Thursday, 31 May 2012

Mixed Berry Cheesecake

With some incredibly summery weather here at last, I wanted to make something that would complement the weather, rather than fight it. A cool, fruity cheesecake sprang to mind, so I played around a bit and came up with a Mixed Berry Cheesecake - a vanilla cheesecake marbled with raspberry and blueberry purées. This gives a lovely creamy, fruity cheesecake that would be perfect as a summer dessert.

Mixed Berry Cheesecake


165g digestive biscuits
60g butter, melted
675g full fat cream cheese
225g caster sugar
1/2 tspn vanilla extract
2 large eggs

For the fruit purées
100g raspberries
130g blueberries
2 tspns sugar
splash water

Preheat the oven to 140 Fan / 160 conventional / Gas 3. Lightly grease a 20cm (8 inch) springform or loose based tin.

First make the fruit purées by placing each fruit into it's own saucepan, along with 1 tspn of the sugar and a small splash of water. On a medium heat, bring to a simmer, and soften the fruit - you'll get to a stage where you should be able to mush them up.

Raspberries simmering
Continue to simmer until you get a reduced, thick syrupy purée. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Pass each purée through a sieve into a clean bowl, so that the seeds and with the blueberries, the skins, can be discarded. Put on one side to cool completely.

To make the base, crush the digestives finely in a small bowl. Add the melted butter and mix well. Pour into the prepared tin and press down, firmly and evenly, to form the cheesecake base. Put on one side.

To make the filling, place the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until soft. Add the sugar and beat again until well mixed. Add the vanilla and then, one at a time, add the eggs and beat until smooth.

Spoon the filling into the crust and level the top. Dot the top with spoonfuls of each purée, alternating blueberry and raspberry. Using a knife, gently swirl through the purées and filling to created a marbled effect (be careful not to dig too deep to avoid disturbing the base).

Bake for about 30 minutes until the cheesecake becomes puffy around the edges but is still soft in the centre. Turn off the oven and allow the cheesecake to cool in the oven (this will take some hours so plan ahead!). Chill in the fridge overnight, then carefully remove from the tin onto a plate.

Ideally, cheesecakes shouldn't crack, but mine did slightly following the lines the knife made creating the swirls. If you look closely at the picture you'll see what I mean. This didn't affect the taste, though.

Cut into slices and serve. If you have any of the purée left over, you could use it as extra sauce, if you want, drizzled over the cheesecake.



Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Chocolate and Pistachio Biscotti

Chocolate Biscotti, studded with pistachios and chocolate chips. Yum! And perfect with a coffee.

I've wanted to enter Dom, at Belleau Kitchen's Random Recipes challenge for some time, and finally this month I 've done it! The challenge involves cooking a recipe picked at random from your cookbook collection, and is a great idea as it gets you to do recipes that you might otherwise have discounted. May's challenge was to select a cookbook at random, and then you could choose between either the first or last recipe in the book.

I used my patented randomiser (aka Ben) to choose a book. Unfortunately, I don't think this was as random as might otherwise have been the case, as the selected book was 'Chocolate - 100 everyday recipes'. Knowing Ben, whose capacity for chocolate is unlimited, I suspect randomness had nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, I hadn't actually cooked from the book before, and it's not one that I would have chosen, so thought why not?

The first recipe was Toffee Chocolate Puff Tarts, which sounded delicious and which I have bookmarked for the future. But we plumped for these Chocolate Biscotti.The original recipe contains toasted almond flakes and pine nuts, but as my randomiser was expecting payment in kind, we Bennified them by using pistachios instead. And the recipe also used cinnamon, which we decided against, opting to use cocoa instead to up the chocolate taste. The result was a lovely, crisp, chocolatey biscotti with lots of flavour from the pistachios (if I make them again, I may even cut the pistachios slightly - say to 80g - so they don't overpower). Anyway, here's the recipe, adapted from 'Chocolate - 100 Everyday Recipes'.

