Monday, 31 October 2011

Gáteau Moka aux Amandes

Recipe Number One Hundred & Eleven:  Page 162.

I was filled with high hopes when I read the introduction to this recipe. Mary puts this as being one of her favourite coffee cakes, so it's got to be top notch, surely?! At first glance the recipe didn't appear to be too challenging; a fatless sponge with a coffee butter cream filling. After a more lingering look, it became clear that it was more difficult than I'd at first imagined. A sugar thermometer is required; this was enough to send a shiver down my spine! I have had no experience of using a thermometer in cooking before. My only knowledge of using such a thing was when trying to get out of school and heating it up on the radiator, dreadful I know!!! My sister was just as bad, but she made a rookie mistake -she placed the thermometer in the steam from a boiling kettle and the whole thing shattered. I should make it clear that neither of us got away with our amateurish attempts at skiving!!

I digress; back to the cake! I needed to make the fatless sponge first of all. This is essentially a Swiss roll. I have failed miserably with Swiss rolls in the past; this was due to not whisking the mixture enough. My patience must be improving as, when whisking the eggs and sugar together, I made sure that I kept whisking until the mixture was thick enough to leave a trail when the whisk was lifted from the bowl. I sifted a small amount of flour into the bowl. I found it a little tricky to fold in. Rather annoyingly the flour clumped together. It was hard to fold it in thoroughly without over mixing the delicate mixture. Carefully I poured the cake batter into the lined tin. It then cooked in the oven for nearly half an hour. I was so pleased when I took the cake out of the oven; it had risen! Maybe my Swiss roll curse is now a thing of the past.

I left the cake to cool whilst I made the crème au beurre moka (a French coffee butter cream). I was a little concerned about making this as it looked a little fiddly. I was, however, delighted that no icing sugar was required for this butter cream. Hooray, I would avoid the sugar cloud! First of all, I measured some sugar and water into a small saucepan. I needed to heat it very gently to begin with. I resisted the urge to grab a spoon and give the sugary mixture a good old stir. I am not sure why stirring is a bad thing to do; I just know that it is! Once all the sugar had melted I could turn up the heat and get my thermometer out, whoo hoo!! I was so worried I'd overheat the sugar. I kept the thermometer in the syrup the whole time so that I could see the temperature go up. As soon as it reached 107 degrees I whipped the pan off the heat. I already had two egg yolks in a bowl waiting to be cooked by the hot sugar! Very, very slowly I tipped the syrup from the saucepan into the bowl in a steady trickle whilst continuously beating the mixture. It was very hard not to get any of the syrup on the sides of the bowl. A little did and it went rock hard immediately, whoops!! I kept whisking until the mixture was cold. Soon I could move on to the next stage, no - I hadn't finished yet! In another bowl, I creamed a rather large amount of butter until really soft and smooth. Ahh so this cake couldn't be classed as low fat anymore! I slowly whisked the egg mixture into the butter. Now I just needed to add the coffee flavour. I used just over a tablespoon of coffee essence and had a little taste. I was very tempted to eat my way through all of the butter cream and not bother with the cake! It was so delicious; who needs icing sugar?!

I successfully managed to split the cake in half and reluctantly smoothed a little of the butter cream on the bottom half of the cake and then placed the other half on top. I wasn't allowed to use all of the remaining butter cream to cover the top and sides of cake; I had to keep a good amount for decoration. I pressed flaked almonds all over the cake. This took a long time! Once dusted with icing sugar I thought it looked pretty as it was. I was worried about piping on the remaining butter cream in rosettes; I am not a skilled piper!!! I didn't have much to work with, so I just dolloped it on rather than attempting anything fancy. It looked a little more special, but I am still not sure if it's a necessary finishing touch and I am also not sure that brown butter cream is particularly pleasing on the eye! I cut Neil a slice and quickly asked him what he thought. He responded through a mouthful of cake that he was too busy eating to comment. I took this to be a good sign! The sponge was delicately light and airy. The butter cream as I mentioned earlier was utterly divine. It was a bit of a pain to make and created quite a bit of washing up. However, I think it's definitely worth the effort. It had such a smooth consistency, almost like a mousse. The flaked almonds offered a delicious crunch. All in all it was a beautifully light cake. It wasn't particularly difficult; it just took a while to make. I have to agree with Mary; this is most definitely one of my very favourite coffee cakes.
Dreadful piping!

