Tuesday, 29 December 2009

If I'd known you were coming, I'd have baked a cake.

I am definitely more bricklayer than princess in my food tastes. I like a sauce to be robust and a wine to be full-bodied. I drink my tea the colour of tar, eat my steak so rare it could almost walk off the plate by itself, and have never understood what people are going on about when they describe everything with flavour as being "a bit rich".

When it comes to flowers, I love the girly prettiness of them, but I can't pretend to be a massive enthusiast for the taste of them in my food. Too often the flavour ends up so soapy I feel more inclined to spritz it on my wrist, than stick it in my cake hole. I prefer oranges to orange blossom and rosemary to roses, but when I make a chocolate and lavender cake or some orange blossom and pistachio cupcakes people seem to become maddened by delight. There is something so elegant, delicate and pretty about cakes with flowers in, and although I would never personally opt for a floral sponge if chocolate and port cake was on offer, I can recognise that, for others, flowery food brings them as much pleasure as ginger does me. Both flavours are palate cleansing and after all the rich food of Christmas, something fresh and invigorating is just the ticket.

This is a great time of year for cake eaters and bakers alike, as there are still a few glorious days left before the new year, new guilt diets kick in, as well as enough visitors knocking on the door to make whisking up a batch of cupcakes an entirely necessary indulgence.

A friend of mine recently told me that she loves floral flavours above all else (I think it might be because she is named after a flower) and as it is the season of good will, I thought I would post a recipe for my lemon and rose cupcakes especially for her and all my other floral friends.

Lemon and rose water cupcakes
(Preheat the oven to 180 C/ 160 Fan and line a 12 hole cupcake tray with cupcake cases. If you don't have a cupcake tray, you can use a 6" round tin instead or double the quantities for a loaf tin).


Ingredients

4 oz (100 g) caster sugar  
3 eggs, separated
2 fl. oz (50 ml) sunflower oil
2 fl. oz (50 ml) water
4 oz (100 g) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder 
Zest and juice of 1 large unwaxed lemon
1 - 2 tsp rose water
1/2 tsp salt
 


Rose water buttercream

4 oz (100 g) softened butter
8 oz (200 g) icing sugar, sifted
2 tsp rose water
A dash of milk
 

Method
  • Place the egg yolks in a large bowl with half the sugar and whisk until pale and fluffy.
  • Continue whisking on a low speed (if using an electric hand whisk) and gradually drizzle in the oil. Once combined, continue whisking and drizzle in the water, lemon juice and rose water.
  • Sift over the flour, baking powder and salt and fold in until thoroughly combined.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they begin the foam and froth, then add the remaining sugar and whisk to the stiff peak stage (so that when you upturn the bowl, the egg whites don't fall out).
  •  Stir the lemon zest into the flour and egg yolk mixture and then fold in the meringue (egg white and sugar) until thoroughly combined.
  • Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases and bake for 20 - 25 mins or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave in the tin for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. You can make the cakes more lemon-y by stabbing the cakes all over with a skewer and pouring a lemon syrup (place the juice of half a lemon and 2 oz (50 g) caster sugar in a saucepan over a very gentle flame and stir until the sugar has dissolved) over their tops while they are still warm.
  •  For the buttercream, beat the butter until really creamy, whisk through the rose water and then beat in the icing sugar. Add a splash of milk to slacken the buttercream slightly if need be and beat together until really creamy.
  • Spread the buttercream on the cupcakes with a small palette knife or pipe on with a no. 8 star or plain nozzle.
  • I have decorated mine with simple roll roses. You simply roll out a piece of sugarpaste (I dyed mine hot pink) quite thinly,  to a length of about 6cm and a width of about 2cm. Roll the strip up, choose your favoured end for the top and pinch off the bottom, then smooth over. I also made little green leaves from more sugarpaste dyed green and pinched off and shaped little leaf shapes. Alternatively just top with a sprinkle of crystalised rose petals. 





 

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Spiced Chocolate Torte



Although I can't possibly bring myself to agree with them, I know there are people out there who shudder at the thought of Christmas cake or anything that bats even the corner of an eyelid in the direction of dried fruit. Christmas can be a tricky time for them, faced, as they are, with Christmas cake, mince pies and Christmas pudding at every turn. It seems that a British Christmas is a veritable banquet of raisins, currants, sultanas, dates and figs. Personally I love a dried fruit, especially one that's been soaked in enough rum and brandy to keep a swashbuckle of pirates happy for a month, but hey ho. Different strokes for different folks. And Christmas is the time to draw people together, not drive them to hide food in their handbags. A time when no one should be excluded. Even if they are fussy eaters.

This is a cake that ticks all the boxes for chocolate lovers and its hit of spice has Christmas all wrapped up too. It is both naturally gluten and dairy free and so can provide a delicious Christmas treat for food allergy sufferers; although steer clear if you suffer from nut allergies. I say naturally gluten and dairy free because this is not a recipe especially adapted for the gluten or dairy intolerant, it requires no special gluten-free flours or soya "dairy", this just happens to be a cake that flour and butter were never invited to take part in, so there's no feeling of compromise in its taste or quality. I love the close-textured, fudginess of this cake, and it also has the benefit of keeping for ages without going at all dry (as long as you keep it in a properly airtight container) and freezes brilliantly.

The combination of chocolate and spice is wonderful at any time of the year, but there is something especially Christmassy about the smell of mixed spice, ginger and cinammon emanating from the oven door. This is a really indulgent and, dare I say, sophisticated, grown up cake, that works wonderfully served with strong coffee or is equally delicious as pudding with a glug of pouring cream.

Spiced Chocolate Torte
Preheat your oven to 180 C or 160 C Fan. Grease and line a 9" round cake tin 

Ingredients 

8 oz/ 200 g good quality dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa solids +)
6 eggs
7 oz/ 175 g granulated sugar
4oz/ 100 g molasses sugar
5 oz/ 125 g ground almonds
1 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinammon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Chocolate Glaze:

1 tbsp apricot jam

150g dark chocolate (pref 70% cocoa solids)
100g butter cut into cubes or, if you are making a dairy free cake, use 40ml groundnut oil


Method:

  • Break up the chocolate and melt in a heatproof bowl suspended over barely simmering water. Leave to cool slightly.
  • Separate 5 of the eggs and place the 5 egg yolks and 1 whole egg in a large mixing bowl with the sugars and whisk until pale and fluffy.
  • Add the ground almonds, spices, salt and chocolate to the mixture and stir until well combined. It will be quite stiff at this stage, but nothing a bit of elbow grease can't overcome.
  • In a separate, clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until fairly stiff.
  • Place a large dollop of egg white into the chocolate mix and stir quickly and forcefully to slacken the mixture.
  • Carefully fold in the remaining egg white until thoroughly combined.
  • Pour into your prepared tin and bake in your preheated oven for around an hour to 1 hour 15, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Once cooked, leave the cake in the tin on top of a wire rack to cool before turning out.
  • Heat the apricot jam and brush your cake with the jam.
  • In a heatproof bowl suspended over barely simmering water melt your chocolate and butter/groundnut oil. Once it has melted and stirred, take it off the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes before pouring the chocolate glaze over the cake, still on its rack. To prevent too much mess, place a sheet of baking parchment or greaseproof paper under the wire rack to catch the drips.
  • Leave the glaze to set before using a couple of palette knives to transfer the cake on to a cake board or serving plate. You can leave it plain or decorate with a dusting of edible gold glitter or chocolate snowflakes, either handpiped or cut out from rolled out chocolate plastique and dusted with edible lustre in snowflake.



