Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Scrumpy and cinnamon cake / Hunky chunky bread (or what happens when I can't sleep)

I'd had too much wine one Saturday night and these days that means I fall asleep almost instantly and have a wonderful deep sleep (or perhaps coma) for about 5 hours and then I'm wide awake. Actually, I think what woke me in this case was maybe more to do with spontaneously remembering I'd forgotten to get kidney beans in Morrison's, since I woke up in something of a panic - but blame that or the wine, either way I couldn't get back to sleep and I boshed out these two recipes before Mike had even woken up!

Through the kidney bean induced panic I somehow remembered I'd got all the ingredients for a scrumpy and cinnamon cake, and that was all I needed to get me out of bed. This cake smelt absolutely amazing as it baked and the house smelt a bit like Christmas - the sweet smell of cider mingled with a hint of spice. Sadly, it wasn't a great recipe - the texture was a bit 'off' and the taste just didn't stand up to the mouth watering smell. In fact, it didn't really taste of all that much at all.

Here's the recipe, should that glowing review tempt you into making it yourself....

100g Stork
100g soft light brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
100g self raising flour
100g wholemeal flour
1 tsp bicarb
1 tsp ground cinnamon
175ml cider

Heat the oven to 180c and grease and line the base of a 17.5cm round cake tin.
Beat the marge and sugar until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in the eggs, adding a tablespoon of the flours if it starts to curdle.
Fold in half the flours with the bicarb and cinammon. Fold in the cider and remaining flour.
Tip into the cake tin and bake for 35-45 minutes.
Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Dust with icing sugar to serve.

While I was making the cake, my beady eyes spotted another recipe on the same page for 'hunky chunky bread' and I realised that I had all the ingredients in for this too. I've been wanting to make bread for ages but was apprehensive as I'm not sure how I feel about mucking about with yeast and proving and all that malarkey, but this recipe looked really simple. It certainly was simple to make. I'm not entirely sure whether it turned out like it was meant to - in the picture it looked lovely and fluffy and white inside, whereas mine was quite doughy and a bit yellowy in colour. So it sort of seemed both overdone and underdone. But it tasted great toasted and slathered with Marmite and I'd definitely make it again for one of those super quick 'oh look at this fresh bread I just casually and spontaneously threw together' type moments.

Hunky chunky bread

450g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1tsp bicarb
25g butter
300ml milk

Heat oven to 220c and lightly grease a baking tray.
Sift together the flour, salt and bicarb into a large bowl.
Add the butter and rub in with the tips of your fingers, until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Make a well in the centre and all the milk, stirring until you have a soft mixture.
Dust the work surface with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Pat into a round shape about 2.5cm thick.
Carefully transfer onto the baking tray and score a deep cross onto the dough with a knife.
Bake for 35 minutes until golden, and it sounds hollow when you tap the underside.

Both recipes are from BBC Good Food, August 2011.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Malteser Fudge

When I said I was going to make fudge, most people reacted in the same way. Pursed lips, a sharp intake of breath, slight shake of the head and the words, 'ooh, it's a tricky thing is fudge.' Well. Yes it is, and it's not often that I find the confidence to say it but here we go.... I. Nailed. It.

To be honest, I think the secret with fudge is a good sugar thermometer. I know you're meant to be able to test the 'soft ball' stage by dropping some mixture into a glass of water or something else that sounds ridiculously fiddly, or by timing it properly and watching the bubbles, but screw that - get a thermometer! I've had one in the cupboard for about 3 years after declaring I was going to start making jam and then never bothering, but I've finally broken it out of the plastic case and now there's no stopping me.

This was a test batch of fudge because I wanted to make some as part of my Mother's Day gift. I took the fudge into work as to be honest I knew it would get polished off there regardless of the quality, but I had some really lovely comments from people on it, and a couple asked for the recipe, which I always think is proof it's a good one.

Here is the recipe that I used, which was from the BBC Good Food website.

450g golden caster sugar
400g double cream
50g butter
1 tbsp glucose syrup
1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
Box of Maltesers, bashed slightly with a rolling pin (or your chosen topping)

Line a 20x20cm baking tin with greaseproof paper.
Heat the sugar, cream, butter and glucose syrup into a medium to large saucepan until the sugar is dissolved and the butter melted, stirring occasionally.

Put a sugar thermometer into the pan. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a steady boil. Keep it bubbling and stir occasionally to stop it from sticking to the pan. Do this until the temperature reaches 116c (a.k.a the soft ball stage).

