Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Feeling Fruity

I'm really not a fan of fruit and I usually have to bribe myself to eat it, so the thought of ruining a lovely little cake with some nasty bits of fruit makes me feel quite uncomfortable! But I thought that some of the recipes looked quite good, and I thought I could always pick the fruit off mine, so I tried a couple out!

These fairy cakes were from 101 Teatime Treats and were actually the first lot of cakes I made when I started to bake, back in January for my step-sister's birthday. They are really simple - just plain fairy cakes with a dollop of marscapone, a raspberry and a dusting of icing sugar - but I think they look pretty.


For my step-mum's birthday in March I made some strawberries & cream cupcakes from 200 cupcakes - again, just plain fairy cakes with the middles scooped out, some whipped cream spooned in and sliced strawberries on top.

I wasn't too impressed with the presentation on these ones, it didn't look as good as the book... I think mostly because I'd overwhipped the cream. I was planning to do them again at some point during Wimbledon, and was thinking I might pipe the cream and then just top with a whole strawberry - since I think my slicing skills are also an issue!

I was just about to say that rhubarb is the next fruit on the list to try, but apparently rhubarb's actually a vegetable... either way, I like the idea of rhubarb and custard muffins, so I'm hoping to try those soon!

Monday, 14 June 2010

My first baking disaster

I got the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook for my birthday and had been poring over it for weeks, trying to decide what I should bake first! I (sensibly, or so I thought) chose to keep it simple and try the vanilla cupcakes. Unfortunately, these ended up providing my first baking disaster. I suppose I've been lucky so far in that I've been trying to bake for a year now and this was the first thing that just had to go straight into the bin. I don't know what went wrong - I had to convert the measurements from grams to pounds and ounces, so perhaps some of my measurements were a bit off... basically, they were burning on the top but not cooked in the middle, and were spilling out over the sides of the cases! What a sorry sight this picture is:


Anyway, I shouldn't really just be posting about how rubbish I am. Luckily, as it was my niece's birthday, I couldn't do what I'd normally do and throw a massive strop/sulk for a few days/vow never to bake again, so I made another batch from my usual recipe, which turned out fine, and Piping Icing Attempt No. 2 went much better than the first...

I also picked up some cake boxes from Chester Market, which I think look much nicer than the old tins of Celebrations and Roses I've been using to distribute my cakes around so far!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Adventures in Chocolate

I've not tried baking many chocolatey things so far; in fact I think the only chocolate cakes I'd ever made were the Valentine's Day ones. So, since my boyfriend is a chocolate fiend, I thought I should get some practice in.

These chocolate drop muffins were an interesting experience! I'd never tried muffins before and the recipe was a bit different to what I'd got used to - it included yoghurt for a start. I baked them for the stated time but they still seemed undercooked, even though the tops looked like they were starting to burn, and so maybe the skewer test wasn't appropriate for a recipe including yoghurt... I again made the mistake of trying one before icing - I really need to learn to stop doing that! But once the chocolate frosting had been applied they were really quite nice! Luckily I don't think the excessive time they spent in the oven did too much harm, but I think next time I should take them out a bit sooner.


Next on the list was an actual chocolate cake! I saw this recipe posted by Helen on her lovely blog Afeitar and had to try it out! I had a few 'issues' with the icing, I just couldn't get the consistency right and struggled to spread it at first, so ended up not having enough to spread over the sides aswell, although this did mean that there was a lovely thick layer on the top of the cake! Helen's tip of putting it in the microwave for 30 seconds was a good one - my boyfriend (an expert in all things chocolate) reckoned it was one of the best chocolate cakes he'd ever tasted! Well, I can only hope that wasn't just flattery... because I'm making it again for his birthday on Friday! Hopefully I'll get the icing right this time and it will look somewhere near as lovely as Helen's did! Thank you so much to Helen for sharing the recipe.

Friday, 4 June 2010

First attempts at piping!

I had been wanting to try piping icing for absolutely ages, but even after receiving a piping set for my birthday in April I had to wait another month to try it out because I was so busy with uni assignments and exams! Last week I finally got around to it and tried piping vanilla frosting onto some plain cupcakes...

The frosting was a bit too runny and so they didn't come out looking as good as I'd hoped, but for a first attempt, I don't think the technique was too bad! With some flowers added they looked a bit more interesting...

... and some stars too...

I've had another go this week with larger cupcakes and better frosting and they look much, much better, I will be posting some pictures of them soon!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Baking for Mum

My Mum loves coffee cake. So, for Mother's Day I made coffee and walnut cupcakes, again from Hamlyn's 200 cupcakes book.