A delicious and very light coffee cake :-)

Drop Scones

Recipe Number One Hundred & Ten:  Page 326.

When reading through the recipe for drop scones, or Scotch pancakes as I believe them to be more commonly known, I was surprised by how simple the method appeared to be. To be honest I didn't have high expectations; they certainly didn't appear to be very exciting! However, I couldn't really judge as I've never made or even tasted one before!

I barely needed any ingredients for this recipe. It was rather nice not to make a special trip to the shop; I already had everything required in stock! First of all, I greased a frying pan with a little oil and set it over a low heat. I then moved on to weighing some flour into a large bowl. Although the flour was self-raising, I also required a little baking powder. I wondered how high these scones could possibly rise in a frying pan! To sweeten the mixture I tipped in a little caster sugar. It didn't seem very much, but Mary suggests serving the scones with golden syrup, so that should more than make up for it. I stirred the dry ingredients together before making a well in the centre. Now it was ready for me to add the wet ingredients. I cracked an egg into the centre and then went to retrieve the milk from the fridge. After I'd measured out the milk, all that was left was a little dribble. This meant that we would need to make a trip to the shop after all; I doubted Neil would survive without his afternoon cup of tea! I only poured half of the milk into the bowl to start with and then beat the thick mixture until smooth. It didn't look very attractive at this point! I added not quite all of the remaining milk until I had a mixture the consistency of thick cream as instructed.

I dropped tablespoons of mixture into my hot frying pan. I only managed to fit four blobs of mixture into the pan at one time. Mary says that once bubbles rise to the surface of the scones it is time to turn them over. I loved seeing the little bubbles appear, so much so that I called Neil over to witness the spectacle - simple pleasures! After about 30 seconds the scones were ready to be turned over; they only took about a minute to cook in total. The recipe should have made 21 drop scones, but my portion sizes are obviously much larger than dear Mary's; I just managed to scrape in at 16! The finished scones looked lovely and golden but not exactly pretty. Neil and I greedily placed several on our plates and drizzled generous amounts of honey over the top (we didn't fancy golden syrup). They were a little tricky to eat daintily and I ended up with very sticky fingers! I have to say, I love drop scones or Scotch pancakes, or whatever you want to call them. They were delicately sweet and light. Adding honey made them even more deliciously moreish. I think Neil must have eaten at least ten scones; he loved them! We selflessly saved Isaac a small scone, but kept it plain. He gave us such a big smile and it was gone in ten seconds flat.

I know I will make these again and again. They were on our plates within just a few minutes. They were ridiculously easy to make and I am sure children would love to help. Not only are they super speedy to make but they taste great too; what more can you want!
Simple but tasty!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Danish Pastries

Recipe Number One Hundred & Nine:  Page 277.

I wasn't surprised when the Danish pastries won this week’s Facebook poll. They crossed the finishing line with the competition lagging way behind. I've wanted to make them for ages as I know how delicious pastries are. However, I couldn't help but feel daunted by the prospect; I kept putting it off! Seeing that they won the vote, I was forced to swallow my fear and get on with it! I made some fairly simple pastries around six years ago when Neil and I were in the first flushes of love and I was still at the stage where I wanted to impress him! I thought I would make him some pastries so that he could take them to work to share. I'd had no idea how long the pastry process took and soon regretted my decision. Unfortunately Neil loved them and ever since keeps nudging me to make some more! Sadly for Neil I haven't since felt the need to impress him; we are married now after all!!!!!! However, I was pleased to see his face light up when I announced that I'd be making Danish pastries; finally he had his wish!