Remove the pan from the heat and leave it to stand until the temperature drops to 110c (should be about 5 minutes). Stir in the vanilla bean paste and a pinch of salt.

Now roll up your sleeves and get beating! Leave the thermometer in the pan and beat the mixture with a wooden spoon quite vigorously (although trust me, that will wane) until the temperature drops to 60c. The fudge should then be quick thick and have lost its glossy shine. Your arms WILL ache but it's totally worth it. Plus, the exercise justifies that extra piece of fudge... I think it took about 10 minutes in total.
Remove the thermometer and continue beating for a few more minutes (I managed about 2).

Apparently, this beating stage is really important as if you don't beat it for long enough, the fudge has more of a grainy texture.
Pour the fudge into the tin and smooth the surface.

Sprinkle your chosen topping over the top - I chose bashed up Maltesers (as if it wasn't already sweet enough!) and leave to cool at room temperature overnight. Cut into bite size pieces and keep in an airtight container - it will keep up to 2 months - but I highly doubt it will stick around that long!

Apologies for the poor quality camera phone pictures in this post! I didn't have my trusty photographer on hand this time!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Hummingbird Layer Cakes

Just thought I may aswell do a little roundup of the Hummingbird layer cakes that have been churned out of my kitchen, production line style, during February and March. I had retired them for a bit as I was all layer caked out, but now writing this I might have to get back on the layer cake horse!

Chocolate Malt Cake 

This was my first gift cake of the new house! It was my best friend's birthday in February so a very important first gift cake indeed.

Cakes for Del have tended to alternate between coffee and peanut butter and so I fancied trying something a bit different this year, so what better place to go than a Hummingbird layer cake? Also I realised I'd never actually tried one of their layer cakes - which was ridiculous as I'd spent so much time greedily thumbing through all of the books, so I was looking forward to trying one.

After much perusing I settled on the Chocolate Malt cake - it looked somehow appealing and all internet research indicated that it was tooth falling out sweet. Three layers of chocolate cake, with chocolate fudge sauce and cream cheese malt frosting slathered between each layer and all around. Perfect. All was going swimmingly and the cake batter looked absolutely divine - silky and smooth and like you just wanted to spoon it out of the bowl and shovel it into your mouth (and that's coming from someone with a serious raw egg phobia). I was absolutely gutted then, when the cakes sank in the oven! That will teach me to be so prematurely smug. Once decorated, the sunkenness was hidden but there was no mistaking it when you cut a slice!

It tasted good despite this, but I do want to try it again and make sure it doesn't sink next time. After this cake I immediately deployed the oven thermometer I've had for a while and it has not left my oven since.

Red Velvet - take 1

This was the cake I made for Valentine's Day, which was just a few days after the Chocolate Malt cake. I realised I'd never made a red velvet cake before and had noticed that it had been Mike's choice a couple of times on recent cake shop visits so decided to try one out. Of course I went straight to the Hummingbird for the recipe, and this was their red velvet cupcake recipe, following the suggested adaption for a three layer cake. This was the first cake I used the oven thermometer for and I will never bake a cake again without it!

I was pleased to discover a friendly face in the cake when I trimmed the tops! I love finding faces in things.

The decoration on this cake was a real labour of love (apt!) and I think it actually was the decoration that touched Mike the most about it. He knows I have no patience and if this cake had been made for anyone else he probably would have been drafted in to finish it off after I'd done the first circuit of Love Hearts. I had to soldier on with it myself though and was glad I held my nerve. Some of the words on Love Hearts are really odd though - Funny Face?!

The cake itself tasted good and was unbelievably light - the only disappointment was the colouring, it looked pretty red to me in the bowl but once cut it was a bit of a dirty brown colour. Not so appealing but better luck next time!

Red Velvet - take 2

It was Mike's parents' Ruby wedding anniversary in March and as it fell on Mother's Day, I wasn't going along to see them with Mike, so I sent a cake along to wish them a happy anniversary. I thought a red velvet would be perfect for a ruby wedding celebration. Also, I was glad for a second go at a red velvet as I was determined to get the cake mix a little redder this time! I put what seemed like even more of the food colouring in and the batter did look redder than the first time, but was still a reddy brown when it came out of the oven. Gah!

OK now seriously, how much of the stuff do you need?! I'd be really interested to know how much everyone else uses. I'm not really one of those people who doesn't agree with using food colourings, but I was a bit uncomfortable using any more colouring in this cake batter and it still wasn't as bright as everyone else's I've seen! As a further complication, I've since realised I've got some kind of intolerance/allergy to the food colouring pastes so I probably won't be trying this again if I am planning a slice myself.

