Food Festival Fun

The Great British Food Festival is taking place at Harewood House this weekend and I thought it might be fun to enter a spring-themed cake. So, after much deliberation, I opted for a carrot cake with a light honey and orange buttercream.

For the cake, I used Felicity Cloake's perfect carrot cake as my recipe, though I amended the measurements slightly so that I could use two 20cm tins instead of 18cm ones. I also changed a few other ingredients, just based on my own preferences! Who really wants sultanas in a carrot cake?

The ingredients I used were:

200g melted unsalted butter
200g soft dark brown sugar
4 free-range eggs
270g self-raising flour
1.3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt
1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
0.5 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon orange extract
270g grated carrots
200g walnuts

I started by whisking the melted butter, sugar, and eggs until the mix had doubled in size.

After sifting all of the dry ingredients together (excluding carrots and walnuts), I folded them into the wet ingredients, taking care not to beat too much air out. I then carefully added the carrots and walnuts, mixing until just combined, before splitting the batter between two cake tins and baking at 180 degrees for 35 minutes.

For the buttercream, I mixed together 500g unsalted butter, 1kg icing sugar, the zest of one large orange, a teaspoon of orange extract, and 2 tablespoons of runny honey, and beat everything together for a long time (seriously, about 30 minutes) until as light and fluffy as was physically possible. Thank goodness for food mixers!

When the cakes were cooling, it was an ideal time to start on my spring-themed fondant decorations, so I started as always by setting up my workstation. It's so much easier to get stuck in when you have everything to hand!

I started by making the bees (an essential for honey buttercream), which are incredibly easy to make. All that's needed is to gently roll yellow and black strips of fondant together, then use an edible ink pen to dot on some eyes and added a couple of white wings. Continue until you have a swarm:

Next, another easy job; carrots. Simply making a cone of orange fondant and adding a few lines with a toothpick makes these cute little veggies come to life. They're no good with hummus though:

Fondant bunnies weren't quite as simple to make as the bees and carrots, but as with all fondant work it was just about making the right shapes and adding them all together. The photos probably do a better job of showing how I did this than my words will!

I had to leave the rabbit heads and ears to set for a while before putting them together, but once firmer I used toothpicks to assemble them securely. So, during my wait, I made lots of flowers using plunge cutters (plus a few roses by hand) just to dot all over the cake:

Once the cakes had fully cooled, I sliced both into two and piped buttercream between the layers. I then continued to pipe all around the assembled cake (using a large round piping nozzle) until it was entirely covered. Then it was just a case of adding the decorations as the finishing touches:

Keep your fingers crossed for me tomorrow... and preferably for some sunshine too!

Return of the Blog

Last April my husband and I were lucky enough to buy our first home; a Victorian house in need of a lot of love! Whilst I've still found time to bake (thankfully!) in between all of the wallpaper stripping and painting, I've sadly not had time to write about it. But now, with only one room and the garden left to tackle, I finally have the time to write again! 

As I mentioned before though, the last 12 months have still been jam-packed with butter and icing sugar. Cue movie montage...

I loved making every one of these bakes and could bore you with details on them all, but I'll let the pictures do the talking in this instance. However, today I decided to make apple and almond muffins, and am happy to share details on these!

I couldn't really find a recipe online to suit the apple and almond muffins that I wanted to make, so I amended a few to create my own. First, I combined 200g plain flour with 100g caster sugar, 50g dark brown sugar, 20g ground almonds, a teaspoon of cinnamon, 2.5 teaspoons baking powder, and a pinch of salt. To this mix I slowly added one egg, 80ml vegetable oil, 90ml almond milk, and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract, mixing each ingredient in one at a time. I then chopped 2 peeled and cored Granny Smith apples into 1cm chunks and folded them into the mix, trying not to overwork the batter.

After 18 minutes in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius, I took the muffins out and sprinkled them with granulated sugar, just to add a doughnut-style texture on top. Icing sugar would easily work too, but it just wasn't what I wanted on this lazy Sunday afternoon.

Now all that's left is to put the kettle on and catch up on some vital TV time. Happy Sunday all!

