Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Christmas pudding


Christmas is coming and the geese are hopefully fat enough by now. If you haven't made a Christmas pudding yet, you may feel that a trip to the supermarket is the only option left. Think again. This recipe has been passed down several generations of my family and slightly adapted along the way (essentially by increasing the booze content). Although, it is true that Xmas pud is always better when left for a few months to mature, even if it's as new and shiny as your freshly unwrapped Christmas presents, it is guaranteed to be far more palate-pleasing than anything you'd pop in your trolley. AND, you can make two from this mixture and keep one under your bed until next year. This is, by far, the most delicious Christmas pudding I have ever eaten and I don't feel at all shy about saying so.
I have a strong aversion to candied peel and if you do too, you're in luck! This pudding contains none of the awful citrus muck. I have a theory that it is almost entirely the fault of candied peel that others have been put off this most traditional of festive fare. I have seen many who have professed not to like Christmas pudding because of the dried fruit,  forget all about their apparent fussiness when faced with a plate of mince pies. In my experience, the fussy only remain fussy when they refuse to try feared foods again. So please, if you think you don't like Christmas pudding, have another go this year and see if I can't change your mind.

Victorian Christmas Pudding

The quantities here make enough for two 2lb puddings, each feeding around 8-10. If you don't have two pudding bowls and don't want to fork out too much money, enamel bowls are an excellent and inexpensive choice.

Ingredients

Butter for greasing
1 large lemon
1 carrot, grated
6oz/150g fresh white breadcrumbs
2oz/50g self raising flour
6oz/150g light muscovado sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
8oz/200g currants
8oz/200g raisins (preferably Australian muscat raisins)
4oz/100g sultanas
6oz/150g ready-to-eat prunes, chopped
10oz/250g suet
2oz/50g flaked almonds
3 eggs
2 fl. oz/ 50 ml brandy
2 fl. oz/ 50 ml dark rum
4 fl. oz/ 100 ml ginger wine
1 tbsp Anostura bitters

Method
  • Butter and line the bases of two 1 litre/ 1 3/4 pint) pudding bowls.
  • Pierce the lemon all over with a sharp knife and place in a saucepan of cold water. Pop the lid on and bring to the boil. Uncover and simmer for about half an hour or until the lemon is very soft. Drain and leave to cool enough to touch.
  • Cut the lemon into quarters, remove any seeds and then roughly chop.
  • Place the lemon in a large bowl along with the grated carrot, breadcrumbs, flour, sugar, and spices and stir together.
  • Add the currants, raisins, sultanas, prunes, suet and flaked almonds to the bowl and thoroughly mix until everything is combined.
  • In a separate bowl, place the eggs, brandy, rum, ginger wine and bitters and whisk together well.
  • Add the egg mixture to the fruit mixture and stir together.
  • Divide the mixture between the two basins and smooth over their tops.
  • Cut out a 13" circle from a double thickness of baking parchment. Pleat the circles and place over one pudding. Repeat for the second pudding. Cover each lid in a pleated circle of tin foil.
  • Wrap string twice around the basin and tie to secure the paper. Use more string to wrap over and under the bowl and knot to make a handle for each pudding.
  • Put each basin in the top of a steamer of simmering water for 8 hours. Top up with boiling water every 1-2 hours. OR, place each pudding on a trivet (or upturned, ovenproof dish) in a large saucepan. Add enough boiling water to come two thirds up the side of the bowl. Cover with a well fitting lid and simmer for 6 hours, topping up the water every hour or so.
  • Once cool, unwrap the pudding and re-wrap each pudding. This way you can ensure that no water has got inside. Cover each cold pudding tightly with foil and store in a cool, dark place until ready to reheat.
  • On Christmas day, each pudding will need to be steamed for 2 hours before serving with flaming brandy poured over the top and generous lashings of brandy butter. Merry Christmas!

If you're behind in your Christmas cake baking too, check out my Christmas cake recipe from last year.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Diving cake

I had a last minute commission for a diving themed 50th birthday cake last week from a woman who was organising a surprise party for her husband and so I made a little cartoon-like sugar diver, sharks, seaweed, and a clown fish - modelled on Finding Nemo. They opted for a lemon drizzle top tier and a chocolate and Guinness bottom - which they were nervous and excited by in equal measure. They emailed me earlier this evening to say they loved the cake and the birthday boy was thrilled. Hooray!



 


Sunday, 28 November 2010

Royal British Legion poppy cupcakes

To mark the Kent Poppy Launch in association with The Royal British Legion, I was commissioned to make lemon and poppyseed cupcakes each topped with an edible poppy. The Legion are also celebrating its 90th anniversary along with one of the veterans attending the event, so I made 90 cupcakes which were presented as a number 90 in the middle of the buffet table. The Royal British Legion do amazing work safeguarding the welfare, interests and memory of those who are serving or who have served in the Armed Forces. Although Remembrance Sunday has passed for this year, it is not too late to make a donation to the Poppy Appeal.



A few cupcakes had been eaten before the photo was taken!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Spooktacular!

I had a last minute commission from a client who was celebrating his 30th birthday with a Hallowe'en themed party shared with two of his childhood friends. The party was set to be huge, in a private members club called Paramount at the summit of Centre Point, with panoramic views of the city. Although he was expecting 500 guests, he wanted a cake that could be cut early in the evening to share with close family and friends, but he still wanted a fairly sizeable cake that would feed up to 100. Although my design ideas had to be approved, I had free reign in my execution of them and went to town with gothic literary references, maggots in mud and spooky trees. I always feel more attached and proud of a cake when I am given the freedom by trusting clients to unleash my imagination.

Count Dracula's bleeding grave stone and buried bones

"I told you I was ill" is the epitaph on Spike Milligan's gravestone and it's always made me laugh.

Edgar Allan Poe's grave with a raven perching on top. I also made gravestones for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Pumpkins, spooky trees, a big red eyed spider, worms and maggots


A bat flying through the night sky which is glittering with gold stars and an iridescent full moon.

The photos aren't great quality, but the light was very strange at the top of Centrepoint at delivery time and just before I left, I placed a number 30 sparkler in the top to be lit later.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Becoming an Observer Food Awards 2010 runner up turned me into a pumpkin


It's been a busy few weeks. Not only have I been working with some wonderful clients on wedding and celebration cakes, I  discovered that Victoria's Cake Boutique came runner up in The Observer Food Awards for Best UK Independent Retailer, 2010. Needless to say, I am completely thrilled by this news, but still haven't held the special edition of The Observer Food Monthly in my actual hands - I was on a Roman holiday when it came out - but my wonderful friends, Claire and Matt, saved me their copy. 


Aside from this exciting news, I was also turned into a pumpkin for Flora's Halloween recipes. You can see my "northern lass" pumpkin in Meet the Pumpkins Episode 1: Easy Pumpkin Risotto, where I narrowly avoid getting picked as the main ingredient in Flora mum's tasty Halloween recipe. Needless to say, I am not really from the North East of England, I grew up in Kent, so my sincere apologies go out to any Geordies amongst you. You can catch me again on Meet the Pumpkins Episode 2: Magical Pumpkin Mash with Pumpkin Crisps. This time I'm not so lucky. I get roasted, sliced and mashed but, don't worry, if you watch to the end, you'll see I quite like being magical mash after all! The last time you can catch me as a pumpkin, you can find out how to make a delicious pesto and pumkin tart in Meet the Pumpkins Episode 3. This time I manage to escape the chop - phew!

