Sunday, 28 April 2013

Raspberry and White Chocolate Cake - and a review of 'John Whaite Bakes'

I hate to say it but over the last couple of weeks, I really lost interest in baking.

And blogging.

And doing anything that even remotely involved removing myself from the sofa.

I've just had one of those months.

It's been full of downs with very few ups (apart from Cardiff City FC finally reaching the Premier League as Champions, and my first Clandestine Cake Club meet).

We are still dealing with the aftermath of bereavement, and it is amazing how much there is to do when you least feel like it. Plus I've been ill this week. Scarily ill, in that what appeared to be a minor illness deteriorated rapidly and knocked me for six to the point where my GP began talking about hospital. (That never happens to me so it was a shock but, thankfully, I've improved almost as quickly). 

So on Thursday, when my copy of the newly published 'John Whaite Bakes' arrived at my door, I was, like, 'meh'.

Interestingly, it's tagged as 'Recipes for Every Day and Every Mood'. The chapters are therefore devoted to 'Moods' and the type of recipes John bakes when these times are upon him. For example, when seeking solace,  calming nerves, baking for love, nostalgic memories, or for speediness. Introduced by some of John's personal recollections, it gives you alittle insight to his life beyond the mixing bowl.

I must admit, though, I wasn't initially impressed by the concept. The thing is, I guess emotions are by their nature, very personal. At a time when I barely know how I'm going to feel from one minute to the next, I wasn't sure how this would gel with the recipes as set out in John's book. But as I read through it, I decided to ignore the categorisation, and just focus on the recipes.

The first thing to say, is that there is much here that intrigued me. The recipes cover breads, cakes, sweet and savoury, small and large bakes. There are some that seem to overtly nod to John's involvement (and triumph) in last year's Great British Bake Off. So, if you can recall the various challenges on the series, there is a white plaited loaf; a 'meat and stuffing' hot water crust pie; a salted caramel rum baba; individual apple strudels; a curried halloumi,spinach and potato pithivier; and a 'hellfire and brimstone' chiffon cake reminiscent of his showstopping finale.

There are many varied recipes though, and so many that I'd like to try: Big Sue's Tiny Orange Natas (how could I resist with a name like that?); Midnight Blues Tart (blueberry heaven); Caramelised Onion and Rosemary Fougasse. And those are just from one chapter. Some others include: White Chocolate and Lemon Tartlets; Coffee and Walnut Praline Choux Ring; Cranberry, Orange and Macadamia Nut Buns; and Chocolate and Cassis Cake.

The book is beautifully photographed (without too many pictures of John - sorry, but I like a recipe to focus on the food) and while not every recipe has a photo to accompany it, most do. Always a plus for me. I think it's definitely a worthwhile purchase and I can see myself dipping into it often.

So with this kind of inspiration, and feeling much better on Friday, I managed to shake off the sofa and get back in the kitchen. Feeling still a bit shaky though, I wanted an easy bake, with ingredients I had already to hand. This is where the Raspberry and White Chocolate Melting Layer Cake came in. With some raspberries in the fridge that needed using up, and some white chocolate lurking in the back of the cupboard, I had everything else to hand.

The recipe is intriguing as it involves melting 200g unsalted butter and 100g white chocolate together, allowing to cool slightly before beating in 4 large eggs and 200g caster sugar. My butter and chocolate mix looked decidedly dodgy, as when cooled the chocolate had sunk to the bottom, and I was worried that it would not come back together. However, beating in the eggs and sugar produced a thickish, creamy emulsion which looked vastly more promising.

Butter, chocolate, eggs and sugar beaten to form a smooth batter
You then fold in gently 200g of self raising flour and 175g raspberries, before spooning gently into two 8 inch (20cm) tins that have been greased and lined. The sponges took me about 22 minutes to bake in the centre of a 160 Fan / 180 Conventional / Gas 4 oven. Removed from the oven I was a bit worried that the raspberries had sunk (as I hadn't dusted them with flour before adding to the mix), and I think they had. But as you flip the sponges so that the base is on the top, it showed them beautifully.

Once cooled, you layer the two together using a ganache made from 200g white chocolate and 250g double cream. John warns you that this takes ages to cool to the point where it is spreadable. He does not lie. Mine took about five hours in the fridge (stirring every so often) until I felt fairly confident that it might not just pour out of the cake to drip down the side.

It was late at this point, so I left the cake overnight, before finishing it off with some icing sugar ready for pictures. It had held together well, and when Mike and I finally tried it, the flavour was lovely. I was worried that so much white chocolate in it would make it too sweet, but the balance is right. The ganache you could eat from the bowl, but in the cake, it's a glorious counterpoint to the sharpness of the raspberries.The texture was a little dense, but it was moist. It was best tasting a mouthful of sponge and ganache with a little,sharp raspberry nugget. Definitely a good start to the book for me.  

While I now feel my motivation to bake (and blog) coming back, I guess the only thing that actually felt depressing about the book, was how it made me feel about GBBO.

