Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Sweetheart Cupcakes

I've been playing around with some baking ideas for Valentine's Day for some weeks now, and this was my first attempt at making some of them a reality. It also gave me the opportunity to try out some cute heart shaped foil baking cups I found in my local kitchenware store.

These cupcakes are made using the Amaretto Cupcake and Frosting recipes from the Primrose Bakery Book. I've made a few of their recipes before, so was fairly confident the sponge would work (while delicious, the sponge was a bit dense for me), but the buttercream turned out a bit runny, so if making again, I would adapt the recipe to not include as much liquid.

The little chocolate love hearts were made using one of my new toys - a silicone chocolate mold from Lakeland in the shape of little 'love hearts'. This was the first time I had melted chocolate to make decorations (I love doing this blog - it's making me try so many new things!). The one thing I learnt from this is the importance of making sure the melted chocolate fills every last nook and cranny in the mold, otherwise you end up with little air bubbles that spoil the effect.

Ingredients (makes 12)

110g room temperature unsalted butter
180g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125g self raising flour, sifted
120g plain flour, sifted and combined with the self raising flour
125ml semi-skimmed milk
1/2 tspn amaretto or almond extract

125g caster sugar
125ml water
1/2 tspn amaretto or almond extract
(This makes a lot of syrup - you could easily halve the proportions and still have plenty for the cupcakes)

115g room temperature unsalted butter
60ml semi-skimmed milk at room temperature
1 tspn vanilla extract
500g icing sugar sifted
1/4 teaspoon amaretto or almond extract

Prehat the oven to 160 fan / 180 conventional / gas 4 and prepare your baking tins.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and smooth, then add and mix in the eggs one at a time.

Add the amaretto or almond extract to the milk. Add one third of the flour mix to the creamed mixture and beat until smooth. Add a third of the milk, and incorporate. Continue alternating flour and milk a third at a time until all incorporated.

Scoop into the cupcake cups to two thirds full.

Bake for approx 25 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack.

Combine the ingredients for the syrup in a saucepan and heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Spoon over the cupcakes while they are still warm.

To make the buttercream, place the butter in a bowl and mix briefly so it is smooth. Add half the icing sugar along with the milk, vanilla and amaretto. Beat well until smooth. Add the remaining icing sugar and beat again to make a smooth icing.

When the cupcakes were cool, I then piped swirls over the top an decorated with some heart shaped sprinkles and my chocolate love hearts.

As I mentioned earlier, if making again, I would not use as much liquid in the buttercream, as the swirls did start to collapse slightly. Perhaps try 30ml milk only, and see how you go checking the consistency until you get what you like.

To make the chocolate hearts, take 100g chocolate (I used Milky Bar buttons). Place 70g in a double boiler and heat gently until just melted and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining 30g chocolate. Mix until incorporated and smooth. Pour into mold and allow to set (I placed it in the fridge for 20 minutes).

Decorate the cupcakes. Here's how mine turned out.

Happy Valentine's Day,


Sunday, 29 January 2012

Divine Chocolate Birthday Cake for the Weekly Bake Off

This week's challenge for the Weekly Bake Off, organised by Amy, was the Divine Chocolate Cake from page 204 of Mary Berry's '100 Cakes and Bakes'. It's a flourless cake, which is something I have not tried making before, and relies on the correct beating of egg whites to add lightness to the mix. 'Uh Oh, another recipe for disaster' I thought, particularly after last week. And again, I had my problems with this one. The cake itself tastes fantastic, but mine did not rise evenly in the oven (and a large crack appeared around the sides). It initially felt very dry on the top. This was later rectified by the icing, which then combined to form a gooey, fudgy cake that went down well with Mike and the boys.

Anyway, here's the recipe.

