you put it all in the oven, because the lemon and apple juices will thin it out to begin with). Don't be tempted to add more sugar- we have a loooot of toffee to pour on in a bit.



 6) (Please excuse sporadic photo formatting, Blogger was being difficult). Evenly pour over your toffee, and sprinkle the fudge chunks over. You'll be forgiven if a chunk or two never makes it to the crumble...


7) Sprinkle your crumble over, and put it in the oven! Bake for about 45 minutes. It'll be bubbling very invitingly.


Now you're ready to make the custard! You may want to keep your crumble in the turned-off oven to keep it hot. I just took mine out because I had to make the rest of dinner (I made everything but the custard a few hours in advance).

To make the custard:

1) Whisk the two eggs and the cornflour together thoroughly.

2) Boil the milk and cream, sugar and vanilla- watch out! It may take a while to get bubbling, but it'll boil over very suddenly if you're not on the ball.

When it bubbles like this, watch it like a hawk.






 3) As soon as it starts a roiling boil (when it begins to puff up like it's going to boil over), pour it into your beaten eggs and WHISK LIKE FURY to help avoid scrambling the eggs.










4) This is partially awesome, partially embarrassing... step 4 was meant to be 'put mixture back into a pan and stir over a low heat until thickened', but it turns out that my cream mixture was so hot it 'custardified' almost as soon as it was whisked into the eggs. I could say it was all part of my masterful plan, but I'd be lying. So if pouring the cream into the egg mixture works for you, great! If not: pour back into the pan and stir over a low heat to thicken. It should work again though- I think it was the egg whites (see my note at the end of the blog).

5) Pour into a jug and cover it with clingfilm so that the clingfilm is touching the surface to stop a skin from forming whilst you retrieve your crumble and dish it out.


Enjoy!


Afterword

About using whole eggs in a custard: usually the traditional custard uses egg yolks and cream, but I cut the cream content and made a lighter mixture with cream (or rather, Elmlea) and milk, and used two whole eggs instead of four egg yolks (I think that'd be the correct amount- I could be wrong), without really knowing if it'd work. I just didn't want to have to freeze yet more egg whites, but I didn't want to be wasteful throw them away either.

Well, it worked- far better than I could have ever hoped for, in fact. And the egg whites seem to help thicken and set the custard faster, as shown in the almost non-existent step 4 from 3. It was just as silky and creamy as a full-cream yolk-only custard, so I'd call that a success.

Want to see the starter and main courses? I'm afraid I didn't really make an effort with presentation, though (mind you, crumble isn't exactly easy to present in a Michelin star way, either).

Pumpkin soup with nutmeg
Beef bangers with carrot, swede and parsnip puree, sesame fried onions (and served with plenty of gravy and mustard)