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.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Stollen wreath cake

Well, there's no getting around it with this one - it's a Christmas bake. It looks like Christmas and it tastes like Christmas. I apologise but I cannot break my posting order!

At Christmas I was determined to make an actual Christmas cake - it's been something I've wanted to do ever since I started baking, but since I hate fruit cake and also I'm not the best at cake decoration, I'd managed to get out of it every year. This year though it was happening! And it sort of did, but as you can see, I still got away without actually having to cover a cake properly with marzipan etc. Ha! In your face, erm, me!

I'd had a few recipes bookmarked but in the end decided on a stollen wreath cake I'd seen in Good Food magazine - and available online here. Although the list of ingredients seemed mega long, it was actually pretty straight-forward to make, although I think I over did it slightly - the cake was still pretty moist, but was very crumbly. All the tasters gave it the thumbs up, but I can't comment myself as there is no way that something containing that much fruit is passing my lips!

I was absolutely gutted to have arsed up the icing - it didn't look too runny in the bowl, but as soon as it got onto the cake it was clear it was nowhere near thick enough and I was quite devastated by this. I also had a small paddy when trying to make the fondant holly - I just could not get them to shape properly despite there being a very helpful tutorial in the magazine. After two I roped Mike in to have a go and I'm fairly sure the only ones that made it onto the cake were his, mine were pretty gruesome looking. As it was Christmas Eve I tried not to ruin Christmas by sulking too much about it!

This year I really must try a 'proper' Christmas cake, I am determined to overcome my fondant icing fears!

Monday, 3 March 2014

Candied citrus peel

You'll have to bear with me for the next couple of posts as I catch up on my Christmas baking! To be fair, this candied citrus peel will do at any time of the year... I just happened to make it at Christmas.

In my defence, to me it's more of a 'holidays' recipe than a Christmas one - the past couple of years we've been to Nice and candied fruit is in abundance there. I'm not so much of a fan but Mike loves it, so I decided to make some at Christmas as I thought it would be nice to have in a jar in the lounge for snacking on. For some reason I get it in my head that there must be bowls of things lying around the house at Christmas to be snacked on and and I always have to talk myself out of getting nuts every year - when I was little there would always be, every year without fail, a bowl of nuts (plus a nutcracker) sitting in the lounge all throughout Christmas and I'm fairly sure that every year they were never touched.

One of the many simmering stages
Anyway, I digress - this is a really simple recipe which only involves 3 ingredients (you could get it down to two if you only use one kind of fruit! Or push it up to 4 if you want to add the chocolate...)  and so it's brilliant for a budget homemade gift at any time of year. It's also a great way of using up leftover citrus fruit - I know in our house we are often left with oranges and lemons if I've bought a bag for baking something. But it does involve a bit of time and even though I'm sure everyone does this already, read through the recipe thoroughly first as you'll need to make sure you've enough time for all the simmering, draining and drying out of the peel.

 The recipe is from BBC Good Food and is available online here.

I was so pleased with how the candied peel looked in the end and I though it looked really pretty in the jar. It keeps for 6-8 weeks in an airtight container so it was a great one to make at the beginning of the Christmas period, whack into a Kilner jar and have on hand for sweet treats at Christmas for a break from the chocolate. I have a feeling I will have to make up another batch to combat the holiday blues soon, although it might just make us feel worse to munch on candied peel out of a jar while staring at the rain lashing down on the window rather than sloping about in the beating hot sun in France!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Zombie Graveyard cake

I had just been considering delaying this post until next Halloween and breaking my golden rule of posting things in the order that they are baked, just because it seemed so ridiculously out of season. But then I saw that the Alphabakes February letter was Z and I thought YES!!!! (and therefore on the same lines, if anyone wants to do a Christmas themed baking challenge in springtime that would be really helpful thanks...)

So this is my Zombie Graveyard cake, which I made for the Runcorn and Widnes Clandestine Cake Club way back on Halloween.

I'd seen this cake on Butter Hearts Sugar back in 2012 but had already got all my Halloween baking planned out that year, so it sprung straight to mind this time around. I'd also wanted to try my hand at some more fondant decorations, because it is something I am notoriously rubbish with.

It takes a bit of planning, you definitely need a full day or two evenings for this. You need to make a white cake in advance to cut zombie bones out of to then bake inside the chocolate sponge. You also need to make all your decorations in advance to give them chance to dry out.

Which brings me to where I went wrong! Although I loved making the decorations and was happy with how they looked - especially the zombie arms! - I'm not sure where I went wrong with the fondant. I was expecting it to dry really quickly, but it never actually dried at all. Especially the pumpkins and gravestones - they were really shiny and soft and actually started to smell a bit weird. Not sure where I went wrong with that - I greased the surface I was working on because I seemed to remember that was what you were meant to do but clearly something went awry. I wasn't sure whether to use icing sugar since I thought it might ruin the colours. Any tips or ideas anybody??

Another place I went wrong was the bones - for some reason I made cupcakes and cut the bones out of the bottoms of them - but they were just way too small! You could hardly see them in the cake when it was cut, and they were really dry and hard. So I would say do a tray bake or at least a larger round cake.

I used a Rachel Allen chocolate cake and frosting recipe (which you can find here, as it's the same one I used for the hedgehog cake - and I only realised as I introduced my cake that it meant I had baked the exact same cake for two cake clubs in a row - oooops!). The dirt is crushed Oreos and the fenceposts are Cadbury's Fingers. I was a bit irritated by the gravestones  at the time as I wanted them to be cleaner looking, but now I look back at the pictures I think the fact that they are bashed and misshapen and covered in random nail marks actually makes them look a bit more authentic!

