Give me cake or give me death cookies.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Hummingbird Cake- Recipe

No hummingbirds were harmed in the making of this cake.

The hummingbird cake is basically the banana cake's exotic cousin, typically made with bananas, crushed pineapple and chopped nuts, and it's one of my favourite cakes ever. I first ate one made by a company called Galeta, who sell at various markets and provide for quite a few cafés in London (including Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium). As well as banana and pineapple, it also had mango and passion fruit, making it one hell of a mouth party.

Having never made a cake with so many squishy fruits and being worried about texture, I decided to try a pre-rested recipe first and experiment another time (and as usual, ended up experimenting and adapting the recipe anyway). I found a recipe for hummingbird cake on the BBC Food website that used mangoes and passion fruit like Galeta's cake, but balked at the amount of sugar and oil in it. Surely a cake with so many damp, sweet fruits didn't need so much?? So I ended up cutting the sugar by 70g and halving the oil to 100ml (and added the pulp from an extra passion fruit, just in case).

It worked.

I also used self raising flour instead of plain plus baking soda, and all pecans instead of pecans and walnuts because I'm a little allergic to the latter (not enough to kill me, but enough to make life mildly unpleasant). I used orange oil instead of zest because I didn't have any oranges on hand, but you can use either.

If you're worried about the cake not being sweet enough because of the reduction of sugar, I have three words for you: cream cheese frosting. I kept the recipe from BBC's hummingbird cake recipe more or less the same, just reducing the sugar a little, but used a slightly different technique to ensure the frosting stayed firm and didn't become runny (cream cheese frosting gets runny is you over-beat it, because it causes the water in it to bleed out and thin the whole thing). So if your cream cheese frosting always turns runny, try my method.

Ingredients for Cake:

-250g self raising flour
-180g caster sugar
-1tsp cinnamon
-3 eggs, beaten
-100ml vegetable oil
-100g roughly chopped pecan nuts
-2 very ripe bananas, mashed
-1 large ripe mango, mashed
-85g crushed pineapple (found with the tinned fruit in the supermarket)
-3 passion fruits, pulp only (pass through sieve and discard the seeds)
-1/2tsp orange oil OR zest of 1 orange

Ingredients for Frosting:

-200g cold full fat cream cheese (medium or low fat will result in watery icing)
-50g unsalted butter, softened
-300g icing sugar


1) Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and grease and line two 8" round cake tins.

2) Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl (flour, sugar, cinnamon and nuts), and with a wooden spoon stir in all of the other ingredients. No need for an electric whisk: stirring by hand actually gives a better texture for this cake.

3) Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean. You may need to cover the cakes with foil after about 35mins to stop the tops from burning.

4) Remove from the oven and cool COMPLETELY before frosting.

5) To make the cream cheese frosting, cream the sugar and butter together thoroughly (I just used a wooden spoon for this).

6) Gently stir in the cold cream cheese until just combined, and put the frosting in the fridge until you need it to keep it firm.

7) When the cakes are cold, sandwich them together and cover with your frosting: I coat the sides as well as the top to keep the outside of the cake from drying out.

8) Decorate as you like: as you can see, I put some pecans on top as neat little slice markers, but sprinkling over more chopped nuts or orange zest is pretty, too.


Sunday, 22 June 2014

Construction Site Cake

A friend of my dad's requested a chocolate construction site cake for his son's birthday. He provided the toy trucks, and I puzzled out how I was going to make this cake. I knew I could use crushed Oreos for a soil effect and chocolate buttercream for mud, but how was I going to get mounds of 'dug up' chocolate soil to stay in place when the cake needed to be transported?

I solved the logistical problem by creating cake pop dough from the offcuts from levelling the cake, binding the cake crumbs together with a bit of extra chocolate buttercream. I shaped them and rolled them in crushed Oreos. Voilà! Instant mounds of soil that won't scatter all over the board when the cake is moved. This also solved the problem of cleanup of the toy vehicles afterwards: rather than having a load of biscuit crumbs stuck in the cracks of the dump truck for example, the 'pile of dirt' is just a lump of cake rolled in crumbs that can just be lifted out.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Black Forest Gâteau for Father's Day

Once upon a time, I asked my dad what cake he would eat if he could only ever eat one type of cake. He chose Black Forest gâteau.

