The baking year ahead: 2013

Why, hello there! Happy new year. Sorry for my complete lack of blogging over the Christmas period, what with illness, Australian adventures and festivities, there hasn’t been much time for me to sit and type.

It being early in the new year, now is the time for people to make new year’s resolutions – you know, the well intentioned goals you set, full of vigour and hope for the year ahead. I don’t know if these resolutions are ever fulfilled, I’m guessing they often loose their steam by February. I’ve never been one for new year’s resolutions, but this year I do have some baking resolutions – things I’d like to try my hand at in 2013.

Now, this is by no means a comprehensive list of everything I plan to make, but it gives a flavour of some of the recipes and techniques I’d like to try. Warning: Do not read this list while hungry.

Marshmallows

Marshmallows

Raspberry Marshmallows by Not Quite Nigella

Homemade marshmallows seem to be growing in popularity at the moment. Are they perhaps the new macaroon when it comes to baking trends? I’ve only tried eating them a few times, and I love their soft, cloud-like texture. They are similar to macaroons in that they can be a great vehicle for carrying flavours. These Fresh Raspberry Marshmallows by Not Quite Nigella look delightful, and I plan on giving them a go. I’ve not worked with gelatine before, and will also be investing in a sugar thermometer.

Nougat

Pistachio and Rose Petal Nougat

Pistachio and Rose Petal Nougat

My first job was at a fantastic Italian bakery in my hometown, which is well known for its French-style nougat, packaged and shipped around Australia. I spent quite a few hours helping pack the nougat, ready for sale, into its neat wrappers, and can remember clearly the smell of roasting almonds throughout the bakery when a batch was being made.

I was lucky enough to be given a few bars of this nougat for Christmas, and they are currently waiting patiently in the cupboard for their time to be eaten. I’m saving them for a time when I really fancy a special sweet treat.

I’ve been thinking about making my own nougat for a while now, and while living in Australia cut out this recipe for pistachio and rose petal nougat from the Sydney Morning Herald. It’s another recipe I’ll be using a sugar thermometer for, and I’ve already purchased the edible paper and rose petals for it. Stay tuned for my attempt!

Croissants

Buttery croissant with jam

Buttery croissant with jam

2012 has been a year of baking with yeast – I’ve tried numerous breads, made baguettes, brioche and bagels. In 2013 I’d like to try my hand at buttery french pastries. I think I’ll start with croissants, although I know a lot of time/folding/patience is involved. Surely the result – a fresh buttery croissant made with my own two hands and warm from the oven – is worth it?

I have a recipe in my ‘How to Make Bread’ book by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou who teaches at the School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire. Wish me luck.

Macaroons

Rainbow macaroons

Rainbow macaroons

The lovely Kerry and I attempted Macaroons on New Year’s Eve – she was off to celebrate with Emma, who had recently been proposed to in Paris, so they seemed a fitting treat. We used this recipe from Delicious magazine. I didn’t get to sample the final product, but apparently they tasted good! I’d like to give them another go and see if I can improve on our attempt. Not sure I’ll ever make them look as perfect as the ones above, but no harm in trying!

Sugar-free and gluten-free

Sugar-free cheesecake by Sarah Wilson

Sugar-free cheesecake by Sarah Wilson

Sugar-free and gluten-free?! Yes, you heard right. Don’t panic – I’m not going all super-healthy on you, but I am curious to try recipes with alternative ingredients, and am also keen to get acquainted with some of the ‘healthier’ sweeteners out there.

Sarah Wilson is an Australian writer, blogger and media-type who has completely given up sugar. She even has a cookbook about it – I quit sugar. This month’s Cake Eaters Anonymous get together is a focus on healthier recipes, so I’ll be giving her gluten-free and sugar-free cheesecake a try. She uses nuts for the base instead of biscuit crumbs or pastry, and sweetens it with vanilla essences, coconut cream and rice syrup. I LOVE baked cheesecake, so am really hoping this one tastes as good as it looks.

What are your baking plans for this year? Anything you’d like to perfect or try your hand at?

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Recipe: Langues du chat

Langues du chat (cat tongues) are a delicate shortbread biscuit, named so because of their flat, rounded shape. As far as biscuits go, these ones are pretty special. Light, crisp and gently sweet, they are a far-cry from chunky choc cip cookies or chewy anzacs.

My inspiration to make these came from Danny on the Great British Bake Off. She made her version of langues du chat in the petit four challenge of the second last episode in the series. She flavoured hers with orange, and dipped them in cardamom-flavoured white chocolate.

I also spotted them a few weeks ago on a visit to The Cheese Shop in Nottingham – these are the imported from France version and apparently very yummy.