The Wisdom of Brioche

This weekend I decided to have a crack at baking brioche, which I've not done before. I've heard rumours that it can be very tough to bake, easily becoming dry or too dense. However, Dan Lepard has never steered me wrong, so I turned to his classic brioche recipe for this in his wonderful book Short and Sweet .

His recipe starts by prepping the yeast first, so I heated 50ml of skimmed milk (purely because this is the only type of milk I had in the fridge) to almost boiling point. I then let the milk cool and added water to top the volume up to 50ml, accounting for the evaporated liquid. Following the recipe, I added 2 teaspoons of fast action yeast as well as 2 tablespoons from 400g of strong white flour which I'd weighed out separately. The recipe advised to stir well and cover the mix for half an hour, so I left it to bubble away whilst I enjoyed my morning coffee.

Once my coffee cup was empty, I returned to the mix and combined it with 4 eggs, 3 egg yolks, 50g caster sugar, a little seasalt (the recipe advised one and a half teaspoons, but my tastebuds are quite sensitive to salt so I cut this back), and the remaining flour. I mixed this together to create a dough and, once again, put the kettle on and left the covered mix for half an hour. 

Now the fun bit - once the dough had rested, I could get kneading the super sticky dough. I started by kneading it on its own, but slowly added a little softened unsalted butter at a time until all 250g was added. Dan Lepard's advises to knead the dough 'as if you're energetically playing a sticky accordian' and there is truly no better way of describing it. It really is very fun, and I'd advise anyone to make this recipe purely for this grown-up play-doh!

This recipe makes enough for two loaves, so I decided to split the dough in half at this point and knead an additional ingredient into each half. For one I chose just 125g chocolate chips (because who can say no to chocolate chip brioche?), and for the other I added a combination of raisins and dried cranberries.

The recipe advised to then cover and chill the dough overnight before baking it either the next day or the day after that. However, making two doughs allowed me the chance to experiment a little, so I decided to bake the chocolate chip brioche after 36 hours in the fridge but the fruity brioche after only 5 hours. Part of this was out of curiosity - chilling dough allows the gluten to relax, so in theory the chocolate chip brioche should end up lighter and with more developed flavours than its fruity sibling. I was interested to see how much of a difference to the texture/flavour of the bread this extra time resting would make. However, the main reason was really that I'd done my weekly shop and fridge space was limited! 

This recipe makes two loaves, each in fairly small 17cm loaf tins. Unfortunately both of my loaf tins were too big for this so I made lots of smaller loaves instead, which in my opinion look much cuter anyway. Who doesn't like tiny loaves of bread?

Once in the pre-buttered tins, I covered them with a cloth and left them again for another 2 and a half hours. I then brushed them with beaten egg before baking for 15 minutes at gas mark 7 and another 15 minutes at gas mark 4 - Dan Lepard advises to bake for 20 minutes at this second stage, but the smaller loaves didn't need quite as long.

The fruity loaf turned out well, with a light and buttery dough, but this only made me more curious to see how the next batch would turn out the following day!

The next day, I baked the chocolate chip brioche in the same way and, as always, Dan Lepard is completely right. Whilst the fruity brioche was soft and sweet, the chocolate brioche had a greater depth of flavour and a lighter dough. It rained all over the fruity dough's parade. 

Moral of the story: when making brioche, be sure there's enough room in your fridge first! 

Free Parkin

It would be wrong to let Bonfire Night pass by without baking parkin - particularly when it's so easy to make. This recipe literally took around 10 minutes to prepare before baking for an hour in the oven, so I encourage anyone who hasn't made it before to give it a whirl!

I used the BBC Good Food recipe as a basis for mine. and began by melting 200g unsalted butter, 200g golden syrup, 85g black treacle and 85g soft dark brown sugar in a pan. The recipe recommends light brown sugar and either can be used, but I find dark brown sugar has more depth of flavour and suits parkin well.

Once these ingredients had melted and began to gently bubble, I added 100g porridge oats and allowed them to cook in the hot mix for a couple of minutes before taking the pan off the heat.

The BBC recipe recommends adding one tablespoon of ground ginger when adding the 250g self-raising flour. However, as I prefer more spice to a ginger cake, I added half a tablespoon extra ginger, just to make sure it had a good kick once baked. I also added a teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg, just because I don't think there is such a thing as too much cinnamon (unless you're taking part in the cinnamon challenge, that is).