I thought the best time to make the pastries would be late evening. That way Neil and his work mates could have them relatively fresh the following day. Also, my little boy would be in bed and I could spend all evening in the kitchen! By the time we had eaten our evening meal and watched something on TV, it had gone 8pm – oops! I peeled myself from the sofa and trudged to the kitchen. I had a sense of foreboding! The first part of the pastry process I found to be very straightforward; I simply had to measure some strong flour into a large bowl and rub in a small amount of butter. Next, I needed to add a sachet of yeast and some sugar. When eyeing up pastries in a bakery I find it hard to believe that they are actually very closely related to bread. The fact the dough contains yeast but is called pastry is hard to get my head round! Now it was time to bring the dry ingredients together to form a soft dough by adding some warm milk and beaten eggs. At first the dough was very sticky to work with but, once I'd put it onto the worktop to knead, it soon became soft and manageable. I didn't want to overwork the dough so, as soon as it felt soft and springy, I placed it into a bowl, covered it with cling film and left it to rise for around an hour. Sadly there was no resting on my laurels as I had three different fillings to make. I didn't want to use marzipan. I wanted to try all the variations and make my Danish pastries a bit more exciting. Hopefully there would be something for everyone.

The almond filling was super quick and easy. I found a small bowl and tipped in some ground almonds and sugar. A little beaten egg was used to bind it all together. It didn't look or sound that tasty, but I felt sure Mary wouldn't let me down! I placed the almond filling to one side and moved on to the vanilla cream. I had high hopes for this particular filling; the vanilla aspect appealed to me. I have never made it before and the method did seem a little faffy. It seemed similar to how you make custard. I had to mix a small amount of plain flour, a teeny tiny amount of cornflour with an egg yolk and sugar. I then heated it up with a good amount of milk. My vanilla cream ended up to be not very vanillary as I had completely forgotten to add the vanilla essence. I think my finger was in too many pies, or pastries in my case! The last filling to make was apple. By this point I was losing the will to live. However, the apple filling is such a favourite of mine that I soldiered on! I sliced up some cooking apples. I loved Mary for saying that I needn't peel them. This seemed odd, but I was more than happy to follow the instruction. I popped the chunks of apple into ANOTHER saucepan with a little butter and lemon juice. I covered the pan and left it to cook. The reason for cooking the apples unpeeled became clear as I pushed the cooked apples through a sieve back into the saucepan; the skins got left behind in the sieve, excellent! I was left with a mushy purée which needed to go back onto the heat until it thickened. This didn't take long. To sweeten things up a bit, I stirred in some muscovado sugar and then left the mixture to cool. By this time I had to go back to my dough which had, to my delight, doubled in size.

It may appear that I am now approaching the end of my pastry tale, but alas there was still a lot of work to be done! I punched down the dough. I always find this satisfying; I love hearing the air come out of the dough. I gave it another knead until it was smooth once more. I hadn't thought rolling out the dough would be difficult, but I admit I found it rather taxing! It was so springy, every time I rolled it out it sprung back. I fear I may have overworked it at this stage; I ended up being rather heavy handed with the rolling pin! Now to add a quite frankly terrifying amount of butter! I dotted half of the total amount over the top two thirds of the dough. This took ages, and my small dots of butter grew increasingly large as my patience wore thinner! Finally I could fold the bottom third up and the top third down to form a buttery parcel. I re-rolled the pastry as before and then dotted on the remaining butter in the same way. I was very glad to put the dough in the fridge for 15 minutes to rest. I thought I would also have a rest and collapsed in an aching heap on the sofa. Sadly I couldn't fall asleep as I was tempted to do. I had to trot back to the kitchen to collect the chilled dough from the fridge. I rolled it out as before (this time without adding butter) twice more. Yet again it needed a rest in the fridge; this is one seriously lazy pastry! I almost didn't dare look at the clock, and I was horrified when I did. It was past midnight; I had been making Danish pastries for almost four hours and I still wasn't finished! At least when I retrieved the dough I knew the next part would be the fun part of shaping and filling.

First of all I shaped the dough into pinwheels; they looked tricky in the diagram, but I actually found them to be rather easy. This was good news as my hand-eye coordination was by now not up to much! The crescents and the envelopes were again easy peasy. I didn't think much of the kite shapes though! The different fillings were all easy to add. It was tempting to dollop large spoonfuls onto each piece of dough, but I made myself refrain. I didn't want it all leaking out. The completed pastries had to be left to prove for around 20 minutes. I wondered if I would ever make it to bed! As I was using three baking trays, I put the pastries into the oven in shifts, one proved, while the other cooked etc.. I was really pleased when each tray came out of the oven. The Danish pastries looked as I hoped they would. They were far from perfect, but they did look tasty! Whilst they were still warm, I drizzled glacé icing over the tops and sprinkled flaked almonds and chopped cherries over a few. I soon got bored! I waited for them all to cool and then proudly tucked them up for the night in a container, ready for the morning. I finally staggered up to bed just before 2am. I then had to endure nightmares that my pastries congealed together and shrunk to a tiny lump. I was scared to look in the morning, but thankfully they were just as I had left them.

