Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Easiest and bestest almond macaroons

This recipe is so easy. It is unbelievably easy. And it tastes AWESOME. Severe overuse of that word but I swear it's true. Do you know those almond macaroons you get at the supermarket or at the chainstore bakeries? Or at the occasional artisan market stall. *snorts* I love these. My sister loves them more. We're not talking french macarons and if you're not a fan of those, these are definitely not the same as the guy at work hates those and loves these. These are, in the shop bought form, large round cookies stuck to rice paper, delightfully chewy, with a fat almond stuck in the top. If you made these a bit bigger, you'd get that. Anyway, my recipe came from Alldessertrecipes.com based on a google and ignoring any that forgot to tell me how many eggs I needed.

Technically these make 12 if you make a decent size. I made 18 and they were reasonable hershey kiss cookies sized. They don't spread too much either, easily just larger by 1cm in diameter max after.

2 egg whites (I used large but I don't think it makes a vast difference)
150g caster sugar
150g ground almonds
few drops of almond essence
rice paper
blanched almonds to decorate

1. Heat oven to Gas Mark 5 (190°C/375°F)
2. Whisk the egg whites to a froth (by froth I mean use a fork and don't look for peaks, just breakdown of the eggy stuff.)
3. Chuck in caster sugar, ground almonds and almond essence. i.e. everything that makes sense to go in.
4. Mix to a paste (see why we didn't need peaks?)
5. Roll into balls (the first one is easy, the last one is a sticky mess that clings to the leftover stuff on your hands... use two spoons if you get stuck.)
6. Stick on the rice paper lined baking tray. (Now I'd say you can save on rice paper if you make these more than once as you can estimate the spread and therefore just put cut pieces of rice paper and put them under the respective balls. Odds are though, you won't make these every day - though it's easy enough to... so in six months time you're looking at saved out of date rice paper anyway. Saying that... I've just used two months out of date rice paper and have no idea what the difference is.)
7. Stick a blanched almond on each. (I like to press down because they can catch a little in the oven.)
8. Bake for 20 minutes till gently golden.

Now that's done... I have to say, they are yuuuuuuuuuuummy.... but with one pitfall. They are not the cheapest of baked goodies. £2ish for ground almonds, another £2 for the blanched (although you get far more than you need), rice paper.... it's pricier than my usual bakes, but look on the bright side, you end up with twelve and they usually charge 79p for each in the shops.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Devil's Food White Out Cake

It's not the most elegant of cakes. It's covered with crumbs which defaults to messy. Very messy. Messy in a sweep all the counters and a few floors cake. It is however, really rather yummy in a Sara-Lee / Trifle kind of way. I did this for my sister's birthday when she requested a chocolate and cream cake. I didn't quite do double cream but it did meet the not too sweet criteria.

I would say this though. Lower the sugar in the cake. The frosting is actually really nice. Not too sweet, pleasantly foamy and easy to cover the cake. The cake itself just has a slight aftertaste which may have came from my choice of chocolates and cocoa. Words of warning to follow: Watch out when you transport it. The top two levels slid an inch across and left the rest of the cake... it did gently smush back in place, but just in case it's for company. Warning 2. The book may have it showing beautiful, full, crisp white layers in between the chocolate. Mine... less so. And based on the internet, most people had the same smushiness. It tastes great anyway. Just don't expect a sliceshot.

The recipe cake from Dorie Greenspan's book and is on the internet already - the below is my abbreviated / bastardized version. 

Devil's Food White-Out Cake 
1 1/3 cups plain flour
1/2 cup cocoa
3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
5oz unsalted butter (140g ish)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup caster sugar
3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz dark chocolate, melted and cooled 
1/2 cup buttermilk /whole milk
1/2 cup boiling water

4 oz chocolate chips (I used a pack)
For the filling and frosting 
1/2 cup egg whites (I used 4 eggs worth of egg white powder mixed up)
1 cup caster sugar
3/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup water 
1 tsp vanilla extract
Gas Mark 5/6 (350 degree recommended)

1. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

2. Cream butter and sugar, eggs, vanilla and the cooled melted chocolate (add in that order)
3. Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk, ending with dry.
4. Add boiling water and then chocolate chips.
5. Put in lined pans (I used 3 x 8 inch round pans - the recommended is 2 deep 8 inch pans)
6. Bake for 30 minutes
7. Cool. Now the book says you have two pans, you slice into two and crumble one of them. In my case I had three cakes, I leveled them and ended up with enough crumbs. Potato-PoTAHto... it's all the same result.