Monday, 27 September 2010

Victoria's Cake List



I thought I'd share with you all the Victoria's Cake Boutique top 50 cake flavours. This is the list I initially show to clients to give them a sense of what's on offer, but there is always room for more. I like it best when clients set me a challenge to see if some of their favourite flavours work together in cake form. They usually do and recent trials have been, amongst others, green tea and vanilla, chai cupcakes and pear and port. Cakes should, of course, always be delicious, but it's sometimes fun to take a flavour risk and think outside the tea room.

  1. Rich, boozy fruit cake with home-made marzipan
  2. Light tropical fruit cake
  3. Victoria sponge with jam and/ or buttercream 
  4. Lemon drizzle
  5. Coconut and lime
  6. Passion fruit layered gateau
  7. Coffee and walnut
  8. Peanut butter and jelly
  9. Coconut cake
  10. Orange and polenta
  11. Walnut gateau
  12. Carrot cake
  13. Apple and blackberry crumble cake (seasonal)
  14. Apple and Calvados with a toffee apple crust
  15. Spiced plum cake (seasonal)
  16. Ginger and green tea
  17. Cherry and almond
  18. Lemon and poppyseed
  19. Honey cake
  20. Ginger cake
  21. Toffee cake
  22. Banana cake
  23. Chocolate fudge cake
  24. White chocolate and cardamom
  25. Dark chocolate layer cake with raspberries and vanilla scented macarpone
  26. Chocolate and orange
  27. Chocolate and hazelnut torte with whipped Frangelico ganache
  28. Chocolate and pink peppercorn
  29. Chocolate and Guinness
  30. Chocolate rum truffle
  31. Sachertorte
  32. Chocolate and black pepper cake
  33. Traditional chocolate sponge
  34. Chocolate and chilli
  35. Chocolate and beetroot
  36. Red velvet
  37. White Russian
  38. White chocolate and passion fruit
  39. Chocolate and courgette
  40. Spiced chocolate torte
  41. Chocolate and Port cake
  42. White chocolate and Mascarpone
  43. Chocolate and Earl Grey
  44. Chocolate and Lapsang Souchong
  45. Chocolate and raspberry
  46. Chocolate and Amaretto
  47. Chocolate mint
  48. Chocolate and pistachio
  49. chocolate espresso cake

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Alphabet Soup



If, like me, you have a penchant for cake, I suspect that cake is just the tip of the iceberg. I love food. I love talking about it, reading about it, cooking it and, best of all, eating it. This is why I have set myself a challenge. A culinary tour de force, cooking and eating my way through the letters of the alphabet in 365 days. I have started a blog called Alphabet Soup. I have tackled A, B and C already and D is just a few days away.

Please have a little read and let me know what you think.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Food Network


One of Victoria's Cake Boutique's wedding cakes has been featured in the Food Network's blog. Check out their funny article about a foodie's reasons for wedding envy.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Nom Nom Nom Viewers' Choice Award 2010: Go Team Greedy!


Tamzin Aitken from Animal Crackers and I are thrilled to announce that we won the Nom Nom Nom 2010 Viewers' Choice Award. Thank you so much to all who voted, we greatly appreciate it and we are properly chuffed to be picking up our prizes of a Magimix, a set of five star knives from Henckles, 2 bottles of Gin Mare gin, a £50 charity donation from Justgiving AND a masterclass for five people at Chilango. Not too shabby, huh.

Tamzin and I have decided to donate the £50 from Justgiving to Action Against Hunger, an international humanitarian organisation committed to ending child hunger. They do amazing work and are well worth supporting. You can donate to them too and potentially win some amazing charity raffle prizes, including a Philips food mixer, 3 months' supply of Chilango meals and a Wusthof knife block.





Sunday, 8 August 2010

Nom Nom Nom - White Chocolate and Pistachio Cake with Raspberry Mascarpone Cream

white chocolate and pistachio cake with raspberry mascarpone cream
The 11th July saw Tamzin Aitken from Animal Crackers and I sweating in a hot kitchen on a Sunday morning, preparing a three course, seasonal meal for the Nom Nom Noms. We rocked up at The Cookery School at 9:30 and were greeted with strong coffee, warm cheese scones and caraway seed muffins. Om nom nom. We were then unleashed for shopping at the posh and pricey local market, before queueing outside Waitrose (yes, that's right, queueing. Outside Waitrose), waiting for the doors to open so we could perform a speedy supermarket sweep to pick up last minute essentials not available at the market. We then hot-footed it back to the cookery school for a quick health and safety chat before the kick off of the cook off.

We had two and a half hours to cook three courses for four people. One of the rules was that one of the three courses had to be raw, with no cooking involved. We ummmed and ahhhed about what this actually meant. Could we get away with dressed crab? It has been cooked... Could we get away with making a jelly? There's some gentle heating involved... We thought about ceviche, but decided it would be difficult to practise, living, as I do, with a man who is allergic to fish - although we only practised once, so I think he would probably have lived to tell the tale. We considered seasonal salads, but, in the end, we opted for a simple, tasty gazpacho. Even then, we were worried that using bread (it's been baked after all) would be against the raw rules. It turned out, the rules were much more flexible than we feared and it was clear the uncooked course was necessary due to a limit of hob and oven space and pre-cooked ingredients were happily accepted.

For pud, it just had to be CAKE! We decided on a white chocolate and pistachio cake filled with raspberry mascarpone cream - light and fruity enough for a hot Summer's day, but still indulgent and decadent. The fragrant pistachios cut through the nursery sweetness of the white chocolate to balance out the flavours and make the whole thing feel a bit more grown-up and sophisticated. The mascarpone cream is rich and creamy, cut through with fresh, sweet and tangy seasonal raspberries. The baking of the cake was straightforward enough - and I should hope so too, making wedding cakes for a living. And we thought it tasted pretty good too, although the presentation was a bit slap-dash. Again, down to our less than perfect time management skills. Poor Tamzin had to build the cake (having never done it before) while I barked instructions from the other side of the kitchen, stressing over the duck. With about a second to spare, we cut a slice and chucked it on a plate and then scattered around some raspberries in an attempt to posh up the presentation. This was definitely a case of it tasted better than it looked. We just hoped the judges agreed! And they did. I received a lovely email from The Cookery School to let me know that the judges were very impressed with our cake.