Sadly the pictures didn't turn out as well as I had hoped as it was such a dark and miserable morning we'd had to use the flash. Neil happily took the pastries in to work and I heard back that they were all thoroughly enjoyed. I have a lingering cold and, rather frustratingly, I couldn’t taste a thing in the morning. I could have cried as I had put so much work into these pastries. However, my strong greedy streak wasn't going to let me give up. In the afternoon I located some Olbas Oil and, with some frantic sniffing and some star jumps, I managed to get my taste back long enough to wolf down some Danish pastries! The moment was only fleeting but long enough for me to experience utter bliss! Oh my goodness, they were yummy. Light, buttery pastry complimented with lovely sweet fillings. Apple is still my favourite! The glacé icing drizzle is worth doing, I feel, as it sweetened the pastry just a little. I tried not to think about all the fat I was consuming as I crammed the pastries into my mouth!!! Neil really loved these Danishes, but I now have a problem; he wants me to make them again – uh oh!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Classic Apple Pie

Recipe Number One Hundred & Eight:  Page 341.

I haven't had a slice of apple pie for years. I am not sure quite how I let this happen and I was glad I would soon be rectifying the problem! There is something rather comforting about apple pie; it seems well suited to a chilly autumn day. As I was bunged up with a cold I was in need of comfort. I was looking forward to curling up on the sofa with a large slice of apple pie smothered in several inches of custard, yum!

First of all, I had to peel a lot of apples. It was a shame that I had only just made a lengthy dinner which involved peeling a mountain of vegetables. My poor hand felt rather sore! I arranged thick slices of apple onto the bottom of a shallow pie dish and sprinkled them with caster sugar. Mary gives a rough guide on how much sugar to use. I have a sweet tooth so added the maximum amount! I wasn't sure about adding the required four whole cloves; they are powerful little things! I wished she had used the ground version. On top of the pungent cloves and hefty sprinkle of sugar, I placed the remainder of apple slices and a couple of tablespoons of water. Now that the appley part was complete, I could move onto making the pastry.

I measured some flour into a bowl and added some diced butter and white vegetable fat in equal quantities. I have read that white vegetable fat gives a lighter pastry but doesn't give as good a flavour as butter. I hoped to get the best of both worlds with this pastry! With icy cold fingers, I rubbed the butter and fat into the flour and brought the mixture into a firm dough with a little cold water. I had to bend down to pick the rolling pin out of a drawer. This made my nose run, so I had to take a quick break to run for a tissue. After reading this I am sure my friends and family will be glad they didn't share this pie; they can only feel sorry for Neil! With a freshly blown nose and, I should add, freshly washed hands, I moved on to rolling out the pastry. I just needed to make it large enough to cover the top of the pie dish. It soon became obvious that there was a real lack of apples. The pastry dipped down into the dish, which didn't look very attractive. I had thought the dish I was using was shallow but maybe I'd been mistaken. I did attempt to cut the trimmings into decorative shapes, but mine didn't look so very decorative! Before entering the heat of the oven, the pie needed to chill in the fridge for half an hour; this should stop the butter in the pastry melting too quickly. I took this opportunity to indulge in a mug of lemsip! Once the pie was out of the fridge, I brushed the pastry with some milk and sprinkled it with granulated sugar. I made the important slit in the top so that the steam had somewhere to escape and into the oven the pie went. I was very impatient to be comforted by my apple pie. Forty minutes of cooking seemed a long time to wait. Clock watching is not to be recommend; it definitely made time slow down! Eventually the pie was cooked through with a lovely golden top. I really shouldn't have attempted to adorn the pie with any kind of decoration; it looked rather pathetic!