1. Egg whites in bowl. You're making a kind of Italian meringue thing here. Finding a helper or having lots of space helps.

2. Sugar, cream of tartar and water in a saucepan (small) and boil/stir a little bit to begin with.
3. Get it to 235 degrees F (I started before this) and start whipping the egg whites with an electric whisk. Medium/fast is good, you want it white and fluffy and holding peaks the way meringue does without any sugar.
4. Get the sugar to 242 degrees F (soft ball) and then tip the molten sugar into the egg whites whilst whisking.
5. Continue whisking till the frosting is room temp and the bowl doesn't feel hot any more.
6. Spread on cake and shove crumbs around the side. Tah-dah!!!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Old MacDonald Cake

My nephew turns ONE this week and so we made a cake to celebrate. This little number was my usual vanilla buttermilk sponge, which encountered a lot more problems than usual. Check this. Firstly I forgot to put the sugar in which I didn't notice until I poured the batter into the tins - when I thought, hang on, usually there's more of it. Which after tipping back into the mixing bowl to remix, might have resulted in the cake becoming a little more flat than usual.

Brilliantly though, my solution was effective - slice the layers really thin, sandwich with whipped cream and peaches and you don't notice the texture issues. Really. The peaches were so beautiful. I have to make a chinese style fruit cake with them before the season is over. White peaches. Beautiful and pale with a light flush. It was such a shame to hide them inside a cake.

This is the sheep in production. It was my first time working with fondant for modelling. We've played around with making roses and little flowers etc, but I did desperately want to make an Old MacDonald cake because it's my nephew's favourite song. Hence the fevered searching on youtube. As it was, once you watch them once and understand the principle, you don't need it anymore and you just freeze frame it on the final design. I did want to make a little pony to go with, however I realised it wouldn't fit on the cake. 

The first thing I'd say is that it is a LOT easier to make than I thought. I thought fondant animals would be really difficult. It wasn't that bad. One thing I would recommend is the food colouring pens. Very useful for the eyes. I used ready made white and yellow icing, mixing with liquid food colouring in the main despite buying a load of paste. Guess I need to find some use for that now. The liquid food colouring leaves the fondant a little sticky, but it's still okay to form things with. The other little fyi I would say is, don't put fondant in the fridge. It ends up damp and the icing pen I used to do patches on the cow ran. I didn't plan on putting it in the fridge but we had to save the cake a night later than planned and if we didn't fridge it the cream and fruit would go a bit squiffy.

Picture of a cake slice. We sliced around five millimetres thick. Six people ate a quarter of the cake. It's a sweetness thing I think. Buttercream is one of those things we're not a major fan of. It would have been nice to work some green or blue fondant to cover the cake but we hate fondant even more than buttercream. One day I will overcome my issues with the stuff, or make marshmallow fondant which might be tastier, but until then, a bit of buttercream, unfortunately overworked by the end of it, did the trick.

My sister has her birthday soon. I think she'll be a lot happier with a chocolate mousse cake bought retail though!xx

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Tribute to Katherine Hepburn brownies

I'm gonna say it. I like these better than my chilli brownies. Check out that picture. I took them to work the next day. The chocolate lumps were still molten. No idea how the science works but it tasted yummmmmy. They didn't have the papery crust as promised, but possibly it's my oven. As it was, it was blatantly uncooked  when the timer pinged so I left it in for ten minutes longer, then turned the oven off and left it in for a further ten minutes. Bizarre, but just the mood I was in. Anyway, the recipe was from Dorie Greenspan, but I omitted the coffee, the nuts and the cinnamon and because my tin was about 8 inch square, my brownies were about an inch square (I like small brownies so they don't bend and break). Recipe found already typed by this lady.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Fruit gateau