 

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Hazelnut and Grand Marnier "Hazelpan"

Not wanting to give the traditionalists too much of a headstart with their marzipan, as promised, here is an alternative "marzipan" for the almond-shy. It has a satisying zingyness and is delicious with Christmas cake, but also works brilliantly as a covering for chocolate cakes.


Hazelnut and Grand Marnier Marzipan (Hazelpan)

(This is enough to make a 9" cake. Halve the quantities for a 6" or use the left-overs to dye and make into marzipan fruits)

Ingredients

1lb ground hazelnuts (they can be tricky to find ready ground in the shops, unless you happen to find yourself in France, where ground hazelnuts seem as common as ground almonds - lucky them. So just dry roast whole blanched hazelnuts until slightly golden, then leave to cool before blitzing in a processor)
1lb icing sugar, sifted
2 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
2 tbsp Grand Marnier (or Cointreau, Triple Sec or any other orange liqueur you've got hiding at the back of the drinks cabinet)
2 tsp fresh orange juice
Finely grated zest of 1 orange.
Method

  • Place the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a large heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water.
  • Whisk the eggs and sugar just like when you are making a sabayon or zabaglione. The important thing is that the mixture doesn't get too hot and curdle, so keep the flame low. The mixture will become pale, frothy and quite thick.
  • Whisk in the Grand Marnier, orange juice and zest until thoroughly combined.
  • Take the bowl off the heat and leave to cool.
  • Whisk again and pour in the ground hazelnuts.
  • Combine thoroughly and knead to form a firm paste.
  • Wrap the marzipan in clingfilm and leave to rest somewhere cool for at least 2 hours before rolling out.
  • When you're ready to use it, warm some apricot jam in a saucepan with a tiny bit of water. Once it's hot, you can pour it through a sieve if you like, but I often don't bother.
  • Roll out your marzipan to a thickness of about half an inch.
  • Brush your cake with the hot apricot jam and place your rolled-out marzipan over the top. Cup the marzipan around the edges of your cake with your hands and then pat it down the sides so it is properly stuck. Smooth it over with your hands or use a couple of plastic smoothers for a more even surface.
  • Leave the marzipan for a day or 2 (or longer) to harden. This will make icing your cake much easier.
  • If you are using roll out fondant/ sugarpaste to ice your cake, stick it on to your marzipanned cake with a light brushing of brandy.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Almond Marzipan


By now, your home-made Christmas cake will have had plenty of time to be fed, fed again and then fed some more with generous pourings of your chosen tipple/s. You can, by all means, carry on feeding it some more before you ice it with marzipan. There is no rush. But, if you're the sort who likes to get things done early, so you can tick them off your "to do" list, give your cake one last drink before getting on with making your marzipan.

As I said in my last post, marzipan divides opinion and tends to draw out strong marmite-y love/hate responses. For those that love the stuff, here is the recipe I use for my own cakes. When I am making the cake to eat myself, I leave out almond extract altogether, but when making it to sell, I add just a couple of drops of NATURAL almond extract (unless instructed otherwise) because so many people love the familiarity of its flavour. If you like your marzipan to be lurid yellow, you can add some paste dye in the kneading stage, but use latex gloves or clean marigolds if you don't want yellow hands for the rest of the week. For those that can't stand the stuff, I'll be posting up my recipe for hazelnut and Grand Marnier marzipan in the next couple of days.

Marzipan
(This is enough to make a 9" cake. Halve the quantities for a 6" or use the left-overs to dye and make into marzipan fruits)

Ingredients

1lb ground almonds (either ready ground, or blitzed in a food mixer)
1lb icing sugar, sifted
2 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
2 tbsp brandy
2 tsp lemon juice
a couple of drops of natural almond extract

Method
  • Place the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a large heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water.
  • Whisk the eggs and sugar just like when you are making a sabayon or zabaglione. The important thing is that the mixture doesn't get too hot and curdle, so keep the flame low. The mixture will become pale, frothy and quite thick.
  • Whisk in the brandy, lemon juice and almond extract (if using) until thoroughly combined.
  • Take the bowl off the heat and leave to cool.
  • Whisk again and pour in the ground almonds.
  • Combine thoroughly and knead to form a firm paste.
  • Wrap the marzipan in clingfilm and leave to rest somewhere cool for at least 2 hours before rolling out.
  • When you're ready to use it, warm some apricot jam in a saucepan with a tiny bit of water. Once it's hot, you can pour it through a sieve if you like, but I often don't bother.
  • Roll out your marzipan to a thickness of about half an inch.
  • Brush your cake with the hot apricot jam and place your rolled-out marzipan over the top. Cup the marzipan around the edges of your cake with your hands and then pat it down the sides so it is properly stuck. Smooth it over with your hands or use a couple of plastic smoothers for a more even surface.
  • Leave the marzipan for a day or 2 (or longer) to harden. This will make icing your cake much easier.
  • If you are using roll out fondant/ sugarpaste to ice your cake, stick it on to your marzipanned cake with a light brushing of brandy.

TOP TIP!

I like to roll the marzipan out on to a sheet of baking parchment dusted with icing sugar, as it's less likely to stick to the surface and you'll need less icing sugar than if you roll it out directly on the table top.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Christmas Cake

Many of you will have made your Christmas cake in October or, more frighteningly organised still, September, but I feel now is the ideal time to make it. Or at least to start thinking about making it. Having said that, when other things have taken over, I've made mine as late as Christmas Eve and it's still been deliciously rich and moist, if a little harder to slice without falling to bits.
My reason for disagreeing with "the earlier the better", is that Christmas cake is rarely eaten on Christmas Day itself. Okay, maybe a slice to follow the cold cuts in the evening, but Christmas cake is usually still knocking around in a tin somewhere come the end of January, because, well, it lasts, doesn't it? And yule logs, spiced biscuits and stollen have far shorter life expectancies. And then there are the selection boxes, giant toblerones, panettone and trifle, not to mention the tin of Roses. Always conveniently placed within reaching distance, the Roses tin doesn't even require you to get up off the sofa if you want to mindlessly scoff something naughty while "It's A Wonderful Life" or something with Meg Ryan and a Nat King Cole soundtrack is on telly.

A lot of people don't like fruit cake, or think they don't like fruit cake, because they've never had a good one, or because they hate marzipan, but I'll come to that later. These are all certainly part of the reason that Christmas cake is the last thing to get polished off. But it's also to do with the feeling that fruit cake isn't that bad for you, which, as long as you don't count the icing, it isn't. It's far better to get rid of all the other stuff that is bad for you first (by eating it really REALLY quickly), because then you can stop thinking about it and just... relax. Fruit cake is a pleasure that doesn't have as much guilt attached to it as other things, which in my opinion makes it a pleasure worth savouring, and this is the reason I am never remotely tempted to make a small one. Ever. The very idea of it is absurd.

I am a big fan of traditional fruit cake and by this I mean traditional Victorian fruit cake and not the dry old post war excuses for fruit cake that have put a lot of people off for life. For me, the crucial musts for a delicious Christmas cake are:

 1) It absolutely HAS to be moist.
2) It has to be generously spiced.
and 3) It has to be boozy.

I use dark rum in this recipe because I think its natural spiciness compliments the spiciness of the cake much better than brandy (but don't worry, brandy still features for steeping later on...), but by all means substitute the rum for brandy or whisky if the idea of it horrifies you. Also it is worth noting that there is absolutely no reason to include an ingredient you don't like just because my recipe tells you to. This is how I like Christmas cake to be, but if you want to swap the dates for prunes or leave out the cherries or the stem ginger, go for your life. It's your cake. Just make up the missing ingredient with more of something you do like, so that in the end the dry ingredients weigh the same as in the recipe here. If, on the other hand, you are one of the poor unfortunates that hate all dried fruit because, like my friend who shall remain nameless (Catherine), it reminds you of rabbit poo, fear not. Christmas won't leave you out this year. I'll be posting up some festive chocolatey yummies on here for you very soon.