I sifted the dry ingredients into the pan and gently mixed it all together, before pouring the batter into a prepared square tin and baking at gas mark 3 (160C) for 55 minutes.

The end of this process is always the hardest part, as really parkin should be left to mature for a couple of days before you eat it. But you should probably try one corner... just to be sure it's okay...

Small Cakes for a Big Coffee Morning

Today my work took part in the World's Biggest Coffee Morning for Macmillan Cancer Support, which called for cakes, cakes and more cakes. So, as it's been a little while since I made cupcakes, I decided to make chocolate cupcakes with an orange curd filling and salted caramel buttercream.

I started by making the orange curd since it would need a little more time to cool and set. I used the BBC lemon curd recipe for this, but replaced the lemony elements with the zest of three oranges and then the juice of two and a half of these (popping the last half to one side).

Curds are easy enough to make, provided you're patient whilst it's cooking. I recommend using the lowest heat possible with them and constantly stirring to avoid the dreaded scrambled eggs forming at the bottom of the dish. After about ten minutes the mix thickens up, and you can tell it's done once it easily coats the back of a spoon.

Once cooled, I sieved the mix (to remove the zest) and added the juice of the remaining orange half (just for an extra orangey kick), before putting the final product aside for a day to set.

Last night I made the main element by using the Hummingbird Bakery chocolate cupcake recipe. I started by beating 40g unsalted butter with 140g caster sugar until pale and fluffy, and then added an egg and continued to beat until thoroughly mixed. I sifted 100g flour, 20g cocoa, one and a half teaspoons of baking powder and a pinch of salt into one bowl, mixed 120ml whole milk with a few drops of vanilla extract in another, and then added a little of each mix at a time to the butter/sugar combo. When the dry ingredients were just combined, they were ready to be baked for 20 minutes at Gas Mark 3.

Once the cupcakes were baked and cooled entirely, I cut out the middle section of each and added a dollop of the orange curd. I then replaced the top of the cake (with a little of the sponge removed to make room for the curd). 

Now to the buttercream. Lots of salted caramel buttercreams make the buttercream taste entirely like salted caramel, which is nice but not what I wanted for these little chaps. Instead, I decided to make a vanilla buttercream but then drizzle it with a salted caramel sauce, meaning the salty caramel sauce would pack a punch against the buttery vanilla icing.

For the sauce, I followed the Brown Eyed Baker's recipe and heated 200g of granulated sugar until it was entirely melted. Once the sugar hit 160°C (big shout out to my sugar thermometer), I added 110g of butter and whisked the bubbling mix until the butter melted. I then added 120ml of double cream and a teaspoon of ground sea salt after taking the pan off the heat.

The buttercream was a simpler job and just required 250g icing sugar, 80g unsalted butter, a little vanilla and 25ml milk to be beaten until thick and creamy, before piping onto the cupcakes. 

Once the salted caramel had cooled, I poured it into a piping bag and splashed it about all over the shop. Mainly on the cupcakes, but the table, cooling rack and my iPhone saw their fair share of it too.

Then the fondant called out to me... 'tiny oranges', it whispered in my ear...

And here's the finished result! I should add, the cupcake was on a glass table and was not defying gravity (sadly). Let's hope they taste that light though!

Plum Luck

My parents have lots of fruit trees in their garden and, as plums are now in season, they were kind enough to give me plenty to bake with!

There are loads of fantastic plum based recipes so it was tough to choose what to bake this week, but I decided to opt for a plum and almond tart to take back to them at the weekend. 

I started by making the pâte sucrée (a sweet short crust pastry) recipe included in Will Torrent's Pâtisserie at Home which combines 100g unsalted butter, 100g caster sugar (though you can use granulated if you prefer), the seeds from one vanilla bean, the zest of one unwaxed lemon, 2 lightly beaten eggs, and 250g of flour. After beating these ingredients together, the pastry needed to chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours before anything else.

So, after a couple of quality hours with Netflix, I lined my tin with the chilled pastry, before returning it to the fridge whilst I made the filling. 

For the filling, I used a recipe available on the Waitrose website. The 75g ground almonds in this recipe created an almost frangipane-like flavour and texture in the final sponge. However, an equal 75g of self-raising flour and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder gave the filling a lift, making it more 'cakey' and less dense than frangipane. 