Chocolate and Pistachio Biscotti

Ingredients (makes 16)

1 medium egg
100g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
125g plain flour
1/2 tspn baking powder
1 tbspn cocoa powder
50g plain chocolate chips
100g shelled pistachios

Preheat  the oven to 160 Fan / 180 Conventional / 350 C / Gas 4. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.

Whisk the egg, sugar and vanilla in a bowl until thick and creamy - it should form a ribbon if you lift the whisk out.

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder into the bowl and gently fold in. Add the chocolate chips and pistachios and gently fold in until evenly distributed

Turn out onto a lightly floured worksurface and shape into a log. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

Bake in the middle of the oven for around 20 - 25 minutes. Remove the log from the oven and cool for 5 minutes or until firm to the touch.

Slice the log into 1cm thick slices and arrange them on the baking sheet. Cook for 10 - 15 minutes, flipping over halfway through. Cool for 5 minutes on the tray, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Ultimately, Ben decided that the pistachios were a nut too far for him; he would have preferred just chocolate. I suspect I may have lost the services of my randomiser. However, Mike and I enjoyed them with our favourite cappuccino, which they complemented beautifully.

Definitely worth trying.


Sunday, 27 May 2012

Jubilee Royal Velvet Cake

As we're getting much closer to Jubilee Weekend, I wanted to try out an idea for a cake that I have been mulling over for some time. I have previously tried  Blue Velvet Cupcakes and Red Velvet Cupcakes, but I have always wanted to try making the proper cake. With the Jubilee presenting the perfect opportunity, and with the Olympic Torch being in Cardiff this week, as I was feeling all patriotic on Friday I finally got to try out my ideas. Let me present to you a red, white and blue Royal Velvet Cake, complete with a blue sugar candy crown.

The cake is not, strictly speaking, a traditional velvet recipe, but I'm using poetic license. I used the recipe from Heather Baird's SprinkleBakes book for her Neopolitan Cake. I've been a big fan of Heather's blog, SprinkleBakes for some time, and when her book came out earlier this month, I had to buy it. Heather's work is one of the most artistic and inspirational I have come across. Everything seems to be executed with so much precision, but there are some witty touches, too. Just my kind of baking book. Some of it is a little complex of course, but I chose this particular recipe because it seemed fairly easy. I made some adaptations though, and had to convert the ingredients into UK weights.

I also needed something to inspire me for decoration, as I didn't want to simply put a load of red, white and blue M&Ms on the top (although I did consider it and let's just say that the M&Ms for it I bought found another home ;) That's a post for another day!). Some browsing led me to this spectacular Blue Velvet Cake on the Betty Crocker site. I loved the idea of the hard sugar decorations, but as it was something I had never tried before, viewed it with some trepidation. Still, I decided to take the bull by the horns and I was so glad I did. The sugar, with the addition of the blue colouring, gave the most amazing stained glass effect - especially held up to the sun. I'm hooked!

The cake itself is a fairly dense, even textured sponge, with a vanilla flavour. The frosting is cream cheese and butter cream, flavoured with vanilla. To be honest, I think it may be best served with some fresh berries (and blueberries, strawberries and raspberries were another decoration I considered), to add another dimension to the flavour. When I made the sponge, although I normally would use golden caster sugar, I made sure to use white, and tried to use pale butter, so that the sponge stayed as light a colour as possible. The coloured sponge is made using Wilton gel paste colouring. Although you do need to use quite a bit, I don't think it affected the flavour - but you do get multicoloured tongue of course! I did also use an icing brightener - Wilton's White White - to try and get the icing as white as possible.