Anyway, the positive out of this I was particularly pleased with the icing job on this one - icing has never been my strong suit. Apart from the lack of patience issue I'm not very artistic either, but I gritted my teeth with this one and dutifully crumb coated it and tried really really hard with the pallette knife, I think I am getting there as I can see a definitely improvement each time.

And so concludes my recent Hummingbird layer cake adventures. I've come to the conclusion that Hummingbird layer cakes are particularly delicate beasts, very sensitive to the way in which you mix them (I don't think they are even achievable without an electric mixer) and the temperature of the oven, leading to much biting of nails, pacing in front of the oven wringing your hands, a bad back and a squint from bending down to peer in at the temperature on the oven thermometer every 5 minutes. They are very much worth the effort though, as when you get them right, it feels and tastes bloody good!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Margarita Drizzle Cake

The theme for the February Runcorn and Widnes Clandestine Cake Club was 'Bake your favourite drink' and almost without thinking I booked my place and declared that I was going to make a Margarita cake, since that it is indeed my current favourite drink.

I made a Margarita cake last year which was my own creation, so I rather lazily assumed at first that I'd do the same thing this time, but when I re-read my post I realised that I had said I wanted to make it again but in a more dramatic fashion next time, since that seemed fitting for such a glorious cocktail and I was inclined to agree with myself. A one layer sponge cake simply would not do!

There is a disappointing shortage of tequila fuelled cakes online, but luckily Lily Vanilli was on hand to help me out, as her book Sweet Tooth contains a recipe for a Margarita Drizzle cake. I faffed about for days trying to decide what to do - I was initially a bit put off by it because it just looked like, well... too much cake. I'm sure there will be people reading this throwing their hands up in the air and questioning how that could ever be possible, but seriously - there's no frosting between the layers, or on top, or on the sides... apart from a drizzling of syrup, it's just cake - and three layers of it at that.

In the end I decided I should try it out, in the interests of trying a new recipe (and a new book, it was to be the first thing I'd made from it) and reasoned that I could drizzle a layer of glace icing over the top to quell my 'too much cake' fears and because I also had a fiendish idea for decoration.

Fiendish idea for decoration
And how glad I was that I did! After I'd made up the cake batter I stood marvelling at it for a while before putting it in the oven as it was the silkiest and most delicious looking batter I have ever seen! Admittedly I done the exact same thing a few weeks earlier with another layer cake and that didn't turn out quite as well as I'd hoped, so I exercised some caution with my glee ... but the joy continued - I was hanging around the oven like a woman possessed again due to fear of sinkage/temperature fluctuation - the cakes rose in the most amazingly perfect domes! I'd never seen anything like it... unfortunately by the time they were ready they had gone a bit pointy and wonky but still - I was seriously impressed!

Too much cake? / silky batter / pleasing domes
Once your cakes are out and cooling you turn to the tequila syrup and I was slightly alarmed by the amount of tequila involved - 300ml of the stuff, getting on for half a bottle! Half of the tequila is boiled while making the syrup but the rest is glugged in after, so it's pretty potent. I couldn't get my syrup to thicken up for some reason but I carried on anyway and sloshed it all over the cakes while they were still a little warm.

When they were completely cooled I levelled the tops and stacked 'em up. The next day I made up a glace icing using orange juice and drizzled over the top. My fiendish idea for decoration was to sprinkle the edges of the cake with sugar sprinkles to look like salt, and stick a slice of lime and a cocktail umbrella in the side to make it look margarita like! I just wish I'd had some straws!

Just realised we never actually got a picture of the finished cake with the umbrella, oops!
The reaction from the cake clubbers was positive and I have to say, this was one of the best cakes I've ever made. The cake was light, fluffy and moist and I can entirely see why there was no icing on the original. I'd still add icing if I was making it again though, as I think it just adds a little bit extra especially with a cake of this magnitude, and it gives it the finishing touch decoration wise, too.

I would highly recommend you make this cake, here is how!