Right, last things last, a note on marzipan. This stuff divides people like nothing else and makes some people wrongly assume they hate almonds and anything that has almonds in it. I must admit, I am hugely fussy about marzipan and absolutely abhor that bright yellow shop bought ugliness that bears absolutely no resemblance to the taste of actual almonds and spends its horrible little life going around spoiling otherwise perfectly nice cakes. It is packed with rubbish, dyed an unsavoury shade of jaundice and flavoured with a bucket load of almond "flavouring" to hide the taste of whatever nasty chemicals and additives they've used to prolong its shelf life. This is why I prefer to make it myself, but if you buy it, it really is worth spending a bit more for the posh 100% natural stuff. If, on the other hand, you like a bit of the yellow stuff, go, as I said before, for your life. It's your cake. Of course, you don't actually have to cover your cake in marzipan if you really don't like it. It isn't THE LAW. I sometimes like to swap traditional almond marzipan for hazelnut and Grand Marnier "marzipan", but you don't have to use anything at all if you'd rather. Sure, it helps keep the cake moist for longer and makes icing it afterwards easier, but if you hate it, why spoil all your hard work? You can always cover your cake in two thin layers of roll out icing (letting the first layer "crust" overnight, before icing it with the second) for a smooth finish, or just a thick layer of stippled royal icing is lovely, especially if neatness isn't your forte or you haven't got a rolling pin.

Christmas Cake
(I'm going to give you the measurements for 3 different round tin sizes, in the hope that you won't have to go out and buy a new one specially. I have given the amounts for round cakes because I generally prefer the look of them, but if you prefer square or only have a square tin, whatever the amount for a round tin, it will be the same for an inch smaller square. So, if you are following the amounts for a 9" round, it will be enough to make an 8" square cake; a 6" round will make a 5" square, etc).

6" Round Tin:

Cook for an hour at 160 C (140 C fan), then cover the top with baking parchment and turn the oven down to 150 C (130 C fan) and cook for a further 1 1/4 hours.

Ingredients

3 oz (75 g) Currants
3 oz (75 g) Sultanas
3 oz (75 g ) Exciting seedless raisins, such as Australian muscat raisins (if you can't find any just use regular)
5 oz (150 g) Seedless raisins
3 oz (75 g) pitted dates (I like Medjool best), chopped - I just use a pair of scissors and snip them into 3.
2 oz (50 g) Natural glace cherries, halved
1 - 2 balls of stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped
3 generous tbsp dark rum
1 generous tbsp ginger wine
2 tbsp very strong black coffee (preferably espresso)
A splash of vanilla extract
Zest and juice of half a large orange
3 oz (75 g) unsalted butter, softened
2 oz (50 g) molasses sugar
1 egg
5 oz (125 g) plain flour, sifted
1/2 tsp ground cinammon
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 oz (50 g) ground almonds
A large pinch of bicarbonate of soda

Plus extra dark rum, ginger wine and/ or brandy/whisky for steeping later.

 
7" Round Tin:

Bake for 1 hour at 160 C (140 C fan), then cover the top with baking parchment and bake for a further 2 hours at 150 C (130 C fan).

6 oz (150 g) Currants
6 oz (150 g) Sultanas
6 oz (150 g) Exciting seedless raisins, such as Australian muscat raisins (if you can't find any just use regular)
12 oz (300 g) Seedless raisins
6 oz (150 g)  pitted dates (I like Medjool best), chopped - I just use a pair of scissors and snip them into 3.
3 oz (75 g) Natural glace cherries, halved
2 -3 balls of stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped
6 generous tbsp dark rum
2 generous tbsp ginger wine
2 fl. oz (50 ml) very strong black coffee (preferably espresso)
1/2 tbsp of vanilla extract
Zest and juice of 1 large orange
6 oz (150 g)  unsalted butter, softened
5 oz (125 g) molasses sugar
2 eggs
8 oz (200 g) plain flour, sifted
1 tsp ground cinammon
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground ginger
3 oz (75 g) ground almonds
1/2 tsp of bicarbonate of soda

Plus extra dark rum, ginger wine and/ or brandy/ whisky for steeping later.

 
9" Round Tin:

Bake for 1 hour at 160 C (140 C fan), then cover with baking parchment and bake for a further 2 1/2 hours at 150 C (130 C fan).

9 oz (225 g) Currants
9 oz (225 g) Sultanas
9 oz (225 g) Exciting seedless raisins, such as Australian muscat raisins (if you can't find any just use regular)
1 lb 2 oz (450 g) Seedless raisins
9 oz (225 g) pitted dates (I like Medjool best), chopped - I just use a pair of scissors and snip them into 3.
5 oz (125 g) Natural glace cherries, halved
4 - 5 balls of stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped
9 generous tbsp dark rum
3 generous tbsp ginger wine
4 fl oz (100 ml) very strong black coffee (preferably espresso)
1 tbsp of vanilla extract
Zest and juice of 2 large oranges
10 oz (250 g) unsalted butter, softened
7 oz (175 g) molasses sugar
3 eggs
14 oz (350 g) plain flour, sifted
2 tsp ground cinammon
3 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp ground ginger
4 oz (100 g) ground almonds
3/4 tsp of bicarbonate of soda

Plus extra dark rum, ginger wine and/ or brandy/ whisky for steeping later.

You can double the ingredients of the 9" for a 12" round cake and add an extra 2 hours to the cooking time at the 150 C (130 C fan) stage.


Method

  • Place the sultanas, raisins, currants, dates, cherries, stem ginger, rum, ginger wine and coffee in a large pan. Cover with a piece of greaseproof paper or baking parchment before placing the saucepan lid on top.
  • Place over a low flame and gently bring to the boil.
  • Uncover the fruit and stir until all the liquid is absorbed.
  • Mix in the orange zest, juice and vanilla extract and leave to cool. If you want to do this stage a few days in advance you can do, but transfer the fruit into a non-metal bowl and cover the top with cling-film to prevent the flavour from tainting or the fruit from drying out.
  • Preheat your oven to 160 C (140 C fan).
  • Grease and line your tin with baking parchment.
  • Beat the butter until creamy and crumble in the sugar. Beat until pale and fluffy (this may take about 5 minutes and if you have an electric whisk, use it to save your arms).
  • Separate the egg/s and beat in the yolk/s (one at a time if you are making a bigger cake than a 6")
  • Gently fold the flour, ground spices and ground almonds into the mixture.
  • Add the cooled fruit and any liquid left in its pan/bowl. Mix well. For bigger cakes I find using your hands is the easiest method.
  • In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until at the soft peak stage.
  • Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in 1 tsp of water and whisk into the egg whites.
  • Gently fold into the fruit mixture until well combined. I tend to add a spoonful and vigorously beat it in to loosen the mixture before folding in the remaining egg white.
  • Spoon your mixture into your chosen tin and smooth over the top with a palette knife and brush the top lightly with water.
  • Tie a double thickness sheet of brown parcel paper around the tin with string and bake on the centre shelf for the time advised above or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. You will need to leave the skewer in for a bit of time to tell (30 secs for a 6", 45 secs for a 7", 1 1/2 mins for a 9" and 4 mins for a 12" cake).
  • Remove from the oven and while still hot, stab the cake all over with a skewer and gently pour over some more dark rum (or brandy/ whisky)
  • Allow the cake to cool in the tin before turning it out and carefully peeling off the baking parchment.
  • Pour over a little ginger wine and wrap the cake in greaseproof paper and then foil and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
  • Once a week steep the cake with a little more alcohol. I like to alternate between rum, brandy and ginger wine to layer up the flavour, but you can stick to one if you prefer.


