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!

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!

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!

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!

A Christmas Pudding Cake

When my mother-in-law asked me to make a Christmas cake it was difficult to decide on how to decorate it. There are so many possibilities with Christmas cakes and generally traditional ones are decorated with dazzling white fondant. However, this year I decided to try something slightly different and make a cake that looks like a Christmas pudding.

To start, I made a traditional fruitcake around a month ago and kept it topped up with brandy since then. It should be made even earlier really, so next year I'll probably do this step around September/October. 

Then, when ready to ice the cake, I carved the top slightly to give it a little more of a dome like shape:

Christmas Cake Carving

Before icing a fruitcake the best thing to do is brush it with boiled and strained apricot jam. However, in this instance I didn't actually have any apricot jam at hand and replaced it instead with a layer of amaretto - perhaps not quite as sticky, but it'll do the job just fine! 

I covered the cake in a layer of marzipan, then a layer of fondant and, since it's Christmas, I added a dusting of edible bronzing powder for an extra shine:

Now the next bit was the fun bit - making it look like an actual pudding. I rolled out a piece of white fondant and hand cut it to look like a big splodge for the top, followed by a sprig of fondant holly:

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But, of course, no Christmas pudding would be complete without a penny stuck in for luck! Thankfully this is edible too so there should be no emergency dentist trips on the day:

Merry Christmas everyone! I'll be back baking and writing in the New Year!

Making a gingerbread house

There’s something very satisfying about making a gingerbread house – it takes time, planning, precision and nerves of steel for it to all come together, plus about a kilo of royal icing!

First I got to become a fairytale architect and plan the actual design of the house (clearly one of the best bits).  Unfortunately this also involved more maths than I’d like, but it’s important to be precise at this stage!

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Like Rome, gingerbread houses aren't built in a day. So first I made the dough, and after two nights resting in the fridge (so it was nice and firm for shaping) I cut and baked the gingerbread pieces. This meant I had a very gingery smelling flat but dinner on my knee that night:

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A few hours and a lot of icing sugar later, everything started looking a little more Christmassy:

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After the icing had set I started gluing the pieces together with royal icing, but I’m afraid this is where there’s a gap in my photo documentation. With one hand piping and another holding the whole thing together, I just couldn’t reach the shutter!

On the plus side, it makes this post sort of like a makeover show with the before and after shots. Drum roll please…

Ta da!

For me, the joy of a gingerbread house lies in the little details around it, not just the house itself, so this year I decided to include a few gingerbread chaps playing in the snow outside. There would have been more on there but unfortunately this house did not have a big enough garden (London property prices, eh?).

All in all I was pretty happy with the outcome . My one regret is that the scene takes a tragic turn when the gingerbread men can’t fit inside their own house, but I know for next time to measure the people before piping the front door on the house!