The Best Chocolate Fudge Cake

Hello hello hello – I have returned at long last to the bloggosphere with a new recipe offering and a short précis of my life as it stands at the moment. You lucky lot!

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In pride of place on the kitchen table

I am aware that my last post was in March; you know how all those things that you have to do end up getting in the way of things that you like to but don’t have to do? That’s pretty much what happened. Not to say I haven’t baked at all in the last few months – I have – but not as frequently as before and without the time really to turn the results into halfway decent blog posts. But now it’s August, it’s sunny, I’ve graduated, I don’t currently have a job but I do have a lovely little kitchen of (half) my own in the splendid flat my boyfriend and I have recently settled in. The plan is to do a Creative Writing MA, still in Sheffield, this coming year whilst I try and decide what path I think I want my real, grown-up life to take. Scary stuff. But exciting! I’m really starting to look forward to it actually – the decision has been a long time coming but the more I’ve thought about it (and these sessions have been extensive and involved drawing up lists of pros and cons) the more right it feels.

Meanwhile, I’ve had rather a lot of time on my hands since I finished my temporary job at the end of July. Luckily, August has turned into holiday month for me – I’ve been away camping with my dad, next week I’m camping with my mum, the week after that I’m visiting one of my best friends for her 21st and then getting to go to Harry Potter World – yeah!! – and THEN to a hotel in Devon to celebrate my Grandma’s 80th birthday. Phew! I honestly would be crazed with boredom if this wasn’t all in the pipeline – how do people live without going to work of some kind and/or being in education?! It seems that I certainly thrive best on a healthy diet of things-to-get-done rather than endless hours of choice and freedom – how strange. You always crave one whilst living on the other don’t you?

Yesterday I watched a very good film called The Magdalene Sisters, about a convent for ‘fallen girls’ – you know, the ones who get harassed by their male cousin and it’s obviously all their fault, or when they look at a boy, God forbid. It was quite harrowing, especially the ending, but well worth a watch as it’s actually based on a true story and, upsetting though it may be, I think it’s important to know about past atrocities so you can be aware of them re-occurring in the present. As you can probably tell, after it finished I felt like I needed a bit of comforting, so I turned to – yes, the only possible solution – cake. Delicious, icing-smothered, glossy, rich chocolate cake. Mmmmmm.

The recipe is from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, appropriate seeing as The Great British Bake Off has returned to our screens (Hurrah! Who are your favourites?! I’m already rooting for Martha and Chetna, and Norman is just great – so devil-may-care. I love it) and the first episode was based around the timeless delights of cakes in their many guises.

It’s actually an incredibly easy, simple cake – perfect to whip up when you want the comfort of the calming process of weighing out ingredients and gently melting ingredients together but not the stress and rigour of a difficult or fiddly recipe. Plus, you get a fantastic treat at the end; who doesn’t like a lovely, big, round chocolate cake (except my brother – a vegan AND a chocophobic) that you can nibble a slice of at work, after tea or even in bed (as we did last night after I finished icing)?

A pair of slices mysteriously disappeared as soon as I finished icing it...

A pair of slices mysteriously disappeared as soon as I finished icing it…

 

Here is the recipe; I hope you enjoy making and eating it as much as I did 🙂

Ingredients

  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 6 tablespoons boiling water
  • 3 large eggs
  • 50ml milk
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
  • 100g softened butter
  • 275g caster sugar
  • 3 tablespoons apricot jam
  • 150g plain chocolate (the best quality you have – there isn’t much, if anything, to disguise the flavour in the icing)
  • 150ml double cream

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan 160C/Gas Mark 4 and grease two deep 20cm sandwich tins, lining the base with baking paper.

Step 2. Blend the cocoa powder and boiling water together in your mixing bowl, then plonk all the other ingredients in* and beat thoroughly until you have a smooth, thick paste. I used a wooden spoon and then a whisk (an old-fashioned manual one, but you could use electric if you wished of course) to achieve this. *I whisked the eggs up in a separate bowl first to make it smoother

Step 3. Pour the mixture into the two tins, dividing it evenly between them. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until well risen and springy to the touch. When done, cool slightly in the tins then turn out onto a wire rack. Don’t forget to remove the baking paper bases before icing!

Step 4. Make the icing/filling. Heat the apricot jam a little (short bursts in the microwave worked for me) until runny and when they are cooled completely, brush over the top of both cakes with a pastry brush. This is to stop any crumbs getting in the icing. TIP: If your cakes have a bit of a peak in the middle, like mine did, it’s a good idea to slice off the top so you have a flat surface to place your top layer on. The cook gets the offcuts!