All things considered I was pretty pleased with how this cake turned out, I may make a cupcake version this year as the zombie arms were so much fun. See the original recipe here on Butter Hearts Sugar for a really good step by step guide on how to do it.

See here for the Cake Club write up and the other fab Halloween cakes and decorations that were on display there - I'm sure nobody has Halloween on their minds right now but you never know, I'm so late posting this that maybe some of you have already started thinking about it...!

I'm entering this into February's Alphabakes challenge, by The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline Makes - the host this month is Caroline Bakes and the letter is Z - for ZOMBIES! Aaaargh!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Gargantuan Rice Krispie Treats Layer Cake

This was the 'cake' I made for Mike's sister's birthday back in October 2013. Since I'd seen the recipe on the Pink Whisk earlier in the year, I had it in mind that it would be perfect for Louise. It was ridiculously over the top - it wasn't even a milestone birthday - but I thought that would just add to the appeal! Also, I'd been after an excuse to use the topsy turvy cake tins from Lakeland for a good while and this seemed like a good one for them.

True to the Pink Whisk awesomeness, Ruth had provided a handy chart of various quantities depending on the size/shape of tin you were using, which was such a massive help. I am really rubbish when it comes to adapting quantities to tin sizes! However it was at this point I think I realised just how big this cake was going to be. Two massive boxes of Rice Krispies were required! Really the scale of the thing should have been obvious when the recipe had suggested using giant plastic boxes to mix it all in...

It's a cake that really lends itself to crazy angles...
Rice Krispie treats really are the simplest things to make - you just melt the marshmallow and butter together, then stir in the Rice Krispies. The hardest part of the whole thing was lining the tins!  Also, Ruth wasn't joking in the recipe when she said to consider using plastic boxes for mixing the ingredients. I managed to do the top tier in the one pan, but the second took two batches and the biggest one took three. At the end of the evening I felt a bit lightheaded from all the sweetness... and unfortunately, also like I wanted to never see another Rice Krispie ever again.

I left the layers to set overnight and assembled them the following day after work, with renewed excitement! That was definitely the fun part! I liked the effect of the chocolate drizzled around the outside but I'm not sure if next time I'd be tempted to cover the tops completely in chocolate - I don't know if that would top it into way too sweet territory, but it seems I do like a good dollop of chocolate with my Rice Krispie cake.

The marshmallow flowers were great too - I didn't believe that the Smarties would hold on the chopped marshmallow, but they really did! The standard marshmallows from Asda were a bit too small so I'd had to get the super-huge American ones which did the trick, although they don't look as flower like as the originals. I'd ordered some button print ribbon from Baker and Maker (my new favourite website) to go around the bottom of each layer and was pleased that the Smartie flowers co-ordinated well with the buttons on the ribbon.

As you can see from the above picture, more than one pair of hands are required to disassemble it, plus several pieces of kitchen equipment and some brute force! The cake went down really well, although seriously, I know it's obvious but I cannot stress how much it is a LOT - and it goes further than a usual cake aswell because it's so sweet you eat less of it! Next time I will reserve something this colossal for large gatherings only... I'm not sure if any of use have eaten Rice Krispies since...!

Friday, 7 February 2014

Gateaux du Kim: Pistachio ice cream and macarons

Hello, I'm back! I didn't really mean to not blog for so long, but Mike and I are now the proud owners of our very own house, so things have been a bit busy for the past few months. So as usual, I'll be posting about things I've baked woefully late which will mean I won't be able to remember anything I wanted to say about them... but here we go...

Back in October I proudly, and somewhat premature, announced that I was going to try out some French inspired recipes after being inspired by my holiday. It started off well, with pistachio ice cream and macarons, but I didn't even get any decent pictures of them and haven't done any Franco-baking since!

But anyway, let's celebrate what I did make...

Firstly, the pistachio ice cream. I don't know why but I've suddenly become obsessed with pistachios and while on holiday I would happily bypass all manner of amazing sounding ice cream flavours for plain old pistachio. I had been made up to receive an ice cream maker for my birthday so knew that pistachio had to be the first flavour I tried!

I used this recipe from BBC Good Food and it did not disappoint! I was initially a bit skeptical about using the ice cream maker as I'm notorious rubbish with technology and gadgets but it was really easy to use, you just have to remember to put the base in the freezer a good while beforehand (I think the instructions said 24 hours, but I had to make do with about 2 because I couldn't possibly wait). I was pleased with the ice cream, it was lovely and creamy, it was just a shame that most of my guinea pigs hate pistachio... although not that much of a shame - all the more for me!

We had our ice cream with some melting middle chocolate puddings (not home made!) and bashed up digestives. Could do with getting a proper ice cream scoop as the presentation wasn't great, but I also couldn't wait for it to soften after taking it out of the fridge! Mmm, revisiting these photos is making me want to crack out the ice cream maker again...

Next up were less successful macarons. I didn't have high hopes as I know macarons are a tough nut to crack, but I followed this recipe for the salted caramel filled ones to the letter and it was *almost* a success! I think I know where I went wrong anyway - the macarons are supposed to rest until they are no longer sticky to the touch, but after over an hour mine were still a bit sticky. OK, quite sticky. But typically I ran out of patience and just shoved them in the oven.

Although they tasted pretty OK and macaron-like, the shells were cracked and biscuit-like, and there was no classic 'foot' on any of them. Tellingly, the ones from the second batch I baked were a bit smoother and there was just one that was completely smooth, so I definitely think longer to rest was needed. Not sure what happened on the 'feet', maybe that's a resting thing too.

The ONE smooth macaron!
So there we go - my first forays into French inspired baking! I've got a long way to go yet but just writing this post has reminded me that I need to get back on it!
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