I'll post up my recipe for home-made marzipan a little nearer to Christmas for you. In the meantime, happy baking.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Victoria's Christmas Cake Boutique

Well, it's that time of year again already. I know nobody really likes to think about Christmas before there's a "D" in the month, but thinking about cake is an exception, right? I will post up some delicious Christmas cake recipes for you to try at home in the next few days, but for those of you who don't have the time or the inclination for festive home baking Victoria's Cake Boutique are now taking orders for Christmas.

If you would like to order a Christmas cake, please go to the website at www.victorias-cake-boutique.co.uk then go to the "Contact Us" page and let me know what you would like to order.

Here's our 2009 Christmas list to whet your appetites:

  • Traditional, boozy fruit cake with home-made marzipan and white fondant icing. 
  • Chocolate fruit cake (a sticky, orangey and delicious twist on tradition and the perfect Christmas cake substitute or gift for those who are not fans of Victorian fruit cake) with (or without, please specify when ordering) home-made marzipan and white fondant icing.
  • Both styles of fruit cake can be decorated with a choice of snowmen (collection only), sparkly snowflakes or cute Christmas trees.
  • Spiced chocolate torte topped with chocolate ganache with handpiped white chocolate snowflakes (collection only) or edible gilded holly or Christmas trees.
  • Chocolate and chestnut Yule logs decorated with sugar holly: £25
There is a small extra cost for p&p or, for those of you who are London or Kent based, you can collect free of charge.

Alternatively, why not pop down to The Stour Space Christmas Market on the 12th and 13th of Decemeber from 11 - 6, where you can buy Christmas cakes and biscuits from me, as well as find lots of beautiful handmade gifts for your friends and family this Christmas.

STOUR SPACE, 7 ROACH ROAD, FISH ISLAND, LONDON, E3 2PA

Monday, 16 November 2009

Hello Cakey!

I was given a last minute commission by a lovely actress at the end of day on Wednesday, for her daughter's 5th birthday on Saturday. As usual, I wanted to make the cake as personal as possible, so wanted to find out what her daughter was into. The answer: swimming, gymnastics and Hello K... aherm, I mean cartoon kittens that may or may not resemble a well known and heavily copyrighted 35 year old Japanese kitty.

I knew a single tier just wouldn't cut it if I was to include all of Izzy's interests in one cake and besides, the higher you go, the more flavours you can get - which is obviously much more exciting to children and greedy people like me. The flavours chosen were gooey chocolate fudge cake for the bottom tier and vanilla and butterscotch for the top.

Next: how to include everything, while still maintaining a proper sense of cohesion? I went for the sea for swimming instead of a swimming pool, partly because there are more things of interest to play around with in the sea (star fish, other fish...), but also because I could make the cake's "story" more comprehensible. I mean, who does gymnastics at the side of a pool? But on a beach? Definitely much more feasible. Probably.

After icing both cakes and a cake board with deep aqua blue sugarpaste, I covered most of the top tier in draped yellow sugarpaste for the sand on the beach. Once that was done I set to work making the cartoon sugar kittens* and fish and star fish. For the beach cats, I had one balancing on a beam, one performing ribbon gymnastics and another doing a hand stand. For the sea, I had a swimming team, two (a big one and a baby one with arm bands) in rubber rings and, of course, there had to be a Hello K... (Shhhh!) mermaid with a gold fish instead of a ribbon on her head. I piped on the sea foam with royal icing, which I also used for mermaid scales and bubbles which spelled out the birthday girl's name.

All in all, Izzy and her mum were delighted with the cake and rang me the next day to thank me, which is always a rather wonderful bonus to the job and makes all the hard work feel thoroughly worth it.





* Any resemblance to actual Japanese kittens, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Psychologies Magazine

Victoria's Cake Boutique is in the December issue of Psychologies Magazine (out now) with advice on how to make the perfect Christmas cake. You can find me on page 155. I'll be posting some delicious fail-safe Christmas recipes on the blog very soon too...

Monday, 9 November 2009

Flame filled fairy cakes

The traditional cake for Bonfire Night celebrations is Thor cake, a cake made using black treacle, oatmeal and ginger, but no flour. The mixture is kneaded into a dough and rolled out to a thickness of about 2 inches, before being baked. The recipe probably pre-dates Guy Fawkes to the Celtic Festival of "Samhain" and has similar ingredients to Parkin, a cake originating from the North of England. Parkin has overtaken Thor as the cake more commonly associated with Guy Fawkes Night and is more of a cakey cake, in that it contains flour and rises on baking.

I was asked to make some festive cupcakes for my friend's Bonfire Night party at the weekend and wanted to keep some of the traditional flavours of Thor and Parkin, but with a more modern feel and lighter texture. I chose ginger cupcakes with ginger buttercream and spiced chocolate cupcakes with rich chocolate buttercream. I adore ginger, so tend to be quite heavy-handed when adding the powdered spice, but if you prefer a milder flavour, by all means add less. The same goes for the spice hit in the chocolate cupcakes; you can even just use cinammon if you'd rather make chocolate and cinammon cakes.

To make the cupcakes properly festive, I decided to make sugar flames, chocolate bonfire wood, sugar rockets and gold stars. For the ginger cupcakes, I made some with undyed buttercream topped with sugarpaste rockets and some with flames and buttercream matching the colours in the flames. I made the flames out of sugarpaste (roll out fondant icing) with yellow centres, wrapped with orange and then red. I also divided the buttercream into 4, left one part undyed, and dyed the other parts yellow, orange and red. Then, using a No. 10 star nozzle, I filled the piping bag with the three colours. The easiest way to do this is to place the bag (fitted with the nozzle) in a glass and then fold the bag down the outside of the glass. Using a palate knife, place the different coloured buttercreams vertically in 3 separate sections, so that when piped, the buttercream will be striped, like Aquafresh toothpaste. When piping with a star nozzle, start on the outer edge and pipe a ring, and then follow the ring inwards until it ends in a point at the top. I then stuck a fondant flame on top of each flame cake.

For the other half of the ginger cupcakes, I used a palate knife to smooth over the undyed ginger buttercream and then topped them with a sugar rocket (a triangular cone on a cylinder of sugarpaste in your choice of colour, with a little tail made out of black sugarpaste for the fuse and with a little gold star at the end for the spark.

I decorated half of the spiced chocolate cupcakes with chocolate buttercream and bonfire wood made out of milk chocolate plastique, and topped them with more fondant flames. I dyed the rest of the buttercream black and piped it with a No. 10 star nozzle, topped with edible gold glitter and edible gold stars (I used a tiny star cutter on chocolate plastique rolled very thinly and painted them with edible gold lustre dust). The black icing will dye your mouth black, like you've eaten a big bag of black jacks, but it doesn't last long and it's fine, and indeed fun, if everyone's eaten some.

Obviously Bonfire Night has been and gone for this year, and the cakes don't need to be decorated with flames and fireworks, but then again, I don't really think you need to wait a whole year for an excuse to make these pretty, fun treats either.

Ginger Cupcakes with Ginger Buttercream


Preheat the oven to 160C (140C if you have a fan assisted oven) and place your cupcake cases in muffin trays. The mixture makes 24 cupcakes.