I pretty much stuck to the Waitrose recipe for the filling, only changing it by adding half a teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg to the mix. I didn't want these to overwhelm the filling, but just to add a little extra depth of flavour to the sponge.

Then once the tart was baked I brushed it with the boiled apricot jam and water mix, as recommended, for a real shine on the top.

Now I've just got to think of what to make with the remaining kilo of plums! Answers on a postcard please. 

A Real Wild One

One of my besties lives in Kenya and as she's a teacher she's always back for a good six week holiday in the summer. Fortunately her birthday also falls in the summer too, so this year her mum asked if I'd make her an Africa themed birthday cake with wild animals on it. Of course I was only too happy to help! 

I started by making a round chocolate fudge cake, which I know she loves as I used the same recipe for one tier of my wedding cake. I won't go into the baking details as it's not too tough to make, but the recipe for this comes from Cakes for Romantic Occasions by May Clee-Cadman and is a classic that I've used lots of times before now.

Once the cake was baked and cooling, I made a start on the fondant animals and began with the lion. First, I used yellow fondant to create a ball for the main body. I put a cocktail stick through this to make sure that the head would eventually be able to stay on and then added four legs using the same colour fondant.

For the head, I rolled orange fondant into a ball which I then flattened a little. I used a cocktail stick to press lines around the edge of this before adding it on top of the body, as shown in the pictures below.

Using the same yellow fondant, I made the lion's face using a heart shaped cutter and then added a few finishing features like the nose, eyes, whiskers, and eventually tail.  

My next job was the fondant monkey. I started by rolling two balls of brown fondant (one smaller than the other) and securing them together using a cocktail stick. Again, a heart shaped cutter came in handy for creating the little chap's face and I slowly added his features using a cocktail stick (as shown below). 

For the ears, I put a small circle of the peach fondant on top of a slightly larger circle of brown fondant before cutting this in half and popping them on the side of his head. Then all I had to add was some arms and a tail before this little chilled out fellow was all finished:

The elephant was probably the most difficult to make as his big body constantly threatened to crush his fondant legs, whilst his trunk seemed unlikely to stay attached to his face. As always, cocktail sticks were mainly used to fix these issues, but I also found it difficult to decide what kind of face he should have.

As you can see in the middle picture below, I tried bigger eyes at first, but these just made me think of the Elephants on Parade from Dumbo - not quite the vibe I wanted to go for with an Africa themed cake! Instead I made him a little more sober with some tiny elephant eyes (as shown in the third photo).

Once the cake had cooled and the animals were setting, I iced the cake with a giraffe style pattern of fondant:

I then cut green fondant into small leaves to write 'Happy Birthday Emma' on top of the cake and used three shades of green to make leaves for around the edge:

Then all I had to do was secure the animals on top with a little water and the cake was finished! 

Tee Party

The second cake of the weekend was for my golf-crazy Dad's birthday. As he's the captain at his golf club this year and it was captain's weekend, I had very little choice but to make a golf themed cake really.

I began by making a Victoria sponge cake, filling it with with strawberry jam and vanilla buttercream, and then icing the whole thing with a pale green fondant:

I added a paler green section to show the actual golf green (with a golf ball just sitting on the edge of the hole) and a small mound for a future fondant Dad to rest against.

On this occasion the double cake extravanganza meant that I didn't have time to take photos as I went along, but in future I'll be sure to go into more detail about making fondant people. This was my first attempt at making a big fondant person so concentration was vital! 

In the end we sliced the cake and left it out for everyone who attended the evening event at my Dad's captain's weekend. It's amazing how happy people are with free cake after they've had a few drinks!

Through the Looking Glass

I had two cakes to make for Friday last week, which meant it was a pretty hectic Thursday! As such I'm afraid this post and the next are mainly photos with little description (but that's not always a bad thing when it comes to cakes!).

The first cake was for my friend Lucinda's 30th birthday and her Mad Hatter themed party. I started by making two chocolate fudge cakes (one a little smaller than the other) and a big bowl of raspberry buttercream, which I made by mixing fresh raspberries into vanilla buttercream. My friend also wanted the cake to be wonky, so before icing the separate tiers I carved them into angles. I didn't make them quite as wonky as originally planned though as I knew they had to make it back to her party in one piece!