Step 5. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a bowl with the cream. Either heat in short bursts in a microwave – if you do this stir after every 10-20 seconds as it will burn otherwise – or place over a pan of simmering water to melt the two together.

Step 6. When the mixture is properly combined and melted, leave to cool until almost set, then spread over the top of both cakes, sandwiching them together with the filling and smoothing the icing over the top with a palette knife. (If you put the icing on when warm it will run off and look messy, as well as making the cake too moist.) Keep in a cool place – I put my cake on the lid of a large tin, then placed the tin on top so it’s basically upside down. It makes it much easier to cut the cake and take it out the tin when you need to. Serve on the day, or it will keep in the tin for 3-4 days I reckon without losing too much yumminess. Tuck in!

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And that’s it! I’m going to stop making promises I can’t keep and just say I don’t know when I’ll post again next, but I hope you liked this one. Happy Baking 🙂

Banana Chai Cupcakes

I love using these pretty cupcake cases - they make the cakes look even more appealing!

I love using these pretty cupcake cases – they make the cakes look even more appealing!

Good morning! I hope the transition from February to March (and from winter to spring by the looks of things here!) has been very pleasant and appropriately filled with baked treats for you all – apologies for the lack of communication lately! I haven’t been very well, nothing serious, but it did take it out of me for a while, plus I think I’d underestimated how hard my final term was going to be. I will be awash with deadlines very soon so I can’t promise to post frequently, but when I get a bit of time to bake I will certainly share the results here 🙂 Oh and the Foodie Facts will be making a re-appearance too, not daily for the moment, but as and when I find useful/interesting/wacky tidbits I’ll pop them up.

So, Banana Chai Cupcakes, sounds pretty exciting right?! The idea, I have to disclaim, was not mine, but the recipe sort of is. Yesterday that rare and beautiful thing happened where I experimented with patchworking different bits of recipes together and the result was actually a resounding success! It will depend on personal taste of course, but I love the subtle mix of spices along with the sweet banana flavour in these cakes. The texture is really wonderful as well; the cupcakes are so light and fluffy, despite the mixture being quite wet, with a perfectly risen and crusted sugary top.

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I also tried this as a loaf, which worked absolutely fine. I do prefer the cupcakes personally, however, just for their size and the contrast between the fluffy insides and crispy muffin top! Please don’t be put off by the amount of spices the recipe calls for. You can decide what spices you want to include anyway; I browsed lots of chai tea and spiced cake recipes to create my blend, and will probably make alterations next time I make these to find the perfect combo. My other tip is go to a wholesale oriental foods store! I found one ages ago and bought masses of spices – they’re so much cheaper in bulk, and if you store them carefully (airtight containers, dry cupboards) they do last. Plus its fascinating to look around stores like that, and I picked up a bamboo steamer for £1.50, so look out for bargains!

Grinding up spices on the mezzaluna.

Grinding up spices on the mezzaluna.

Sorry again for the long silence before now, and I hope this delicious recipe is to your taste – slightly unusual, but all the more impressive for that when it eats as well as this do!

Ingredients

For the spice mix:

  • 4 cloves (or ¼ tsp ground cloves)
  • 2 black peppercorns, ground
  • ¼ tsp ground star anise OR fennel seed
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom seeds (about 3 pods worth)
  • ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

For the cake mixture:

  • 2 overripe bananas
  • 10 oz sugar (¼ brown rest white)
  • 4 oz butter
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 2 tbsp strong black tea
  • 10 oz self-raising flour
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

*I realise this recipe is in ounces; its an old one my mum was given and I haven’t tried it with metric measures as my scales can weigh in ounces as well as grams. If yours don’t then you can easily convert the measurements here:  Metric Conversions (They’re not all whole numbers which is why I didn’t put the grams up – will test at some point and see what gram measurements work best!)

Step 1. Grind up all the spices together. If you don’t have a pestle and mortar (I don’t) fear not; you can chop the cardamom, fennel seed/star anise, peppercorns and cloves down to a fine sand with patience and a good knife. I used a mezzaluna (see photo above) but a large sharp knife and a good chopping board will work similarly well. Or you can buy them ground, but whole spices do keep better – they don’t dry out and lose as much flavour as pre-chopped or ground spices do.

Step 2. Mash the banana in a bowl (not the mixing bowl) til soft then combine thoroughly with your spice mix. In a big mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Then, one ingredient at a time, beat in the spiced banana mush, eggs, vanilla essence, golden syrup and tea. I usually add a tablespoon or so of flour with the eggs so the mixture doesn’t curdle.

