Friday, 27 July 2012

Olympic Flame Chocolate Chip and Orange Cupcakes

Tonight, the Games of the XXX Olympiad begin and the Olympic Cauldron will be lit over the city of London. For the next 17 days, it will burn brightly as a symbol of the Olympic movement and its ideals:   "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well." Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic movement.

I've always loved the romanticism of the Olympics, and especially the flame. Who can forget the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics, when an archer fired a flaming arrow over the cauldron, which then ignited? So, when Laura of Laura Loves Cakes and Rachel of Dolly Bakes announced that this month's Calendar Cakes challenge (hosted by Laura) was based on the Olympics, I didn't have to think too long about what I wanted to do.
Inspired by the orange of the flame, I decided to do an orange flavoured and coloured frosting, with a chocolate chip and orange cupcake. I used gold cupcake cases as well, which is the colour of the 2012 Olympic Relay Torch. I tried three different ways of decorating the cupcakes. First was swirling the orange frosting with a deeper shade of orange. This turned out OK, but only on the first cupcake as by the time I piped the second all the orange colouring (which I smeared inside the piping nozzle) had disappeared. Second was using some red, orange, yellow and white coloured sprinkles. This looked cute, but no more so than any other cupcake. I then tried some red glitter dusted over. It didn't really give the effect I was after, but looked pretty anyway!

The cupcakes themselves are flavoured with orange extract, and with a hefty dose of chocolate chips. The frosting is actually made using icing sugar with half butter and half cream cheese, flavoured with orange zest and juice. I love using cream cheese in frosting, as I find the slight tartness helps stop it becoming too sweet. It seems to give a good consistency too and holds up well to piping.

The resulting cupcake was really moist sponge, subtly flavoured with orange and studded with chocolate. The frosting was quite zingy - from the  zest - and I felt it really complemented the sponge. My piping did spark a debate in the house though as to whether there was a little too much frosting to cake (personally, I had no idea what they were talking about ;) ). Anyway, here's what I did.

Chocolate Chip and Orange Cupcakes

Ingredients (makes 9)

100g soft unsalted butter
150g self-raising flour
150g caster sugar
1 tbspn milk
2 large eggs
1/2 tspn orange extract
100g dark chocolate chips

For the frosting
100g soft unsalted butter
100g room temperature cream cheese
3 cups icing sugar
grated zest of one orange
1 tbspn fresh orange juice

Preheat the oven to Fan 160 / Conventional 180 / Gas 4. Prepare a muffin tin with liners.

In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix to combine. Add the milk and orange extract. Then, add the flour and gently mix until incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips until mixed evenly throughout.

Scoop the mixture into the baking tray, filling the cases no more than two thirds full. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 20 minutes, until risen and golden and a skewer comes out clean.

Remove and allow to cool in the tray for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the zest and orange juice and mix to combine. Add the icing sugar, and starting the mixer slowly, mix until combined. Turn the mixer to high and beat for a few minutes until light and fluffy. You can spread this on the cupcakes when they are completely cold or, as I did, use a piping bag fitted with a Wilton 1M tip, to pipe swirls on.

The picture above shows the one cake with the shaded frosting. I think if I want to do this again, rather than smear the inside of the nozzle with extra colouring, I'll try the two icing bag method (this involves placing each colour icing into its own bag, and then placing the bags inside a third fitted with a nozzle, then piping as normal).

Anyway, there's my first entry for Calendar Cakes. Hope you like them.

Have a great Games,


Saturday, 21 July 2012

Walnut, Pear and Blue Cheese Muffins

This month's entry for Alphabakes is a bit of an experiment. The challenge is organised by Ros, of The More Than Occasional Baker, and Caroline, of Caroline Makes, and is based on a different letter each month. This month's is 'W'.

I decided to have another go at savoury muffins, using the classic walnut, pear and blue cheese flavour combination. I quite liked the result, as I love blue cheese in baked goods, and the crunch from the walnuts was nice. Mike was a little 'meh' about them though, as he felt the walnut taste was a little strong and he couldn't detect much cheese or pear flavour (with the pears this may be because I used tinned - which didn't have much flavour to start with). I definitely could taste the cheese, not so much the pear, but the cheese definitely balanced the walnuts. Maybe the difference was how the ingredients were distributed and then divided in the cases? The texture was moist, light and fluffy, although a little firmer than normal  (say a chocolate muffin) because of the cheese melting through. The crust was nice and cheesy, with a lovely golden colour.