For the main, Tamzin and I cooked duck breasts with gooseberry sauce, Pommes Anna and seasonal veg. This course didn't quite go to plan. We got confused by the kitchen clock that was set to the wrong time and thought the clock was faster than it actually was, so we forgot to get our spuds in the oven as quickly as was needed. The Pommes Anna were only just cooked through and didn't have time to get really soft with a brown top. The duck breasts are usually a total breeze to cook. Pound together some salt and toasted Sechuan peppercorns in the pestle and mortar and coat the scored skins with the fragrant pepper. Then place the duck breasts, skin-side down, in a pan over a low heat to render off most of the fat and, once the rendered fat has been poured off, turn up the heat to crisp up the skin for a few minutes, before turning it over to cook for a further few minutes. Once the duck breasts have rested on a warm plate, they should be pink and juicy with a crispy, fragrantly spiced skin. I have to admit, I haven't used an electric hob since Home Economics lessons at school and have always been used to cooking with gas. The electric hobs caused us no end of trouble. I needed two hobs for the duck - one preheated to high heat and the other on a gentle heat for the rendering of the fat, but with the hobs full of the other contenders' tasty dishes, bubbling away, I had to cope with just the one. The duck didn't seem to be doing anything! The pan was still cold after 5 minutes and the clock was ticking. I swapped hobs, deciding to forgo the rendering of the fat and just go for the crispy skin, so I bunged it on a hob that had already been turned up to the max for someone else's dish, but still there was no sizzling to be seen. The hob had been turned OFF instead of UP. Disaster!

Meanwhile, Tamzin was struggling to get the greens on. They had been steaming for 15 minutes, but were still completely raw and crunchy. The hobs had worked their nasty mojo on us again - they clearly had something against Team Greedy and we weren't too keen on them either. In the end, we managed to plate up with half a sweaty second to spare, but neither of us could pretend it was the best meal we'd ever dished up. Our duck was slightly too fatty, only a little bit crispy, but still pleasingly pink and juicy. Our potatoes were underdone, but still had a nice, buttery, well-seasoned flavour. Our greens got cooked, buttered and plonked on the plate at the eleventh hour. Our gooseberry sauce reduced well, was sweet but still tart and was suitably gooseberry-y. All in all, it could have been worse, but it should have been better. And if we could get in the Back to the Future DeLorean, we would certainly ensure we had left some time for prettifying our plating-up style. Having said that, the gazpacho looked pretty in its chilled, china bowl.

We didn't win, but we had a ball. We got to keep our cookery school aprons and went home with goodie bags, stuffed full of treats. The other teams were lovely and there was a genuine sense of support and comaraderie. After the cook off we got the chance to fill our bellies with plates piled high with the delicious food cooked by all the excellent contenders. We had our glasses frequently topped up by the lovely staff at The Cookery School, so staggered home very merry little cooks indeed. Tamzin and I loved being a part of The Nom Nom Noms and were warmly looked after by the wonderful staff at The Cookery School. Particular thanks must go to Ros and Claudine for making the day such a total pleasure and a triumph to boot. Also a big thanks to the brilliant Mecca for having so much passion, not to mention uber organisational skills, to make the event such a success and for such a worthy cause: Action Against Hunger.

Action Against Hunger works in over 40 countries to carry out innovative, lifesaving programmes in nutrition, food security, water and sanitation, health and advocacy. Every year, their 6,000 aid workers help over 4 million people worldwide. Please support their amazing work by entering the Nom Nom Nom raffle. For just £10 you could be in the running to win amazing foodie prices. And while you're at it, please vote for Team Greedy in the Viewers' Choice Awards. It takes less than a minute and you can vote every 24 hours if the mood takes you.

White Chocolate and Pistachio Cake

Preheat the oven to 180 C (160 C Fan) and line a 15" x 10" roulade tin with baking parchment.

Ingredients

for the cake

150g good quality white chocolate (eg. Divine or Green & Blacks)
125g unsalted butter
4 tbsp whole milk or single cream
125 g caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
100 g plain flour, sifted
50 g pistachio nuts, blitzed in a magimix or smashed in a bag with a rolling pin.
A pinch of salt

for the raspberry mascapone cream

1 tub of full fat mascarpone
A generous splash of vanilla extract
A small tub of double or whipping cream
icing sugar, to taste
A punnet of fresh raspberries

Method
  • Melt the chocolate and milk/cream in a heat proof bowl suspended over barely simmering water.
  • Once the chocolate has melted, stir in the butter to melt and leave to cool slightly.
  • Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
  • Add the chocolate mixture and ground pistachios and stir briskly.
  • Fold in the plain flour until thoroughly combined.
  • In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form.
  • Fold the whisked whites into the chocolate and pistachio batter and pour the mixture into your prepared roulade tin. Smooth over with a palate knife and bake on the middle shelf of your oven for 15 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Leave the cake to cool in its tin on a wire rack.
  • To make the raspberry mascarpone cream, stir a generous splash or two of vanilla extract into the mascapone. Sift over icing sugar and mix in until you get your desired sweetness, a tablespoon or two should be ample. This must be done by hand and not with an electric whisk, otherwise your mascarpone will go too runny.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the double/ whipping cream until stiff and fold it into your vanilla scented mascarpone.
  • Slice the cake horizontally into 3 strips, discarding any uneven edges first.
  • Layer the cake up by smoothing vanilla mascarpone cream over the first section of cake and top it with raspberries. Continue to layer the cake up in this way and then smooth the vanilla mascarpone cream over the top and sides. Your cake is ready to slice and serve.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Strawberries and Cream

Wimbledon may be over, but this quintessentially British combination is a Summery classic that shouldn't be restricted to just one fortnight a year. British strawberries are delicious at this time of the season and what can be better than a big bowl of strawberries doused in fresh, cold cream? A big bowl of strawberries doused in fresh, cold cream on top of a CAKE, of course! I've kept this cake simple, as I don't want the natural, delicate sweetness of the strawberries to be overpowered by any unnecessarily fussy flavours. Fresh cream can only be left out of the fridge for up to 4 hours, or less in hot weather, so bear this in mind if you're planning on taking it on a picnic. The cake is best filled and served immediately, but if you do fill it in advance and stick it in the fridge, let the sponge come up to room temperature a bit before serving. If you want to make something that doesn't need to be eaten quickly or kept in the fridge, substitute the fresh cream for vanilla buttercream; it's still a cream of sorts, so it's not a total cheat.

Strawberries and Cream Cake

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C Fan) and grease and line two 8" sandwich tins

Ingredients

8 oz/ 200g caster sugar
8 oz/ 200g unsalted butter, softened
4 eggs
8 oz/ 200g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
A generous splash of vanilla extract
A splash of milk

A large pot of double or whipping cream
1 tbsp icing sugar (optional)
2 punnets of strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced. 
More icing sugar for dusting.

Method
  • Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy
  • Add the eggs, one by one, thoroughly beating after each addition.
  • Mix in the vanilla
  • Sift the flour and baking powder over the top and fold into the creamed sugar, butter and eggs.
  • Add a splash of milk to slacken the mixture if necessary.
  • Pour the cake batter into your prepared tins and bake on the centre shelf for 20 - 25 mins or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Leave the cakes to cool in their tins for 10 minutes before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Once the cakes are completely, whip the cream to soft, billowing peaks. If you want, sift a tablespoon of icing sugar into the cream and whisk in.
  • Carve each cake horizontally in half.
  • Fill the cakes with a layer of whipped cream and a layer of sliced strawberries, building up until the whole cake is filled.
  • Sift some icing sugar over the top of the cake and it's ready to serve.
If you want to make this with vanilla buttercream instead of fresh cream, whisk 8oz/200g soft, unsalted butter until pale and creamy. Sift over 8oz/200g of icing sugar and whisk in until thoroughly combined. Sift over another 8oz/200g of icing sugar and whisk this into the mixture. Add a tbsp of vanilla extract and whisk in. Add a drop of milk to slacken the mixture if necessary and whisk again.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Carrot Cake

Carrot cake is a real favourite for many. Maybe because of its moist, delicate flavour and fresh, zingy cream cheese icing. Maybe it's because people feel more virtuous if their afternoon slice counts as one of their five a day. In either case, it doesn't stop this crowd-pleasing cake being utterly delicious. It's the perfect cake to bake for school fetes or afternoon teas and is a popular flavour choice for at least one tier of many Victoria's Cake Boutique client's wedding cakes.