Step 3. Add the flour and bicarb of soda and mix thoroughly into the wet ingredients. Now either drop into cupcake cases (fill them about three quarters full) or turn into a loaf tin. The tin needs to be non-stick, or greased and lined with baking paper. This mixture made 6 cupcakes and 1 loaf for me.

Step 4. If making cupcakes, bake for 30-35 minutes at 170C/Gas Mark 4. For a loaf, bake at the same temperature but for 40-45 minutes. When the top is springy to touch and a skewer (or a piece of uncooked spaghetti) inserted into the thickest part of the cake comes out with only a few tiny moist crumbs on – if its completely clean the cake may be too dry – the cake(s) are ready. Leave to cool on a wire rack then store in an airtight tin. Banana cake usually keeps well for a good few days as its quite moist.

**Notes**

The ingredients list says to use a quarter (i.e. 2.5 ounces) brown sugar to three quarters white – this was the ratio I happened to have in my cupboards as I was running out of brown sugar. I’ve made banana cake with all  brown and all white sugar before and its been fine; use whatever ratio you prefer, though the 1/4 brown to 3/4 white did work well for the cupcakes. I think that’s everything really; as I said before, use trial and error for your own spice mix to see what suits your tastes. Hope you enjoy these cupcakes as much as I did!

Sources: Betty Crocker ‘Chai Cake’ recipe, my mum’s banana cake recipe, various chai tea and spiced cake recipes.

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Til next time x

Banana and Honey Teabread

Since Saturday or Sunday I’ve developed a horrid sore throat, and as I’m going to be rehearsing for a very full-on musical up to three times a week for the next two months, I thought I’d better do something about it asap. Consequently my new hot drink of choice is honey and lemon, which is the nicest way to soothe my poor croaky voice (in the mornings it drops about an octave – I sound like Arnie Schwarzenegger without the accent) and is by far preferable to Lemsip or anything similar – yuch.

I don’t often have honey in the cupboard so I thought I had better make the most of it by baking Mary Berry’s lovely Banana and Honey Teabread. As always, there were drastically overripe bananas in the house waiting to be taken pity on, and other than that this is a very simple recipe using standard (baking) cupboard ingredients. And if I can have cake that will ‘help’ my sore throat, why not?! Coincidentally, I was also reading a sequence of poems about bees today…it must be fate.

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The loaf takes quite a long time to bake because the mixture is so wet, but the process beforehand is so quick that if you have ten minutes to spare then jobs to do, this is the bake for you! I’m coming over all poetic now, too much Yeats. For the topping Mary uses nibbed sugar, but apparently that’s quite hard to get – I’d never heard of it – so she suggests using crushed sugar cubes instead. Nick them from a tearoom, or alternatively leave your bag of sugar in a kitchen cupboard in a student house; it should clump up nicely in the damp. The other thing I really like about this cake is the addition of nutmeg – the flavour really comes through just enough for it to complement the honey but not overpower the banana. Yum!

Ingredients

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 100g butter
  • 225g bananas (I used about 1 and 1/4 bananas)
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons thick pale honey

Step 1. Sift the flour and grate the nutmeg into the mixing bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingers til the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.

Step 2. Peel and mash the bananas separately, then add these, the sugar, eggs and honey to the flour and butter and mix it all together thoroughly. ??????????

Step 3. Turn into a loaf tin (greased and lined if not non-stick) and bake in a pre-heated oven at 160C/Gas Mark 3 for about 1 and 1/4 hours, or until a skewer poked into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Step 4. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out and finish cooling on a wire rack.

Step 5. If you want to add a topping, warm 2 tablespoons of honey in a pan then brush over the teabread when cold. Sprinkle with the nibbed/crushed/damp clusters of sugar and serve. This should keep for a good five days I reckon in an airtight tin.

**Notes**

I would almost be tempted to add a teaspoon or so of baking powder to this recipe as the cake didn’t rise much at all, making it denser than it needs to be – its already quite a heavy cake with the moisture from the banana and honey. I think I’ll be making this again fairly soon though, as I didn’t quite get the actual baking part right, starting off at too high a temperature. In that case I’ll edit the post and let you know of any improvements, or on the flip side, if adding baking powder is really disastrous advice. The other thing I should mention is that Mary’s recipe includes the grated rind of one lemon; I omitted this because I didn’t have a lemon whose rind I could grate, but also wasn’t sure if the citrus here was really necessary. I have a sneaking suspicion that Mary is somewhat biased towards them; lemon drizzle is reportedly her favourite cake, and lemon zest or juice does seem to make an appearance in a considerable number of her recipes in the Baking Bible. We’re onto you, Mary!