As it was by now late evening, I contemplated leaving the apple pie until the next day. However, I always lose my sense of taste when I have a cold. I would have been so disappointed to wait and not be able to taste it! The photographs I took were very poor due to the lateness of the hour. I handed Neil a bowl of apple pie, which was gratefully received. He took a bite and gasped in surprise! He enquired as to how much ground cloves I had used. Neil was even more surprised when I informed him that I had in fact used whole cloves and I'd only used four! I quickly had a taste to see what all the fuss was about. Wow, the taste of cloves was VERY powerful and quite overpowering! I have to say the strong flavour did put me off the pie a little. This was a shame as everything else about it was lovely. The apples were nicely cooked and perfectly sweet. The pastry was the best bit. It was buttery and light and had a slight flake, even though it was a simple shortcrust. I'd make this again but next time I'll add more apples and omit the whole cloves! pie :-)

Yorkshire Gingernuts

Recipe Number One Hundred & Seven:  Page 205.

This weekend is one I shall choose to forget! We had a downstairs toilet fitted. It wouldn't have been much a problem if it weren't for the fact that all the pipework had to go through the kitchen. The oven, all the drawers and units had to be taken out! My poor kitchen; I almost shed a tear! Not only was the house in utter chaos but my little boy had a cold and, on Sunday morning, I woke up to be greeted by a sore throat, oh marvellous! I decided to feel sorry for myself all day and then see if I could shoehorn myself into the bomb-site which we used to call a kitchen to do some much needed baking.

Thankfully, all of my ingredients were easy to find. It was more of a challenge digging out the baking trays from the drawers which were now conveniently located on the living room floor!! I needed three baking trays as the recipe should make fifty gingernuts. I am fond of gingernuts but I was rather worried about the large quantity. They would definitely have to be distributed among our neighbours!

The first task was to melt some butter in a saucepan along with a small dollop of golden syrup. This was simple enough and I was soon moving onto the next part of the recipe. I measured some self raising flour into my mixing bowl followed by a mixture of sugars. I liked the sound of Demerara and muscovado together. The combination should make the biscuits crunchy and compliment the ginger flavour well. Speaking of which, I only required a teaspoon of ground ginger, which I thought a little sparing. To the bowl of dried ingredients I poured in the melted mixture, which looked a lot like golden honey. Suddenly I fancied honey on toast! The final job was to crack an egg into a glass, give it a little bit of a beating and then pour it into the mixing bowl and combine.

I ended up with a large lump of dough. I started the fairly laborious task of pulling off small pieces and shaping into balls. I still couldn't help wondering what I was going to do with all these biscuits. I hoped they tasted good; if they did, then it wouldn't be an issue! I placed the pieces of dough onto the baking trays, spaced well apart. The oven was set on low so they took around 20 minutes to cook. When taking the biscuits from the oven I was surprised that there had hardly been any spreadage. I needn't have worried about them all sticking together. The gingernuts were very much on the petite size; no wonder the mixture made so many! It was easy to transfer my little gingery biscuits over to a wire rack to cool. They hardened up quickly and I liked the cracked appearance on the surface of the biscuit.

Now for the part I always look forward to, sinking my teeth in and taking a bite! Well, it took a little longer for my teeth to sink in than usual. I certainly won't be passing one on to Isaac or anyone with fillings or false teeth! They are so hard and crunchy! However, once I had managed to take the first bite, eating the biscuit became more of a pleasure. Yes, they were very hard, but the flavour was lovely. The taste of the muscovado sugar and syrup was very noticeable. The ginger was a little harder to detect, maybe a bit too subtle for my own taste. I think another teaspoon would have given it more of a kick! I do wonder if I overbaked these gingernuts; just an extra minute or two in the oven can spell disastrous consequences! Having said that, part of a gingernut’s charm is its crunch, so I won't lose any sleep over it!
Only for those with strong teeth!

Thursday, 20 October 2011


Recipe Number One Hundred & Six: Page 154

My Baking Bible is very well thumbed by now; almost every day I have a flick through. During my many searches I often come across the Sachertorte. Each time I question if I am yet brave enough to attempt it. The idea of 'writing' 'Sacher' across the top of the cake with melted chocolate sends a shiver down my spine; it puts me off every time! However, after watching the contestants on the Bake Off make a Sachertorte, I felt sufficiently encouraged to have a go. It was reassuring to know I wasn't the only one terrified by the concept! As it is rather a special cake, I felt I needed a special occasion to warrant making it. I decided our wedding anniversary was as good a time as any!