Ingredients

8 oz (200 g) unsalted butter
6 oz (175 g) molasses sugar
3 tbsp black treacle
1/4 pint (150 ml) whole milk
2 large eggs, beaten
5 pieces of stem ginger, drained and chopped (retain the syrup for the buttercream)
10 oz (300 g) self raising flour
1 1/2 heaped tbsp ground ginger
A pinch of salt
2 - 3 tbsp ginger wine

Buttercream
7 tbsp ginger syrup (the syrup from the stem ginger)
8 oz unsalted butter, softened

16 oz (450 g) icing sugar, sifted

5 tsp lemon juice


Method
  • In a large saucepan, gently melt the butter, sugar and treacle together until the sugar is fully dissolved. Allow the mixture to cool slightly.
  • Stir in the milk and add the beaten eggs and stem ginger. Mix thoroughly.
  • Sift the flour, ground ginger and salt over the warm mixture and combine.
  • Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases and bake for 20 - 30 mins or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • While the cakes are still hot, stab the cakes all over with a skewer and, using a teaspoon, pour a little ginger wine on to each cake.
  • Transfer on to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
Buttercream
  • Beat the butter until extremely soft and sift over the icing sugar. Mix thoroughly.
  • Add the ginger syrup and lemon juice and beat again until the buttercream is smooth and fluffy and ready to be dyed (if you want to), smoothed or piped on top of your cooled cupcakes.

Spiced Chocolate Cupcakes

(Preheat the oven to 180C or 160C Fan and line your muffin trays with cupcake cases. This recipe is enough to make 24 cupcakes, but you can reduce the quantities by half for 12).

Ingredients

8 oz (200 g) good quality dark chocolate (70% plus cocoa solids), broken into pieces
7 fl. oz (200 ml) whole milk
9 oz (225 g) molasses sugar
3 oz (125 g) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 tbsp cocoa
5 oz (125 g) plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinammon
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Rich Chocolate Buttercream

8 oz (200 g) unsalted butter, softened
14 oz (350 g) icing sugar, sifted
8 oz (200 g) dark chocolate, melted
2 tbsp milk

Method
  • Place the chocolate, milk and 3 oz (75 g) of the sugar into a saucepan and heat gently, until the sugar and chocolate have melted. Allow the "chocolate milk" to cool.
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and remaining sugar together until pale and creamy.
  • Gradually beat in the eggs and then the cooled "chocolate milk".
  • Sift the dry ingredients over the mixture and fold in. Mix in the salt and spices.
  • Spoon the cake batter into the cupcake cases and bake for 10 - 15 mins or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Once baked, leave the cakes in their tins to cool for a few minutes before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.
Buttercream
  • Beat the butter until really soft.
  • Sift over the icing sugar and beat again until well incorporated.
  • Pour the chocolate and milk into the mixture and beat until smooth and fluffy and ready to be smoothed or piped on to your cakes.


As with almost all of my cake recipes, these cakes can be baked as a whole cake in a loaf tin or 8" round/ 7" square.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Halloween cupcakes. Y'know, for kids!

Today I made Halloween cupcakes with the help of two of my sisters and the "help" of my two nephews; an activity that managed to last for almost all of the afternoon, so engrossed were we all in the competition to out-gross each other with our sugar paste ghouls and monsters. For me, the severed finger and the eye balls win top prize for most repulsive treats, but the cats and pumpkins are rather sweet if you're keener on Disney-fied devils. Making sugar paste models is a great activity for children because it's just like playdough or plasticine but better, because you, er, they can eat it afterwards.

I wanted to make a cake that could equal a blood-shot eye ball in inducing excitement. And there is no treat more revered to children than the fizzy drink. When I was a child, I was never allowed fizzy drinks apart from at birthday parties or Christmas, which meant that at every occasion it was in reach, I would end up guzzling as much as I could and spend the rest of the day bouncing off the walls with a Tizer moustache. It would usually end in accusations of showing off, followed by tears before bedtime, but I bloody loved it!

Coca Cola was the most coveted of all the fizzy drinks (even though I knew it could dissolve a whole tooth if you left it in a glass overnight and take the paint off your car - I'm not sure that second one is established fact, but it certainly was for me, aged 3+) and so for the cupcakes, it could be nothing but Coca Cola, all the way. The cakes are sweet, but in a slightly spiky, intriguing way, and the cola, oil and molasses together, make the cakes very moist and dark in colour. Don't worry about levels of cola consumption here though, as there's actually very little cola in each cake (or slice of cake), so all effects should remain at a manageable level.

Although there's no time to make them for Halloween proper, extending the ghoulish festivities will be nothing if not welcome, or you can easily transform them for Bonfire Night with different sugar paste models and edible glitter stars and sparkles.


Chocolate and Cola cupcakes:

Ingredients

Makes 36 cupcakes or 2 x 8" sandwich tin.

10 oz (250 g) unsalted butter, softened
4 oz (100 g) dark chocolate (min 70% cocoa solids)
3 eggs, beaten
14 oz (350 g) plain flour
7 oz (175 g) caster sugar
7 oz (175 g) molasses sugar
2 oz (50 g) cocoa
7 fl. oz (200 ml) cola (full fat only)
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
A dash of vanilla extract

Butter Cream:

10 oz (250 g) unsalted butter, softened
1lb, 4 oz (500 g) icing sugar
5 tbsp milk
A very generous splash of vanilla
Various ghoulish food colourings (I used Squires Kitchen pastes in Black Extra, Red Extra, Mint Green and Tangerine).

  • Beat your butter in a bowl until really creamy, sift over the icing sugar and whisk together until mixed thoroughly. Add the milk and vanilla and whisk together until pale and fluffy.
  • Separate portions of the buttercream into different bowls and dye them your chosen Halloween inspired colours.

Method
Preheat your oven to 180C (160C Fan Assisted) and line your muffin trays with cupcake wrappers or grease and line your sandwich tins.
  • Place the chocolate, cola, molasses sugar and half the butter in a saucepan on a low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved, but avoid letting it come to the boil. Allow to cool slightly.
  • Beat the caster sugar and remaining butter together until pale and fluffy and gradually beat in the eggs.
  • Pour the chocolate and cola mixture over the sugar and butter and mix together.
  • Stir in the oil and vanilla and sift over the dry ingredients. Mix together thoroughly and spoon into your cupcake cases or pour out into your tins.
  • Bake on the middle shelf for about 15 minutes for cupcakes or 35 - 40 for sandwich cakes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out on to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Ice the cakes with the buttercream using a palate knife and top with a sugar paste figure of your choice, or alternatively some Halloween jelly sweets.


Monday, 26 October 2009

Scrabbulicious

My favourite bit about designing cakes for people is to discover that special thing that will make their eyes light up.

Last week I was busy making a secret cake for my boyfriend's birthday. The man does love his board games (and card games, parlour games, computer games, frisbee tree golfing games...) and is particularly partial to a game of scrabble. So, a scrabble board cake, I thought, would be just the ticket! But, what would be the point of making a scrabble board if you can't actually play on it? And, more to the point, what would be the point of making a scrabble board out of cake, if it wasn't entirely edible?

First off, I decided on the size of my tin - a 10" square. From that, I could work out the size I would need the board to be and the size of each square and tile. I dyed floristry paste (the icing used for making intricate sugar flowers) to the right shade of "scrabble" green (which turned out to be a combination of Christmas Green, Foliage Green and Baby Blue), rolled it out and cut it to size. Once it was set, I drew the grid on with edible liquorice pen. Then I dyed more floristry paste with light blue for double letter score squares, dark blue for triple letter, pink for double word and red for triple word. I made the little triangles to go round each coloured square, but discarded them at the eleventh hour, as I thought the board looked too cluttered, but if you make the cake bigger it will be fine. Once all the icing was dyed, I rolled them out very thinly and cut the right number of tiles in each colour. I stuck them on the board in the right places with a little blob of royal icing and used a no. 2 nozzle to pipe on the lines of the board in white royal icing.

