Sunday, 29 April 2012

Ginger and Treacle Spiced Traybake for the Weekly Bake Off

This week's challenge for the Weekly Bake Off, set by the lovely Amy, was the Ginger and Treacle Spiced Traybake. The Bake Off is Amy's idea to bake her way through the recipes contained in Mary Berry's 100 Cakes and Bakes. This is a fantastically handy little book, featuring many of the recipes drawn from her other books, such as the Ultimate Cake Book, or Baking Bible, which is also amazing value at under £4, so that's 4p per recipe!

I was really happy with this challenge, as I love ginger. This recipe uses stem ginger in syrup, and ingredient that I had not actually used before, but which was very easy to handle. Doses of allspice and mixed spice help to give a lovely warmth to the cake. The cake mix is  easy to put together, as it's a question of simply measuring out the ingredients into a bowl and then beating it so that it comes together into a smooth mix. I was a bit disappointed though, as I had a total senior moment and misread the oven temperature required, and so set mine at 180 degrees, when for a fan oven, I should have used 160 degrees. Consequently, my cake was a little overdone, particularly around the edges (see below). 

Once the cake had cooled though, I trimmed off the very outer edges, and revealed quite a moist sponge interior, with a lovely flavouring from the spices and ginger. The cake is topped off with an icing glaze, made using syrup from the jar of stem ginger and icing sugar, and then with a sprinkling of chopped stem ginger over the top. I really liked this, as I felt the sweetness of the glaze, with its ginger tang, balanced out the treacly spiciness of the cake. Just right with a cup of tea on a dark, rainy Sunday. 


225g softened unsalted butter
175g light muscovado sugar
200g black treacle
300g self-raising flour
2 level tbspns baking powder
1 level tspn mixed spice
1 level tspn allspice
4 large eggs
4 tbspns milk
3 bulbs of stem ginger from a jar, finely chopped.

For the icing
75g icing sugar
3 tbspn syrup from the jar of stem ginger

3 bulbs of stem ginger, finely chopped, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 160 fan / 180 conventional / Gas 4. Grease and base line a 30 x 23 cm (12 x 9 inch) traybake. Measure all the cake ingredients into a bowl and beat until mixed through. Pour into the prepared pan and level. Bake for 35-40 minutes until springy to the touch. Leave to cool slightly before turning out onto a wire rack. Leave to cool completely.

Mix the icing ingredients to form a smooth paste. Spread over the top of the cake, and then sprinkle the chopped ginger over the top. Allow to set and then slice into pieces.

The recipe for this is also featured on the BBC website here



Saturday, 28 April 2012

My Baking Cupboard

The lovely Jo at What Do You Make of My Cake had a fantastic idea this week. She decided that, as fashion blogs are always full of 'inside my wardrobe' posts, that baking addicts may well be interested in an 'inside my baking cupboard' post. I have to say, that as I frequently indulge in a bit of what I call ' Kitchen P*rn (c'mon, please! I meant compulsive purchasing of 'Beautiful Kitchens' magazine and regular reading of other kitchenware catalogues such as Lakeland), my nosiness in terms of Other People's Kitchens sadly knows no bounds. It's the ideas it generates, you see, in terms of decor and equipment for the room that is, for me, very much the heart of the home. I get a warm, fuzzy feeling when I see a kitchen that is lovely, but more importantly, clearly loved and used well by its owner.

Aaanyways, I don't know if you're interested, so I hope this won't bore you, but in case you are as obsessed (and nosy) as I am, I thought you might like a peek at my kitchen and baking cupboard. The kitchen has been recently fitted - in March - so I am very lucky to have been in the position to decide what I wanted (to a certain extent), and where, in terms of cabinets. We are limited a bit though, by the size and a gallery style layout (so my dreams of a big American style kitchen, complete with mahoosive island unit will have to wait).

One thing I knew I wanted when we designed the kitchen, was to incorporate a specific area for my baking kit. I use large acrylic tubs for my flours (inspired by watching too much Barefoot Contessa), and I'm a great Kilner jar fan, but I was absolutely fed up of having to take things out of cupboards to find the stuff at the back. Having had pan drawers for saucepans in my old kitchen, I decided these were the way to go. Consequently, we had some additional pan drawers put in so I could use them for my baking kit.

The top one I use for odds 'n' ends - cling film, foil, baking papers (I tend to get pre-cut packets from Lakeland for cake tins etc in different diameters), baking beans, rolling pin etc.