I iced the bottom tier in 'cheshire cat' style colours using blue and purple fondant:

Then, I added the second tier on top and covering it with a white 'tablecloth' style layer of frilled fondant:

Once this had set a little, I used cookie cutters to cut out 'Happy 30th' for the top tier and made a fondant top hat for the top of the cake. I then twirled some colourful modelling wire and added it to the cake for the final result:

Sadly I couldn't make the party, but hopefully the cake went down well! 

Climb Every Mountain

This weekend I made a cake for my Uncle's 60th birthday and, as he recently went to Everest Base Camp, my cousin asked if I could make it Everest themed. 

As my Uncle can't eat gluten, I started by making two of the gluten free chocolate fudge cakes from my previous post. I then stacked them on top of each other and carved them into a mountain shape, using the off-cuts to add an extra third level at the top:

After this I whipped up a batch of the Hummingbird Bakery chocolate buttercream (using 300g icing sugar, 100g butter, 40g cocoa and 40ml milk) and used this to stick the layers together, before covering the entire cake in buttercream:

The wonderful thing about making a cake that looks like a mountain is that you don't really want the finish on the icing to be too smooth, so no icing smoother was required for this one. Instead I just put one layer of grey fondant over the entire thing and then brushed it over lightly with some silver edible lustre dust, adding a few extra bumps to the surface as I went along. 

Then it was just time to add a few finishing touches! I made a few rough boulders (using the edible lustre again for a slight shimmer), the iconic base camp sign, and a little fondant man to climb the side of the cake (wearing the same colours that my Uncle wore on his trip).

I'm sad to report that the cake didn't actually make the trip down to my Uncle's in one piece entirely - the poor little man broke every fondant bone in his body after a slightly sharp brake in the car. However, I patched it up as best I could once we arrived, and I think I just about got away with it! Thank goodness he had a wall to rest against after! 

Whisky Business

Today I decided to bake the 'seriously rich chocolate cake' from BBC Good Food - a cake which doesn't use any flour or additional raising agents (like baking powder). Cakes like this can be a little risky as there's always the fear that they won't rise, but clearly I like to live on the edge. 

I began by melting butter and dark chocolate as recommended and then started on the rest of the mix. I didn't have the 6 large eggs that the recipe advised but 9 medium eggs are essentially the same, so I split these and let the KitchenAid whisk up the whites whilst I mixed the yolks with ground almonds and a little Cointreau.

Once the melted butter/chocolate mixture had cooled, I added it to the yolky/almond mix and stirred until they were completely mixed together. I then started adding caster sugar to the egg whites (just a tablespoon at a time) until the whites were creating nice firm peaks.

Now the tough bit - you have to fold the egg whites into the chocolatey mix, just a tablespoon at a time and oh so gently. Stirring this would only punch the air out of the whites and prevent the cake from rising, so you really need to take your time with this. 

So five hours later (or perhaps it was ten minutes) the cake was all neatly folded and ready to go in the oven. Learning from my last cake, I baked this at gas mark 4 rather than 3, but I noticed after 10 minutes that the cake looked to be dipping a little in the middle. I quickly banged the oven up to gas mark 5 instead and kept baking it for the rest of the time, plus an additional 10 minutes on the recommended time as the middle still wasn't cooked. The cake was still singing when I eventually removed it (if you've not heard the expression before, 'singing' is just the hissing noise that cakes make when they're still cooking inside) but my cake tester told me that the middle was cooked so I was happy to take it out.

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After leaving it to cool, I whipped up half a batch of the Hummingbird Bakery chocolate icing using 50g unsalted butter, 150g icing sugar, 20g cocoa and 20ml milk (though I added a little extra milk for a softer finish). I then just spread this across the top of the cake and added some fresh strawberries before dusting with icing sugar. 

The tragedy is that I can't tell you what it tastes like! My husband will be taking it off to his office tomorrow so I'll have to wait and keep my fingers crossed for good reviews. Here's hoping!

Cake it Away...

There has been a serious lull in my posts for the last two months, but with good reason (ish). I moved from London to Leeds in April and tragedy struck when my new oven didn't work. However, I'm now very pleased to say that this was fixed yesterday so I did, of course, bake today!

