Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Winter Wonderland Cake

For me, Christmas starts as soon as we hit December. Suddenly it becomes acceptable to wear Christmas jumpers, listen to Christmas songs, watch Christmas films and of course bake and eat all sorts of Christmas goodies.

I actually first tried this cake back in the Summer when Stork were testing their Christmas recipes (yes, they have to test them that far in advance). I'm not usually a fan of fruit cake but this is a modern take on the traditional Christmas cake and it's really delicious. It's not only got a great combination of flavours but a mixture of textures, juicy fruits mixed with the real crunch of the praline topping. I also love the video Edd Kimber has done to showcase the recipe and so was dying to try making it for myself.

The most recent get together of the Wandsworth Clandestine Cake Club was the perfect opportunity, the theme for December was of course 'Merry Christmas Wandsworth'.

There are four main elements to the cake; the fruit cake, buttercream icing, praline and gingerbread houses. It looks impressive and went down a treat at cake club, its pretty big so was hoping to have plenty to bring home but alas just one small slice was left by the end of the evening.

You can find the recipes for the cake and the gingerbread on the Stork website www.bakewithstork.com.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Sorted Food and Chocolate Magic Custard Cake

I first came across Sorted Food on YouTube about a year ago, if you haven’t heard of them or seen any of their brilliant videos you should check them out at SortedFood.com.

Sorted is made up of four childhood friends who are on a mission to get people cooking simple, tasty food. The guys are clearly good mates and have great banter and their videos are hilarious as well as being great tutorials.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to meet one half of Sorted (Ben and Jamie) at a Google event and I plucked up the courage to go and introduce myself. They were absolutely lovely and I got to ask Ben who is a trained chef lots of foodie questions. He told me about a new craze for Magic Custard Cake which they will be making in one of their future videos.

After a quick Google I found out a bit more about Magic Custard Cake. It’s one mix which separates out when baked creating a three layered ‘cake’. From what I read online it sounds pretty tricky to make and a temperamental - it won’t work if it’s not the right temperature and will crack easily – basically it’s a diva of a bake. But it sounded soooo good I decided to take the risk, even if it could end up a big squidgy mess on a plate.

I followed a recipe from whiteonricecouple.com and am really pleased with how it turned out.

Can you see the layers?

Perfect served with a sprinkling of icing sugar and some fresh berries.

I wanted to take a dessert to a dinner party so I made them in little ramekins making them much easier to transport, however don’t do what I did and remove them from the oven 5 minutes before you're due to leave the house and transport them warm – give them plenty of time to cool down and "set".

I filled 5 ramekins and then had enough batter left to fill a 15cm / 6inch losse bottomed round cake tin.

The cake came out of the tin much easier than expected and cuts really easily. It tastes as good as it looks and makes a great dinner party dessert. Success!

Monday, 2 September 2013

New York Cupcake Tour

I just had the most amazing holiday in Costa Rica and on my way home I stopped off in New York (amazing, I know!).

I'd been to NYC two times before so I'd already ticked all the usual tourist things off my list so wanted to do something a bit different on my third visit. I decided that the ideal thing to do in NYC would be my very own tour of all of their amazing bakeries, tasting lots of cupcakes along the way. My very own NYC Cupcake Crawl.

My first bakery was Crumbs Bakery, Bryant Park. This is actually a chain which is all over the US and has a number of stores in NYC. I went to the one right by the New York Public Library (where Carrie is due to marry Big in the first SATC film).

They have an amazing selection, I spent ages choosing and finally opted for a Peanut Butter Cup Cupcake (I definitely share the Americans love of peanut butter and chocolate).

The shop is opposite Bryant Park which was the perfect place to sit and enjoy it. It was a moist chocolate sponge filled and topped with buttercream and decorated with chocolate chips and peanut butter cups. Pretty darn good!

Next was Levain Bakery, Upper Westside. This place specialises in cookies and is rated 3rd best eatery (out of an impressive 12,711) in New York. I went for their most popular bake, a 6-ounce chocolate chip walnut cookie (ok not technically a cupcake for this 'cupcake crawl' but it was necessary).

