Give me cake or give me death cookies.

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


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.

 - 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


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)


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.



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)

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Gingerbread Revisited: The Cake Version

Two kinds of gingerbread in three days! I feel like I should be given some sort of reward. I suppose the reward's in the eating.

My tips on gingerbread are to use dark muscavado sugar and a mixture of both golden syrup and black treacle, not just one or the other (unless you like it to be all syrupy sweet or all burnt toffee flavour). I personally like a 2:1 golden syrup to black treacle ratio in both my gingerbread cakes and biscuits, but it's up to your tastes. I also like to be quite generous with the spices, particularly the ginger- of course. If there's one baking peeve I have, it's when a spice cake or cookie wusses out on the spices.

Tomorrow I'll be making a bonfire night's eve three-couse dinner for the family (since the actual bonfire night is on Monday and I won't have time to do anything big). Join me for dessert: I'll be making a tutorial on how to make sticky toffee apple crumble and homemade custard!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Halloween! Creepy Gingerbread House

I've never made a gingerbread house from scratch before, and this year I aspire to make a gingerbread My House (that is, I'm going to design a gingerbread house to look like the one I live in). Before I embark on this challenge later in the year though, last night I decided to make a more standard, smaller one to get the feel for using royal icing and structure. And since it was Halloween, I decided to make a spooky house- more specifically one with a nod to the house belonging to the wicked witch from Hansel and Gretel.

Aww, look at how cute and inviting it is! Let's go visit...

Amazing what the right sort of lighting can do, right?

'Nibble, nibble, like a mouse, who's been nibbling at my house?'

Today I respectfully deconstructed the house, to happily feed my family with a nice cup of tea.