I'm all in favour of big flavours and have an aversion to anything that tastes a bit nothing-y, so I like the levels of fragrant spice and citrus in this cake, but if it's too much for you, you can always reduce the amounts by half. I prefer using pecans to walnuts, but if walnuts are more your thing, by all means substitute them or you can leave the nuts out altogether. Likewise with the sultanas. You can substitute them for raisins, soak them in apple juice, calvados or rum if the mood takes you, or leave out the dried fruit altogether. It's your cake, so don't put anything in it that you don't like.

I've been inspired to make carrot cake this week by Caroline's Cake Company, a cake maker based in Birmingham. She makes beautiful looking cakes and has been on a mission to find a special carrot cake for a client. So, here you go, Caroline. I hope this ends your search!

Carrot Cake
Preheat the oven to 150C (130C Fan) and grease and line a loaf tin or 7" round.

Ingredients

for the cake

2 eggs, beaten
5 fl. oz sunflower oil
8 oz/ 200 g light muscovado sugar
10 oz/ 250 g (about 3- 4 carrot's worth) grated carrot
3 oz/ 75 g sultanas
The zest and juice of one orange
3 oz/ 75 g pecans, roughly chopped
7 oz/ 175 g self raising flour
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp cinammon
1 tsp mixed spice
A pinch of salt

for the icing

10 oz/ 250 g cream cheese
4 oz/ 100 g soft, unsalted butter
12 oz/ 300 g icing sugar
The juice of a lemon and half an orange


Method

for the cake
  • Soak the sultanas in orange juice for about half an hour (or longer if you have it), so that the sultanas are plump and citrus-y.
  • Beat the eggs, oil and sugar together until completely combined and slightly frothy.
  • Add the carrot, chopped nuts and drained sultanas and mix together.
  • Sift the dry ingredients over the wet and mix.
  • Add the orange zest and stir through.
  • Pour the cake batter into your prepared tin, level the top and bake on the centre shelf of your oven for 1 - 1 1/4 hours or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, before turning the cake out of its tin on a wire rack until completely cool.
for the cream cheese icing
  • Whisk together the butter and cheese and sift half the icing sugar over the top and whisk it in.
  • Sift over the remaining sugar and whisk until smooth.
  • Mix in the lemon and orange juice to taste.
  • Smooth the icing over the top of your cooled carrot cake and its ready to serve.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Citrus and Poppyseed Cake

No one can deny that Summer has definitely arrived. The last couple of weeks have been HOT HOT HOT and there are plenty of lobster legs walking the streets of London to prove it. In the heat, I crave fresh, zesty flavours. The invigorating smell of citrus makes you feel you're cooling down, even when the temperature is rising. I have a soft spot for lemon and poppyseed cake, but I only had one lemon left in the fruit bowl this morning and one is never quite enough. I added the zest of a lime and an orange to make up for the lack of lemon and made some deliciously light and fluffy citrus and poppyseed fairycakes. I've made them into fairycakes this time, as they'll be feeding some miniature visitors in the form of my nephews. A whole cupcake is a bit too much for them, in the eyes of their mother, if not their own. For adult tummies, cupcakes are a more satisfying size or you can bake this in a loaf tin for soothing, citrus slices. If you want to make it as a lemon and poppyseed cake, substitute the orange and lime for another lemon.

The reason many recipes only advise a single lemon is because the acid in the lemon will start to "cook" the raw egg on contact. My advice is use as much zest as your palate demands, but finely grate the zest first and cover with clingfilm. Mix up the cake batter and at the last moment, scrape in the citrus strands and fold them in quickly before pouring the batter into your tin. This mixture doesn't like to sit about for long, so get your skates on and get these babies in the oven as soon as you can. It's no great feat as they are as fairly effortless to whip up.

Citrus and Poppyseed Cake
Makes 24 fairy cakes, 12 cupcakes or 1 loaf
Preheat the oven to 180 C (160 C Fan) and line your muffin tray with paper cases or grease and line a loaf tin with baking parchment.

Ingredients

4 oz/ 100 g soft, unsalted butter
6 oz/ 150 g caster sugar
6 oz/ 150 g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs
4 tbsp milk
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon, 1 lime and 1 orange.
1 - 2 tbsp poppyseeds

Citrus Syrup:

Juice of 1 lemon, 1 lime and 1 orange.
4 oz/ 100 g caster sugar.

Method

  • Place all the ingredients, except the zest and poppyseeds, into a large bowl and whisk with an electric whisk (if you have one) for a couple of minutes.
  • Fold in the zest and poppyseeds and spoon the mixture into paper cases or pour into a loaf tin.
  • Bake on the centre shelf for 10 minutes for fairy cakes, 12-15 minutes for cupcakes and 25-30 minutes for a loaf, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • While the cakes are in the oven, mix the citrus juices and sugar in a bowl or jug, ready to use later.
  • Place the cakes on wire racks and stab their tops with a cake tester and spoon over the citrus syrup while the cakes are still hot and in their tins.
  • Once cooled, turn the cakes and they're ready to serve. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Nom Nom Nom

I just received an email to let me know that I have been selected as a finalist, along with my friend, Tamzin Aitken from Animal Crackers, for the Nom Nom Nom Awards 2010. This means, while the rest of you are glued to your tellies watching the World Cup Final on 11th July, we will be aproned-up and cooking our little socks off, alongside other food blogging teams for a day of friendly competition. You can find out more about the competition here: http://www.nomnomnom.co.uk  and follow our progress here: http://nom-nom-nom-3.blogspot.com/p/finalists.html

While I'm on the subject of Awards, there are only three days left to vote for Victoria's Cake Boutique for best independent shop or retailer and best UK food blogger for The Observer Food Monthly Awards 2010. It only takes a couple of minutes to vote and you could win a trip to Flanders, dinner at Fifteen in Cornwall or one of a host foodie treats...

Monday, 21 June 2010

Aging always feels better with cake - 30th Birthday Cake.

I love birthdays and always feel genuinely distressed at the number of people who prefer to leave the occasions unmarked. OK, so the growing older, wrinklier and creakier of joints bit isn't much fun, but that's not the fault of birthdays per se. It's the gradual work of the brutal hand of time, pointing its nasty, little, jeering finger at us, giving us age spots and making us wake up several times in the night to go for a wee. Poor old birthdays cop the flack because they make us take note and take stock of ourselves and our bodies. Forcing us to remember that this time last year we could touch our toes, sit down without making a "what a relief" groaning noise and were left unphased by overly loud music in bars. But birthdays themselves, without the weight of blame and responsibility we lumber them with, are truly wonderful things and should be celebrated as such.