Danny in action on the GBBO

I decided to try and replicate her take on this French recipe, but decided to dip them in plain white chocolate instead, as I didn’t want them overpowered by the cardamom flavour.

White chocoalate and orange langues du chat

Ingredients:

  • 125gm softened butter
  • 125gm sifted icing sugar
  • 25gm ground almonds
  • 3 egg whites
  • 165gm sifted plain flour
  • 2 small oranges (or 1 large one), zest only
  • 200gm white chocolate

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 170C.
  • Using an electric hand-held mixer, beat the soft butter until light and fluffy. Then beat in 100gm of the icing sugar for one minute.
  • Add the ground almonds and remaining icing sugar to the mix and beat until just combined.
  • Add the egg whites, one at a time, mixing between each addition.
  • Use a metal spoon to lightly mix in the plain flour and orange zest.
  • Leave the mixture to rest for 20 minutes.
  • Now for the slightly trickier bit – use a ruler and pencil to mark out 7cm lines, 3cm apart, on a piece of baking paper. These will act as a guide for the piped biscuits. Turn the paper over on your oven sheet, and you should still be able to see the lines to guide you (Note: I was worried the lines looked too close together, but the biscuits don’t spread that much, so it worked fine).
  • Fit a piping bag with a 1cm round nozzle and fill the bag with the rested biscuit mix.
  • Steadily pipe out the biscuits onto the greaseproof paper – try and keep them uniform.
  • Bake for 10 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown, and the edges are gently colouring, then remove from the oven and leave to cool on the tray for two minutes.
  • Lift each biscuit off with a palette life and leave to cool on a wire rack. The biscuits will crisp and harden as they cool.
  • Repeat this until all of the mix is used.
  • Once the biscuits are cool, melt the white chocolate in a bowl in the microwave, and dip each biscuit into it. I dipped mine about a third of the way in, but half way up would be even better I think.
  • Enjoy with a cup of tea.

Danny’s langues du chat

I was pretty happy with my biscuits, and they were eaten-up quickly. I remembered to take a photo just in time, but these were slightly less uniform than the best ones of the batch.

My version… langues du chat

I was also accused of them being slightly man-like in appearance. I can assure you, this was not intentional!

Happy baking

Recipe: Bounty Cake

Taste of Paradise cake

Bounty Cake, aka Taste of Paradise Cake, is a recipe I submitted to the Nottingham Post’s weekend magazine feature, ‘A nice slice’. I love bounty bars, and this cake had instant appeal to me when I saw the original recipe on this blog, by Cathryn and Sarah-Jane from the latest season of the Great British Bake Off.

Coconut sponge topped with decadent chocolate and toasted coconut sounded like a winning combination to me. After I baked it, I also delivered it to the Nottingham Post HQ in the city, and the team there seemed really grateful. I even received a wedding proposal by email as a result (I think it was a joke…).

Here is the lovely write-up they gave me, which includes the recipe. They even mentioned this blog site in there, which was very sweet of them – especially considering it is so new.

Nottingham Post Weekend magazine

I only slightly varied from the original in that I found the icing to be a bit too solid – my fault for not putting in the full amount of milk, so I’d suggest don’t be afraid of all the milk and I’ve reduced the amount of icing sugar slightly. Also, the resulting cakes are BIG – perfect for feeding a crowd. But if you want a smaller cake, you could easily halve the amounts and just do a single layer.

In case you can’t read the recipe clearly, here it is:

Bounty Cake (Taste of Paradise Cake)

Ingredients:

  • 500gm soft butter
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 4 egg whites
  • 150ml butter milk
  • 400gm caster sugar
  • 75gm desiccated coconut
  • 450gm SR flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder

For icing and decoration:

  • 150gm dark chocolate
  • 50gm milk chocolate
  • 80gm soft butter
  • 4tbsp whole milk
  • 140gm icing sugar
  • 50gm cocoa powder
  • Toasted shredded coconut

Method:

  • Pre-heat your oven to 170C. Grease and line two deep, round sponge tins.
  • Cream together the soft butter and sugar with electric beaters until pale and fluffy.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, egg whites and butter milk.
  • In another large bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder.
  • Add egg mixture, a ladleful at a time, to butter mixture, alternating with a spoonful of flour, until all egg mix is combined (The flour stops the mix from curdling).
  • Add the remaining flour and coconut, and mix lightly until just combined.
  • Pour into the prepared tins and bake for 45 minutes, or until light brown and pulling away from the sides of the tin.
  • While the cakes are cooling, make the icing.
  • Melt the dark chocolate, milk chocolate, milk and butter in a bowl in the microwave, stirring regularly to avoid burning, until just melted and combined.
  • Remove from microwave, sift in the icing sugar and cocoa, beating well until a spreadable consistency.
  • Fill and ice the cakes, decorating with the shredded coconut. Or you could decorate with sliced bounty bars for something more decadent.