Jubilee Royal Velvet Cake


340g softened unsalted butter
685g caster sugar
685g cake flour (or use plain sponge flour) 
2 tablespoons baking powder
12 egg whites, at room temperature (each egg weighed, in the shell, around 56g / 2 oz)
475ml milk
1 tspn vanilla extract
Food colouring - I used Wilton Red Red, Royal Blue (and a dash of Violet with the blue)

Cream Cheese Buttercream
450g softened cream cheese
225g softened unsalted butter
1 tspn vanilla
750g icing sugar (approx - just add until you get the consistency you want)

Sugar Crown
1 cup sugar (225g)
1/2 cup light corn syrup (118ml)
1/4 cup water (59ml)
Blue food colouring

Preheat the oven to 140 Fan / 160 conventional / 325 C / Gas 3. Grease and base line three 23cm (9 inch) round sandwich pans, and then grease the paper, too.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla to the milk. Sift the flour and baking powder together. Add to the mix, alternating in thirds with half the milk (so flour, milk, flour, milk,flour).

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until you reach the stiff peak stage, but don't overbeat so they get dry. Gently fold into the batter.

Have two bowls ready. Using a cup measure, dole out the batter into one sandwich pan (which will be your white sponge) and the two bowls. I got around 4 cups in each one, but make sure you measure it out to try and get the sponges as equal as possible. Add the red food colouring to one bowl of batter, and the blue to the other. Turn out into the remaining two pans.

Bake in the oven for 30 - 35 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. I positioned the red and blue sponges on the middle tray of the oven, with the white on the bottom. This again, was to try and make sure that the white sponge didn't get too brown (it will a little, but you're going to trim the top of the cake later to make it flat, so most will come off - but it pays to try and keep it as pale as possible).

Leave to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

To make the buttercream frosting, beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth and creamy. Add in the icing sugar and beat until smooth, and the consistency you want. I spread mine onto the cake using a spatula and so I wanted it firm so it didn't droop, but still flexible enough to spread.

To assemble the cake, trim your sponges with a serrated knife so that the tops are flat. Put a dollop of frosting on your cake stand / plate to hold the bottom sponge in place. Position your bottom sponge (I used the blue) on your cake stand. Add some frosting to the top and level. Add the next layer, and continue until the cake is assembled. I then put a very thin coat of frosting on the cake - this is known as a crumb coat and is designed to stop the cake crumbling when you frost it properly. You chill the cake once it is crumb coated in the fridge for 30 mins - 1 hour, so that this layer gets firm.

Crumb coated and ready to go in the fridge
When you're ready, add the final layer of frosting. I used a plastic scraper to get the edges and top nice and flat. I then chilled the cake again in the fridge so that the icing would get nice and firm to hold the sugar candy crown.

To make the crown, have some baking trays lined with parchment ready. I then put the sugar, corn syrup and water into a saucepan fitted with a sugar thermometer, and heated it over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once it has - STOP stirring. Let the sugar solution bubble until the thermometer reads 175C / 310F.

Remove from the heat and add in your food colouring, stirring to mix. BE CAREFUL as the sugar is very, very hot. Using a spoon, I then drizzled the sugar to form the shape I wanted (well, tried too, as it was a bit thick and gloopy, and set quite quickly, but I was pretty pleased with what I achieved on my first attempt!). I managed to get one whole crown shape, and one that I could easily split into two, so that I could create an almost  three dimensional crown. I left these to set hard - probably for about an hour.

I then placed them carefully on to the top of the cake. I don't know whether it was because it was so hot and humid, but I found that my fingers left fingerprints on the sugar, so I used small pieces of parchment to hold the shapes with to avoid this.

So there you go. A Jubilee Royal Velvet Cake complete with a crown. I was really pleased with how it turned out, and definitely think that the sugar crown fitted the bill. I'm going to make it my second entry into Fleur, of Homemade by Fleur's  Jubilee Baking Competition, sponsored by appliances online.

As I've also used an American Recipe, I'm also going to enter it into the United Bakes of America blogging challenge run by Gem of Cupcake Crazy. As you could make the red, white and blue representative of the US, France etc, I think it's also a real 'special relationship' cake!