450g plain flour, sifted
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
120g unsalted butter at room temperature
300g caster sugar
finely grated zest of 2 limes
4 large eggs
300ml whole milk

For the syrup:
225ml water
375g caster sugar
300ml tequila
Juice of 5 limes (approx 100ml)

Preheat oven to 180c and grease and line 3 x 18cm round cake tins. Stir together the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar until light fluffy. Beat in the lime zest briefly.
Add the eggs gradually, beating just to incorporate. If the mixture starts to split, add a tablespoon of flour. Add half the dry mixture and beat to combine. Slowly add the milk, then the remaining dry ingredients. Beat all together for 1-2 minutes.
Divide the mixture between the tins and level out. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack placed over a baking tray. Prick each cake all over with a cocktail stick.
Now make the syrup. Heat the water, sugar, 150ml of the tequila and the lime juice in a medium sized, heavy bottomed saucepan over a high heat, stirring continuously, for 15 minutes, until you have a thickening syrup that is just starting to colour. Turn up the heat briefly so the mixture bubbles up before turning it off. Pour in the remaining tequila.
While the syrup is still hot (but not boiling), drizzle it all over each warm cake, making sure you cover all sides, and keeping some back to serve with the cake. Let the cakes soak up the syrup, then drizzle any excess over again.
When cool, stack the cakes up one on top of the other.

The original recipe didn't use icing, so I mixed the juice from 1 orange (about 3 tbsp) with icing sugar (about 225g) until thick and smooth, then slopped it over the top!

I made this back in February but now that the temperature is rising and the sun is starting to shine I think I need to make it again!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Vanilla chai tea latte cake

So on 3rd January this year I officially became a homeowner! We moved in 'properly' on 20th January yet are still surrounded by boxes, but I'm told that will last a long while yet. The most exciting part of this is having a kitchen that is properly my very own - the thought of being able to stick a nail in the wall wherever I wanted was so overwhelmingly exciting (and a little bit scary) that I couldn't bring myself to do it* for almost three months, but now I have a wall mounted spice rack and a nice patisserie sign up, there's no stopping me! (*I didn't do it. Mike did.)

When we moved into our first house, I did a nice little post where I mentioned the first breakfast we had and the first meal I cooked but I'm sad to say I haven't done that here... I know the first meal we ate here was a Chinese takeaway and ONE of the first meals I cooked was a bit pot of chilli but I really can't remember, and I certainly don't have any photographs... thing I definitely didn't forget about though was the first cake I baked!

It was an easy decision to make, because during the move I discovered some pots of chai powder that I'd bought from Whittards ages ago after seeing some awesome recipes on Jo's blog, What do you make of my cake. The vanilla chai tea latte cake fitted the bill for the first cake - apart from it looking like an awesome cake, it didn't require any fancy ingredients or excessive amounts of time to make, and it felt like a good homely cake, perfect for having a with a brew when the family came around to inspect our new place.

In fact, it fitted the bill so perfectly that not only was it the first cake I made here, it was also the second, too! I also got some of the chocolate chai so am very much looking forward to trying that out, too!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Mexican spiced chocolate orange cake

I am breaking all my rules and posting this cake out of order because I saw a food blog challenge that I wanted to enter!

This was the birthday cake I made for myself last weekend. I'm currently obsessed with all things Mexican, and one of my favourite desserts in history is the spiced chocolate orange fudge cake from Las Iguanas - if you haven't tried it, you really should. I can never resist it! So I decided to try and recreate the flavours of my favourite dessert.

I tweaked a recipe for chocolate spiced cupcakes that I saw in the Primrose Bakery: Celebrations book (rather embarrassingly in the 'teenage boy birthday party' section). Seemed like bit of an odd recipe - it involved melting butter and chocolate, then stirring in the sugar, dry ingredients and the eggs at the end. It made for an incredibly runny cake batter and I was feeling dubious... a feeling which intensified when the cakes didn't rise very much and seemed rather heavy when I took them out of the tins.

Not to worry though, if I do say so myself, I loved the flavour. I was surprised by the texture, especially considering it was a cupcake recipe  - the cake was almost torte or truffle-like. Unless I did something wrong in the mixing, I couldn't imagine how these would turn out if they were cupcakes! Either way, despite the texture not being quite what I had been hoping for, it still tasted good and really, the texture did make for a good 'dessert' type cake. I loved that the orange flavour really came through, and tasted great with an undercurrent of warmth from the cinnamon.

By far the most fun part was making the candy skull decorations! It's not really the season for Dia de los Muertos but what the hell - it's my birthday I can celebrate the dead if I want to! All that was required was some white chocolate skulls from the local pic 'n' mix purveyors, some silver balls (is dragees the technical term?) and a few tubes of writing icing in lovely bright colours. After a quick perusal of Google images I set about decorating the skulls and spent a very happy hour or so making pretty patterns on the skulls. It's not often I can 'freestyle' especially when it comes to decorating so I was rather chuffed with my efforts. Even if you're not decorating a cake with them, it's really a great way to spend an afternoon!

