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.