Anyway, this is what I did.

Walnut, Pear and Blue Cheese Muffins

Ingredients (makes 12)

300g plain flour
1 tbspn baking powder
1/2 tspn salt
80g caster sugar
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
5 tbspns water
5 tbspns sunflower oil
175ml milk
80g blue cheese, crumbled (I used Roquefort)
40g walnuts, chopped
80g pear, diced

Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 conventional / Gas 4. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper cases (or grease).

Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl. In a separate jug,  mix the egg, water, oil and milk. Add the wet ingredients all at once to the dry ingredients, along with the blue cheese, pear and walnuts. Mix briefly until just combined. The mixture should look quite wet, with some dry bits of flour showing.

Scoop into the prepared tin, filling each case no more than two thirds full. Bake in the oven for 20 - 25 minutes, until risen and golden. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Best eaten on the day they are made, and preferably still warm from the oven.

I think these would best suit a brunch or picnic menu. I think next time I make them, I'll try using fresh pears - this time I tried tinned as I wanted to make sure they were soft in the muffin, and I wasn't sure that fresh (as they can be a bit under ripe when you buy them) would cook to the texture I wanted in 20 minutes.

Aaanyways, as they include a magic 'W' ingredient in the walnuts, I'm sending them to Alphabakes. This month's host is Caroline, and the roundup will appear sometime after 25 July over at Caroline Makes.


Sunday, 15 July 2012

Random Recipes 18 - Cookbooks

So this month's Random Recipes organised by the wonderful Dom at Belleau Kitchen, is an easy, if a little (for me anyway) embarrassing one. Keep reading and you'll understand why I say that.

Dom kindly gave us a break this month from the usual format of Random Recipes - which is to randomly select a cookbook from your collection, randomly choose a recipe, and then cook it and blog it. Yes, this month, Dom decided that he wanted to see our cookbook collections. I think this will make for a pretty interesting round up come the end of the month!

In the meantime, I think I've warned you previously, but here goes...

Hello, my name is Susie and I am addicted to cookbooks.

There, it's firmly out there now.

I wish I could say that last photo shows the extent of my addiction. But there is more.

Aaand, some more.

The book shelves you can see have gradually made their way down the wall over the last 10 years. The shelf above the dresser was an overflow 'solution' when Mike firmly said that I could not have any more on the wall, as the boys would bang their heads on them whenever we sat down to eat. But when I ran out of space up there, we somehow managed to squeeze in one more shelf to take my baking books, which I wanted to organise into one row.

And the rather higgledy pile? That used to be on the top shelf. When we had the kitchen refitted back in March, we also had some new lighting and a lower ceiling put in the dining area. The ceiling dropped only by a few inches, but it means that I can't get the top shelf of books back up there. I could get some, as I could lay them flat rather than stand them up. But that would mean I'd have to choose which to put up there. And I can't face that prospect yet. I mean, I'd probably then have to get rid of some of them as I think the house really is getting to the point that it can't take any more. Perhaps Mike, too. Love him, he's tried to institute a 'one in, one out' rule. But that, to me, is missing the point entirely.

It's silly perhaps, but I love reading cookbooks. I first began collecting them over 25 years ago, when one of my first jobs while I was a student gave me access to the joys of a WHSmith staff discount, and a book department. There are also quite a few charity shop finds I discovered. Then someone invented Amazon, and my access to a whole new world of cookery books kicked up several different levels.

I know it looks a lot. But there is some sort of order to this chaos. And I do read them, cook from them, and, for most of the time, I know pretty much exactly what I have and where. And somewhere in the back of my head, I am aware that it looks pretty crazy. I mean, all this obsession about food. But there you go. That's me.

Anyway. I hope you have enjoyed this peek into my obsession.

I must admit, I've enjoyed peeking at everyone else's.


Thursday, 5 July 2012

Simply Chocolate Cake

I first made this simple, but oh so tasty, chocolate cake when Josh and Ben were little. It's now turned out to be one of their favourites. It's the recipe that I use for some of my chocolate cupcakes, which gives a rich, fluffy sponge. The chocolate ganache icing is also richly flavoured, so taken together, you get a whole mouthful of chocolatey goodness. It's been used several times as a birthday cake and school fair baking stall contribution, and has never failed to deliver eager smiles and requests for more.

The cake itself is quite easy to make. You can use the 'all in one' method and simply chuck everything into a bowl and blitz with a handmixer. I have tended to use a slightly different method, creaming the sugar and butter well first, as I think this helps the sugar - which can be quite lumpy - to dissolve and makes for a fluffier sponge.