6 large eggs, 5 of them separated
215g caster sugar
265g plain 39% chocolate (I used Bourneville)
1 level teaspoon instant coffee
1 tsp hot water
150g ground almonds

4 tbspn apricot jam
225g plain 39% chocolate
100g unsalted butter

 Preheat the oven to 170 fan / 190 conventional / gas 5. Grease and line a 23cm / 9inch  deep tin (I used a springform).

Beat the egg yolks, whole egg and sugar until thick and light in colour.

Melt the chocolate gently until smooth. Dissolve the coffee in the water and add to the chocolate (At this point I wish I had gone with my instincts, which was that adding liquid to chocolate would make it seize. It started too, and became clumpy, so I stopped mixing it in and added it to the egg and sugar mix. I think it was more difficult than it should have been to mix in, and so if I made this again, I would add the chocloate to the eggs and sugar, and then add the coffee liquor.)

Chocolate beginning to seize
Add to the sugar and egg mix along with the ground almonds.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold into the chocolate mix. Add to the prepared tin and gently level the surface. Bake for around 50 minutes until risen.

Slight cracking around the edge

Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then place on wire rack to continue cooling.

To make the icing, melt the chocolate and butter over a bowl of gently simmering water. Stir occasionally to mix, until you have a smooth but thick, pourable mix, cooling if necessary. Pour over the cake. (Mary suggests putting the cake on a wire rack so that the icing can drip down the sides and the tray catch the overflow. I didn't bother with this and just poured a lovely thick layer on the top of the cake, with some flowing over the side.)

I then added some heart shaped sprinkles -

This is the sliced cake -

The texture is rich and fudgy, exactly as described in the book. It's a little sweeter than I would normally go for (as in my Brownies, for example) but that's probably due to using the 39% chocolate. Presumably you could use a higher percentage if you wanted.

Anyway, as soon as Ben tasted it, he thought it was fantastic. And he is the chocoholic of the family ...


Friday, 27 January 2012

Blue Velvet Cupcakes for the Bluebirds

It's probably not often that football and baking go hand in hand, but as my beloved Bluebirds are returning to Wembley for the fourth time in as many years (and it'd be nice to actually win for a change), I thought it was about time I tried out something I'd been thinking of for a while. I've never tried a Red Velvet cake, but I had thought about adapting a recipe to make a Blue Velvet version. Instead, I found a fantastic recipe courtesy of Heather Baird of Sprinkle Bakes.

It is notoriously difficult to get a good colour with a Red Velvet cake, and similarly with blue -  I certainly was not able to replicate the deep denim blue Heather managed (at least on this attempt - I'll try a dash more violet next time). I also had the opportunity to use for the first time the US Swan's Down Cake Flour I sourced from The Stateside Candy Co. (A lot of US recipes call for Cake Flour which is very finely ground (think 'oo' flour), enriched and bleached - bleaching is banned in our flour - and can be difficult to find. There are some alternatives you can use, and one is 'Kate Flour' - see A Merrier World  - by Kate Coldrick).

The recipe is straightforward, and resulted in a deliciously tender sponge, with a sweet but hint of sharp cream cheese frosting.

I've adapted some of the US measurements in Heather's recipe to hopefully make it easier.

Ingredients makes approx 12

I cup caster sugar
4oz/113g soft unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/2 tbspn cocoa
1/2 tbspn Wilton Royal Blue gel paste colouring
dab (I added a drop from a cocktail stick) Wilton Violet gel paste colouring
1 1/4 cup cake flour (I checked the weight after sifting and measuring and got 144g)
1/2 tspn salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 tspn vanilla extract
1/4 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tspn white vinegar

For the frosting:
250g pack cream cheese
125g butter softened
1/2 tspn vanilla extract
4 cups (maybe a little more) icing sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 155 fan /175 conventional. Prepare a muffin tin with cupcake liners (I think you could get 12 out of this mix).

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix.

Mix the food colourings with the cocoa powder to form a paste and add this to the bowl.

Sift the flour and salt together, and add this to the mix in thirds, alternating with the buttermilk.