That’s all I think, as I said the recipe may be tweaked in the next few weeks so if you’re planning on making it do comment with your suggestions/hang on til I’ve done some trial and error! Back tomorrow with a food fact for the day, thanks for reading 🙂

Lemon and Blueberry Yoghurt Cake

This cake has been in the pipeline for a while now – when it was raining constantly I wanted to bake it to bring a bit of sun shiny-ness into the house, and now it feels like a welcome acknowledgement that the weather seems to have finally turned and is bestowing on us some sunshine at last.

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The initial idea came from the fun and very readable London Bakes; the blogger, Kathryn, posted a recipe for a lemon yoghurt cake and I love Greek yoghurt – in fact its really the only type of yoghurt I actually like and have done since I was little – so immediately wanted to try it out. Then, miraculously it seemed to me, I found a recipe for a very similar lemon yoghurt cake in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, current cookbook and blog inspiration tome of choice. What luck! Kathryn’s is gluten-free and includes a slightly different set of ingredients than Mary’s but both are similar in essence. I decided to add blueberries to mine for the extra bursts of tartness in flavour, and because I think they look so inviting baked in a sponge cake.

It does take a long time to cook, but on the upside that leaves you with a decent interlude for washing up/reading/watching the Winter Olympics. One of my tutors has been raving about the Winter Olympics lately and I have to say I’m glad she has been; I’ve been watching the figure skating and am in awe of everything about it. Me and my housemate also had a good chuckle at the curling – what an unintentionally hilarious sport! Apologies to anyone who is involved in curling who might be reading this – no offence meant – but the way the guys go crazy with their little scrubbing brushes just gets me every time. Also it reminds me of Pingu…remember that episode where the titular penguin and his confusingly twice-named (Robbie, or Seymour? I can’t decide) seal friend play curling with bedpans? Hilarious. All the more so now I’ve seen it with real people. Anyway…

The cake should last a week in the fridge according to Mary – its very moist, mine (with blueberries) even more so I imagine because of the added liquid in the fruit. I like to think that because it lives in the fridge it slots nicely into the ‘healthy snack’ or even ‘acceptable eaten for breakfast’ category. Mary’s recipe includes icing which would definitely take it off the second list, but I left that part out, maybe just so I could have it for breakfast with no qualms whatsoever 🙂 Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 300g caster sugar
  • 50g butter
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 225g Greek yoghurt
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • about 180g blueberries

Step 1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4 and grease and/or line a deep cake tin. Mary says 20cm round, I used a loaf tin, purely because that’s how I imagined the shape…as long as its deep I don’t think it matters especially.

Step 2. Beat together the butter, sugar and egg yolks in a mixing bowl til pale and creamy. Add the yoghurt and grate in the lemon rind. Stir well til smooth.

Step 3. Gently fold in the flour, then whisk the egg whites to soft peaks in a separate bowl. Warm up your upper arm muscles first if you haven’t got an electric whisk and are as lacking in the bicep department as I am. Fold in the whisked egg whites, again very gently and carefully – you need to add both these ingredients using a metal spoon, not a wooden one, and cutting down and folding over the mixture rather than stirring it round.

Step 4. Fold in the blueberries, washed and whole, then pour the cake batter into your prepped tin. Bake for 1 hour to an hour and a quarter. The cake should be well-risen and slightly springy to the touch when it is cooked. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then loosen around the edges and turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling before storing in a tupperware in the fridge.

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**Notes**

Easy peasy lemon squeezy! Except don’t squeeze the lemons; you only want the rind, not the juice. It might never bake to a solid if you add more liquid to this mixture. The baking is the only bit that takes time though, otherwise this is pretty simple and yummy. The icing Mary’s recipe adds, by the way, is 1 and a 1/2 tbsp lemon juice to 100g icing sugar if you wanted to add that. For a special occasion, and perhaps if you were omitting the blueberries, you could decorate the iced cake with niblets of candied lemon peel. I don’t really have any notes for the recipe which is why I’m rambling; basically, its lovely. Back again soon with another foray into bread making! ttfn x

Nusskuchen

The exam is done, and the I-don’t-have-to-get-up-today-if-I-don’t-want-to feeling has set in overwhelmingly. Yesterday I was in one of those baking moods where nothing is too much trouble, and you seem to derive endless contentment from the hours spent  dawdling over each task. This unusual patience, and the temporarily sleepy pace of my weekdays, served me well, as I’d decided to delve into Mary’s chapter on ‘Special Cakes’ and miraculously had all the ingredients in-house to make…. Nusskuchen! Its a German cake, as its name suggests, that originated around the 18th century and roughly translates as ‘nut-cake’. It is always made with hazelnuts but there are, as with most old recipes, many varieties; this one includes a reallllllllly good citrus-zesty apple filling (if you’ve read my blog before you’ve probably heard that I love citrus/sharp/sour flavours more than anything!). It isn’t complicated to bake at all really, but as I said more time and patience than usual might be beneficial! 