The chocolate ganache icing is just chocolate and cream, melted together and then left to cool until you get a spreadable consistency. I could eat this by the spoonful, but Josh and Ben tend to get there first!

Chocolate Cake


200g self-raising flour
1/2 tspn baking powder
4 tbspns cocoa powder
4 medium eggs
225g softened unsalted butter
225g soft light brown sugar
pinch salt
1 tbspn milk

For the icing

150g plain chocolate
150ml double cream

Preheat the oven to 155 Fan / 175 Conventional / 350 C / Gas 4. Grease and base line two 20cm (8 inch) round cake tins.

To make the icing, break the chocolate into bite sized pieces and place in a bowl. Add the cream. Place the bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water, taking care that the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl.Stir while the chocolate melts. Once it is silky smooth, remove from the heat and allow to cool so that it thickens.

To make the sponge, place the sugar, salt and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat until soft and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes). Add the flour, baking powder, cocoa, eggs and milk, and starting the mixer on slow, beat until well mixed. Spoon the mixture equally into the tins and then level the top.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until risen and springy to the touch. Leave to cool in the tins for five minutes, then turn out onto a baking rack, peel off the greaseproof paper, and allow to cool completely.

To assemble, spread some icing on the top of one of the cakes, and carefully place the second cake on top. Spread the rest of the icing over the top of the cake (I then added some chocolate sprinkles). You could make a little more icing and cover the sides of the cakes too, if you like (you'd probably have enough using 200g chocolate and 200ml cream).

As this month's Tea Time Treats challenge is based on Cake Stall Cakes and Bakes, I'm submitting this to this month's host, Karen at Lavender and Lovage. Tea Time Treats is organised by Karen and also Kate of What Kate Baked. The closing date is 28 July, after which Karen will produce a roundup. If the entries so far are anything to go by, I think it may be a very chocolatey month!



Monday, 2 July 2012

Bake Me... Sweet Bitesize Bakes : The Bake Swap

When I first started blogging back in December, one of the blogs that inspired me to do so was Sarah Trivuncic's Maison Cupcake. Sarah started blogging in 2009, and her blog quickly developed into a way of exploring the world of baking. Now, in 2012, it has become one of the most well know food blogs in the UK and June saw the release of Sarah's first book, Sweet Bite Sized Bakes, one of the Bake Me I'm Yours series. This is on my 'want, want, want' list.

To celebrate the launch of the book, the publishers organised a Bake Swap on their website; if you signed up you would be paired with a partner to swap some baked treats. Hopefully, you might just find a friend, too. The bakes had to be posted on or before 2 July.

I was paired with Emma. The email announcing this didn't give me any other details (other than her address), so I spent some time pondering what I could make, for someone I didn't know, didn't know what they liked, and which would survive the journey intact and would deliver on the promise of a 'treat'.

Dark Chocolate and Toasted Hazelnut, left, and White Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies
I decided on two kinds of cookies: White Chocolate and Cranberry, and Dark Chocolate and Toasted Hazelnut. I used my basic Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, just substituting the 150g chocolate chips for 100g white chocolate chips and 50g dried cranberries, and in another batch, 100g dark chocolate chips and 50g chopped toasted hazelnuts. I also added a pinch of salt to each batch - just to counter any possible over-sweetness, and to balance out the flavour (and I think it worked really well so will probably do that all the time from now on!). I used a kilner jar as packaging, as it was just the right size, and had a go at making a handmade label as a finishing touch - wrapped in plenty of bubble wrap I just hope they got to Emma without breaking!

So, today, my treat from Emma arrived. A fantastic tin of Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip cookies, with a lovely little card. Talk about great minds thinking alike though, as we both thought about cookies! 

Emma's gorgeous Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies
Emma, has her own blog, too, A-way with the Fairy Cakes. I'm so pleased that the swap paired me with Emma, as it allowed me to discover her blog, and her fantastic cupcakes. I love her beautiful fondant flowers. Why don't you have a look?  I hope she'll share some tips with me on how to do them! ;)

Anyone for a Cookie?
I've never done anything like this before, but I really enjoyed it. Up until 9 July, those who took part will be uploading a picture of our received treat to BakeMe's Facebook Page as a way of saying 'Thank You' to our baking partner. So you can visit and check out all the other swaps! The best five will win a copy of Sarah's book.

Happy Baking!