Mix the bicarbonate of soda with the vinegar in a small bowl (it'll fizz) and then add that to the mixture.

Scoop into the prepared pan, so that each cupcake case is no more than two thirds full.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes until a cocktail stick comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, make the cream cheese frosting. It's extremely important that the cream cheese and the butter are soft and at room temperature - if they are too cold, they won't mix properly and the frosting will be lumpy (I have been guilty of this in the past and I can tell you, it's not good).

Mix the cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract until smooth. Add in the icing sugar and beat until light and fluffy.

(I don't seem to have a good track record with cream cheese frosting - it always comes out too runny and in order to rectify it I have to add more sugar. On this occasion I initially halved the proportions in Heather's recipe, so had two cups of icing sugar. It took a further two and a bit cups to find a good consistency, but then I ended up with more icing than I needed. On that basis, you could have a go at halving the cream cheese and butter and sticking with two cups of icing sugar - you may then end up with frosting in the right quantity).

When the cupcakes were totally cool, I then used a piping bag and star nozzle to pipe a swirl on the top of the cupcakes.

Add a bit of magic sparkle ...

Then enjoy.

Unfortunately, you can't sneak one of these, the bright blue tongue is a bit of a giveaway.

Hope you like them. They can of course be used for any team that plays in blue that you may support instead of Cardiff ... :-)

 Good luck on the 26th Feb.C'mon Bluebirds!


Friday, 20 January 2012

Maple Syrup Cake for the Weekly Bake Off (aka Icing Hides Many Things)

I'm really pleased to have discovered the Weekly Bake Off, (thanks to the morethanoccasionalbaker), and which is organised by Amy from the Great British Baking Club.

It's based on the challenge of baking every one of the 100 recipes in 'Mary Berry's 100 Cakes and Bakes'. I think it's a great way of expanding your repetoire and trying something new! This week, the bake off recipe is the Maple Syrup Cake, and I decided to have a go. Sadly, there will be no star baker badge for me this week. If there was a badge for funniest bake though ...

I'll be upfront about this. It has been a disaster. It was going well up until putting the cake in the oven. The batter tasted really nice (yes, spoon licking does take place in this household). The cake looked lovely and level in the pan, so into the oven it went.

The recipe says to bake for 1 - 1 1/2 hours. That was where my first niggling thought occurred 'That's a pretty wide parameter!'. Having been caught in the past overbaking cakes, I decided I would check after one hour, so the timer was set. As soon as I opened the oven door I could see a dent in the middle. I closed the oven door but the damage was done. Despite trying to salvage the situation and baking for 15 minutes longer, the dent was fast becoming a hole in the middle of the cake.

'That's not good' I thought, closely followed by 'I wonder what it'll taste like' (fantastic actually). I waited for the cake to cool down and then cut into the three layers stipulated in the recipe. This shows the extent of the problem.

The top two layers resemble polos, and while the botom layer has remained intact, it's only because it is glued together by underdone cake. The outside is crispy and seems a little overdone. One thing is clear, this is not a dainty cake.

I've been wracking my brains to think what's gone wrong. Including:

  • The recipe I used was from Baking Bible, but it is the same as the one in 100 Cakes and Bakes (I just checked);
  • I did follow the recipe;
  • I don't think I overmixed everything;
  • All my ingredients were fresh and well before their use by date including the baking powder;
  • I did however use Lurpak spread (according to Mary she uses butter but if you use spread to make sure it is over 59% fat - it was);
  • My oven was at the right temperature (I used a thermometer to check);
  • I placed the cake in the middle of the oven - as I have a fan oven could this have affected it somehow?;
  • The cake tin was the right size but it was dark in colour - according to Rose Levy Berenbaum (US baking guru and author of another cake bible) I should have reduced the oven temp by 15 degrees to compensate - could that be it?;
  • Is it right to add two teaspoons of baking powder to self-raising flour (and 350g?), as the recipe calls for? Not sure about this one. It seems like a lot to me, and there was clearly a massive air buble created in the middle of the cake by something. Still it is a Mary Berry recipe.
In short I have no idea what went wrong. I wasn't sure whether to go ahead and ice it or not, but it is true that icing covers a multitude of sins (I also managed to overwhip the cream so that it firmed up a bit and filled the hole!).