Whatever you're doing, I hope you have a fantastic Jubilee weekend,


Saturday, 26 May 2012

Liebster and Versatile Blog Awards

I've been really honoured and pleased recently to be nominated for the Liebster Blog, the Versatile Blogger and the Sunshine Blog award by some of my fellow bloggers. Although I'm running a bit late, it's now time for me to do my bit and pass them on.

I was given the Liebster Blog Award by Laura at Aga Girls. This was a lovely surprise, as I must admit that I had not discovered Laura's website at the time. It was a weird mix of embarrassing yet lovely to find someone who had visited and enjoyed my blog. However, I've now rectified that and am a regular reader. There are some great posts. including this Jubilee Lemon Shortbread. Laura is, like me, a fairly new blogger, and I so look forward to reading more from her in the months to come. 

"The origins of the Liebster Blog award are somewhat unclear but the general consensus is that it originated in Germany, Liebster meaning favourite or dearest, to showcase bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. Upon accepting the award the recipient must then pass it on to five more blogs of note. A way of introducing other bloggers to the blogs you enjoy."

Gem of Cupcake Crazy nominated me for the Versatile and Sunshine Blogger Awards. I must admit I was amazed by this, as Gem's blog was one of the first I came across a while back, thought was fantastic, and inspired me to do my own. Gem is lovely and, as you may guess, cupcake crazy, but also is a total Americanophile and, like me, is really into her American baking. She has started her own blogging challenge 'United Bakes of America' as a result.

A few days later, I was also nominated for these awards by Ros (aka Baking Addict) of the More Than Occasional Baker. Again, I was really pleased as Ros has also been one of my blogging heroes for quite some time now. Her sheer inventiveness and baking knowledge have me in awe, and I can't wait for each new post from her to see what she has been up to in the kitchen. Ros also runs, along with her partner in crime Caroline, of Caroline Makes, the Alphabakes challenge.

Well, the rules for both the Versatile and Sunshine awards are :
1. Thank the person who nominated you for this Award and link them back.
2. Say some 5 random facts about yourself.
3. Spread the joy by nominating other bloggers.

4. Let the bloggers know about their nomination.

So, first, here are my five random facts:

1. I've always been a bit of a tomboy and it shows itself repeatedly in my love of football, and Cardiff City FC in particular (a family tradition). Being a Bluebird is a total rollercoaster experience - we've been lucky enough to reach Wembley (the holy grail of football) on four occasions over the last four seasons. An FA Cup Semi Final, the FA Cup Final (which was on my 40th birthday - what a present and a day to remember!), Championship Play Offs, and this year's Carling Cup Final. Unfortunately, we're not so good at winning there, or in attaining that elusive promotion to the Premier League :(

2. Beyond baking, I also love Indian Cookery, and the best £80 Mike and I have ever spent was on an evening course at our local Adult Education Centre. The course lasted thirty weeks and I learnt so much and cooked so many different dishes that it has kept us well fed for the last 12 years, with an average of one curry a week being cooked from my repertoire. I also learnt how to make all the usual accompaniments and I can now roll a mean chappati ...

3. I hate spiders. Nothing personal, and while I have learnt over time not to instinctively beat the cr*p out of one if it enters my field of vision, I cannot stand them in the bedroom. I cannot sleep if I know that there is one in there. So many times, at some ungodly hour, Mike has had to be deployed to remove one before I can get to sleep. Even then, I lay awake wondering if spiders have the same attribute as buses ...

4. If I had a 'best bits' montage of my life (like on Big Brother when the person is kicked off at the end), top of the list would be the morning I spent with Mike, Josh and Ben snorkelling in Fuerteventura (Canary Islands) and then having a glorious tapas lunch at a little bar overlooking the fishing harbour in the brilliant sunshine. We hadn't tried either before, and it was glorious. The perfect day.