Changing to a new oven always makes a difference, especially as I've moved from electric to gas. I found today that my cake did sink a little in the middle. But practice makes perfect and I know in future to perhaps bake at a slightly higher temperature than recommended.

Today I made a chocolate chip cake with cinnamon topping from the Green and Black's Chocolate Recipes book (though originally by Melody Talbot), which is lethally delicious and I strongly recommend trying. 

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The topping for this recipe is made by melting 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 75g unsalted butter and 4 tablespoons of granulated sugar in a pan. However, I'd recommend doing this just before the cake is ready to go in the oven rather than before making the mix, as leaving it on the hob could burn the sugar but leaving it to cool makes it separate. 

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For the cake, I beat 110g unsalted butter with 220g granulated sugar before adding one at a time 2 large eggs, 300g of full fat yoghurt and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. The granulated sugar adds a slightly grainy texture to this cake which probably sounds horrid but works very well with soft crumb created by the yoghurt. 

I sifted in 450g plain flour with 8 teaspoons of baking powder as I didn't have self-raising flour which the recipe recommends (I rarely do - why waste precious cupboard space?), and then added 200g of good quality dark chocolate chips. For some reason I felt a little guilty not using Green and Black's chocolate for this. Perhaps that was their plan all along...

I poured the mix into a 9 inch springform cake tin, then spread the sticky cinnamon mix topping on top before baking at gas mark 4 for an hour. As I mentioned before, the cake did sink a little in the middle though, so I'd probably try baking it at gas mark 5 in future. 

I'm a big fan of this cake, but when making it again I might add another flavour to the actual sponge. Perhaps next time I'll add a little orange zest, or even a little rum (if I'm feeling piratical).

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Meringues Sitting in a Tree

The sun is shining and the daffodils are out - spring is finally here! And to celebrate I decided to make some bright meringue kisses. 

I started by making the BBC Good Food ultimate meringue recipe, which whisks 4 large egg whites with 115g caster sugar and 115g icing sugar. Once thick and glossy, I separated the mix into four bowls and carefully folded in  different food colourings to make lovely springtime pastel colours.

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I piped the mix onto baking paper before baking at 100 degrees for an hour and a half, so they'd still be a little chewy once cooled.

Then, whilst the meringues were cooling, I made the Hummingbird Bakery's lemon buttercream by beating 250g icing sugar, 80g softened butter, 25ml milk and some lemon zest. I used this to sandwich together the meringues for the final result.

Forget meringue kiss - I may just label these little double bubbles as meringue snogs!

Making Metrics Delicious

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My friend who works at Altmetric asked me to make some cupcakes for her office, and I was only too happy to oblige! The only requests were for them to be chocolate and include the lovely swirly logo on top.

I started by making the chocolate cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery book - a reliable recipe that I've used plenty of times in the past. Since the Altmetric logo is so colourful, I used orange, green, red and purple cupcake cases to match.

Once baked and cooling, I started on the frosting. As the logo is on a white background I made a marshmallow buttercream, which I made by mixing Marshmallow Fluff into vanilla buttecream. 

Marshm-hello!

Marshm-hello!

Now the tough bit - making the logos. First of all this meant mixing bright food colourings into the fondant. I assure you, these are edible and not just Play-doh:

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I rolled each of these balls into long, thin strips and stuck them next to each other before cutting the whole thing into strips, resulting in long strips with all of the colours included. I then curled these around to make circles of the colours, and soon had twelve ready for the cupcakes. The logo itself has lots of lovely soft gradients, but you can't get the same level of subtlety with fondant. You could always use an edible printer, but it feels a bit like cheating for something like this. And I like the depth and texture you get this way - it incorporates the brand in the cake a bit more, rather than just plonking a printout on top.

Then the final piece of the puzzle - adding the logos on top. 

Hopefully these cupcakes will get some positive metrics from the Altmetric team!


Gluten Schmuten

In an attempt to improve my all-round baking, I decided to make a gluten-free Victoria sponge cake today. 

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I've made a few gluten-free based cakes before, generally using ground almond based recipes. However, as Victoria sponge cakes aren't traditionally almond based, I decided to use gluten-free flour for today's bake.