Anyway, in case you are interested, here is the recipe.


225g softened butter
225g light muscovado sugar
zest of one orange
4 large eggs
100ml maple syrup
350g self raising flour
2 level tspn baking powder
1/2 level tspn ground ginger
50g pecan nuts, chopped

For the filling and topping:

450ml pouring double cream
2tbspn maple syrup
zest of one orange in strips, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 140 fan / 160 conventional / gas 3

For the cake, you basically measure everything except the pecans into a bowl and mix well. Then fold in the chopped nuts.

Add the mixture to a greased and base lined 20cm deep cake tin. Bake for 1 - 1 1/2 hours or until well risen, golden and springy to the touch.

Allow to cool slightly, then turn out on rack to completely cool. Cut into three layers.

Whip the cream until it just holds its shape and then fold in the maple syrup. Fill and cover the cake over the top and sides. Use the orange zest strips to decorate.

At least the hole meant lots of cream!

It's a shame this didn't turn out so well, but it still tasted really good. At least my little helper thought it/my reaction was funny ...

I'm looking forward to seeing how the other bakers got on on this one. Ah well, roll on next week!


Thursday, 12 January 2012

Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti

Now that Christmas is over, the house is clear of festive goodies and I must admit to feeling as though there may possibly be such a thing as too much chocolate.
Rooting through the cupboards the other day, I came across a forgotten jar of pistachios. With their intense greenery shrouded in purpley brown, they called to me that they had been left on the shelf for far too long. I also uncovered a large cache of dried cranberries, which had been bought a while ago with the intent of making Barefoot Contessa's orange and cranberry scones. On that occasion, my plans also got put on the shelf, so they joined the pistachios.

Finding them again seemed a good opportunity to try something new. So, inspired by an Italian cookbook I had been glancing through, I searched for a recipe for biscotti, and hit golddust.

This is a recipe adapted from one found on epicurious which is sooo easy yet sooo good. It's a US website, so I have 'translated' some of the measurements and ingredients (where I felt it needed). These proportions worked for me.

Ingredients (makes approx 24):
2 1/4 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tspns baking powder
3/4 tspn salt
85g unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup golden caster sugar
2 medium eggs
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 1/2 tspns vanilla extract
1 cup dried sweetened cranberries (I used Ocean Spray craisins)
3/4 cup shelled natural unsalted pistachios

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees (fan, so approx 160 conventional).

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. In another bowl, beat the butter and sugar until blended well. Beat in the eggs one by one.

Add the lemon zest and vanilla.

Fold in the flour mixture until just combined. Add the cranberries and pistachios; you will have a fairly sticky dough.

Turn out onto a lightly floured worksurface, halve the dough and form into two log shapes.
Place on a baking tray lined with paper. Flatten slightly.

Place in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes until tinged slightly golden. Remove and allow to cool for 10 minutes

From the oven after approx 25 minutes
Transfer the loaves to a cutting board using the paper. Get a long sharp knife and using one, downward cutting motion for each slice, cut the loaves into 1/2 inch slices. (That is, don't saw back and fore or the biscuits will crumble.) I tried mine using a slight diagonal cut. 

Return, cut side down, to the papered baking tray (you will probably need a second at this point), and return to the oven for 8 - 10 minutes. Turn over and give another 5 or so minutes until they they are firm and pale gold. Leave to cool.

These really are fantastic. (I've somehow managed to loose about half of them before taking that final picture :-)). Enjoy with a creamy cappucino ...