You get cards and presents and phonecalls from child relatives singing "Happy Birthday" songs at you. You get text messages, Facebook messages and emails sending best wishes for a wonderful day. You get bought lots of drinks and don't get judged for drinking every single one of them. You get £5's worth of free stuff from The Body Shop if you've got a loyalty card. But, most importantly, you get to celebrate with people you really really like, in the same room, at the same time, on a particular fixed date. If ever I have tried to arrange a get together with more than 6 people, the dates are thrown back and forth and swapped about so many times, that, more often than not, it ends up never happening. This doesn't happen on birthdays, because the date isn't negotiable. It just is when it is. Granted, there are always people who can't come, but that's OK, it just means more celebrations are to be had with them at another time, and more cake can be eaten.

True to form, I have managed to have four celebrations for one birthday already this year. I like to drag them out for as long as humanly possible. The last celebration was on Saturday night and it was a joint party with two dear friends of old. We lived together as students at Leeds University and had fairly regular parties at our gaff back in the day. This time round we made mixtapes and banners, but what's a birthday party without a cake?

I made a two tier cake, iced in light blue sugar paste. The top tier was a sachertorte (a Viennese chocolate cake named after the Sacher Hotel) and the bottom tier was a chocolate and black cherry cake: a grateful nod to a childhood favourite - the black forest gateau, which gets a very undeserved bad press these days. I decorated the bottom tier with Spring/Summery flowers, bumble bees (a personal favourite addition to any cake) and butterflies. I painted the top tier with clouds, a big red kite, a "V" formation flight of birds and a big gold "30". For all the painting, I used edible powder dye mixed with melted cocoa butter. For the flower heads and butterflies I used floristry paste with royal icing centres and I used sugar paste for the bumble bees. The photo is unfortunately very dark as it was quite late at night by the time the camera came out, but in real life, the cake's colours were bright and sunny.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

DIY SOS - tips for choosing and making your own wedding cake.

Weddings are expensive old things and, for most people at least, the chance to practise getting it right just isn't available. We only aim to do it once after all, and even if we find that once just isn't enough, it's unlikely any aisles will be walked down enough times for the experience to become old hat. Doing things yourself can be a great way to cut down costs and make things that bit more personal, but it's worth working out how a DIY approach can work for you, before crashing in and finding yourself in a whole new world of stress and mayhem. The things that people often DIY are table decorations, flowers, photography and the cake. Lucky you if you are friends with great photographers, florists and cake makers already, but if you aren't and are thinking of doing it yourself, here's a bit of advice on the cake front.

You can find lots of articles giving you a step-by-step guide to making a particular wedding cake design, but I wanted to show you the pros and cons of different styles, to help you know which is right for you and your personality. If you're easily flappable, avoid anything which requires last minute attention, but if you work best under pressure and tend to leave everything until the eleventh hour, steer clear of cakes that require foreward planning and early preparation.

Cupcakes
Cupcakes are a popular choice and already come in neat individual portions, so the cake won't need to be taken away early for cutting, meaning you can have the cakes displayed right up until the last moment. If you want a tower of cupcakes for your wedding, it's worth considering the cutting of the cake photo op. Some couples feed each other a cupcake as a modern twist to mark this tradition, but if getting papped with a gobful of cake and smears of icing on your face isn't your idea of a memory worth keeping, making a separate top tier to sit above your tower of cupcakes is a good option and creates an elegant sense of unity to the overall design.

People think that cupcakes are the easiest option for DIYers and they certainly can be if done right, but do note that you will be giving yourself or your trusted friend/ family member a tight and stressful deadline. You can freeze them, but you'll need lots of freezer space. Personally I don't like the idea of pre-made frozen cakes as they're just never as nice as fresh. If you do opt for the deep freeze, open freezing the cakes first will help them keep their shape before you wrap them securely and pop them back in. You have to wrap them to ward off freezer burn. I wouldn't leave sponge in the freezer for longer than three weeks ideally, but then, when I'm in charge I'd always leave the freezer door shut entirely. It's your wedding day! And fresh is most definitely best.

When cupcakes are made fresh, it needs to be as close to the day they are going to be eaten as possible. Essentially they are, by their very nature, a last minute job. A scary responsibility for some. Chocolate cake tends to last that little bit longer than other sponges and most chocolate cakes actually  improve if left in an airtight container for a few days. This can make them a slightly less stressful proposition than vanilla or lemon. Do bear in mind where you're going to store them though, as you will need A LOT of tins for these little darlings.

Where and how your cakes will be stored should be thought through before baking commences. Don't pack them too close or too tightly together and avoid stacking them, as you'll end up ruining the edges of the paper cases. This will not only make them look messy but will also make them harder to ice later. Don't forget to consider what you want the cakes topped with too. Perhaps cupcakes don't sound so easy when you've got to make 100 pretty things to stick on their tops? Making little sugar roses is a very pretty option, but they do take time and practise and you will need a lot of them. They can be made up to a month before (or even longer if you don't mind them becoming rock hard) and you can do a few here and there in spare moments or even on a tray in front of the telly if you like. I'll give you a step-by-step guide to making your own sugar roses in another blog very soon.

Alternatively, you can buy some ready made sugar flowers, but they can end up being much more expensive, but you will save yourself a lot of time. Steer clear of wired flowers for cupcakes, as your guests will just want to sink their teeth straight in without worrying about cutting their mouths open or breaking a tooth. Whether you choose buttercream or royal icing, make sure the cakes are properly covered, so that they aren't exposed to any air. Wedding cakes sit out for hours before they're eaten and your cupcakes will dry out in no time if not properly protected. So don't be lazy about icing right into the corners - you don't want all your hard work turning into dusty crumbs.

One last tip for wedding cupcakes is to cover them FULLY with icing, but absolutely NEVER with cream. Cream can only be left unrefrigerated for up to four hours and less in hot weather. It's worth remembering this little health and safety rule if you don't want your wedding reception to turn into a giant queue for the loo.

If multi-tiered cakes are more your style, the same last minute pressures apply if you choose sponge cakes. I set up a cake a few weeks ago and was told a horror story by the venue's resident toast master about a wedding he had recently worked at. When the couple cut their cake, the whole thing was rotten and mouldy all the way through. Clearly the cake maker had been a little too eager to tick that particular job off his/her list, resulting in the whole cake being thrown straight in the bin. The very earliest the cakes should be made is 7 days before the big day, but I still think this is too early for most sponges, especially a Victoria sponge, which can go stodgy if made too far in advance. It is always easier to ice cakes after they have been marzipanned, so it might be prudent as a DIYer to marzipan the cakes first. But, if you, like many others, turn your nose up at almonds, you will need to cover the cakes in two layers of roll out icing, allowing the first layer to crust properly before applying the second. I will outline structuring your tiers securely further down, but first, a word on delivery.