I tend to prefer cakes before they are iced, but tasting these ones before icing them was a serious mistake which almost ended in me slinging the whole lot in the bin... luckily I was talked down off the ledge and once the coffee buttercream had been applied they were much more palatable!

Mum's birthday wasn't too long after, so this was another excuse to get into the kitchen again. This time, I made a Cappuccino cake, which I think is one of the best things I've made to date. It's from 101 Teatime Treats and is sooo easy to make, I've done it for 2 birthdays now and also once more just for fun! The filling and topping is marscapone cheese with coffee, which I thought sounded vile but is actually really nice.

It's so nice, that I'll post the recipe:

For the cake:
250g/9oz butter, softened
250g/9oz light brown soft sugar, plus 2-3 tbsp extra
300g/10oz self-raising flour
4 eggs, beaten
50g/2oz walnut halves, toasted and finely chopped
200ml/7fl oz very strong coffee, cooled

1. Preheat oven to 180c/Gas 4. Butter and line bottoms of 20cm/8in sandwich tins.
2. Beat the butter and sugar until pale.
3. Add flour and eggs and keep beating until evenly mixed.
4. Fold in the walnuts and half the coffee.
5. Spoon into the tins and bake for 25-30 mins or until golden and well risen.
6. Leave in tins for 5 mins before cooling on a wire rack.
7. Sweeten the rest of the coffee with the extra sugar and drizzle 4 tbsp over the sponges, and leave to cool completely.

For the frosting:
500g carton mascarpone
2tbsp light brown soft sugar
cocoa powder or drinking chocolate to decorate

1. Beat the mascarpone, sugar, and remaining coffee until smooth.
2. Use half to sandwich the sponges together and spread the rest over the top of the cake.
3. Decorate with a dusting of cocoa powder.

If you want to make the cake slightly healthier, substitute butter for margarine, and use low fat mascarpone. I always use marge instead of butter because I have a slight intolerance to butter so can't eat too much of it. Personally I really don't think it makes too much difference to the taste, but I always use actual butter for buttercream - some things you just shouldn't compromise on!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

My Valentine

One of the first batches of cupcakes I made was for Valentine's Day.

My boyfriend has a very sweet tooth (actually, I think all of his teeth are sweet!) and because I was a poor student at the time I didn't have a lot of money for a present, so thought I would bake him something instead.

They are from this book and I used silver balls to decorate instead of the jam suggested in the recipe, because it seemed a bit fiddly and I thought the balls looked prettier. I made some vanilla ones because I originally thought the white icing would look the prettiest, but I also made some chocolate ones too because they are his favourite, however, I think the chocolate ones actually look just as good!

As luck would have it, one of his Valentine's presents to me was a cupcake stand!


A confession: Not all the photos that will appear on the blog will be this good - these ones were taken by my boyfriend on his fancy pants SLR camera! Here's a close up - as you can see the finish is far from perfect but hopefully I'll get there one day!

The First Post

Hello.

I've been trying to learn to bake for the past year or so. I'm not sure why I suddenly became gripped with the desire, but I remember buying a birthday cake for my best friend in February last year and thinking, 'wouldn't this just be so much better if I'd made it myself?' Also, my Grandma loved baking, and would always bring out some homemade cake or scones whenever anybody called for a brew, and I think it would be nice to do the same. I've also been heavily influenced by Desperate Housewives, and would love to be the kind of person who can whip up a basket of muffins at the drop of a hat, like Bree.

So I started following some blogs, and picked up a couple of books, and got stuck in. It was hard at first because I have a chronic egg phobia, so for a while, I could only make cookies because I couldn't bring myself to crack an egg. But then I conquered my egg phobia and the world became my oyster! I still have to hold my breath and pull strange faces as I beat the eggs, but I'm getting better...

And I'm pleased to say that this year, I baked a cake for my best friend's birthday! It wasn't great, and it wasn't iced very well, but I hope the fact that it was baked by me with love made up for the shoddy icing job! Here it is:


I've just finished my degree, so I'm enjoying having a lot more free time to bake at the moment, and so thought I would set up a blog to document my efforts, and hopefully it'll be nice to look back in a few years to see how far I've come. It would also be lovely to meet some like-minded people to chat too and swap recipes and tips with, so I'd be delighted to hear from anybody else who enjoys baking, or just enjoys chatting in general :)
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