Ingredients for Cake:

-300g self raising flour
-90g cocoa powder
-400g caster sugar
-1/2tsp salt
-150ml sour cream
-150ml vegetable oil
-150ml strong hot coffee (I used filter coffee, but instant is fine)
-2 eggs
-1tsp vanilla

Ingredients for Chocolate Mousse:

-70g dark (70% cocoa solids) chocolate
-5tbsp double cream
-1/2tbsp caster sugar
-1 egg white

Ingredients for Filling/ Decorating:

-200g plain chocolate, grated
-600ml double cream, whipped to spreading/ piping consistency
-1 can black cherries
-1/2 can black cherry pie filling
-150ml kirsch or brandy
-Chocolate decorations


1) Grate the chocolate and (if applicable) make the decorations in advance. It'll take that little bit longer than you think and you'll feel much less rushed when it comes to decorating the cake if you do this part the night before.

2)  Drain the cherries and place into a bowl, sprinkle with kirsch/ brandy, cover and refrigerate overnight to infuse.

3) Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C, and grease and line two 8-9" round baking tins.

4) Sift the flour and cocoa together in a large bowl, and add the rest of the dry ingredients. With an electric mixer, whizz all of the wet ingredients straight into the dry (easy!)

5) Evenly divide the cake batter between the two pans, and bake for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer poked into the middle comes out clean, and leave to cool completely.

6) While the cakes are still in the oven, make the chocolate mousse: melt the chocolate and cream together in the microwave in short 20 second bursts, stirring in between each burst until completely melted. Leave the chocolate mixture to cool, and whisk the egg white until it forms a meringue, whisking in the sugar once the egg whites forms 'stiff peak' stage. Add a bit of the meringue mixture to the chocolate to loosten it up, and fold all of the chocolate mixture straight into the meringue. Cover and refrigerate for at least three hours.

7) Sieve your cherries, but keep the boozy cherry liquid to soak the cake with.

8) To assemble your cake, place one cake layer on a cake board/ whatever the cake will be served on, and brush with half of the leftover kirsch/ brandy soaking liquid.

9) Pipe a ring of double cream around the edge of the cake layer (this will stop the chocolate mousse from squishing out later). Fill the centre with chocolate mousse, and dot with the infused cherries (keep back 12 for the top).

10) Place the second layer of cake on top and brush with the remaining soaking liquid. Carefully smooth more double cream around the top and sides, and use your chocolate shavings to cover the sides. Do this over a large baking tray to catch the excess to use in another project! It's easiest to hold the cake on its board in one hand grab handfuls of chocolate shavings with the other. Work quickly though: that chocolate will melt in your hands, and fast!

11) Pipe 12 florettes of cream on top around the edge, and place a cherry and chocolate decoration on top of each one.

12) Finally, fill the centre with cherry pie filling, and refrigerate for about an hour to set the cream a little before slicing and serving.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Birthday Cakes and Crafts

It was my colleague Kim's birthday yesterday (Saturday), so I made a cake and a felted cat ball to bring in on Friday.

I made the cake gluten free so her son could also enjoy it (I've made a couple of cakes for Kim's family in the past, all GF so nobody misses out!)

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Tash in Brussels: a Photostory

Remember this?

I created the praline mousse coeur for Godiva's Chocolate Challenge competition earlier this year, and ended up getting through to the finals with three others. Heather Bennett came through tops with her creation, and she, Danny Kingston, Victoria Glass and I all received an overnight stay in Brussels. That was waaay back in March (well, only three months ago, but it seems like longer).

This weekend, I finally embarked on my journey to one of Europe's foodie paradises!

I've never travelled by Eurostar before: it was the last mode of travel that I hadn't yet tried. Except maybe by hovercraft.

That's my mum in the background by the way, to the right. Of course I also brought my travel bunny Smidgen with me (I've pretty much had Smidgen since birth and he's gone EVERYWHERE I've ever travelled abroad).

Look Smidgen, the French countryside!

No sooner had we arrived and checked in at Rocco Forte Hotel Amigo (ex-prison turned swish 5* hotel), we set off again to See Stuff on the tour bus.

Tour over, it's time to accost an unsuspecting waffle vendor with my rusty (but thankfully still useable) French.

"Une gaufre chaude, s'il vous plait!"
My first waffle in Brussels was a Leige-style one rather than a Belgian-style one, with crunchy pearls of sugar that caramelised as the waffle was cooking in the iron. At first I felt slightly guilty not trying a Belgian waffle first, but then this beauty was handed to me:

Guilt assuaged.