The bakery is down a quiet residential street not far from Central Park so I took my cookie (which was still warm from the oven) and ate it in the park. It's not the most beautiful cookie (in fact it's a bit ugly) but trust me, it's DELICIOUS. It's really really thick so whilst the outside is crunchy the centre is gooey. If I'm honest it tasted a bit uncooked in the middle but if you've ever eaten raw cookie batter you'll know this isn't a bad thing!

Day 2 of my New York bakery adventure and I started the day with a trip to Empire Cake. They have some amazing cakes in the window, they do special occasion cakes for weddings and birthdays as well as cupcakes, traybakes, brownies etc.

I opted for the Salted Caramel Cupcake, a chocolate sponge filled with salted caramel, topped with dark chocolate buttercream and salt flakes. The cupcake was pretty small, I'm not usually a fan of small but you couldn't eat much of this rich cake.

Finally I headed over to the world famous Magnolia Bakery. I have actually been here before on previous visits to NYC but last time I had given up chocolate for lent (don't ask, never again!) so this time I HAD to chose something chocolatey.

This bakery is adorable, its tiny but always packed with cake lovers. They're best known for their cupcakes but they also have large cakes, traybakes, brownies, mini pies and individual (but massive) cheesecakes on offer.

I chose the Blonde Marble Cake but still full from my earlier visit to Empire Cake I took it to take away. What a perfect way to say goodbye to the city, a cupcake at the airport.

Until next time NYC! xxx

Friday, 2 August 2013

Fifty Shades Of Grey - The Depressed Cake Shop

Who doesn’t love cake? Cake brings people together, who ever ate a whole cake to themselves? No celebration would be complete without a cake. So why would anyone be interested in The Depressed Cake Shop, the pop up bakeries opening across the UK this weekend?

I, for one, think it’s a brilliant idea and am not only going along to eat some tasty treats but have volunteered to make something too. The Depressed Cake Shop is a charity project aimed at raising awareness of mental health issues and getting people talking. If this project can do anything to help quash the social stigma around mental illness, whilst eating cake, then I see that only as a good thing.

I’ve debated whether to do this, but since I think it is really important that we all start talking, I wanted to tell you a little bit about my personal story and why this is something close to my heart.

When I was just nineteen years old, my world fell apart. I became miserable, I stopped eating, lost my ability to enjoy anything, I couldn’t concentrate at all which caused me to fail my second year of university. It was like I had so many negative thoughts in my head there was no room for anything else. I started to sleep for as long as possible as being awake was so unbearable. I had no idea why I felt like this but I truly believed that I was over and would be better off dead. This was my first depressive episode.

Over the last ten years I have had depression on and off and have developed a much greater understanding of the illness. I have learnt coping strategies, one of the most effective ones being distraction. When depressed your mind is full of negative thoughts but if you can distract it with something else, a simple activity like baking then you can give your brain a rest. What could be simpler than weighing flour, whisking eggs?

A serious bought of depression two years ago really fuelled my love of baking. I realised that not only was the act of baking a great distraction but the sense of pride at having made something delicious helped lift my spirits a little. Then of course I wouldn’t eat it all to myself so I would share my cake and get another boost from seeing everyone else enjoy it too.

And I am not the only one who has had this experience, the author Marian Keyes wrote her own recipe book Saved by Cake after a bout of depression, John Whaite from the Great British Bake Off talks about it in his book Recipes for Every Day and Every Mood and even Mary Berry has said she thinks baking can help mend a broken heart.

Please don’t get me wrong, baking is not an alternative therapy and can’t “fix” depression but it has been a great help for me during difficult times.

Now, back to the Depressed Cake Shop. The idea is for anyone who wants to get involved can either set up a shop in their local area or they can bake for the shop and all of the cakes, biscuits, macarons etc will all be grey. I have been following the discussions about the shop on facebook and it's great to see is how it has brought people together.

For me by taking part I feel like I am doing something proactive and knowing there is a whole community of people who have also suffered with this horrible illness taking part too makes it feel like a positive social movement. I said at the beginning that cake is all about bringing people together and no celebration would be complete without it and this is no different, I think we can start to celebrate the fact that the social stigma around mental illness is on its way out.