The middle drawer I use for flours, sugars, baking chips etc. I love the way I can just pull the drawer out and lift the container I need.

I use the bottom drawer for my mixing bowls, jugs, sieves, hand-mixer, and other items.

I use one smaller drawer for things like spatulas, brushes, etc.

I have one area of a tall larder unit that I use for some of the other baking kit, such as piping kit, sugarcraft items, cupcake cases, cookie cutters, food colourings and paints, sprinkles etc. (I somehow have managed to accumulate a lot of these *mumbled in an embarrassed tone*). I keep these little, fiddly items in plastic containers.

I keep some of the smaller baking ingredients in another wall cupboard. This includes things like baking powder and soda, extracts, dried fruit, nuts, cocoa and my all-important chocolate stash.

I have one other cupboard that I use for baking trays and cake tins. Finally, here's my beloved Kitchen Aid, which is now 9 years old and counting ...

I haven't gone to the extreme of actually naming it (although when the thought has crossed my mind whether I should, 'Barney' seems a possibility - goodness knows why), but it has provided so many hours of enjoyment and resulting eating pleasure, that I love it to bits. It's sadly started to show signs of the dreaded breakdown of the grease in the head (and consequent seepage), so I suppose at some point I should get it serviced. But for now, it keeps on doing what it does best.

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this little peek into my world. I've linked this post back to Jo's original one, so that you can check out her cupboard. So, now the question. What do you keep in yours?


Thursday, 26 April 2012

Toasted Hazelnut Macarons with a Capuccino Ganache

For the first time in quite a while last week, I had a quiet day all to myself. Sam was at nursery on a long day for the first time, and with no one else around I had the luxury of being able to spend hours in the kitchen on a baking session. I really wanted to give macarons a second attempt, after the success of the Pistachio and Dark Chocolate ones the other week. Don't get me wrong, my first time macs were in no way perfect, but I was still pretty pleased with them. I must admit, though, I was pretty nervous. What if the second time turned out to be a disaster? What if I couldn't recreate the magical alchemy? 

Well. As you can see, these didn't turn out too badly. Although there were some differences. I used toasted hazelnuts to replace the pistachios in the pistachio-almond mix. I thought that using toasted hazelnuts would give a more intense hazelnut flavour, and it did work well. In trying to find something that would pair with the hazelnut, I was inspired by the hazelnut syrup used in latte coffee, so working in reverse, decided to try a coffee flavoured ganache as the filling.

Although I did have some whole hazelnuts, on this occasion I used ready chopped, toasted hazelnuts, which I blitzed in my food processor, with a little of the icing sugar, before adding in the ground almonds and processing for a little longer. The hazelnuts didn't seem to grind as well as the pistachios (perhaps as being toasted they were harder?), and I thought that the macs, after cooking, looked just a little rougher.
I again used both the Lakeland and Squires Kitchen macaron mats (detailed in my previous post on Pistachio Macarons). The Lakeland mat produced deeper macs that were slightly more chewy than the Squires ones, which were flatter and therefore slightly dryer.  Only slightly though.

Lakeland's mat on the left, Squires' on the right

The key thing I noticed was that in comparison to last time, I might have overwhipped the egg whites slightly, as they were firmer, and therefore the almond mix needed more folding to get it anywhere near the consistency to fall 'ribbon-like' from a spatula. This in turn showed itself in the piping, but combined with using a smaller piping tip, also meant that I had more control over the piping.

For the ganache, I used some Chocolate Cappuccino Drops that I sourced online from Melbury and Appleton, a deli offering mail order. I used 125g of chocolate drops to 55g double cream, melting in a bain marie, and stirring until smooth. The chocolate drops may have been a bit of a cheat, but they had a lovely, mellow coffee flavour. When combined with the cream, it tasted just like a cappucino.

The resulting macaron tasted very much like nutella, with a hint of coffee. I thought they were delicious, and was really pleased with the flavour.The texture of the macs was again of crunchy shell with a chewy inside. Highly addictive.

Ingredients (makes about 60 3cm macaron shells)

70g chopped toasted hazelnuts
55g ground almonds
175g icing sugar
3 large egg whites (separated and 'aged' for 1 hour 30 minutes on the counter)
75g caster sugar
Chocolate and cream for ganache, or other filling of your choice.

Preheat the oven to 140 Fan / 160 conventional.