It's hard to explain, but I've sensed I've become increasingly uneasy about the commercialisation and 'production' that seems to ramp up in volumes with every series. I remember reading some comments on Twitter during the last one about how it was obvious who the winner was going to be (even though they weren't perceived as the most talented) as they fit a certain category and would appeal to a wide audience. For my part, I only had to look at John's website (which was still in development at the time the series was broadcast but had a clear marketing slant) to know that he would go on to win. [John's tumblr site, 'flour and eggs', is great and you can find it here].

However, there is no denying that John is an extremely talented baker, and I am in awe at the skill and knowledge that enables someone to be able to create recipes like these. To have to perform and deliver in that tent in front of Mary, Paul et al and the cameras should not be underestimated. Reading the experiences of some of the other bakers, and seeing what John has achieved in this book, simply highlights this.

As much as I might like to think otherwise, I know I couldn't do it. 


* My copy of John Whaite Bakes was sent to me by my lovely friends at Amazon. They kindly charged me £12 for this pleasure so you can be damn sure all my opinions are my own. :)

Monday, 15 April 2013

Amazingly Chocolatey Cupcakes

In our house, if you want to make something for the boys that will be universally popular, there's really only one thing that will cut it.


And lots of it.

With a little bit more hidden inside, if possible.

I wanted to try and make a plain chocolate cupcake into something that the boys would love. And they loved these.


These are a soft, fluffy sponge, with a hidden chocolate sauce centre, covered in rich chocolate buttercream. Not too sweet, they really hit that chocolate spot.

Even Sam joined in, as I had enough of the sponge mix and buttercream left over to make 10 little bite-sized cupcakes. Just perfect for a toddler's chubby grip.

The sponge is my trusty basic chocolate recipe. You can make it as an all-in-one, and chuck the ingredients into a bowl and blitz with a hand mixer. I tend to adapt the method slightly, though, creaming the sugar and butter first. I just think that if the sugar dissolves into the butter properly, it gives a better texture.

Either way, I've found the recipe always works for me.

Here's what you do.

Amazingly Chocolatey Cupcakes

Ingredients (makes 12 full size and about 10 mini cakes)

200g self raising flour
1/2 tspn baking powder
4 tblspns cocoa powder
4 medium eggs, lightly beaten
225g softened unsalted butter
225g soft light brown sugar
pinch salt
1 tblspn milk

1 bottle Rowse's Dark Belgian Chocolate Dessert Sauce, or similar

For the buttercream
60g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), melted and cooled
150g softened unsalted butter
260g icing sugar
A little milk, if necessary

Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 Conventional / 350 F / Gas 4. Prepare a muffin tin with cupcake cases.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter, salt and sugar for the sponge until pale and fluffy (a good 5 minutes or so). Add the eggs a little at a time, until they are mixed in. Add the flour, baking powder and cocoa and mix gently in until you have a just-combined batter. Add the milk to slacken a little and until just mixed in.

Scoop into the prepared cases. I use an ice cream scoop that I know gives a perfect sized cupcake (it's one with a 2 inch diameter scoop). With this amount of batter I get 12 large cupcakes (using muffin cases) and either about another 3 large ones or 10 mini bite-sized ones.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 18-20 minutes, until risen and a skewer inserted into one in the middle of the tray comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

While they are cooling, make the buttercream. Melt the chocolate in a bowl - I just heated in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time (on full), sirring between each blast, until it was almost melted. Keep stirring to melt the last little lumps of chocolate, and then allow to cool a little, so that it's tepid if you dip your little finger in.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle, cream the butter and icing sugar until smooth (it was quite thick at this stage). Add the melted chocolate and beat again for a few minutes until it's really smooth. You can add a little milk (say 1 tblspn) if it seems too thick.

To assemble the cupcakes, take the completely cooled cakes and cut a hollow out of the middle (I used a cupcake corer, but you could use an apple corer, or melon baller - you just need to be careful not to go all the way through to the base). Pour a little of the chocolate sauce into each cupcake, so that you fill the hole. The sauce I used is one from Rowse's 'Signature' range, which I found in my local Asda.

The reason I used this is that it is really quite thick, so there was no danger that it would soak into the sponge too much. To give you some idea, it was so thick, I had to tease it from the bottle using one of those wooden coffee stirrers. Rowse do a fudge sauce as well, which is heavenly and which I use to fill Sticky Toffee Cupcakes in the same way. The little pieces of sponge are chef's perks, so enjoy.

Top with the buttercream. You can either pipe swirls or just scoop it onto the top. I *tried* to pipe swirls with a Wilton 2D tip and for the first time, it let me down a little. The little spokes on one side of the star tip had been pushed together somehow - my clumsy washing up probably - so the icing spurted a little out of one side, rather than flowing in its usual creamy ruffle.

I left them plain at that point, but I was toying with the idea of drizzling some melted dark chocolate over them and letting it set. Maybe next time.

For the mini cupcakes, I didn't bother with filling those and just added a little star of buttercream to the top.