Was rather proud of this bake :)

Was rather proud of this bake 🙂

If it looks like a very squat cake in the picture, it is – the mixture didn’t rise very well, which I’d kind of anticipated before I put it into the oven. I don’t think I whipped the egg whites enough, and possibly over-mixed the batter without incorporating enough air. However, it still tasted pretty good! You might also note that there is no sign of the apple filling; with such a small cake I thought it would be daft to attempt to slice it in two and fill it, so instead I warmed some of the filling and served it with the cake as a nice little accompaniment. Both the cake and the apple compote-type thing also go very well with Greek yoghurt.

Mmmmmmmmmm hmmmmmmmmm.

Mmmmmmmmmm hmmmmmmmmm.

I hope you’re not thinking, ‘oh man so many things went wrong here and it looks so faffy and I can’t really be bothered to try it’, but just in case you are, let me tell you how good this cake smells in every stage of its making. I know, that sounds weird, and no matter how nice the thing you’re describing, the word ‘smells’ always sounds a bit pongy. BUT, these are good smells – aromas – that permeate the kitchen in a supremely comforting and happiness-inducing manner, especially when snow is falling thickly outside, as it was in Sheffield yesterday (sadly only for a couple of hours – now it’s chucking it down with rain).

Firstly, when you blast the hazelnuts in the oven, then chop them down finely, it releases all the amazing oils inside and produces the most incredible toasty scent. This, combined with the satisfaction of methodically crunching through the nuts with a mezzanine (see picture below) made me inexplicably content. I know, I know, get over yourself. But THEN you zest the lemon (and honestly, if you could have a perfume of that smell now I would definitely wear it, like the Romans did) and make the apple filling and it just gets better. The icing on the cake is literally, the icing on the cake – the chocolate topping obviously smells amazing, because its chocolate.

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So, you’re convinced, lovely; here is the recipe as I know you just can’t wait any longer to treat your olfactory glands to those delicious aromas – they deserve it:

Ingredients:

  • 40g shelled hazelnuts
  • 100g softened butter or spread
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs, separated – you’ll need the yolks AND the whites so don’t chuck ’em
  • 1 tsp instant coffee granules
  • 1 tbsp warm milk
  • 100 g self-raising flour

Apple Filling

  • 450g eating apples (I used 4 coxes)
  • 1 tbsp apricot jam
  • grated rind and juice of 1/2 lemon

Topping

  • 50g dark chocolate

Step 1. Pre-heat the oven to 190C/Gas Mark 5. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin (a deep one, not a sandwich tin, though if that’s all you have I’m sure you could bake the mixture in two halves seeing as it’s supposed to be cut in two for filling anyway).

Step 2. Put the hazelnuts, just as they are, on a baking tray into the oven for about ten minutes. When they come out you should be able to rub the skins off by rolling them together in a clean tea towel. Don’t worry about getting every last bit of skin off. Then either grind the prepared nuts in a food processor, or chop them with a mezzanine. I quite liked the extra texture slightly bigger chunks of hazelnut gave the cake.

Step 3. Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Gradually add the egg yolks, beating away, then stir in the nuts. Warm the milk (in a mug in the microwave is easiest) and dissolve the coffee granules in it, then stir into the mixture.

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Step 4. This is where all the lovely fluffy air gets in. Hopefully. Fold in the flour gently with a metal spoon (thinner edges cut through the mixture better) and when incorporated, beat the egg whites to soft peaks (separately, obviously – and the bowl has to be clean and dry or they won’t whip) then fold them in as well.

Step 5. Turn the mixture carefully into the cake tin or tins. Bake for 25 minutes, until the top is springy when lightly pressed and the cake has only just started to shrink away from the sides of the tin. Leave to cool in the tin, then turn out, remove the baking paper from the bottom and finish cooling on a wire rack.

Step 6. In the cooling window, you can make the filling and topping. Grate the rind and squeeze the juice of the lemon half into a pan, then stir in your jam. Peel, core and slice the apples (quite thinly; 3 or 4 slices to a quarter) and give them a little shake up in the pan so they’re covered with the liquid. Cover and cook very gently until the apples are soft but not mushy – they should still retain their shape. This took about 20 minutes for me.