A nice slice

Happy baking!

Recipe: Cherry & Chocolate Cupcakes

For the most recent meeting of Cake Club I made chocolate cherry cupcakes, garnished with suitably ghoulish bloody eyeballs. The recipe I used is a simple Nigella recipe, and the resulting cupcakes were delicious. A nice soft cake with a deep, dark fruity flavour from the use of cherry jam in the mix. Nigella topped her cupcakes with cherries, but I chose eyeballs (made of chocolate) instead, to fit in with the Halloween theme.

Chocolate cherry cupcakes

Cherry & Chocolate Cupcakes (Halloween style)

Ingredients:

  • 125gm soft unsalted butter
  • 100gm dark chocolate (I used the Sainsbury’s basics chocolate found in the confectionary aisle – 30p for 100gm and rich in cocoa, perfect for baking)
  • 300gm morello cherry jam (I used Sainsbury’s reduced sugar morello cherry jam)
  • 150gm golden caster sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 150gm SR flour

For the icing:

  • 100gm dark chocolate
  • 100ml double cream
  • Box of Lindt truffle balls (I used milk chocolate)
  • 200gm white chocolate
  • Red and blue food dye to decorate
  • 4 tbsps raspberry jam

Method:

  • Preheat your oven to 180C and line a 12-cup muffin tray with cupcake cases.
  • Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When nearly fully melted, stir in the broken dark chocolate, leave to warm for one minute, then remove from heat. Stir until smooth and combined.
  • Add the cherry jam, sugar and salt, and stir until well combined. Lightly beat the eggs and then add these too.
  • Lightly stir in the flour, and then spoon into the prepared cupcake cases.
  • Bake in the oven for approximately 25 minutes. When they look ready, take them out and leave the pan to cool on a wire rack for ten minutes, before turning out the cupcakes.
  • Once cool, prepare the icing.
  • Break the dark chocolate into squares, and put in a saucepan with the cream. Bring to the boil, then remove from heat and stir til smooth. Allow to cool slightly, then whisk until thickened.
  • Spread this on the top of the cupcakes using a spoon, and then top with one of your chocolate eyeballs.

Iced cupcakes

To make the eyeballs, melt the white chocolate in a bowl in the microwave. Zap it for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between each blast, to ensure it doesn’t burn, and instead reaches a nice runny consistency.

Using two teaspoons, drop the unwrapped lindt balls into the chocolate one at a time, and roll around to cover, before scooping out gently, and placing on some greaseproof baking paper to set.

White chocolate covered Lindt balls

After the chocolate had hardened, I was planning on using my newly purchased (from eBay) sugar art pens in red and black to draw on the eyes.

Sugar art pens

Unfortunately the pens didn’t seem to work properly on the white chocolate surface, and dried out, meaning only two of the eyeballs were done before they stopped working.

After a few minutes of panic, I decided to instead use red and blue gel food dyes to create the eyeball effect, and they worked pretty well. I applied the dye with the end of a toothpick, drawing the red outline first, then dabbing blue in the centre.

Chocolate eyeball close-up

I’ve got my eye on you!

Cupcake close-up

To create some blood for oozing out of the eyeballs, I placed the raspberry jam in a strainer over a bowl, to remove the seeds. The smooth liquid that resulted, was then dropped onto each eyeball, running down the side onto the cake, to create a ‘bloody’ effect.

Straining the jam

This is a very useful chocolate cupcake recipe to have on hand – very easy to make, and they taste delicious. You can use a similar recipe with other flavours such as orange, raspberry or apricot, using the relevant replacement jam in the mix. I think I’ll try apricot next.

Happy baking x

Recipe: Bramley Apple & Cheddar Cheese Scones

Today’s recipe is for Bramley Apple and cheddar cheese scones. Apple in a scone? Yes, you heard right. Up until a few months ago, I hadn’t heard of or tried this combination before either, but it is now one of my favourite scone recipes.

The reason I came to make apple and cheese scones, is because I wanted to enter a few of the cooking categories at the WI baking competition which takes place at the Southwell Bramley Apple Festival.

The picturesque market town of Southwell in Nottinghamshire is the birthplace of the Bramley Apple, and ever year this festival in October celebrates apples through food, drink, performances and apple-inspired baking.

Apples at Southwell Minster

Being a member of the Nottingham City WI, I decided to enter two of the baking categories – the apple pie category, and the intriguing apple and cheese scone category.

The recipe I used is based on this one by Recharge, Refocus, Relax. I adapted it slightly – using Bramley Apple and adding more flour, baking powder, and reducing the amount of cheese.