Prepare your baking trays using either silicone mats, or by using baking parchment. If using the parchment you can make a template using a 3cm cookie cutter - trace around the cookie cutter with a pencil to mark individual circles evenly spaced apart at least 3cm. Turn the paper over, so that the circles show through, before using.

Grind the hazelnuts with half of the icing sugar until they are finely ground (try not to overgrind or they may become oily). Add in the almonds and the remainder of the icing sugar and process again. Sift the mixture twice to remove the largest of the grains.
Hazelnut, almond and icing sugar mix after sifting twice
In a very clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they reach the soft peak stage. Continue whisking while adding the caster sugar a little at a time until the mix is smooth and glossy. (At this point I added a little dark brown gel food colouring and whisked again to incorporate it - I think it's here I may have overwhisked the mix slightly, as the colouring wasn't giving the shade I wanted so I had to keep adding more!) 

Add half the nut mixture and mix until smooth. Fold in the remaining nut mixture until the mix is glossy and falls in a ribbon from your spatula.

Transfer the mix into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm round nozzle. Pipe your macs with the bag at a 90 degree angle to the baking parchment. Stop just before you reach the edge of the circle, to allow for a little spreading. (I added a little gold lustre dust to the top of some of mine at this point - just sprinkling it by tapping a loaded paint brush against my finger).

Tap the tray on the top of the counter so that any air bubbles in the mix are dispelled (if you see any in the top of the macs, you can pierce them with a toothpick). Leave the macs to stand for at least 30 minutes (I left mine for 45); you want the macs to be no longer sticky to the touch.

Bake in the oven for approx 15 minutes. Remove, and immediately (and carefully) slide the mat onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely. Once the macs are cool, carefully remove them. I found it easiest to peel the mat from the macaron, rather than the other way round, as that seems to stop the macs from disintegrating.  

Organise the macs into same size pairs. Pipe some ganache onto one half, pair with the other and sandwich together.

Well, they were definitely not a disaster, as they tasted great, although they didn't seem to look quite as polished as my first attempt. I suspect that is again the coarser nut mix combined with thicker egg white.

Anyway, I certainly enjoyed them, and as the only person in the house to like meringue, I luckily had a lot to enjoy. Definitely not a disaster...


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Anticipating Summer - Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes

Nothing screams summer in Britain like strawberries. I know it's not yet summer, but with the lovely warm sunny spell we recently had, it was easy to imagine it had arrived early. And so I simply couldn't resist these gorgeous berries from my local supermarket. I do try and buy fruit and veg in season, and local if I can. Marked 'early season', they were at least British, and not too far from Cardiff (as the crow flies), being grown in Somerset.  I must admit though, they had me at 'hellooo ... I'm a beautiful, luscious, red strawberry and I taste divine'. No more, no less.

Now I know that some would say it's a crime to eat these any other way than au naturel. But I have always wanted to make fresh strawberry cupcakes. While I've tried some perfectly adequate supermarket ones recently, I thought home made would be miles better. With that firmly in mind, they found their way into my trolley.

I adapted Mary Berry's cupcake recipe from 100 Cakes and Bakes (which I last used for the Weekly Bake Off) here, using 3 tbpsns of fresh strawberry purée instead of the milk. I also guesstimated my own buttercream as I found Mary Berry's recipe stingy for the number of cupcakes. I also wanted to use more of the puréed fruit to flavour and colour the buttercream.

Ingredients (makes 10 cupcakes)

100g softened unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
150g self-raising flour
3 tbspn milk
2 large eggs
1/2 tspn vanilla extract
3 tbspn strawberry purée

Buttercream Frosting

150g softened unsalted butter
300g sifted icing sugar (but use more or less to get the consistency you like)
200 - 300ml of fresh strawberry purée

Preheat the oven to 160 fan / 180 conventional / gas 4. Line your muffin pan with cupcake liners.

To make the strawberry purée, blitz the strawberries in a food blender with a little icing sugar (to taste really - I used about a tablespoon). Then pass through a sieve to remove the seeds. Set aside. I used two, 250g punnets of strawberries and reserved five of the smaller ones for topping the cupcakes.

For the cupcakes, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs and vanilla, mixing gently until smooth. Add in the flour, and mix again. Finally add in 3 tbspns of the strawberry purée, and mix gently until incorporated, being careful not to overbeat the mix.

Scoop into the prepared cups, dividing equally between them. I use an old-fashioned ice-cream scoop (2 1/2 inch diameter) for mine and found this amount of mix gives 10 cupcakes.

Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 20 minutes, until risen and and a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and after leaving to cool for approx 5 - 10 minutes, turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the buttercream frosting, I first reduced the 200 - 300ml of strawberry purée by simmering over a low heat in a small pan. This left me with about half the original volume - around 100 - 150ml. Leave this to cool completely, so that it does not melt the butter.

I normally use my stand mixer to make frosting, so this is what I do. Cream the butter slightly to break it up, then add in little by little the icing sugar. Once you think it's nearly ready, add in the strawberry purée and mix well [it may look a little curdled at first, but carry on mixing and it will come back together, trust me]. Then, add in a little more icing sugar until you get the consistency you want. Leave to beat for a few minutes to ensure that it's really smooth and creamy, and that the strawberry purée is mixed throughout the frosting. Decorate how you want.

I used my Wilton 1M tip to pipe rose swirls (you start at the centre and move to the outside edge of the cupcake), and then used some strawberry slices to decorate some of them.

The cupcakes were a little denser than normal, but still really moist. The lovely fresh strawberry aroma and flavour came through in spades. I was really pleased with them, and they were definitely better than shop bought.

The irony, of course, as I sit and type this, is that the weather in Cardiff has now taken a turn for the worst. Summer seems so very far away again. But at least not in my cake tin ...


Sunday, 22 April 2012

'Cause That's Just How I Roll - 'Ultimate' Chocolate Roulade for the Weekly Bake Off

When Amy announced this week's challenge for the Weekly Bake Off, I felt conflicted. Great - it contained chocolate. Not so great - it was the roulade! Featuring on last year's Great British Bake Off as one of the technical challenges, it's utterly delicious, but can be tricky to make the sponge and then roll it to form the roulade shape. And I've never made one before!

There was another reason I had nerves though. The recipe (which can be found here on the BBC Food website) calls for the separation of 6 eggs, and the beating of yolks and sugar until light and creamy. You then add melted chocolate to this mix, before folding in the egg whites which you have whisked to stiff peaks. Now this never goes quite right for me, whatever recipe this step is in (eg chocolate mousse). Its the adding chocolate to the egg yolks and sugar - it always seems to just congeal in a grainy mess. I then panic as I'm folding the egg whites in, as the mix never seems smooth and I fear that in trying to make it so, I am loosing the air from the whites.

I also wish I had checked my copy of the second British Bake Off Book, How to Bake, before embarking on this, as it has the recipe and a more detailed step by step tutorial, than is in 100 Cakes and Bakes, which the Weekly Bake Off is based on. It would have been helpful to read through beforehand, and when I found it afterwards, it was a real 'D'Oh' moment. The tutorial includes the tip to make a shallow cut along one of the short edges before rolling - presumably this helps you get a nice tight roll in the centre of your roulade. Not much use after you've rolled it!

Let's get ready to roll!
Still, I got through it relatively unscathed. I did have trouble with the mixing, as once again I managed to engineer a sticky mass that I then had to fold egg whites into. This means that the sponge mix ended up slightly lumpy in parts, although once cooked, thsi translated into some gorgeous, almost fudgy flecks of sponge. The roulade did crack as I rolled it, and you can see that the inner part of the roll is not a spiral - it's more reminiscent, to me anyway, or a tyrannasaurus head (never get me to take a Rorshach Test! My excuse is that Jurassic Park was on the TV yesterday).

But do you know what? It is indeed utterly delicious and well worth it. The sponge is so chocolatey and moist, it is the perfect foil for the whipped cream (which I sweetened slightly with icing sugar) and the tart, juicy rasperries. I'll just have to practise a bit more ...


Thursday, 19 April 2012

Simple Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sooo, it's still the school holidays in Cardiff this week, and the spectacle of two ravenous teenagers rampaging around the house foraging is a fairly regular occurence. In an effort to stave off hunger, and boredom, Ben and I decided to revisit one of his favourite - and easy peasy - recipes for chocolate chip cookies. It's taken from a cookery book I bought him when he was about 7, and first starting to want to help Mummy in the kitchen.

These have seen many, many outings over the years, and Ben and I have made them together every time (admittedly, quite often with me fighting my kitchen control freakery, but I am trying to mellow, honest).

One memorable version of these invoved Ben wanting to use pink food dye. The resulting pink cookies with brown spots were fairly reminiscent, for those of you who remember, of Mr Blobby. Eating one felt, on one level, so wrong, yet on another, so right. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, don't worry. That is Not A Bad Thing. Not at all. In fact, count yourself lucky.