Perhaps it's wrong to call this a gateau. It's only got two layers for a start. Anyway, it's my attempt at the chinese-ified gateau's that you get in Chinatown, without the faux cream because I still don't want to try the lard concoction. This is the sky-high vanilla buttermilk cake (rather than chiffon) and covered with whipped cream and fruit. The intention was to wrap the cake in mango like they do in the shops, but I realised that a) my mangos were overripe and slightly squishy, b) I'm a bad slicer, c) the mango is not very "tall" compared to my cake (even though there are just two rather than the three that the sky-high recipe makes - that other layer was eaten hot.) Anyway, just a picture then.Nom.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Celebration cakes and chocolate decals

This lady made a cake at work and it tasted amazing. I asked for the recipe and I was surprised to hear it was Nigella's Victoria Sponge from How to be a Domestic Goddess. I very rarely make anything from Nigella's cake book any more and never this sponge. Probably because it was a Victoria Sponge as well, for which I've used the Good Housekeeping book that my mum has had since the 80s. I think I messed up the temperature somewhat as it didn't taste as good though :( Just slightly tighter somehow.

As it was Father's Day today I made it for him. Just cream, minimal fruit decorations etc. Parental approval all round. 

I've been messing with chocolate lately and that's why it's got some leftover chocolate squiggle squares on top.

The other little chocolate number I made was the below for my sister's colleague's birthday. They had a £5 kitty for a cake so I figured I'd experiment so she might get something nicer than a standard M&S tray bake.

It was a standard Sky High vanilla buttermilk cake with buttercream in between, but I doodled melted white and dark chocolate on a bit of parchment first and wrapped it round a cake tin before letting it chill .

It was a very lucky thing it did come loose from the tin. The impressive thing was how bendy it was still. In fact the ends didn't join properly and I could use it as a cuff bracelet almost. So I cuffed the cake effectively.

Added a few words piped in dark chocolate on parchment paper (again peeled off) and then we were done. Nothing fancy, no fruit (I wasn't exactly hitting a £5 but I didn't want to go OTT in funding this girl I've never met's birthday.)

Happy birthday to the random girl out there in the universe.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Roses, fondant and Sunday afternoons

I went to Cork last week for work and found a rather lovely shop called Brennan's which I LOVED. The entire first floor is cake *stuff* and it's hung with all the icing cutters you could want on the wall. I was in there oohing twice over the same Saturday. The lady let me :)

I decided to purchase a Gerbera cutter set, the biggest Wilton petal nozzle I could find, briar rose cutters, red fondant, and various other little flower cutters as well as the red fondant. So since I was home with no plans this weekend, this is what I got up to . The icing is strawberry flavoured icing from Silverspoon which I bought on a whim.

It's interesting stuff. 125g which you add a spoon of water to and then mix with butter. Pretty effective as it doesn't cause huge icing sugar clouds to form. I might see if I can do that for my normal buttercream. Note that it does say it covers 12 fairy cakes, not cupcakes, and certainly with my decorations it doesn't really stretch. The colour once mixed with butter is a bit more of a muted orangey colour fyi, but if you made it glace I think it would be quite "proper" fairy princess pink. As in too pink for adults.

So I made a few ribbon roses by folding strips of fondant together and rolling, a rose which isn't seen here, various stamp outs and my buttercream roses. It's probably my second time trying to make them, but I have to say, having a giant nozzle, makes ALL the difference. Unfortunately of course, you have to eat the bucket of icing... sorry to say it, I've not brought myself to eat the cakes with icing on yet, but I'm working up to it.

If you are interested, the white iced cupcakes are just marshmallow fluff, and the cupcake recipe themselves were from The Hummingbird bakery book, but ignoring the recipe and going with a cream butter and sugar then add the rest in batches methodology. That recipe FYI makes 12 but makes 12 with a large margin (3/4 of a cm?) from the top of the muffin case. Making icing interesting if you don't like mounds of the stuff. It was another so-so vanilla recipe.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Baking round-up

It's been a while since I last blogged, but in fairness I've not made anything blogworthy. Nothing uber pretty, no recipes I thought were inspiring, but here come the pictures and the round-up of my recent bakes.