5. I visited the then Soviet Union six weeks after Chernobyl. It was an amazing holiday, but a bit scary. We were due to go to Kiev, but weren't allowed to as it was near to Chernobyl, so that part of our trip was cancelled. We spent longer at Yalta instead, and on a visit to the Summer Palace, where the conference at the end of WWII was held,  got talking to a lovely American lady, who pointed out to us in some of the photos of the conference her husband. He had been part of the American delegation with President Roosevelt, and she had travelled there with him. She was kind enough to spend some time with me telling me all about it. That was an absolutely gobsmacking moment for me - I was 18 at the time and about to study history and politics. I felt like I was literally touching history.

So there you go. A little bit about me. Hope you enjoyed it.

It just remains for me now to nominate five fellow bloggers to receive these awards. I've found this a bit difficult, as there are so many that I love (and I know have already received these awards previously). But I decided to go with some of the ones that I really want to recognise anyway, even if they have had them before (sorry guys!). Some of them are fairly new blogs, all of them amazing though, and I'd encourage you to visit if you haven't already done so. Each one of them is a fantastic read.

Nom! The Indulgent Baking Blog : Nicola is amazing at cake decoration. I have been in awe at some of her creations!
Laura of Laura Loves Cakes : Laura really does love cakes - her beautiful, picture perfect cakes have me smitten with sugar paste skills envy!
Rachel of Dollybakes : A fantastic blog based in the North West. Rachel is also an organiser for Clandestine Cake Club. She loves Big Bundts, too!
Culinaria Libris : Gretchen is an American living in London, with an extensive cookbook collection. She regularly posts about them and I love discovering new cookbooks through her (although with around 600 already, Mike grimaces every time I visit Amazon!).
Jo at What Do You Make Of My Cake? : Jo is a fantastic baker, and I love reading about her bakes. She also has a fantastic collection of vintage china, which she uses in her beautiful photographs.

Please do check these out. They're well worth it :)


Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Blueberry and Dark Chocolate Oaties

These little cookies may not look much, but be warned, they are addictive and so easy to make they could form the start of a serious addiction (Mike take note!). They are packed full of dried blueberries, rolled oats and chocolate chips, which give a lovely chewy texture alongside an intense hit of chocolate cookie dough. I can only say 'Yum!'

They are adapted from a recipe in Marian Keyes' book, 'Saved by Cake'. I didn't have all the ingredients so played around a little. I also like my cookies chunky, so altered the method slightly. This is the first recipe I've tried from the book - but there are lots to tempt you. I'm a big fan of Marian Keyes' novels ('Anybody Out There' is one of my favourites) so it was interesting seeing how she tackled a recipe book detailing a love of baking which developed from her own personal battle with depression. Her writing style is very comfortable and comforting, and this would be a great book for someone just getting into baking - enough traditional recipes but some with a new twist as well and with varying levels of complexity.

Blueberry and Dark Chocolate Oaties

Ingredients (makes 16)

125g softened unsalted butter
175g light brown soft sugar
1 large egg
130g plain flour
30g cocoa powder
pinch of salt
1/2 tspn baking powder
70g rolled oats (not instant)
100g dried blueberries
100g dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 conventional / 350 F / Gas 4. Line two baking trays with baking parchment.

In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and mix.

Sift in the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa, and mix well, so that you get a sticky dough. Mix in the blueberries, oats and chocolate chips.

Once you think they are fairly evenly distributed, scoop rounded heaps of the dough onto the baking trays and remember to leave space for spreading.

I used my old fashioned ice cream scoop for this (size 30, 2 inch diameter), which makes it easy to get equal portions. I just left them as rounds and then baked in the centre of the oven for about 17 minutes, removing from the oven and leaving to cool on the tray. As I made two trays worth, I baked the trays separately, so they both had the benefit of that centre oven position.