Simple Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Usborne's Children's Book of Baking)

Makes 12

75g softened unsalted butter
75g light brown soft sugar
75g caster sugar
1 medium egg
1 tspn vanilla essence
175g plain flour
1/2 tspn baking powder
150g chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 160 fan / 180 conventional / 350F / Gas 4.

Grease a couple of baking trays and set aside.

Cream the butter and two sugars together until smooth and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat well to mix. Then add the flour and baking powder and mix well until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips so that they are evenly distributed.

Scoop the cookie dough onto the baking sheets so that they form round heaps, evenly spaced apart (I use an old fashioned ice cream scoop  (2 inch diameter / size 30) for this - as with cupcakes and muffin batter - as it is easy to make sure that they are all the same size, and the dough comes off the scoop easily).

Using a fork, press down the cookies to flatten them slightly.

Bake for 10 minutes until golden; remove and let cool on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

These cookies are lovely as a quick snack. They are fudgy in the middle and there is a hefty dose of chocolate chips which retain that all important gooey factor. You can ring the changes by replacing the 150g of chocolate chips with any combination of ingredients you like - cranberries and white chocolate, chopped hazelnuts and dark chocolate, peanut butter chips, chocolate M&Ms - the limit is your imagination.

[Oh, and I know, cookies, school milk bottle and a stripy straw? Clichéd right? Mike feels it may be a tad contrived. Maybe. Oh well, Yep. Absolutely. But I love it. Suits a purpose too.  And the cookies still taste good.  Didn't stop us polishing off the 12 in about as many minutes! So no apologies here. :) ]



Monday, 16 April 2012

Double Chocolate Cheesecake Muffins

I'm on a bit of a muffin kick at the moment, and as the last few bakes I've done have not involved chocolate, the plea from the boys was for something very much chocolatey. I thought I'd be a bit daring with these, though, as there is a cheesecake layer which is swirled into the muffin batter (I didn't tell the boys as they are cheesecake averse - no idea where they've got that from!).

With melted chocolate in the mix, the result is quite a fudgy muffin, fluffy sponge with the cheesecake layer - especially on the top of the muffin - giving a bit of a fudgy contrast.

The recipe I based these on calls for plain cream cheese, but as I had bought some of the new Cadbury Chocolate Philadelphia, I had to give it a go. Consequently, these are double chocolate (never a bad thing in my book!).

Double Chocolate Cheesecake Muffins (adapted from Muffins Galore by Catherine Atkinson)
Makes 12

150g plain flour
175g caster  sugar
35g unsweetened  cocoa powder
1/2 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tspn salt
125ml buttermilk
3 tbspns vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil)
50g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
1 tspn vanilla extract
75g plain chocolate melted

For the cheesecake mixture
160g pack of Cadbury Philadelphia
55g caster sugar
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
1/8 tspn vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 170 fan / 190 conventional / 375 farenheit / gas 5. Line a 12 cup muffin pan.

Make the cheesecake mixture by combining the ingredients on a small bowl, mixing until smooth.

Mix the dry muffin ingredients in a large bowl. In a jug, mix the egg, buttermilk, vegetable oil, melted butter, vanilla, and melted chocolate. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined (the mix should look lumpy, and there will be some bits of flour still showing - this is OK, as it's what helps to give the muffins their lighter texture).

Spoon the batter into the prepared cases, dividing it evenly.

Spoon a little of the cheesecake mixture over the top of the batter, again dividing it equally between the cases.

Using a knife, swirl the mixture slightly so it mixes a little.

Bake in the oven for 20 - 25 minutes until risen and firm to the touch. Cool for 5 minutes in the tin and then turn out to a wire rack to continue cooling.

As this recipe includes chocolate and cheese, which is the theme of this month's We Should Cocoa challenge hosted by Choclette of the Chocolate Log Blog, I am going to make this my first time entry (yay!). We Should Cocoa is a monthly bloggers challenge hosted alternately by Choclette and Chele of Chocolate Teapot, and each month is centered on a particular theme but which always involves chocolate. Can't wait to see all the other chocolatey cheese creations for this month! Why don't you pop over to Choclette's blog and have a look?

In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy these with my favourite afternoon treat, a home made cappucino courtesy of Mike. 

And what did the boys think? They who don't like cheesecake? They wolfed them. Couldn't get enough. Typical. Hope you enjoy them, too.