You can find out more here or on Twitter #DepressedCakes.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Q&A with John Whaite

I was lucky enough to meet the lovely John Whaite, winner of last year's Great British Bake Off the at one of his baking classes the other week. Since it was a special class for bloggers we also had the chance to interview him. John is one of my baking heroes, it was a real challenge to limit my questions to just ten but here they are.

When did you first start baking and why?

When I was a little boy. It was something mum and I used to do to spend our time together, and since then it has been an inherently comforting process.

What did you learn from working with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry on the Great British Bake Off?

Not to take things too seriously, and to develop a recipe well – don’t just write a recipe without trying it.

I absolutely loved the week where everyone made gingerbread structures and thought your gingerbread colosseum was great. What was your favourite bake during the show?

I loved baking the doughnuts, as I had never made them before. So I would love to make them again.

Was there anything on the bake off made by one of the other contestants that you wished you’d made?

No. Brendan’s bakes were nice but old fashioned; James’ were experimental but a little too risky for me. I made a few errors I would have liked to avoid, but apart from that I was happy.

In the last 12 months you’ve won the bake off, attended Le Cordon Bleu and written your first book. It’s safe to say you’ve had an amazing year, if you had to sum it up in three words, what would they be?

Fast, stressful, incredible.

In the last year my baking obsession has really taken over and I am baking more than ever before. Do you have any tips for feeding a passion for baking without piling on the pounds?

You have to have fun and indulge, but not every day of the week. And if you pig out and eat a load of cake for lunch, don’t eat anything else that day.

What are your 3 top baking tips?

a.    Prepare the ingredients – weigh them out
b.   Read through the recipe thoroughly
c.    Use a good set of electronic scales, capable of weighing a single gram

Where do you get inspiration from?

I like to eat out a lot and that certainly brings inspiration. But I also like to just throw whatever I’ve got in my cupboard into a recipe, and hope that works.

Some people don’t like certain baking trends such as cupcakes, cake pops, cronuts etc, are there any trends you don’t like?

Cakepops. I just don’t get them – you take a beautifully light cake, mush it up with some claggy buttercream, and stick it onto a stick. Disgusting.

Is there anything which you think deserves its own trend / should have a revival?

Eclairs and choux pastry. The amount of things you can fill them with is great, and they are really easy to make! 

What a lovely guy!

You can read my review of John's baking class here.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Chocolate chip and cherry scones

Recently I've been trying to do the impossible, I've been trying to cut down on my calorie intake. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a really sweet tooth. Scones are popular with my friend who is diabetic because they don't have much sugar in them, obviously that does depend on what you put in them. I've used glacé cherries and chocolate but you could use almost anything or leave them plain.


225g (8oz) self-raising flour  
1 tsp baking powder  
25g caster sugar  
55g butter or margarine (I use Stork) 
6 tablespoons milk (and some for brushing)
100g dark chocolate finely chopped
100g glace cherries chopped

Preheat the oven to 220°C / gas mark 7.
Add all of the ingredients into a bowl and mux into a dough.
Knead the dough gently on a lightly floured surface and roll it out to around ¾ inch thick.
Cut into 2½ inch circles, space them out onto a greased baking sheet, brush with milk and pop them into the oven for 12 – 15 minutes.

When they’re browned and risen take them out of the oven and put them on a wire rack to cool.

Serve with clotted cream, or if like me you're trying to be good a low fat spread will have to do (but trust me these scones are tasty enough as they are).

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Baking class with John Whaite

I love a baking class, not only do you get to learn something but you get to make a mess in someone else’s kitchen, without the bother of cleaning up after.

I’ve been to a few different baking classes in the last few years; it’s where I learnt the different techniques for piping icing, working with fondant and the best way to separate eggs. A good baking class can really build your confidence and inspire you to push yourself futher.

For a while now I’ve been looking for a new baking class, something a bit different from the classic cupcake class. There seem to be two types of classes, classes for having fun and classes for serious learning. But what about people like me who want to learn and have fun?

This is where John Whaite and his baking classes come in. I went to John's Multi Bake Day a couple of weeks ago - a hands on lesson in macarons, madeleines and rough puff pastry palmiers - three things I have never made before.

As I’m sure you know, John was the winner of the Great British Bake Off 2012. He’s since gone on to study at Le Cordon Bleu so he’s definitely earned his baking stripes.