I heart Southwell (and apples)

I tried the recipe a few times before the big day, and baked the scones fresh first thing on the morning of the festival. I was thrilled to receive first prize in the apple and cheese scone category, and wore my red rosette with pride. It was a really fun experience, and I plan on entering more baking competitions in future, as a chance to try and improve my skills and try new things.

Win!

Now, for the winning recipe. I hope you enjoy these easy and tasty scones as much as I do.

Bramley Apple and Cheddar Cheese Scones

Ingredients:

  • 230g SR flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 40gm salted butter
  • 100gm very strong cheddar cheese
  • 1 Bramley apple (or half a very large Bramley apple)
  • 150ml full cream milk

Method:

  • Pre-heat your oven to 220C.
  • Roughly chop the cold butter and add it to the flour and baking powder in a large bowl. Rub with your fingers until there are no large lumps left.
  • Peel and core the apple. Finely dice into small cubes.
  • Grate the cheese and stir it into the flour and butter mixture. Then stir in the apple.
  • Pour in the mil and mix to form a soft dough, being careful not to over work it. The dough will be quite wet, but this ok. Resist the urge to add extra flour.
  • Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and gently pat out until around 2 cm thick.
  • Use a class or cutting ring to cut circular scones from the dough.
  • Place the scones on a greased baking tray, with their edges just touching.
  • Brush the scones with milk, to give a golden crust.
  • Place in the hot oven. Check after 15 minutes – they may need a little longer. The scones are ready when golden brown and risen.

The beauty of these scones is they aren’t dry like cheese scones can sometimes be. In fact, you don’t even need butter with them, they are great just on their own.

Happy baking x

Cake Eaters Anonymous

Exactly one year ago I attended my first ever meeting of Cake Eaters Anonymous in Nottingham. Scheduled cake eating with other cake lovers? Yes, I was pretty keen, and have been a committed Cake Club member ever since. The idea behind the group is simple – once a month we get together in a chosen venue, bring a cake to share and raise money for a worthy local charity.

Today was the October meeting, which took place at the beautiful Fothergills Pub in the centre of Nottingham, opposite Nottingham Castle and the photo opportunity that is the Robin Hood statue (see my profile pic for a demonstation of ‘Robin-Hooding’).

Given the timing, this month had a Halloween theme, and the room was awash with an excess of orange food colouring, bats, spiderwebs, skeletons, and even a graveyard.

I decided to try this Nigella recipe for chocolate and cherry cupcakes, topped with gory bloody eyeballs. Steps on how to try this at home to follow in another blog post soon.

The cake spread was seriously impressive this month – the majority of people had gone to town on the Halloween theme, and those that hadn’t instead chose to showcase seasonal flavours such as pumpkin, cinnamon, apple, almond and hazelnut in their cakes.

Bat cupcakes and coffin cakes (with homemade honeycomb).

Halloween bundt cake by the very clever Kerry, no-bake tiffin and a very lovely looking chocolate and almond cake.

Spiderweb cupcakes and Laura’s very lovely chocolate and orange fudge cake.

For the ticket price, we’re entitled to three cakes/pieces of cake. The monthly decision of which cakes to have is probably the toughest I face in my life. Yes, I know, I have quite an easy life and it’s a very nice problem to have!

I decided to go for a piece of Laura’s chocolate orange fudge cake (which was voted the best cake of the day), a cinnamon swirl cupcake by talented Liana of Star Bakery (whose son had helped with the decorations) and a piece of gorgeous hazelnut and apple cake.

What a treat!

I always look forward to the last Sunday of the month – such a top way to spend the afternoon, chatting with lovely people, sharing homemade cake and sipping tea in a beautiful venue.

I’d also like to take the chance to dispel a few cake club myths…

1. Cake Club isn’t a euphemism for ‘greedy overeaters’. We’re all there because we love baking and sharing what we’ve made with fellow bakers, and I’m pretty sure we all limit our cake bingeing to once a month. Although that said, it is a pretty dangerous club to attend if you’re on a diet.

2. Cake Club isn’t just for ladies. Most people assume Cake Club is some sort of extension of the Women’s Institute, but we actually have quite a few male bakers every month, and often they make the best cakes (see the three finalists from this year’s Great British Bake Off if you still need convincing boys can bake).

3. Cake Club isn’t just for professional bakers. We have people of every age and ability attending, from people who bake professionally, to those who are just starting out and use it as a chance to try new recipes and techniques. Everyone is welcome.

The next meeting of Cake Club is taking place on Sunday 25 November. Join the Facebook page to be kept up to date on tickets. You can also see a list of other cake clubs around the UK on the notes of the Facebook page if you’d like to find one near you. Or start your own! As well as raising money for charity through ticket price, there is also a raffle and donation box on the day.

Happy baking,

Erin