Step 7. When the filling and cake are cool, slice the nusskuchen in two and sandwich it back together with the apple filling. Or pretend you meant to serve it as a side all along because your cake didn’t rise, like I did…

Step 8. Melt the chocolate gently, in the microwave (watch it like a hawk or it can burn so quickly) or on the hob over a bowl of simmering water. Spread over the top of the cake and leave to set.

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And that’s it! You have your nusskuchen, guaranteed to impress, especially if you practice it to get that rise! If you are prone to the same baking moods as me and have time to spare, or you really are out to impress people, there is an Optional Decoration.

You need a small amount of caster sugar (probably less than 100g, depends on how many you want to make), a pan and some hazelnuts. I had seen caramelized nuts used as decoration for cakes on The Great British Bake Off before, couldn’t quite remember how they did it, but went with the impulse anyway and had a surprisingly successful go at making them!

Make sure you put the nuts on baking paper as hardened caramel is tricky to get off things!

Make sure you put the nuts on baking paper as hardened caramel is tricky to get off things!

First prepare your hazelnuts in the same way as Step 2 says above. Once toasted and skinned, pour some sugar into the pan and set on a low heat. I do know that you shouldn’t stir caramel or sugar syrup, so resist the temptation and give the pan a little shake if it needs it to melt the sugar. Once the sugar is melting, do not take your eyes off it! It can burn in a flash (and I’m speaking from numerous experiences here). When it reaches a nice light golden brown colour, turn off the heat and drop in the hazelnuts. Don’t touch the sugar, its super hot and sticks to your fingers, but roll the nuts around until covered, then lift out with a spoon, or whatever utensil works best, and place onto baking paper to set. You will need to work quite fast as it starts setting immediately! The (badly) spun sugar on top of my cake was me getting the knife and spoon stuck together and trying to pull them apart, unwittingly creating quite pretty threads of sugar, which went everywhere and had to be gently wrestled (there’s an oxymoron for you) into an artistic arrangement for photographing purposes.

**Notes**

So, I already mentioned the issue of getting a good rise; basically, I think you have to be quite gentle with your mixture but persistent in whipping the egg whites up. The size of the ground/chopped nuts probably makes a difference as well; Mary’s recipe doesn’t specify how fine they need to be but I imagine the finer they are, the lighter the cake. Also, I (typically) didn’t have one of the ingredients, so substituted it with some artistic license; orange marmalade instead of apricot jam with the apples actually added to the citrus kick already coming from the lemon, which I liked – apricot jam would be sweeter but in terms of consistency I don’t think it made a difference. For the chocolate topping, the only dark chocolate I had was 70% cocoa solids, which is very bitter, so I went half and half milk and dark chocolate – 25g each. As a general tip, Mary Berry recommends chocolate which contains around 39% cocoa solids for use in baking. Glad someone else has done the trial and error so I don’t have to!

Source: Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, p. 153

Enjoy your weekends, and if the weather is as poor as it is here it must be begging you to stay indoors and bake up a treat or two.

P.S. I have added a page with links to blogs I love; some I have just discovered and some I’ve been reading for a while. If you know any more you think I’d like, feel free to recommend in the comments, and check out the ones I’ve listed; they’re all worth a browse!

Cherry and Almond Traybake

Hello all! Or hello few…or none? If I have any readers left after my long and unexplained absence, let me apologise for the attention I have categorically not lavished on this blog for some weeks now. Also, Happy New Year! and I hope you all had lovely Christmas/other festive holiday celebrations that included lots of home cooking and baking. One of my New Year’s resolutions (aside from stop pigging out on chocolate, go back to the gym – the usual) is to get this blog back on its feet – I enjoy writing it too much to let it fade to nothing and will always, even if weeks do lapse between my stints in the kitchen, call myself a baker, so I may as well record the results for other bakers to learn a bit from and enjoy.

Did anyone else watch the Great British Sport Relief Bake Off?? Some hilarious concoctions were born that week, and I thought the celebrity guest judges were a great addition. A combination of that mini-series this January, along with a reminder about applications for the actual Great British Bake Off in the forthcoming summer (hands down my fav TV cookery programme) and the acquisition of numerous baking books around Christmas spurred me on to breathe new life into this little virtual space of mine. With this in mind, I have decided on a driving force behind the blog which I imagine will last for some time…

Mary Berry’s Baking Bible. I got this for Christmas from my mum and it is absolutely one of my most prized gifts this year. I love Mary Berry – I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before – so to have a whole book of her best recipes is very exciting for me.

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Naww.