The class was set up specially for food bloggers and we started with introductions, I got to meet a great bunch - Laure (Les recettes de Lorette), Alex (The Broke Boy), Bea (BizziBeaBakes), Emily (My Gingerbread Journey) and Joanne (Bakes Cooks & Eats).

John's a great teacher, he put everyone at ease straight away. He's very down to earth and broke everything down into simple steps. He was really happy to answer all of the questions that we threw at him. I wasn't sure before I got there how involved in the classes John would be, was he just the face of the class or had he put it all together. Well not only had John organised everything but he'd roped in his partner Paul to be his assistant for the day.

It was a busy day of baking with a tight agenda pulled together by John but he kept energy levels up by fueling us with Prosecco and sweets.

John shared all of the recipes with us at the end of the class and I am going to blog about my progress separately over the next few weeks as I attempt them all on my own at home. I've already been out and bought myself a new madeleine pan in preparation.

It was a privilege to be a student at John's very first baking class and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys baking and wants to learn something new (and have some fun doing it).

You can find information on all of the upcoming classes here on John's official website, I've got my eye on the Christmas Gingerbread House Class later in the year.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A trip to the beach and a summer themed bake.

How glorious has the weather been this weekend?

I made the most of the summer (we can't guarantee how long it will last) and took a day trip to Hayling Island today.

I've resolved to move there one day and buy one of these cute beach houses.

This glorious weather reminds me of a recent bake which was for June's Clandestine Cake Club. The theme was Summer Feeling.

For me, Summer and food is all about picnics and eating al fresco. The ideal picnic for me would be similar to afternoon tea - sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and then cake of course.

I wanted to create a bake which incorporated all three. So I made a Victoria Sandwich with lashings of jam and cream in the shape of a sandwich. I used this silicon pan from Lakeland.

I used a classic Victoria Sponge recipe taken from here.


Friday, 12 July 2013

Pecan Pie Day

Did you know that 12th July is National Pecan Pie Day in the states? No, neither did I but when I heard I couldn’t resist making one.  Pecans aren’t cheap so you want to make sure you get it right and this simple recipe is a safe bet.

For the pastry
200g plain flour
50g caster sugar
1/8 tsp salt
115g margarine
4 tablespoons double cream (leftover cream can be whipped up and served with the finished pie)

For the filling
400g pecans
3 eggs
200g soft light brown sugar
150ml golden syrup
50g margarine or butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp plain flour

To make the pastry
  1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Cut the margarine into squares and add to the dry ingredients and mix well. If you don’t have a food processor you could use an electric whisk.
  2. The mixture should now resemble breadcrumbs. Add the cream and mix until the dough comes together and can be formed into a ball. If the dough is too dry you can add an extra tablespoon of cream.
  3. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes (no longer, or it will become too firm).
  4. Lightly flour your work surface and your rolling pin and roll out a circle. My tart tin is 9 inches so I roll out the pastry to approx 11 inches.
  5. Press the pastry gently across the side of the tin and trim any excess, leaving approx ½ inch spare around the edges to account for shrinkage.
  6. Lightly prick the bottom and sides with a fork, put back in the fridge for another 30 minutes.
  7. While waiting for the pastry you can either put your feet up and have a cup of tea or start making the filling following the instructions below.
  8. The next step is to blind bake the pastry. Preheat the oven to 220°C and leave a baking sheet in the oven to heat up. We will put the pie tin on the hot baking sheet and this will help the pastry to cook evenly and stop the pie from getting a dreaded soggy bottom.
  9. Line the tart pastry with baking paper or foil. Fill the pastry with baking beans to keep the pastry from puffing up and shrinking.
  10. Put the pie in the oven, after 15 minutes remove from the oven and carefully remove the pie weights and foil. Put it back in the oven and back the pastry case for a further 5 minutes or until light golden brown.
  11. Reduce oven temperature to 170 °C.