Delivery

I think it's extremely important to make a visit to the venue by car from wherever the cake will be delivered from. Take note of any pot holes in the road, steep hills or sudden declines and also check the entrance to the reception venue for speed bumps. Wedding venues seem to be particularly keen on speed bumps and they are the bane of a cake maker's delivery days. Check out with the venue's wedding co-ordinator that there isn't an alternative speed bump-less entrance; there quite often are at the bigger hotels. Pack your cake securely in a specially designed cake box and never carry anything bigger than a three tiered cake in one piece. You can get away with it, just, if you can deliver it in a van with a person sitting by it to ensure it remains in one piece, but I still wouldn't advise it. People who like watching shows like The Ace of Cakes (I'm totally with you) might think it's usual to transport cakes unboxed in the backs of vans, but unfortunately, in Blighty, red tape prevents it and food for public consumption must be fully covered during transit. That means that even if you do take it by van with someone watching over it in the back, they won't see any potential damage coming, they'll just hear a thump and hold their breath as they lift the lid off the box.

Traditional fruit cake
More and more people are opting not to go for traditional fruit cake these days, but it's certainly worth reconsidering getting fruity if you're planning a DIY job. See my recipe for Christmas cake to find the amounts for 6", 9" and 12" cakes. You can make the cakes a couple of months before the big day, wrap them up and they'll need no further attention other than the odd top up of brandy, rum or whisky. You can marzipan the cakes up to two weeks before and ice the cakes the week before your wedding date. People often make the unpractised assumption that rolling out icing and covering cakes is the easy bit. Unless you're used to doing it, easy it certainly isn't, especially when covering really large cakes. And if economy is the reason behind doing it yourself in the first place, then there's no point spending lots of time and money honing your skills before the big day.

If you're thinking that simple is the way to go, be warned, you might wish that you'd chosen a design that could cover up any air bubbles, lumps, bumps, cracks or billowing bottoms. My advice if you're icing the cakes yourself, is to be flexible with the finished design. You may well find that the smooth, polished white finish you were planning has become something quite different along the way. Don't panic though, if you follow my icing guide, you're more likely to get it right first time round. But maybe think about investing in some thick ribbon, just in case...

Victoria's Cake Boutique's top tips for a smooth icing finish:

  • First things first. At the baking stage, please don't be tempted to mix up the batter for all your tiers together in one go. Not only will you have to fork out for an oversized mixing bowl to fit it all in, you'll also increase the likelihood of having one incredibly deep cake, one average and one the depth of a digestive biscuit. Mix up each cake separately so all you'll have to worry about is pouring it in the right tin and levelling it out before sticking it in the oven.
  • Is it level? Before you ice your cakes, make sure their tops are level - this is especially important if you're planning on stacking your cakes later.
  • Using a little boiled, seived apricot jam, stick each cake on a thin board the same size.
  • Fill in any holes or dips with marzipan before covering the cake.
  • Brush the cake's top and sides liberally with boiled and seived apricot jam.
  • Knead your marzipan on a clean surface dusted with icing sugar before rolling out. I like to roll mine on to icing sugar dusted sheets of baking parchment, as it doesn't stick as easily as to the table.
  • Roll out your marzipan to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Use a piece of string which has measured the size of the cake as a guide to know how big you'll need it to be.
  • Polish it over with an icing smoother if you have one, before lifting it with your rolling pin and placing it on top of your cake.
  • Pat the marzipan down and, using your hands, pat and smooth the marzipan down the sides of the cake, trying to avoid trapping any air underneath.
  • If you get an air bubble, use a scribe or sterilised needle to pop it, placing the needle in at an angle so you can squeeze out the trapped pocket of air.
  • Once you've patted and smoothed the icing down, preferably with a couple of icing smoothers for a really professional finish, trim off the excess marzipan.
  • Lift the cake up on to a turntable or upturned bowl and smooth the marzipan once more to ensure your edges are straight and haven't billowed out towards the bottom of the cake.
  • Trim the excess off using a small sharp knife, keeping it flush with the bottom of the cake board.
  • Leave the marzipanned cakes to "crust" for at least 24 hours before icing.
  • You can ice your cakes in a very similar way to marzipanning them, but instead of using boiled jam, use brandy, vodka or cooled boiled water to stick the icing to the marzipan.
  • Knead the icing thoroughly, but to avoid locking air into the icing and producing troublesome bubbles later on, press and fold the ball of icing under in a continuous circle, until the icing is properly pliable and any cracks or indentations will be on the underneath.
  • Always start with your icing in the same shape as your cake - a ball for a round, and a squared off ball for a square.
  • Liberally dust sheets of baking parchment with icing sugar and rub a little over your rolling pin.
  • Roll your icing to a thickness of 1/4 inch, but don't turn the icing over, we're keeping the "working" side on the bottom.
  • Use your rolling pin to lift the icing and follow the same directions as for the marzipan.
  • Leave the icing to crust for at least 24 hours before decorating.
  • If you are planning to stack the cakes, don't forget to check the tops are level with a clean spirit level.
Stacked, pillared or separated...?

Stacked

If you opt for a multi-tiered cake where the tiers are stacked directly on top of each other, you will have to create some internal scaffolding to stop the cakes from sinking into one another. Once iced, cakes are considerably heavier than you might expect and need a little extra support to prevent a sunken or capsized mess. You can buy cake rods which are either plastic or wooden, that can be cut to size with a hack saw. I insert the uncut rods (at least 6 for the bottom tier, but up to 12 is safer, depending on the cake's size) into the cake and mark where I need to cut with a liqourice pen - which is like a black felt tip, but the ink is edible. I then remove the rods, cut them to size, sand over the cut tip and wash thoroughly and dry before re-inserting them in the cake. Once properly rodded, the cakes can be placed directly on top of each other, using a smear of royal icing to secure them in place. I always (unless instructed otherwise) place the base tier on to an iced cake drum. It not only looks more polished and complete, it also make transporting the cake much easier.

Pillars

Pillars are harder to get right, and the cakes will each need to be placed on a cake drum (a thick cake board - ideally you should ice it to tie it in with the rest of the design. Otherwise it just looks like a thick piece of tin foil. Not especially attractive, I'm sure you'll agree). The iced cake drums will need to be 2" larger than the size of each cake. Using a compass, draw a circle the same size as the bottom and middle tiers on baking parchment or tracing paper and work out where you will need the pillars to go and mark them on the tracing paper circles at regular intervals. Next, place the tracing paper on top of the cakes and using a scribe or sterilised needle, prick the icing where the pillars will stand. Remove the paper and place your pillars lightly on the marked pin pricks. Take an uncut rod and press the rod through the pillar and down to the base of the cake until it hits the cake board, mark where the rod will need to be cut and repeat the process described above. The rods are what supports the weight of your cakes, not the pillars, which are purely decorative. When transporting the cakes to the venue, box them separately and wait until you arrive to arrange them on top of each other. Instead of pillars you can also use cake separators, which are glass-look acrylic tubes or squares which can be filled with petals, flower heads or glass beads. For these, rod the cakes firmly in the cake centre and cover up the hole you've made by smearing a little royal icing over the top of each inserted rod, before sticking the separator on to the cake with royal icing.