I started by making a basic Victoria sponge in the usual way - beating equal parts butter and sugar, and then adding eggs. As gluten-free flour is known to require a little more moisture to balance it, I used a little more egg than usual when adding the vanilla essence. I then sifted in the flour and baking powder before baking the mix for a good 45 minutes.

In anticipation of pancake day, I also made a plum syrup earlier today by boiling plums, sugar and water. This was perfect timing as it left me with some sugary, soft plums (yep, you read it right) which were ideal as a jam replacement when sandwiched in the cake. I then topped these with some freshly whipped Chantilly cream.

Then it just needed its hat on to finish the whole affair.

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As always, the proof is quite literally in the pudding, and I'm pleased to say that this sponge did not suffer at all for its lack of gluten. The texture was moist and well balanced (even if I do say so myself) and I'd certainly try baking again with this flour in future! I'd give it glu-ten out of ten. Well, I guess that doesn't really make sense because it has no gluten in it. But you know what I mean. SUE ME.

Madeleine vs. Madeleine

For a Casablanca-themed party (and to justify the madeleine tray sitting in my very full baking cupboard) I decided to make some madeleines this week.

However, rather than just making plain ones - which I've made before - I thought it might be nice to try a couple of new flavours in a little madeleine-off. So I chose to try Rachel Khoo's lemon madeleines and Rachel Allen's chocolate version. I made a few tweaks to these, like taking the raspberries out of Rachel Khoo's - they're not in season at the moment.

The flavours are obviously quite different for these, but it's the difference in techniques that interested me. Whilst both use melted butter for the batter base and make a sponge that is pretty much equal parts butter, sugar and flour, Rachel Khoo's recipe replaces some of the sugar with honey, which I hoped would contribute to a light texture whilst adding a little boost of honey flavour to the sponge. The additional egg in the recipe also suggested that the cakes may end up a little softer than Rachel Allen's. That said, Rachel Allen's recipe recommends whipping the egg and sugar into a mousse-like mix before adding other ingredients, which means they could end up lighter due to all the air trapped in the mix. The lighter madeleine is generally the better madeleine, so I was very interested to see which technique would come out on top!

I started by making the batter for each, adding lemon zest for Rachel Khoo's recipe and cocoa for Rachel Allen's. The batters then need to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours, but in this case overnight so that I could bake them on the day they'd be eaten - always the best option with madeleines!

Rachel Khoo's recipe suggests making lemon curd to pipe into the madeleines once baked, so once the batters where finished I started on this. I've only made lemon curd in a bowl over a pan of simmering water before, which can take a while but isn't too risky. This time I trusted Rachel and went for the more dangerous method of cooking it straight in the pan. I use the word dangerous loosely - you're not likely to end up in hospital, but you could well wind up with lemony scrambled eggs if you're not careful. However, after a lot of whisking and panicking, a lovely thick lemon curd was made, and I'd be happy to make this again just to have a jar at the ready for some weekend toast!

After chilling out for ages, the mixtures were ready to be baked in my oh so lovely (though not very versatile!) madeleine tray. And again, here's where the recipes differed - Rachel Khoo suggested turning the oven off for 1 minute in the middle of baking then turning back on but to a lower heat, whereas Rachel Allen's recipe bakes them at a constant temperature for 12-15 minutes (though I opted for 12, as baking them for 15 minutes seemed far too long!).

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Once slightly cooled, I piped the cold lemon curd into the lemon madeleines and dusted them with icing sugar. And as recommended by Rachel Allen, I then dipped the chocolate madeleines half way into melted dark chocolate:

It's a bit difficult to directly compare the two finished products since the flavours are so different in each. However, sticking to our rule, lighter madeleines are generally better - and the lemon ones are significantly fluffier. So congratulations Rachel Khoo, I declare you The Madeleine Queen! I guess that makes me a lady-in-waiting or something.


O my Luve's like a lemon shortbread

It felt wrong to bake anything other than shortbread to take to a Burns Night supper, and so here we are!

I started by making the dough from Felicity Cloake's perfect shortbread recipe but added the zest of a large lemon to the mix. As shortbread is so buttery it makes a very soft dough so I chilled this in the fridge for 15 minutes before shaping into simple circles. As the key to good shortbread is not overworking the dough, I then put the biscuits into the fridge for another 30 minutes in the fridge before doing anything else:

Shortbread ahead

Shortbread ahead

After half an hour baking at 150 degrees, I took them out to cool and sprinkled with a little demerera sugar. Hopefully they'll go down well with the cranachan tonight! 