Coconut and lime cake - tangy. The sponge was quite unique in that it used 1/2 a grated block of coconut and it became very light and a different type of sponge to normal. Not chiffon, not victoria, not muffin, but different. The topping was a bit tangier than I wanted, but next time I'll get it to marshmallow properly. As a nice afternoon tea kind of thing, I'd make it again.

Low fat strawberry gateau - call it shortcake. This was an interesting proposition, and wasn't that bad. You had to accept that the "sponge" was more biscuit, but then there wasn't a raising agent and when you poured it onto the swiss roll tin it spread so thin the creases in the baking parchment showed and the cake curled when the paper curled from the heat.

What I did find was that it was near impossible to stick the nuts on the sides of the gateau. You know when you have cake and buttercream they say to hold it up and dip the nuts on, it's a lot harder when the cream is of a drippy soft consistency that fromage frais and low fat cream cheese makes. You'll have to forgive the two pictures, I didn't know which one I preferred and it is a rare occasion that I bother to pose it properly.

Lemon and mincemeat tartlets - Actually quite yum. Excuse the odd time of year for mincemeat, but you know that stuff lasts for years. What I keep forgetting is how hard it is to roll pastry thinly. Always use a polythene food bag under the rolling pin and it gets thinner without breaking. Awesome.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Lemon cake a la Raymond Blanc

I made this cake after watching Kitchen Secrets and thought WOW that cake is YELLOW!!! Sadly it seems, this was not something to be repeated with mine. Note to self - retune the tv. Anyway, the recipe is here, but oddly the voiceover lady gets it wrong (based on the producer comments) so when the recipe says add zest only to the cake, and she says add the juice, she is wrong. Ho hum. Having made the cake, I'd say ADD THE SODDING JUICE. Without it, it tastes distinctly... eggy. And not of lemon. So after the first mini cake (I split the cake into two batches - one for work and one for a taster for my hard-done-by dad who had to watch me make cheesecake yesterday and waltz off with it to a friends.) I made some adjustments.

1. Stab and drizzle. If you've made lemon cake before, the usual rule is when it's warm from the oven, stab it with a skewer and pour over lemon juice mixed with icing sugar.
2. His recipe calls for an apricot jam layer of glaze. I used lemon curd.

My other comments for this recipe have to be that I find putting it in the oven (post glazing) a little strange. Possibly because to me it seems like it just melted off all the glaze that I spent so long daubing on with a brush. Either way, we'll find out tomorrow if it tastes any good. I'll settle for reactions which are not of the.... hmm, it's interesting....

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Corn Custards and Sunday Lunch

Today I decided to try some new recipes from my books. Corn custards from Marcus Wareing's book Nutmeg and Custard. Funnily enough, there's both Nutmeg AND Custard in this...

It was a really basic recipe although I had to amp up the heat to Gas Mark 5 rather than 1/2 as after 20 minutes it still didn't set. It was lovely... but I'm not into it. It's too sweet as a side dish, and that's just from the natural sweetcorn!

I also made mushroom risotto and a large meat stew. Naturally mushroom risotto took twice as long as usual and twice as much stock as it said on the back of the packet, but it did taste fabulous!

This was from yesterday. Strawberry and cream chiffon swiss roll. It was my second attempt at chiffon as it's drives my mother's competitive streak so I try not to touch it too much. I used Sunflower (see blogs on the right) recipe for Orange Chiffon, replacing the orange juice with water instead. I poured far too much and therefore made this giant roll which cracked when I rolled it. But it was lovely and got eaten very quickly. I still think my mother's version has an edge, but I think that's due to the cream of tartar in her recipe. This recipe only has baking powder so it's a little crisper.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Biscuiteers Flooded Cookies

Cookie cutters are a horrible addiction, bested only by my addiction to Bundt tins. However, whilst I use my Bundt tins, I rarely use my cutters because I reckon drop cookies (chocolate chip anyone?) taste sooo much better.