Separately presented

Separately presented multi-tiered cakes: This is the style of cake I would recommend as the least troublesome for DIYers. You don't need to think about internal structure and you don't have to worry about special boxes for transporting stacked multi-tiered cakes. The stand does the work for you and all you'll need to do is place your cakes on iced cake drums and decorate them as you wish. A ribbon and a fresh flower posey on top is a very simple and effective design. You can choose from a swan stand, an "S" or "E" stand for three tiered cakes or a "C" stand for two tiered cakes. Other vintage tearoom styles are also available, although you'll most likely have to buy one; the other styles can be hired from most decent cake decorating suppliers.

So there you have it, what is, I hope, a useful guide for choosing and making your own wedding cake. But if you decide it all looks a bit too much like hard work, Victoria's Cake Boutique will be happy to do it for you.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

It's a White Russian cake, dude.

I had a big birthday over the bank holiday. Not THAT big, I hasten to add. But big enough to hurl me into a new decade and, possibly, into a new ticking bracket when filling out forms. I found that the thought of getting older was more traumatic than the actuality of it - due largely to the spirit of good will from lovely friends and the good will-inducing spirits served in teapots at the wonderful Arts Theatre Club. Yes, that's right, cocktails served in teapots and drunk from china teacups. What's not to like?

After pickling my liver in hazelnut martinis on Saturday night, spending Sunday sitting around watching The Big Lebowski in my dressing gown felt like the perfect antidote. I didn't have a birthday cake this year - but I did get taken to The Fat Duck, so there are definitely no complaints from me - so I decided to make myself a belated one. After my excessive cocktail consumption and my dressing gown clad tellython, there could be no competition when it came to picking this year's perfect birthday flavour. It had to be White Russian all the way!

My White Russian cake was invented for a client who liked The Big Lebowski and White Russian cocktails so much that his friends, family and fiancee nicknamed him "the dude". The nickname has stuck in my head so firmly that I can't for the life of me remember his real name. So cheers, "dude", your commission made turning 30 on Monday a lot more palatable. And I thank you for it.

Slice of Caucasian anyone...?

White Russian Cake
Preheat your oven to 170C (150C Fan assisted)



When making this for home use (by which I mean, as a cake that doesn't need to be decorated as a tier of wedding cake or an iced celebration cake afterwards), I make it in a roulade tin, which I line with baking parchment. You can, if you wish, bake this cake in a 6" round tin, but you'll need to add about 25 minutes to the cooking time and it might be prudent to place a sheet of parchment over the top of the cake for the second half of the cooking time.

  
Ingredients for cake

150 g white chocolate, broken into pieces
4 tbsp whole milk
3 eggs, separated
A pinch of salt
125g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
125g caster sugar
125g plain flour

Ingredients for filling

4 tbsp of chocolate flavoured vodka or white creme de cacao
4 oz soft, unsalted butter
8 oz icing sugar
4 -6 tbsp kahlua

Method
  • Place the white chocolate and milk in a heatproof bowl and place on top of a saucepan of barely simmering water over a low heat. Place a foil lid over the bowl and leave to melt. Give the milk and chocolate a stir every now and then until it is melted and smooth.
  • Add the butter and stir until melted.
  • In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites and salt together into stiff peaks.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy and immediately add the white chocolate mixture and stir thoroughly.
  • Sift over the flour and mix thoroughly.
  • Fold in the egg whites and pour out into your prepared roulade tin.
  • Bake on the centre shelf of your oven for 10 - 15 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Leave the cake to cool in its tin on a wire rack.
Method for filling
  • Whisk the butter until light and creamy
  • Sift over half the icing sugar and whisk together
  • Sift over the remaining sugar and whisk again.
  • Add the kahlua and whisk until fluffy. Taste for kahlua and whisk in extra if you feel it needs it.
Building the cake
  • Turn the cake out of its tin and remove the baking parchment. Trim the edges off the cake and cut the cake, lengthwise, into three rectangles of equal width.
  • Brush the chocolate-flavoured vodka/ white creme de cacao over the first rectangle of cake, spread over some of the kahlua buttercream, top with another rectangle of cake and repeat and repeat again.
  • Smooth the remaining kahlua buttercream over the top and sides of the cake and the cake is ready to serve. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

There's nothing wrong with a sponge, but why stop there?

I have been chasing my tail all week, finishing orders and meeting clients, but tiredness can never get quite so tight a grip when the sun is shining and the birds are singing outside. What has been genuinely lovely this week, is the number of clients who have got in touch to let me know how thrilled they have been with the cakes I have made for them. What I find particularly pleasing is how much they emphasise the taste as well as the look, because that's really why I started this business in the first place. I wanted to give people a place to go where they didn't have to stick to choosing between two types of sponge or a fruit cake, but where they could come for a real and thoughtful selection. I love to create new and special flavours and to be set a challenge. This must be why Victoria's Cake Boutique has 157 different chocolate cakes on the books, and that's before any other flavour. I love nothing more than inventing a new recipe, or finding a way to create delicious cakes for clients with allergies, that go beyond just substituting wheat flour for gluten-free or using oil instead of butter. They have to be created with these needs in mind, otherwise you inevitably end up compromising the taste or texture of the cake whose original recipe you altered. Taste is everything to Victoria's Cake Boutique because we can't see the point of a beautifully decorated lump of nothing and because we love flavour and don't want to bother eating anything that doesn't quite hit the mark.
With all the wonderful feedback we've received over the years in mind, I thought I'd nudge my readers in the direction of The Observer Food Monthly Awards 2010, which are now open for voting and which include categories for Best independent shop or retailer and Best food blog (UK based). You can vote here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/observer-food-monthly-awards. Just saying...

Friday, 14 May 2010

Oreo cake


I was set the challenge of making an Oreo cake this week. Or, more specifically, a Haagan Dazs (Oreo) cookies and cream ice cream cake. Without the ice cream. The request came from a client who loves Oreo cookies and its Haagan Dazs ice cream above most other sugary things, so he and his fiancee thought it might be a fun idea to have an Oreo flavoured tier for their wedding cake. I must admit, I couldn't remember what an Oreo tasted like, so long ago was it that I ate one. To be honest, if it's biscuits and cookies I want, I'm more likely to make them than buy them, but on the few occasions I do cruise the supermarket shelves for tea-dunking treats, I tend to head straight for the hobnobs or chocolate digestives. Not this time.

Oreos are surprising in their lack of cocoa-richness, given their black colour, and there is something ever so slightly smoky about them. For my palate, the lack of a proper chocolate hit is slightly disappointing - if something promises to taste of chocolate, it's chocolate I want to be tasting. But it is exactly this lack of cocoa depth that is so appealing to others. Oreo cookies have a huge, international fan club and if that many people are convinced, who am I to disagree?