The boys went absolutely crazy over them. It was a pretty good - and easy way - of jazzing up some cupcakes into something special.

As this month's Tea Time Treats theme is Fairycakes, Cupcakes and Muffins, I'm going to submit these to Kate, at What Kate Baked, and Karen at Lavender and Lovage. You can check out all the other mouth watering entries over at Kate's blog.



P.S: In case you're interested the wire cake stand was a fantastic bargain I picked up recently in Hobbycraft for £7.99. I just love the little heart details and it's just perfect for cupcakes.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Limoncello Cake

I really love this cake.

I mean really love it.

So much so, it's my new best friend.

It's like sunshine on a plate. The citrussy aroma tempts you while the sultry lemony pucker hits you full in the mouth.

And who can resist anything with 'Limoncello' in the title? The mere mention of the word transports you to to the Sicilian sun.

It's one more reason I have to thank Random Recipes for getting me to delve into my cookbooks.

This month's challenge had a bit of a twist. Dom, of Belleau Kitchen (who runs the challenge) created a Randometer thingummy-bob to test us. You had to enter how many cookbooks you owned, and then it would generate a random number. You counted along your shelf to that book, and then entered the number of pages, to generate another number and so find your Random Recipe.

The gods must have been looking favourably on me this month, as I ended up with this gorgeous lemon cake, from Peggy Porschen's 'Boutique Baking'.  

It's easy to make, although there are five components - sugar paste decorations, sponge layers, limoncello syrup, limoncello lemon curd and buttercream icing - and if you make them all from scratch Peggy recommends that you spread the making over two days. I didn't bother with some of them, adapted others and took a few shortcuts. It still tasted heavenly.

It has soft, moist sponge soaked in a lemon and Limoncello syrup, layered and iced in a buttercream that has some lemon curd added to it. It got rave reviews all round in our house. Even from Sam, who at 18 months old surprised me by how much he liked it, given the clear sharpness of the flavour.

So here's what I did.

Limoncello Cake

Ingredients (makes one 15cm / 6 inch cake)

For the sponge layers
200g softened unsalted butter
200g golden caster sugar
pinch of salt
finely grated zest of 2 lemons (unwaxed or washed well)
4 medium eggs, lightly beaten
200g self raising flour

Sugar syrup
150ml lemon juice (about 3 lemons' worth)
150g caster sugar
50ml Limoncello liqueur

Buttercream icing
160g softened unsalted butter
160g icing sugar, sifted
pinch of salt
80g lemon curd (I used Tesco Finest)

Some sugar flowers to decorate, or make your own

Preheat the oven to 155 Fan / 175 Conventional / 350 Fahrenheit / Gas 4.

Grease and baseline three 15cm / 6 inch loose bottom sandwich tins.

To make the sponges, cream the butter, lemon zest, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until pale and fluffy. It will take a good few minutes to get it to the stage where the sugar has dissolved.

Add the eggs a little at a time and beat in (if the mixture looks like it's starting to curdle, add a tablespoon of the flour and this should help it hold together). Once the eggs are all incorporated, gently fold in the flour until it has just combined.

Divide the mix evenly between the tins and level the surface. I find it easier to get an even split if I weigh my mixer bowl when empty and again with the mixture to get the weight of the mix. Divide this by three, and that will tell you roughly how much to then weigh into each tin.

Place the tins in the centre of your oven and bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until risen and golden, and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

While the sponges are cooking, make the syrup. Place the lemon juice and sugar into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the Limoncello, stirring it in. Leave to cool slightly.

When the sponges are ready, remove from the oven and let them cool in the tins for about 10 minutes. While they are still warm, brush the surface generously with the Limoncello syrup. Allow to cool completely.

To make the buttercream icing, place the butter, icing sugar, salt and lemon curd into a stand mixer and beat using the paddle attachment until smooth and creamy. [Note: the recipe as given in Peggy's book did not give me enough to cover the whole of the cake, so I doubled the quantities here to allow for sufficient.]

To assemble the cake, trim the layers if necessary so that you have a flat, level surface. Brush the cut surface with a little more of the Limoncello sugar syrup. I trimmed the two lower layers slightly, but kept the top one as it was (so it was slightly domed). This can be a little tricky and is one reason why Peggy recommends making the sponges the day before, then wrapping them in cling film and chilling overnight so that they firm up a bit. This, she says, stops them crumbling as you cut them. However, I did them the same day and as long as you are careful and the cakes are fully cooled, I think you'd be OK.

I then sandwiched together the layers using a little buttercream, and then crumb coated the outside. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes, before adding the final layer of icing. Decorate with some sugar paste flowers, or other of your choosing (I used some sugar flowers from my local Asda).

So there you go. I may not have discovered this yet if it hadn't been for a random selection. Boy am I glad I did. The April Random Recipes round up will appear on Dom's blog, Belleau Kitchen at the end of the month.

And if, like me, you love lemon cakes, you'll love this one. It keeps well, and two days after baking was still lovely and moist due to the syrup infused in the sponge.