Flooded cookies have been en vogue for awhile and Biscuiteers is definitely the most famous. So, when I was in town checking out the latest bookshop to go bust (boooo...) I found the Biscuiteers book. I have to say, I didn't buy it. There wasn't enough recipes for me to buy - probably about eight and most of them were "adjustments" of the basic recipe whereby you replace flour with cocoa etc. Moreover, it didn't take me long to spot an editing error whereby the Anzac coconut cookies didn't tell you how much coconut you needed to put in the recipe. Anyway, I digress. I didn't buy the book, though it was a very pretty book. You might like it all the same, but I'd rather have more recipes for my money.

There were some handy points which I thought might make it worthwhile reading.
1. How to pack the cookies.
2. Bake the cookies on a low heat after icing to maintain crispness.

I write the recipe for the cookie below. It made four trays of  cookies and really doesn't spread much at all. I did however  get bored so I mixed my second batch with dried peel and that was okay. It's just not a very strong flavoured cookie and I had to use 2 medium eggs to get the mix to a pliable consistency. I used Royal Icing mix (icing sugar and egg white powder) with water and some lemon juice to ice. The amounts quoted in the book was too much for me (1kg plus) which is great if you love icing... less great if it's just you playing pretty pictures.

Basic cookie
Makes 24 cookies
350g plain flour
100g self raising flour
125g granulated sugar (I suggest caster as it did show up grainy when I used normal granulated.)
125g salted butter (surprising right? I used unsalted and added half a teaspoon salt.)
125g golden syrup
1 large egg

1. Sift flours and add sugar.
2. Rub in butter until breadcrumbs appear.
3. Add syrup and egg.
4. Draw in and mix until dough like.
5. Roll and use. (Does not need chilling.)
6. Bake for 15minutes at Gas Mark 4.

I added vanilla essence but evidently should have added more. Next time I will be trying Martha Stewart's recipe, which with 2 tablespoons of cognac, sounds yummy!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Sky-high Banana-chocolate chip cake

After obsessing about the Sky High baking group pics from several years ago, and buying the Sky High book, I've funnily only ever made one recipe - the buttermilk cake recipe, that is *drumroll* up till now!! It was my brother's birthday and ... I realised that in our family we don't have any "favourite" cakes. My sister doesn't do raisins, my parents don't like cinnamon or anything other than vanilla sponge with whipped cream, but we have NO FAVOURITE CAKES. Which, can be quite handy.

So today I made Banana and chocolate chip cake from the book. Shockingly easy, but also in the american way of baking, not so great on the results. Let me explain, if you gave me a list of ingredients I am almost always going to go butter, sugar, eggs, flour - in that order. This cake is almost muffin-like in it's creation. Dry meets wet, meets some more wet. I think the texture suffered as a result and it didn't have the lushness of banana bread. A bit more cream maybe would have helped - or not leaving the cakes in for as long as instructed or cooling unfilled for as long. It's possibly one to develop, but I think there are enough chocolate and banana cakes for me to experiment with not to touch again. It's good to know that I can finally chalk another one off the list though, but as ever I have a quarter cup of buttermilk left over. Is it time to make pancakes or scones this time?

Friday, 4 February 2011

Chocolate tea at the London Hilton

You have to love January sales. But as it's me, I hit the 25% off deal online for the London Hilton Chocolate Tea on Park Lane. Which, on the date that I went was a bit of a horror. I must explain - Park Lane is just near Hyde Park. Where the students were having their protests that day. And the President of Bangladesh was staying at the Hilton as well so there was some protesters outside the hotel specifically for that too. 

It gave us a rather odd feel of Marie Antoinette in a way. "Let them eat cake." We were also very grateful not to be sitting near the windows. 

The service/protocol at the restaurant was mixed. They offered to switch the sandwiches if we wanted to, were generally lovely and doggy bags come as standard. When I say doggy bags, I mean hopelessly elegant pink cardboard and glossy carryouts. I'm saving it to carry my own cakes later. The bad side was that it's not a place where they pour the tea for you, but also that you feel a little pressured to stick to the same tea whereas usually I switch between each pot, plus it wasn't even a tea refresh, it was just new water. There was a keyboard player who sang up to date songs. Unfortunately a little loud because I suppose she was trying to drown out the protests, but it made conversation a bit difficult. She did manage to sing Happy Birthday at least five times whilst we were there so if you're into that, make a request!