Yeah, I didn't know what cranachan was either.

Bananas About Blondies

Blondies are perfect when you want a cake with the squidgy texture of a brownie but with a little lighter flavour, and today I decided to try out Dan Lepard's recipe for banana blondies. 

This recipe recommends caramelising chopped brazil nuts before adding them to the cake mix, but I chose to use hazelnuts instead. It's very easy to overheat the sugar before adding the nuts if you don't have a sugar thermometer, which unfortunately I don't at the moment. This resulted in the first batch having a slightly burnt after taste - thankfully it only took a few minutes to make them again!

Whilst the caramelised nuts were cooling I made the blondie batter as recommended, using white chocolate, vanilla and chopped bananas to flavour the mix. I then broke the cooled nuts into smaller pieces and folded this into the batter before baking for half an hour. 

The result: a mix between banana bread and a brownie. The sweetness of the white chocolate and vanilla combined with the squidgy texture provided by the bananas makes a blondie that it's very easy to eat lots of. Dangerous really! 

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A little taste of Napoli

On this cold January day I felt like bringing a burst of sunshine into my kitchen, so decided to make a classic Neopolitan dish called struffoli.

It's very hard to come by struffoli in the UK, but they're basically like tiny doughnuts. They're usually served around Christmas time, but since they taste delicious at any time of year I think I can get away with it for now.

My Grandma learned to make them whilst growing up in a town called Grottaminarda in Italy, and she taught me the recipe over ten years ago now. Whilst years of practice have given her the wonderful ability to judge all measurements by eye, I'm afraid I had to do a little research to discover what 'a small handful of sugar' should equate to. Still, I very much relied on her lessons for this recipe!

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I started by making the dough from flour, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla essence, and a little lemon and orange zest. When my Grandma taught me how to make these, she took her time kneading the dough, ensuring that all the ingredients were mixed thoroughly, and I'm pleased to say that my food processor had the same approach (ah, the wonders of the modern age!). 

After the dough rested in the fridge for half an hour, I started rolling it into small balls (around the size of marbles) and then deep fried these at a medium heat in a combination of sunflower and groundnut oil (just to add a little extra flavour). It only took a few minutes for the struffoli to turn golden brown before they were whipped out and placed on kitchen roll to remove any excess oil.

Struffoli are traditionally coated in a sticky honey glaze with cinnamon and sprinkles but my Nan has always coated them simply in icing sugar, and as my husband's not tried them before I thought it would be best to stick to family tradition on this occasion. However, I did also sprinkle them with a few chopped hazelnuts just to compliment the ground nut oil in the crust.

And voilà (or should I say qui?) - the final result! Perhaps I'll make some for when I next see my Nan and get the expert opinion on how they turned out! 

Reinventing the Fruitcake

Three times a week my office provide free fruit for the staff. To cut a long story short, one member of my team has taken it on as his personal mission to ensure that nobody takes more than one piece each, so I was asked to make a surprise fruit themed cake for his birthday.

Since very few people seem to actually like fruitcake, it seemed a better idea to make it look fruity rather than taste fruity, so I started by making a Victoria sponge cake. Then, whilst this was baking in the oven, I started icing the board. I liked the idea of making the cake look like a bowl of fruit placed on a tablecloth, so I chose to use a red gingham pattern:

Once cooled, I iced the cake to look like a basic white bowl. It looked a little like a sailor hat at this stage too, but I was hoping that the eventual addition of fruit would fix this (either that or make any sailor look like Carmen Miranda).

Then it was time to start on the fruit. It's surprisingly difficult to make a peach look like a peach and not a bum, but hopefully I was successful (well, successful enough!). Here are a few examples...

 I made all of the fruits out of fondant, but I thought it might be nice to include a little surprise of Maltesers inside the grapes:

Then it was just a case of adding all of the fruits to the top of the cake and drawing a few flowers on the bowl for the final result.

Perhaps not quite as healthy as a bowl of fruit, but hopefully it will go down well in the office tomorrow!