To make the filling

  1. Put approx. 150g of the pecans to one side, you will need these for decoration so pick out the nicest looking, whole pecans. If you have any broken ones they can go in the filling.
  2. Melt the margarine and leave to one side. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs. Then add the sugar, vanilla, flour, syrup and melted margarine and whisk again. Finally stir in 250g pecans.
  3. Pour the mix into the pastry case and then decorate with the remaining pecans on the top. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, if the pie starts to look a bit brown you can cover with tin foil to avoid burning.
  4. When ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Best served warm with whipped cream; you should hopefully have some cream leftover since we didn’t use that much in the pastry.


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The most amazing birthday cake and meeting Jo Wheatley

It was my birthday just over a week ago and the thing I was probably most looking forward to was my birthday cake. Weeks and weeks ago my best friend Francesca said she wanted to make me a cake and she certainly didn't disappoint.

Apparently she started with the idea to make a sheep cake pop and the farm scene cake developed from there.

The cake was made up of sheep, pig and chicken cake pops. The pigs and sheep were living in a chocolate fudge cake pen with curlywurlys for the fence. The chicken coop was made of biscuits with mini fudge chunks for chicken feed. Oh...and if you're wondering the grass was buttercream with a special Wilton nozzle. Everything was edible.

On my birthday weekend a group of us went to Wisley Gardens for their annual Garden Party. The weather was beautiful and we enjoyed a picnic on the lawn. Jo Wheatley, winner of 2011's Great British Bake Off was there to do a Q&A and book signing. My friend Becca who works at Wisley bought me the book as a birthday gift and had it signed too.

The Q&A was really interesting, Jo talked about her experience on the Great British Bake Off including her nerves on the first day when she saw how good all the other contestants were. She was asked what her favourite cake is and she answered the classic Victoria Sponge as you can adapt it in so many different ways with different fillings.

It was really nice to hear that Jo has maintained a good friendship with Mary Berry since the show. She seemed absolutely lovely and I can't wait to start baking from her new Home Baking book, available exclusively at Sainsburys.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Peanut Butter Slutty Brownies

I first heard about slutty brownies through a friend who was raving about them being the best brownie in the world. Of course I googled them and found out how to make them from this great blog from The Londoner - http://www.thelondoner.me/2011/06/slutty-brownies.html.

Slutty brownies get their name because they are so easy to make and oh so naughty. Made up of a layer of cookie, a layer of Oreo cookies and a layer of brownie, it doesn't get much more indulgent than this!

Generally they are made with cookie and brownie mix but I much prefer to make it all from scratch. I adapted one of my favourite cookie recipes which I got from Jo Wheatley's book A Passion for Baking and I took a Brownie recipe from here and adapted it slightly.

Start off making the cookie batter

You'll need:
100g margarine
100g peanut butter (I use crunchy but you could use smooth)
60g demerera sugar
60g caster sugar
1 egg
100g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
60g dark or milk chocolate, roughly chopped

Grease a square cake pan. My pan is approx 8x9 inches and was perfect size.

Beat the margarine, peanut butter and both sugars together until flight and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder and mix until combined and the dough comes together. Add the chocolate last.

Pop the cookie batter in the cake pan and bake for approx 20 minutes in an oven at 180ºC, 160ºC fan oven, Gas Mark 4. You want the cookie batter to be baked, even though it's going to go back into the oven it won't be overcooked and will stay gooey.

While the cookie is baking the oven you can start on the brownie mix.

You will need:
55g margarine
140g plain chocolate
3 eggs
225g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
40g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
25g cocoa powder
55g creme fraiche
200g peanut m&ms (frozen)

First, melt the margarine and chocolate over a bain-marie. In a seperate bowl whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla together. Stir in the melted chocolate and whisk. Whisk in the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder. Add the creme fraiche and one third of the m&ms.

Once the cookie is ready, remove from the oven and turn the oven down to 170ºC, 150ºC fan oven, Gas mark 3. Now lay the oreo cookies on top of the cookie before adding the brownie mix.

Sprinkle another third of the m&ms on the top before putting in the oven.

After 30 minutes in the oven, remove the brownie and sprinkle the final third of m&ms on top and put back in the oven.

Leave in the oven for another 20-25 minutes.

Leave to cool thoroughly on a wire rack before removing from the pan and cutting into squares.

This makes 12 generously sized brownies. I like them enough just on their own but you may want to eat them warm with ice cream mmmm.