You can make these using any combination of fruit and chocolate that you have to hand. I'm thinking raisin and dark chocolate next time? Or maybe cranberry and Maya Gold? Ooh, decisions, decisions.

Whatever you try, the cookies should be moist, crunchy on the outside yet chewy inside, chocolatey and totally delicious. Perfect with a cuppa. Or the odd bottle of milk.


Monday, 21 May 2012

Hazelnut Brownies

Last Wednesday was a bit warmer than it has been of late, so I took Sam for a walk to the village in his pushchair. We stopped at our local deli (Deli a Go Go), ordered a coffee and a hazelnut brownie, and sat in the window watching the world go by. Sam and I did a bit of pondering. We pondered how we were going to feel when I return to work at the end of my maternity leave. The weeks are going by fast, and I am now able to count on one hand the weeks I have left. It's not so much the going back to work, more the having to entrust Sam to some one else's care. Sam thought that it wouldn't be so bad, as he has some lovely people taking care of him. They make funny noises and faces and make him laugh. They give him cuddles when he's sad, and they play when he wants to have fun. They feed him and soothe him to sleep when it's nap time.

While it makes me happy knowing that he will be well looked after, it breaks my heart that it won't be me doing it. That there are 'firsts' I'll miss, and will have to rely on someone else to tell me about them. That when he comes home at the end of the day, he smells of someone else's perfume or shampoo where his head has rested on their shoulder. I'm feeling particularly melancholic as it's my birthday the next day, when I will turn 44. It reinforces that this is my last opportunity to enjoy being a mummy to a little one. As we ponder, I sip my coffee and nibble pieces of brownie. I've only just made walnut brownies for the Weekly Bake Off, so I should be sick of them. But the hazelnut tastes sooo good. 

As we finish our break, we feel a bit better. But we also decide that we need to make the most of the time we have. So mummy's blogging may have to take a bit of a back seat for a short while. Just a little ... 

Hazelnut Brownies

Ingredients (makes 16)

185g unsalted butter
185g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
85g plain flour
40g cocoa
50g dark chocolate, chopped
50g milk chocolate, chopped
3 large eggs
275g caster sugar
100g hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 conventional / 350 C /Gas 4. Grease and base line a 20 x 20cm square brownie pan (use a 7 - 8 cm wide band of foil across the base under the parchment so that it sticks up 5cm from the rim on each side of the pan - this will mean you have something to help you lift the cooked brownie out of the tin).

Break the dark chocolate into chunks. Cut the butter into squares and place in a bowl, with the chocolate, over a small saucepan of simmering water (make sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl as it will burn the chocolate). Melt gently and then remove form the heat and allow to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric hand whisk until pale, creamy and doubled in size. The mix should leave a trail for a few seconds if you lift the beaters out.

Add the cooled chocolate to the egg and sugar mix, and gently fold in.

Sift the flour and cocoa into the mixture, and again, gently fold in.

Once just combined, add the chopped chocolate and hazelnuts. Gently fold in

Turn the mix out into the prepared pan and level the top - gently easing the mix into the corners. Place in the middle of the oven and cook for approximately 25 minutes. The top of the brownie should look papery and the edges should be just coming away from the tin.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin until completely cold. Remove from the tin and slice into 16 squares.

These brownies are incredibly chocolately, fudgey and moist, with the hazelnuts giving just the right amount of crunch and nuttiness. While they won't solve all the problems in front of you, they might just make the pondering of them a little less painful.

As this months Alphabakes letter is 'H', I am going to enter them into Ros, of The More Than Occasional Baker, and Caroline, of Caroline Makes challenge. This month it is hosted by Caroline, so why not pop over to her blog after 25 May to see the round up of entries.

In the meantime, as I want to enjoy my last few weeks at home with Sam and then while I settle back into work, while I'm not taking a total break from blogging, I may be here a bit more sporadically than usual. And focusing on some simpler recipes (apart from one which I'm planning ;) !). I hope you'll excuse me.