The important bits. The chocolate plate. It actually comes ON a chocolate plate. The selection changes periodically. My sister in law went a few weeks earlier and had a different set of cakes. The one we had were as below - work from the top middle in an anticlockwise direction, the lychee mousse is covered in the picture by the marshmallow cone.

Lychee, raspberry, rose water mousse, sugared diamonds (fluff with a bit of raspberry, strawberry flavour. Low on flavour and I hate sugared diamonds I've now decided. Like silver dragees, rock hard and non-biteable.)
Chocolate mille feuille with Griottine cherries (voted good but no one liked the cherries)
Pineapple crumble with chocolate jelly (okay, but not great)
Jaffa cake chocolates (not good)
Cone of marshmallow and chocolate ganache (slightly rubbery for me, but a cone of chocolate is never bad)
Caramel of white chocolate and praline (the brandy snap looking thing at the top)
Pistachio and chocolate macaroon (green lollipop on a stick)

The cupcakes. They were, lemon, strawberry, chocolate and peppermint. I only ate the peppermint and it just tasted of buttercream and dry chocolate cupcake. They also od'ed on the sparkles and baubles which meant I had to spit bits out - so elegant I know! The rest of the cupcakes I sent home with my friend. Odd for a tea place, they only had one of everything (apart from the jaffa chocolates and the scones). Usually it's one each for everyone. I also felt a bit bad because I had heard such good reviews about the coffee cupcake they had.

The scones. I think scones are like the hygiene factor of a tea. As in, no one cares if they are good, but they care if it's bad. Industrial Relations course. Go figure. The scones were good. Light, fluffyish. They are even served warm which is usually a bonus bonus in my eyes. But even though we asked for the mixed selection, no chocolate chip scone could be found :( We countered it with a mound of chocolate spread on a plain scone instead. The same problem happened when my sister in law went.

Would I go again? I think my vote is no. There's better out there. It was worth it for the once, but there's a slab of chocolate plate sitting downstairs still and my friends don't have the sugar tolerance that I do and didn't even make it to the cupcakes. xx

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Chocolate and almond marble cake

Yes I bought another bundt tin. It was on sale!! Okay I suppose Selfridges puts them on sale every year but still. I think if I get the Bavaria tin which is used mainly for the Tunnel of Fudge cake, I will be happy and complete. Just as well they don't sell them in the UK that frequently, and by frequently I mean in a place other than the internet.

Today's cake comes from the book Bundt cookbook by Nordic Bakeware. By book, it's more of a pamphlet with some very random recipes in. Unfortunately a lot using mixes, but bizarrely lots of gelatin moulds. Moulded salmon anyone? In a ten-cup mould no less. Anyway, the recipe I used was the Orange/Chocolate Marble cake, but as we didn't have any orange extract I used almond. Things you should also know was that I screwed up reading the recipe and forgot to dissolve the cocoa in water before I added it to the mix, which was why I was mixing it thinking, why did I whip egg whites if it ends up as this stupidly stiff mixture?? Oops. Whereupon I threw in the water and it turned into liquid chocolate. It turned out very well at the end of the day, and rare for bundts, it needed less than an hour to cook. The proper recipe is as below, I just omitted orange peel and replaced the orange extract for almond.

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup caster sugar
4 eggs
2 1/2 plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup milk
1/4 tsp grated orange peel
1/4 tsp orange extract
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup water

1. Cream butter, sugar, add egg yolks.
2. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt, alternating with milk (usually done by about 1/3 of the dry at a time)
3. Fold in whipped egg whites. (Mine was relatively stiff as a mix, but it does loosen chiffon style once you beat the first half of the whites in.)
4. Halve the mix, mix blended water and cocoa into one batch, the orange flavourings into the second batch.
5. Marble in the pan.
6. Bake at 350 degrees which is about Gas Mark 6 for 50-60 minutes. A little less would have been fine so start checking after 45min.