I decided that I would make the tiles out of white chocolate plastique (melted white chocolate mixed with liquid glucose, so that it becomes malleable, like plasticine. You can make it yourself, or buy it ready made) mixed with sugar paste (roll out icing). I then cut each tile to size, rounded off the edges and used my thumb to make a shallow well in the centre of each tile, to make them more authentic. Then I left them to set slightly, before piping the letters and letter scores in black royal icing with a 1.5 nozzle. I made the whole set of a hundred tiles, so that it could be properly functional.

Then I needed to make the little letter racks. This is where I took artistic licence, as they're usually dark green, but I didn't want to make them out of a big hunk of icing, as that would make a fairly unpleasant eating experience, so I made them out of chocolate plastique again, but this time of the milk chocolate variety. I made sure they were big enough to seat 7 tiles and set them over folded cardboard. Once set, I added support "legs", also in chocolate plastique, so that they would stand up, unaided, while carrying the weight of the tiles.

I made his current favourite flavoured cake (chocolate and red peppercorn, but it can be done with any flavour) glazed the top with ganache and then covered the cake in white sugar paste before smoothing over the top and sides. Once the icing had "skinned" slightly (i.e. started to harden), I stuck the scrabble board on the top with some royal icing, made 4 plaques out of the left over triple word score red icing and piped on "SCRABBLE" in white, before sticking one on each side of the cake. Bish bash bosh. Job done.

I carried the (extremely heavy) cake half way across London to the old boozer my old boozer was having his birthday drinks in and he loved it. He is a man who really loves cake (it's one of my favourite things about him) and he would have been happy enough if I'd shown up with an uniced chocolate cake with a candle on top, but things mean so much more when they're personal. It shows that some thought has gone into what would be meaningful or exciting for its recipient, but also that they're worth that extra bit of thought, planning and effort. That they're special. Everyone needs to be shown that they're special, and what better way is there to show it than through the medium of cake? Answer: none.


Royal Icing:

Royal icing is much quicker and simpler to make than people think, and is much tastier and easier to pipe with when made fresh. Sifting, though boring, is absolutely essential with this stuff, especially if you're using it for piping, as any lumps will block your nozzle and break the line of your piping. One quantity will yield enough to ice an 8" cake or fill 2 - 3 piping bags.

1 egg white

The juice of half a large lemon

14 oz (350g) icing sugar

  • Whisk the egg white in a large and spotlessly clean bowl until at the very soft peak stage.
  • Sift over half the icing sugar and whisk.
  • Add the second half and whisk again.
  • Sift (using a tea strainer) over the lemon juice and whisk on medium speed for a good minute, before turning it up to high speed and whisking for a further couple of minutes. It should be a good consistency, but if it's a bit stiff just add a tiny bit more juice and whisk again.
  • If you won't be using it immediately, or won't be using all of it immediately, dampen a clean tea towel, ring it out and place it over the top of the bowl, until you're ready to use it.
  • It can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to one week, if you dampen a jay cloth and place it on top of the icing before sealing down the lid. You'll need to re-whisk it before use.

TOP TIP:

If you're using a piping bag, place the nozzle end in a glass and pull the sides of the bag down the outside of the glass before filling it. Don't be tempted to overfill the bag as it will be more likely to ooze out of the top when you're piping with it.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Scrapes...


The first thing I ever learned to cook was a Victoria sponge. Or possibly vanilla fairycakes. Either way we used the same recipe for both. Like a lot of children, baking with my mum was a normal and frequent activity and it was something that all of my sisters and I loved to do and something my nephews love to do now. The smell of vanilla-y sponge baking in the oven brings back really strong memories of my old childhood home, standing on a chair to peer into the oven, while annoyingly repeating on loop, "Is it nearly ready yet? What about... now?" Then there were the scrapes. The scrapes. In all their glorious, creamy, vanilla-scented, pale yellow deliciousness. I loved the scrapes and still think vanilla sponge makes the best scrapes by far. Fortunately, my mother never used a rubber spatula, so consequently there were always generous dollops of cake mixture left in the bowl after it had been poured in the tin. My sisters and I would have long negotiations about fair distribution (in each of our favour, obviously). Eating the scrapes was always the best bit about making cakes. That is until Edwina Currie ruined scrapes for children. Luckily for us, scrapes are back in fashion and Edwina Currie is, erm, a novelist? and making awkward telly appearances on Celebrity Come Dine With Me.

I've been thinking a lot about how evocative certain cakes are for me, and how firmly they are linked with particular times, places and people of my childhood. Chocolate swiss roll reminds me of watching the Saturday matinee on telly when it was raining outside. Angel cake reminds me of long car journeys to Devon, and rolling down the windows to shout "mint sauce" at fields of sheep. Chocolate mayonnaise cake (less weird than it sounds) reminds me of falling off the climbing frame and pretending it hurt much more than it did, so I'd get the biggest slice. And Battenberg reminds me of being sent home from school when I was 7 for writing all the words in a spelling test backwards. They were all spelled correctly, I hasten to add, they were just backwards, like mirror writing. Looking back, it seems a fairly histrionic decision on the part of Mrs Hayward to send me home, but at the time I thought it was a pretty good move. I don't like Battenberg at all anymore. Maybe because, the day after the backwards spelling test, I woke up with a terrible fever and was violently sick. Still now, it's the memory of that spelling test that comes back whenever I think of that horrible pink and yellow chequered square.

I feel privileged that I was trusted to cook as much as I was. It was not only brilliant to roll up my sleeves and get messy, but it was also an amazing feeling to have that sense of achievement from seeing how much my friends and family enjoyed eating something I had made. That fulfilling sense of "I did that". Learning to cook when I was very young really laid the foundations for my passion for baking now and, more significantly, my passion for creating new recipes and flavour combinations. Because I have known, off by heart, how to make a basic (Madeira) sponge since I was a small child, I now have the confidence to play. With almost all other types of cookery, people are happy to open the fridge, see what's inside and chuck a few things together until, half an hour later, hey presto, dinner is served. With baking, it's recipe books and worried scowls. Most people I know are at ease with making up a pasta sauce without an instruction manual, but will follow the recipe for a simple sponge so closely to the letter that the fire alarm will be going off and smoke billowing into the hallway, but still they'll be insisting that "the recipe says it should be in for another 10 minutes". People see it as a feat of alchemy and, granted, some cakes take skill and effort, but if you start with the basics the rest will come. It's largely about confidence. There are a lot of things in life to be scared of, but making a cake shouldn't be one of them. If you master the recipe for my basic sponge, you'll be able to make a hundred variations in no time. But for now, let's start at the very beginning. It's a very good place to start.

Basic Sponge/ Madeira Cake


Madeira cake was called Madeira cake originally because it was designed to be eaten alongside a glass of Madeira, so you could dunk the cake in your drink. The rules with Madeira cake are that the flour, sugar and butter are measured in equal weights. I always think in ounces for this recipe (and most others too, to be honest), because it makes so much more sense. 4 oz of flour, sugar and butter will require 2 eggs. 6 oz of flour, sugar and butter will need 3 eggs, 8 oz needs 4, and so on. As long as you remember that you need half the number of eggs to ounces, you've learned the rules. Add a dash of milk to loosen the mixture and it's done. Add vanilla extract and you've got the makings of a Victoria sponge in your mixing bowl. Once you've learned the rules you can play with them, and once you've played with them, you'll understand how to break them.