Here is the recipe I used:

For the cake:
250g Stork
210g dark chocolate with orange (I used Asda Extra Special Ivory Coast dark chocolate with orange)
330ml milk
185g golden caster sugar
210g self raising flour
40g cocoa powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 eggs, beaten
grated zest of 2 oranges

For the icing:
350g dark chocolate
1 tsp ground cinnamon
225g unsalted butter, room temperature
250g icing sugar, sifted
1 tbsp semi skimmed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the decoration:
8 white chocolate skull sweets
16 silver dragees
tubes of writing icing

1. Grease and line 3 18cm sandwich tins, and preheat oven to 180c.
2. Melt the butter and chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of just simmering water, taking care that the bowl doesn't touch the water.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the milk until combined. Add the sugar.
4. Sift the flour, cocoa and cinnamon in to the batter, add the orange zest and fold until well mixed.
5. Add the eggs and beat until combined.
6. Divide the batter between the tins and bake for around 30 mins, until a skewer comes out clean.
7. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
8. While the cakes cool, make the icing. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Leave to cool slightly and then beat in the cinnamon.
9. In an electric mixer, beat together the butter, icing sugar, milk and vanilla extract until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and beat again until thick and creamy.
10. Decorate the candy skulls - I piped a blob of black icing into the eye sockets to stick in the silver dragees first for the eyes. Then go crazy on the rest of the decoration!
11. Sandwich the cake layers together with a few tablespoons of icing, and spread a generous amount on the top.
12. Decorate with the candy skulls once their icing decorations have set.

As it turns out, I could have saved myself the effort as my wonderful boyfriend Mike presented me with a candy skull cake the next day on my birthday! I should point out that it was from the local bakery and not made by him... much to everyone's relief! Here is the beauty:

So I'm sending my Mexican spiced chocolate orange cake to The Spice Trail, a monthly blog challenge hosted by Bangers and Mash, with this month being Mexican Month.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Toffee Popcorn cupcakes

Isn't it ace when you decide you want to make some cupcakes and you know you've got just the right cases for them? That's what happened here. Almost two years ago I bought these cupcake cases because I loved the red stripey ones - they made me think of popcorn and also for some reason, the circus (?!). So when I discovered a bag of toffee popcorn in the cupboard at Christmas - seriously, I have no idea where it came from! - I decided to make these popcorn cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery Home Sweet Home book to take along to a post Christmas gathering with some friends and I knew these cases would be perfect for them.

These cupcakes were so light and fluffy with nice little crunchy toffee bursts hiding inside! The frosting was very sweet and you didn't need a lot of it - for that reason, even though the cases worked well with the cupcakes they also made them very difficult to eat... it was so hard to peel them out of the cases, and even when you'd done that the cakes are quite deep so hard to get that perfect mouthful of cake plus frosting (at least without dislocating your jaw). So, I think a lot of people resorted to eating off the frosting first and then wrestling with the cake cases to eat the cake, when I think these are cupcakes that really need to be eaten as one with the topping.

Anyway, I would still use these cases every time as they fit the popcorn cupcakes so well... the only other annoyance was that there wasn't 12 stripey ones, so there are two rogue dotty cases in there!

Here's the recipe, if you want to try them yourselves.

70g unsalted butter, softened
210g plain flour
250g caster sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
210ml whole milk
2 large eggs
80g toffee popcorn

Preheat oven to 170c and line a 12 hole deep muffin tin with cases.
Mix the butter, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in an electric mixer until they have a crumb like consistency.
Mix together the eggs and milk in a jug by hand.
With the mixer on a slow speed, gradually pour half the egg/milk mixture into the mixer and mix until combined. Increase the speed to medium and mix until the batter is smooth and thick, and no lumps remain.
Turn the speed back to low and gradually pour in the remaining egg/milk mixture, and continue to mix until the batter is smooth and combined.
Spoon the batter into the cases, filling them two thirds full. Place four pieces of popcorn onto each unbaked cupcake.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until the sponge bounces back when lightly touched. Leave to cool slightly before removing from the tin and transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

500g icing sugar, sifted
160g unsalted butter, softened
50ml whole milk
60g toffee popcorn, chopped
50g toffee popcorn, to decorate

Mix the icing sugar and butter together in an electric mixer on low speed until combined and no large lumps of butter remain. Gradually pour in the milk with the mixer still on a low speed. When the milk is incorporated, increase the speed to high and beat until light and fluffy. Stir the chopped popcorn through the frosting, and mix until incorporated. Top the cupcakes with the frosting and decorate with the leftover popcorn.

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