So, Oreo cake. Obviously, it was important for the cake to look as much like an Oreo cookie as possible, so besides it needing to be a sandwich cake with a white filling, the cake itself had to be almost black. Thinking about how I could make the cake almost black, started me thinking about molasses sugar. I love molasses, in all its syrupy, smoky blackness, but oreo cookie it ain't. It's just too strong a flavour. I decided to cut the molasses with light muscovado, so I could get the molasses colour without the molasses depth. When it came down to it though, I realised quickly that there was no way I could make an Oreo cake without some actual Oreo cookies in the mix. I blitzed a packet of Oreos (minus the two cookies I'd already eaten for, aherm, "research purposes") in a food processor, until they were finely ground. Then I adjusted the measurements of the dry ingredients to ensure the cake wouldn't become too dry. The sandwich cakes came out very dark and very moist, with a pleasing crumb - just like Oreo cookies. I sandwiched the cakes with a thick layer of sweet, vanilla mascarpone. I chose a mascarpone filling rather than vanilla buttercream, because it has a natural ice-creamy charm about it. My Oreo cake tasted very Oreo-y and my Oreo-adoring clients were so pleased that they have chosen it as the flavour for one of the biggest tiers of their wedding cake.

Oreo Cake
Preheat the oven to 180 C (160 C Fan) and grease and line two 8" sandwich tins.

3 oz/ 75 g molasses sugar
6 oz/ 150 g light muscovado sugar
3 oz/ 75 g dark chocolate
7 fl. oz whole milk
3 oz/ 75 g soft, unsalted butter
2 large eggs, beaten
A splash of vanilla
1 packet (minus 2 cookies) Oreo cookies, finely ground in the food processor
4 oz/ 100 g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt

Method
  • Place the chocolate molasses sugar and milk in a saucepan and heat gently until the chocolate and sugar have dissolved. Leave to cool slightly.
  • Beat the butter and light muscovado sugar together until pale and creamy.
  • Beat the egg in a little at a time, followed by the vanilla extract.
  • Whisk in the chocolate-molasses milk.
  • Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda over the cake batter, add the salt and whisk until well combined.
  • Fold in the ground Oreos and pour the cake mixture into your prepared tins and place on the middle shelf of your oven for 25 - 30 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Leave the cakes in their tins for 10 minutes on a wire rack before turning out to finish cooling.
  • Once cooled, sandwich the cakes together with sweet vanilla scented mascarpone (make half the amount specified for the chocolate and Guinness cake). If the mascarpone goes runny (this can happen with over-beating), beat in 3 oz/ 75 g of soft, unsalted butter and place in the fridge to set a bit before spreading.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Election Cakes (iv) - Popcorn caramel cake

The polling stations have closed and the counting has commenced. It's exciting, nerve-wracking stuff. This is the final installment of my election cake countdown and it's the turn of The Liberal Democrats to make their cake and eat it. I don't know if you've noticed (you must have noticed, unless you are colour blind or shamefully unobservant), but I've tried to make the cake itself and not just the colour of its icing resemble the party colours, and this cake is no exception. On thinking of yellow things, the things that first sprang to mind were lemons and bananas. Too obvious. Especially given the Lib Dem's sudden and exciting power march forward as worthy and noticed contenders. Their surprising leap into the public's consciousness deserves a cake equally as attention-grabbing.
I made this cake up today. In theory, it's a salty sweet yellow slice of heaven. It's currently in the oven, and may well turn out to be a disaster, but I'm letting you in on an early trial run. If it's a masterpiece, I'll post the recipe tonight. If, on the other hand, I've got carried away with too many free-from ideas, not properly thought through, I will modify the recipe until it works as well as I am certain it deserves to and let you know. So, here it is, the last cake in my 2010 election specials is Popcorn Caramel Cake, a gluten- and nut-free sweetcorn cake (all of which may well change for future revisions) with caramel buttercream and salted caramel popcorn. You'll have to wait a few hours yet to hear the final results of the election, and most probably a few hours more than that to hear the final results of my Lib Dem cake. Let's hope all goes to plan. Here goes yellow...

Popcorn Caramel Cake

Recipe to follow...

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Election Cakes (iii) - Red Velvet Cake

Today's the day, so grab your keys, pull on your boots and get out there and VOTE! It's a lovely day, so there really are no excuses. Next up, in alphabetical order, in my election cake countdown is Labour. Will they stay or will they go? I think we all know the likely answer to that one. If you will be sorry to see them go, you can make this cake to take your mind off your woes and pray for a better result next time. If you'll be happy to see the back of them, you can make this cake and eat it in giant bites as some kind of symbolic statement. And, needless to say, if the political colour of any of this week's cakes puts you off but you like the sound of the flavour, make it anyway! You can always bung some different coloured icing on top if you want to. Remember, people, these are cakes, not rosettes, and blueberry cupcakes are still delicious regardless. On with this week's quest. Here goes the red team's cake:

Red Velvet Cake
Preheat the oven to 180 C (160 C Fan) and grease and line two 8" sandwich tins.


Ingredients
6 oz/ 150 g of soft, unsalted butter
12 oz/ 300 g caster sugar
3 large eggs, separated
A generous glug of vanilla
10 oz/ 250 g plain flour
1 oz/ 25 g cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 oz/ 50 g good quality cocoa
250 ml buttermilk
pinch of salt
1 tsp white wine or cider vinegar
3 tbsp liquid red food colouring or 1 tsp of red paste dye (I only had enough liquid dye for 2tbsp, so my cake in the picture isn't quite as red as it should be)

for the icing

8 oz/ 200 g cream cheese (I used Philadelphia)
8 oz/ 200 g soft, unsalted butter
2 lb/ 800 g icing sugar, sifted
A generous few splashes of vanilla extract.


Method
  • Whisk the egg whites and salt together until stiff peaks form and set aside for later.
  • Using the same whisk (this order of things is purely to minimise on washing up), beat the butter together until pale and fluffy. A large bowl is advisable here if using an electric whisk, to prevent spraying the contents all over your kitchen. An electric whisk is also advisable for the un-beefy of arms, as this cake requires a lot of whisk action.
  • Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition, followed by the vanilla extract.
  • Mix together the red food colouring and buttermilk. This should be a very vibrant colour, so if your's isn't, add more colouring until it is.
  • Mix about a third of the red buttermilk into the sugar, butter and eggs and sift over a third of the dry ingredients NOT INCLUDING the bicarbonate of soda and whisk again.
  • Mix in another third of the buttermilk, then another third of the sifted dry ingredients and repeat until everything is mixed up well.
  • Fold in the whisked egg whites until thoroughly combined.
  • In a small bowl, mix together the bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. It will fizz up. Fold this into the cake mixture and pour into your two prepared sandwich tins.
  • Bake on the centre shelf of your preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Leave the cakes to cool in their tins on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning them out.
  • When completely cool, sandwich the cakes together with half the icing and spread the rest over the top and sides of the cake. You can, if you wish, cut each cake horizontally across, with filling in between each to make extra layers for an even more stylish and greedy cake.
for the icing
  • Whisk the cream cheese and butter together until light and fluffy and add the vanilla and whisk again.
  • Sift over the icing sugar in batches, whisking between each addition, until it's all combined and silky smooth.
  • Taste for vanilla and whisk in some extra if you feel it needs it.
  • Slice both cakes horizontally (if you just want to make a sandwich cake, leave out this step and reduce the quanity of icing by half) and stack them together with a layer of icing in between.
  • Cover the top and sides with icing and it's ready to serve.
Photo to come...