Ingredients:

8 oz Caster sugar
8 oz Self-raising flour
(plus 1 level tsp of baking powder if your flour isn't great quality)
8 oz unsalted butter, softened
4 eggs
A generous splash of milk
A dash of vanilla extract
(not flavouring!)

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 C or 160 for fan-assisted ovens. Grease and line 2 6" sandwich tins, or 1 deep 6", or a small loaf tin or just use the batter to make fairy cakes.

  • Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
  • Beat the eggs and add a little bit at a time to the butter and sugar mixture, whisking between each addition.
  • Sift over the flour (and baking powder if you're using it) and mix in well. Don't overbeat the mixture or you'll overwork the gluten in the flour and your cake will turn out heavy and bready. Add the milk and vanilla and give the batter a final whisk. Taste it to make sure you've added enough vanilla extract and pour out into your tin/s or cupcake wrappers.
  • Bake in the oven for 10 minutes for fairy cakes, 15 - 20 minutes for sandwich cakes or 25 for a deep single cake.
  • Once cooked, an inserted skewer should come out clean.
  • Place the cake/s (still in the tin/s) on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out.
  • Ice and decorate as you wish.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Spa Hotel Wedding Fayre

I have been creating some new designs and baking cake samples this week for Sunday's wedding fayre at The Spa Hotel, Tunbridge Wells. It should be a great day set in a really stunning 18th Century Mansion, so come along and have a look, a taste and a nice chat with me. Bring along any friends, relations and work-mates who are planning on tying the knot and need some inspiration, as there will be a fantastic range of exhibition tables from bridal wear, photography, flowers and other weird and wonderful delights. There are often prizes to be won or discounts to be had on the day too, if you're lucky (though no promises, there's no way to know what the other exhibitors will offer until you're there, but you can certainly try some cakes at my table). I hope to see you there!

Friday, 2 October 2009

White Chocolate and Cardamom Cake


I'm not a huge fan of white chocolate. It's just that bit too sweet for my palate and reminds me of nursery food. I do like to use it in baking though: it's in cakes and mousses that white chocolate really shines. There's something about the combination of white chocolate and cardamom, in particular, that creates a really pleasurable balance between vanilla creaminess and something a bit more grown-up and complex. Cardamom hints at something exotic and sophisticated. Its subtle fragrance makes the combination with white chocolate playfully sweet, rather than tooth-achingly so.

A friend recently described the taste of this cake as "like Indian sweets", before declaring that this has to be the flavour of her future wedding cake. It's an ideal cake to serve after a curry or any spicy main, but hold off being too generous with the cardamom or else it can end up tasting soapy or medicinal.

This recipe can be used for cupcakes if you prefer (or don't have a 9" tin) or, if you want to make it more pudding-y, I sometimes like to use individual dessert moulds or rosti rings to cut out thin layers of the cake, which I then top with white chocolate and cardamom mousse, before setting them in the fridge. Once set, remove the mouuse cakes from their moulds (see top tip) and decorate however you like. I like to decorate mine with little handmade white chocolate roses or chocolate fans, but some sliced last of the season British strawberries or a dusting of icing sugar will look lovely too.

White Chocolate and Cardamom Cake

Preheat your oven to 180C (or 160C fan assisted) and grease and line a 9" round or an 8" square tin.

Ingredients

For the cake

6 oz (150 g) white chocolate
7 oz (175 g) unsalted butter, softened
8 oz (200 g) caster sugar
3 large eggs, separated
10 oz (250 g) self raising flour
5 fl. oz. (150 ml) soured cream
A splash of vanilla extract
25 - 30 green cardamom pods

For the white chocolate buttercream

8 oz (200 g) white chocolate
8 oz (200 g) unsalted butter, softened
14 oz (350 g) icing sugar, preferably cane rather than beat
A splash of vanilla extract

Method

For the cake:

  • Break up the white chocolate and place in a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl suspended over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Make sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn't sit directly in the water or your chocolate will seize and you'll have to start again with new.
  • Smash the cardamom pods so that you can open them up to remove the black (or sometimes brown) seeds. Place the seeds in a pestle and mortar and grind them quite finely. If you haven't got a pestle and mortar, you can whizz them up in an electric spice grinder, or just stick them in a bag and bash them with a rolling pin or something heavy. Set aside for later.
  • In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
  • Gradually add the egg yolks, a little at a time, beating after each addition.
  • Beat in the cooled white chocolate, vanilla and cardamom.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form peaks.
  • Sift half the four over the butter and sugar mixture and fold in.
  • Add the soured cream and combine.
  • Sift over the rest of the flour and fold in.
  • Add a couple of spoonfuls of the whisked egg white and mix in vigorously to loosen up the mixture.
  • Spoon the rest of the egg whites into the mixture and fold in. Work quickly but carefully, so you don't knock the air out of the egg whites.
  • Pour the mixture into your prepared tin, smooth over the top and place in the middle shelf of your oven for 45 - 50 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Once out of the oven, leave the cake in its tin on top of a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out.
For the icing:
  • Melt the white chocolate, as described above and leave to cool.
  • In a large bowl, beat the butter until really soft and then sift the icing sugar over it.
  • Beat the butter and sugar together until well combined, add the vanilla extract and cooled white chocolate.
  • Beat everything together until light, creamy and fluffy.
Place your cooled cake straight on to a serving plate and spoon the buttercream on to the cake and smooth over the top and down the sides with a palette knife. Use a bit of kitchen towel to clean any splashes of icing off the sides of the plate and decorate however you like. I used fresh rose petals which are completely edible, but try to get unsprayed roses if possible, and carefully rinse and dry them before scattering over the top. For a cake this size, you'll need about 2 rose heads.


Top Tip!

When using dessert moulds, if you find the mousse cake doesn't want to come out, try using a hair dryer at its lowest setting to gently heat the sides of the mould. Your desserts should now slide out effortlessly.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

No scales, no tins, no electric whisk...

When he read my recipe for chocolate and beetroot cake, a friend said, "That sounds amazing. I'm going to need to get a cake tin, aren't I?" and, as silly as it sounds, I never for a moment imagined that anyone wouldn't already have one. Okay, probably not a ridiculously over-spilling couple of cupboards' worth, like I have, but a loaf tin or a muffin tray, at least. Now that I consider it though, why would anyone have a cake tin if they don't already bake?

The last thing I want to do is put anyone off at the very begining, by making them feel that there's no way they can join in the fun, until they go out and spend a fortune on equipment. The fact is that you really don't need much at all to bake a simple cake. I'd like to encourage and inspire everyone to have a go, whether you've been baking for years, but just fancy trying out a new recipe, or you're a total novice who's never baked a thing in your life.

When I was growing up, our kitchen scales broke when I was 5 and weren't replaced until long after I'd learned to cook without them. I still often bake without scales, which is why I tend to think in Imperial rather than Metric measurements; it just seems to make more sense, when all you are armed with is a tablespoon. A slightly heaped tablespoon of dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cocoa...) is roughly an ounce, and as long as all your ounces are to the same rough measurement, there's no reason why your cake won't be delicious. With butter, it's just a simple matter of division. The standard size of a packet of butter is 250 grams and there are 28 g to every ounce; you can round it up or down, but I always go for 25 g because it's marginally easier to calculate. So, now that we've established that a 250 g packet of butter has roughly 10 oz in it, we can work out quite easily how much each recipe calls for. If the recipe asks for 5 oz, that's half a packet of butter, if it needs 4 oz you'll need 4/10ths, etc, etc. Some brands have the measurements marked on the packet already, so then it's just a matter of cutting down the line. It really is as simple as that.