So, in light of that, and due to a vague-ish plan to apply for the Bake Off myself in 2015, if it’s still running then, I will attempt to bake every single recipe in her Baking Bible and update my little blog with all the details! By the end I should become a better, more experienced and knowledgeable baker and An Inexact Science will be more interesting for it. N.B. I’m not setting a time limit, because in truth I have absolutely no idea how long it will take, and don’t even know where I’ll be living in six months time (arghhhhhhhh graduation). I will say that there are over 250 recipes…so this project will take a while.

So, no time like the present – first recipe! The delicious Cherry and Almond Traybake was the bake I chose to start with because it’s not too challenging (I am in the run-up to an exam this week so recipes requiring excess brain power were off the list) and I had some glace cherries in the cupboard. There’s no rhyme or reason to the order in which I’ll pick them, it just depends on what I fancy baking/eating and, as ever, what’s in the cupboard and the balance of my weekly budget. I do happen to love sticky, syrupy, bright red glace cherries too; when I was younger I definitely used to ask for them as treats if my mum was baking with them. The ground almond in this cake doe lend it quite a dense texture, but it’s not at all unpleasant or dry – in fact mine was very moist, but not claggy either. I made it on Tuesday morning, and every single piece has disappeared by now, so I suppose that’s a thumbs up! Or an indication of the motivation levels regarding revision in my house. Anyway, here we go:

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Ingredients:

  • 225g (8oz) red or natural glace cherries
  • 275g (10oz) self-raising flour
  • 2 level tsps baking powder
  • 225g (8oz) softened butter or spread
  • 225g (8oz) caster sugar
  • zest of two lemons
  • 75g (3oz) ground almonds
  • 5 large eggs
  • 25g (1oz) flaked almonds

Step 1. First wash and dry the cherries. It’s easiest to get all the syrup out if you halve or quarter them first, then run them under cold water in a sieve. Pat dry with kitchen paper – this all helps to try and stop the fruit from sinking to the bottom of your cake, something that I have unfortunately not yet managed to achieve.

Step 2. The super easy bit; weigh out all the remaining ingredients – except the flaked almonds – pop them in a bowl and beat together. It won’t take long – Mary recommends one minute’s beating time.

Step 3. Fold in the cherries. Alternatively, turn the mixture into a greased and lined baking tin and then poke the cherry pieces into the top of the cake so they (maybe) won’t sink as much. No promises, though. Sprinkle generously with the flaked almonds.

Step 4. Bake at 180C / Gas Mark 4 for about 40 minutes, after which the middle should be springy to the touch and the cake beginning to come away from the sides of the tin. The flaked almonds on top will be toasty, crunchy and delicious as well.

Step 5. Cool in the tin, then lift out and cut into squares. I reckon a drizzle of glace icing (just icing sugar and water) with a splash of lemon juice in it would not go at all amiss on the top of this cake.

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**Notes**

My little alterations will go here for every recipe – not because I think I’m superior to Mary in any way, but because for one we have very different ovens – and entire kitchens, for that matter – and two because I just don’t always have/want to buy all the things the recipes asks for! Okay, so I halved the recipe first of all and baked it in a loaf tin as my roasting tin was then too big. It seemed to work absolutely fine, and I used the ounce measurements given above to divide the quantities more easily. Two and a half eggs is tricky, though, so I used two eggs and added about 100ml of milk to make up the extra liquid. I immediately reflected that lemon zest really would be cracking in this cake after I’d made it with lemon juice as a substitute (didn’t have any actual lemons), which didn’t impart the same zesty flavour, unsurprisingly, so do follow Mary’s good advice there. That’s pretty much everything, except that you should know, because I like to rant about it, that my oven is the slowest thing on earth and took, I kid you not, almost an hour to bake a measly half-size cake, at a whole mark higher than the recommended temp! Grrr.

Source: Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, p. 183.

If any of you lovely readers have your own copy of said book and would like to make suggestions, recommendations, or impart your own pearls of wisdom about any of the recipes, please do! Whack them in the comments box and I will attend to your remarks asap.

Til the next installment, later this week or early next week depending on the progress of my revision…wish me luck!

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Peppermint Tea Cupcakes

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I don’t like to drink normal tea – by ‘normal’ I mean PG Tips, Tetleys, good ol’ Yorkshire, you get the picture – which is a fact my Yorkshire friends have never been able to comprehend. One of my flatmates got me into peppermint tea in my first year at uni though,  so I now have an alternative hot drink (aside from hot chocolate which gets pretty calorific if you try and keep up with the tea drinkers) for those awkward moments when someone goes “WHAT?? You don’t like TEA??” 