Walking back from the tour, we passed through none other than Brussels' beautiful square Grand Place.

We also found one of several Godiva stores in the square. Since this was Brussels, I don't really need to add that much chocolate was eaten this trip.

There were also some lovely lace shops, with creations so beautiful and delicate that I was terrified to even breathe funny.

By the time we had circled around Grand Place, we'd already crammed so much into a couple of hours and it was time for food. Me being me, I'd already researched potential eateries before we came, and I knew we had to try a place called Mokafe, an informal and affordable restaurant favoured by both visitors and locals. (I was also hoping to catch a glimpse of the rumoured resident cat.)

It was just as well my rusty French was warming up by now, because this wasn't really an English-speaking establishment. It's times like this that I really love languages, and feel really lucky to know a bit of this and that.

Mum had a perfectly prepared duck's liver salad with roasted butternut squash:

While I had a half roasted chicken with apple purée and frites. The chicken was so well-cooked the meat was falling off the bone:

During our meal, I spotted a movement amongst the chairs...

I couldn't believe our luck: Mokafe's resident cat had come to visit!

At the end of our meal I asked our waiter what the cat's name is. Of course, his name is 'Moka'.

After dinner, we continued our leisurely walk around the city. Finding the Manneken Pis (a fountain statue of a little boy peeing) was easy enough: all we had to do was look out for a huge crowd of tourists taking photos. What I found most entertaining about this little guy is the amount of outfits he gets dressed up in for different occasions.

Brussels is definitely not a city in which you will starve, that's for sure. There are restaurants and cafes everywhere, and almost every other establishment in the centre has chocolates, biscuits and confectionery in general piled high. Not that I was complaining in the slightest.

I must have been staring at these with a visibly dumbfounded expression on my face, because the shopkeeper noticed my horrified expression and let me try one, assuring me they were good. Turns out they're just peanuts covered in chocolate. Thank goodness!

The next day, we walked a little further out to explore, and found Brussels' unofficial Chinatown. To my delight, the Chinese community there mainly spoke Mandarin (which I am studying as an evening course). We also stumbled upon a small Chinese cafe that seemed to be a hit with the local Chinese community. After some debate about if it was right to eat Chinese in Brussels, we decided to to go for it for the adventure- because the only spoke Mandarin and some French.

The food was cheap but really good: something that doesn't occur in the more tourist-y areas. Another triumph for travellers knowing another language! Between my mum and I we managed to cobble together enough Mandarin to communicate quite effectively to the bemused but good-natured serving staff (although my Mum is Chinese her main dialect is Hakka).

For dessert, I decided that there was no other thing to eat than a Brussels waffle; and no other place to eat one than at Maison Dandoy.

There are a couple of Maison Dandoys in the centre, but the one we went to had a lovely little tearoom upstairs, serving arguably the best Brussels waffles ever. They also sold Leige waffles, and had a massive variety of delicious toppings, but I wanted to try an original Brussels waffle au naturel.

It was the lightest, crispiest waffle I've ever had in my life, and I never want to eat any other type of so-called 'Belgian waffle' ever again.

Once our waffles were demolished, I went downstairs to buy some of Maison Dandoy's famed speculoos biscuits: crunchy little butter cookies spiced with cinnamon and pressed with all kinds of pretty and whimsical patterns.

It was a biscuit emporium downstairs, I had to take close control of my self-restraint not to buy a bunch of everything.

Maison Dandoy's pain à la grecque is also very much worth trying: it's a flattish bread flavoured with deliciously sticky cinnamon and finished with crunchy sugar pearls. Alas, mine got mysteriously eaten before I could catch it on camera... (it was that good).

With only a few more hours to spare, we did a bit more shopping, and saw a few more sights. We even ran into Tintin a few times.

With our waistbands straining and our feet aching, it was finally time to head home. I quite liked the loo signs in the Business Premier lounge in Gare du Midi.

Oh good, I've found the ladies' electrocution room.

Of course, there was still a little more food to be eaten...

What an amazing trip. Seeing the amazing architecture, feeling the buzz of the multicultural community, tasting the food... even getting to speak three different languages, occasionally all in one setting! Thanks again to Godiva Chocolates for giving me the opportunity to visit such a lovely city: I can't wait to go back again one day and discover more.