You don't need an electric whisk either, a wooden spoon (or even a metal one) will do just fine. Steer clear of all-in-one sponges though, as you're more likely to overwork the gluten in the flour and end up with a heavy, bready cake. As long as you stick to the old-fashioned method of beating the sugar and butter together, then gradually adding the egg a bit at a time, before folding in the flour, your cake should work perfectly.

So far, the only equipment you've used is a couple of spoons and a butter knife, but what of a tin? Well, like a lot of people, when I was young, we often had sponge puddings, either steamed or just baked in an oven-proof dish (like a pyrex casserole or a pie dish, or even in little ramekins), that would usually have fruit at the bottom, or sometimes jam. My grandmother often used to make upside down raspberry puddings (or blood clots as we affectionately referred to them), which were basically a layer of raspberries placed in a buttered ramekin and topped with basic vanilla sponge. Once they were cooked, she would turn them upside down, whack them on the base with a spoon and out would pop a delicious blood clot ready to be doused in custard. Or, as my grandfather would say, pus.

You can easily make a sponge topped pudding (perfect for an Autumn night), but there's also absolutely no reason why you can't line your pie dish, casserole, or anything else you've got as long as it's oven proof, with baking parchment or buttered greaseproof paper, before pouring in the cake mixture. Once it's baked, you can turn it out on to a wire rack, remove the baking parchment and leave it to cool, just like you would if you'd baked it in a tin. Okay, so you won't be left with a perfect shaped cake, but you won't notice once you've sliced it. Frankly, with home baking, as long as it tastes like cake, who really cares what it looks like? You don't really need a cake rack either, just wash and dry one of the shelves in your oven - it will do exactly the same job. Thinking about it, the only thing I would recommend is a sieve - which you're more likely to already have than a cake rack anyway, but if you don't, and don't want to fork out for one, just gradually drop your flour off the spoon from a bit of a height to aerate it. If you don't have a big enough bowl for mixing, then use a saucepan, and if you don't have a saucepan, go out and buy one immediately - that's ridiculous!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

Chocolate and beetroot is one of those combinations that probably shouldn't work, but does. And really well too. Although it doesn't actually taste of beetroot (and by all means test this out by doing a "guess the secret ingredient" survey on friends and family), the cake has a background note of earthiness which really compliments the bitterness of the chocolate. This is not an overly sweet cake, so if, unlike me, you don't appreciate being hit round the face with the taste of chocolate then by all means reduce the amount by half, or substitute some of the dark chocolate for milk. Something like Green & Blacks milk chocolate would be good, but I think their new creamy milk wouldn't be chocolatey enough, even for the dark chocolate-shy. For the chocolate die-hards, I sometimes substitute 1 oz (25g) of flour for cocoa.

Although not a totally new flavour, chocolate and beetroot is still a bit of a frightening proposition for some. I can't pretend to be sympathetic towards anyone who is scared to try new flavours (you're only hurting yourselves, folks), but I can understand people thinking if they don't like beetroot, they won't like this cake. I think this could be a turning point for the beetroot-phobic amongst you though, and this recipe can help get rid of some of the excess you get over the autumn months if you have an organic veg box delivered.

The beetroot gives the cake quite an exciting colour when cut, and you'll have purply smears and stains all over your plate by the time you've finished eating it. It keeps for ages in a tin and is still completely fine after a week, although it's unlikely to last that long...

Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

Preheat the oven to 180C (or 160 Fan Assisted) and grease and line a loaf tin or 7" loose-bottomed round.

Ingredients

For Cake

10 oz (250g or 2 and a half bars) of dark chocolate.
2 - 3 beetroots
2 oz (50g) light muscovado sugar
2 oz (50g) dark muscovado sugar
4 oz (100g) golden caster sugar
3 1/2 fl. oz (100ml) sunflower oil
A splash of vanilla extract
3 large eggs
4 oz self raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 oz (50g) brazil nuts
A pinch of salt


For icing


2 oz melted dark chocolate, cooled but still a bit warm
3 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 oz icing sugar, sifted
splash of vanilla


Method

For the cake
  • Rinse the beetroots (you don't need to peel them at this stage), place in a saucepan of boiling water and simmer gently until soft. This can take quite a while, but keep an eye on it and top up the water from the kettle if need be, just so that the beets are covered.
  • Once the beetroots are soft (check by inserting a knife or skewer), remove from the pan and set aside on a cold plate to cool.
  • In the meantime, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl suspended over barely simmering water and leave to cool slightly.
  • Either blitz the brazil nuts in a food processor until you have a fine powder or stick them in a bag and bash them with a rolling pin.
  • Place the sugars and oil in a bowl and whisk until combined, add the egg a bit at a time, continually whisking, until the mixture is pale and creamy. Add in the ground brazil nuts and a pinch of salt and stir in.
  • Wearing rubber gloves so you don't stain your hands, remove the top and tail of the beetroots and carefully peel them; the skin should come away quite easily. Chop them up and blend them in a food processor until smooth, or attack them with a masher.
  • Mix in the chocolate and beetroot to the sugar and egg mixture.
  • Sift over the dry ingredients and fold in until everything is well combined.
  • Pour the cake mixture into your prepared tin and bake on the middle shelf for about an hour and 15 minutes. Cover the top with greaseproof paper or foil halfway through cooking if the top is browning too quickly.
  • To check the cake is done, insert a metal skewer to see if it comes out clean.
  • Leave the cake in the tin and place it on a wire rack to cool.
For icing:
  • Place the chocolate, butter and vanilla extract in a bowl. Sift over the icing sugar and whisk until all the ingredients are well combined and the icing is glossy and thick.
  • Turn the cooled cake out of its tin on to a serving plate and spread the icing on top with a palate knife.

Wedding Cake For Pudding, Anyone?

Serving your cake as pudding is a great way to be both economical and indulgent. So often, the cake gets cut and wheeled out at about 10 o’clock, when guests have already eaten a three course meal and drunk enough champagne to launch a fleet. At this point in the evening, it’s savoury not sweet you want; I don’t know anyone who comes back from a party and scoffs a chocolate ├ęclair. It’s marmite on toast or a chip butty all the way. What you need is something to soak up the endlessly refilled glasses of Pimms, fizz, table wine and anything else that your guests have managed to reach.

Some people will make a valiant attempt at polishing off the cake, even at this late hour. Mostly what you’ll find is various half-eaten slices forgotten about by distracted guests once Come On Eileen hits the speakers. Others won’t even notice that the cake has been served at all, so busy are they demonstrating their disco manoeuvres or discovering the attractive evening guests, newly arrived and shiny.


If you serve your cake as pudding, not only are you making a saving on the dessert course, but you are also guaranteeing minimal waste. If you’re worried about excluding your evening guests, you can always save a tier for later on, or bring out some extra cupcakes. Serving the cake as pudding also means you can feel more justified in choosing glamorous and indulgent options: chocolate and hazelnut torte with whipped Frangelico ganache or passion fruit layered gateau are both firm favourites at Victoria’s Cake Boutique. Dessert cakes can be iced in any way a sponge or fruit cake can be iced, and you can even have a fruit cake top tier as a nod to tradition. It can be served plain, accompanied by seasonal berries and fresh cream, ice-cream, or, my personal favourite, sweet vanilla scented mascarpone. It’s like Mr Whippy for grown-ups.


Some venues will tell you they only offer a fixed price three course menu, but this is usually negotiable with a bit of persistence. If they do prove unmovable, then having your third course as cheese can be an excellent way of providing night-time nibbles for your guests, while still allowing cake to be served as dessert.