One particular afternoon earlier this week, I was relaxing on the sofa in our living room, eating a bowl of hot, fragrant casserole and reading my book. Ahhh. I am, however, currently wincing my way through Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho for my course, so it wasn’t all quite as cosy as it sounds. I had an sudden urge to bake – in reality probably just an excuse to put my book down, which is saying something for me – so I flicked through my ‘Cake Days’ book and came across a recipe for Earl Grey Tea Cupcakes, with a variation listed at the bottom… the Hummingbird Bakery had triumphed once again! Peppermint Tea Cupcakes were on the menu; the perfect combination of my taste in hot drinks and the available contents of my cupboard.

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Not exactly light bedtime reading…

This is a really easy recipe, but also something a bit different. The peppermint flavour is subtle; steep the teabags for as long as you want (30 minutes minimum) but obviously the longer the time the stronger the flavour. You could also experiment with frostings and drizzles. I’ve used a (completely improvised) mint chocolate sauce that sets to a fudgey consistency, but a peppermint or chocolate buttercream  would be really nice as well. Similarly, I’m all for tea diversity – go with the original recipe using Earl Grey, or try out fruit and other herbal teas. Make up a frosting to match; for example vanilla would be lovely with the earl grey cakes and decorate with corresponding petals/chocolates/sprigs..it’s all about the flavour-decoration coordination, guys.

Ingredients:

  • 3 peppermint teabags
  • 3tbsp just-boiled water
  • 80g butter (unsalted, softened)
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 240g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder (yes, 1 tablespoon – I know its a lot!)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 200ml milk
  • 2 large eggs

 

Method:

Step 1. Put the teabags in a bowl and cover with the boiled water. Leave to brew for 30 minutes or longer.

Step 2. Mix the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt (all the dry ingredients) together until the mixture looks like fine sand, or breadcrumbs. This is easier with an electric whisk but persevere by hand; it looks like it won’t ever come together, but it will. Trust your ingredients.

Step 3. Measure out the milk into a jug, then whisk in the eggs. Squeeze all the liquid out of the teabags into the eggs and milk, including any liquid left in the bowl from the steeping. If the tea is strong the mixture goes a nice milky-coffee-beige colour. KEEP THE TEABAGS if you want to make the Hummingbird frosting, which I will write out the recipe for below.

Step 4. Add about two thirds of the milk-egg-tea liquid to the dry ingredients and combine carefully. Add a little more til the batter is smooth, then beat in the last bit to get a lump-free mixture. Hummingbird cake mixture is runnier than normal; don’t panic! They rise beautifully and stay very moist that way.

Step 5. Ladle even amounts of batter into cupcake cases lining a 12 hole muffin or cupcake tin. The mixture will make more than 12 cakes, so if you have two trays, use two, if not, bake them in batches.The cases should be about 2 thirds full before baking to allow the mixture to rise.

Step 6. Bake the cupcakes in the oven at 190C/Gas Mark 5 for 18-20 minutes. Don’t open the door before the first 18 minutes are up! It will more than likely deflate the cakes. They are ready when the tops are golden and springy to the touch. Take them out, leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so, then cool completely on a wire rack before decorating.

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Getting artistic (i.e. messy) with the chocolate sauce

 

So my ‘icing’ was something of an experiment – I didn’t have any icing sugar or butter left. Basically, I steeped the peppermint teabags used for the cake mixture in some milk (use fresh one if they split when you squeezed them out; I went through a complicated process of filtering through kitchen towel when this happened to me) for around half an hour again, then melted some dark chocolate, heated the minty milk and mixed the two together to make a glossy chocolate sauce. I’m afraid I have no idea of quantities; measure by eye based on what you think you’ll need. I always make too much icing, I find it goes further than you think. Don’t make the chocolate sauce too runny by adding lots and lots of milk – it won’t set as well. Drizzle over your cupcakes when the sauce is still warm and leave to go gooey. Pretty yummy for an experiment!

Alternatively, here is the recipe for the Hummingbird frosting for these cakes:

Ingredients:

  • 50ml milk
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 160g butter (unsalted)

 

Method:

Step 1. Put the peppermint teabags in a bowl with the milk and leave for half an hour to infuse. 

Step 2. Whisk the butter and icing sugar together – on a low speed if using an electric mixer – until no lumps of butter are left. Add the milk, again squeezing out all the liquid from the teabags, whilst mixing slowly, then whisk vigorously until the frosting is soft and fluffy. 

Step 3. Swirl onto the cupcakes with a palette knife or the back of a teaspoon. Enjoy!

Source: Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days Cookbook, ‘Earl Grey Tea Cupcakes’ (Variations). Thanks for reading 🙂