As luck would have it I already had most of the required ingredients. I just needed to buy a large quantity of plain chocolate. I couldn't believe how difficult it was to find plain chocolate with 39% cocoa. I pushed my little boy’s pram around several of the larger stores in the nearby town and couldn't find any that weren't 70 or 80%, which would perhaps have been far too rich. Isaac obviously would have preferred me to buy some Kit Kat Chunkies as he whipped a pack of eight off the shelves; the boy has good taste! Eventually, after nearly giving up hope, we found some value plain chocolate which fitted the bill and it was only 35p per 100g, bargain!

Mary mentions at the head of the recipe that the Sachertorte improves if left a day or two before cutting so, with this in mind, I decided to make the cake the night before icing. I don't know why I imagined I would feel like making a tricky cake late in the evening. I hadn't anticipated how weary I would feel after cooking dinner etc.. I didn't get to start the cake until after 9pm! First of all I needed to melt some chocolate over a pan of hot water. To wake myself up, I indulged in a square of chocolate; it didn't work, so I was forced to have another! Even though I had left the butter out of the fridge all afternoon to soften, Mary wasn't satisfied by this as I had to beat it in a bowl until REALLY soft! Unusually, I didn't follow the all in one method which I love. Instead, I had to cream the butter and some sugar together until light and fluffy before stirring in the cooled chocolate and vanilla extract. I very nearly didn't add the correct number of eggs; I read it as three not five. Wow, five eggs is a lot. This was certainly going to be a rich cake. I needed to separate the eggs. With my first separation the shell broke so badly that I was left with no choice; I had to put the egg in my hand and let the white drip through my fingers, ewwww! I put the bowl of whites to one side as they would be needed later. I beat the yolks into the creamed mixture before adding in the ground almonds and flour. It seemed odd to be using more ground almonds than flour; it was almost double the amount. Once the ingredients were mixed together I had a very thick and chocolatey mixture. However, I hadn't finished yet. I needed to add some air, in the form of whipped egg whites. I whisked them until they were at the soft peak stage and then added a few tablespoons to the rich chocolate mixture and gave it a good old mix. I think this helps to avoid streaks of unmixed egg whites. I carefully folded in the remainder of the whites, trying to keep as much air in the mixture as possible before pouring into the awaiting cake tin. Once in the oven and cooking, the cake rose a surprising amount; it seemed almost too big! When it was ready and cooked through, I saw that the top of the cake was rather hard and had a sugary crust; it didn't look very appetising! Once turned out on the rack to cool, I was disappointed that it sank a little in the middle. Somehow I just knew it would! I waited for the cake to cool before going to bed so that I could pop it into an airtight container. It was almost midnight before I ventured up the wooden hill!

The following day I didn't get round to icing until mid afternoon. There came a time when I could put it off no longer! It was rather a long process, as I first had to brush warm apricot jam over the cake. I needed a hell of a lot of apricot jam! I washed up the sticky spoons and bowls while it set and then cracked on with the ganache. Now on the Bake Off programme, Mary said you should heat the double cream and then add the chopped chocolate and let it melt. In the Baking Bible she says to heat both together. As I am following this book to the letter I went for the latter method. It seemed to work perfectly well. I needed to leave the very unhealthy mixture to cool for a few minutes and hopefully it would set to a more spreadable consistency. I got into a bit of a mess pouring the ganache over the cake. I let it take its own course over the top and down the sides of the cake. Unfortunately a lot carried on travelling over the side of the plate and onto the worktop! Sadly the chocolate ganache did not hide any sins and showed up the cake’s misfortune even more; every dip and bump was magnified! However, on the bright side, at least it was glossy; I believe this to be a good sign! I left it to set whilst I fretted about adding the writing. I can't believe how stressed I felt about it!

Once Neil came home I thought it was about time I faced my moment of doom!!! There was much hilarity when we both tried and failed to construct a greaseproof paper icing bag! In the end I used a polythene sandwich bag and filled it with a very small amount of melted milk chocolate. I shut Neil and Isaac in the other room so that I could gather myself! I tried to ignore the shouts of “have you done it yet”! Finally, I took a deep breath and went for it. I piped the icing quickly and all in one go. Rather annoyingly it was going rather well until I reached the last letter; the chocolate dribbled where it shouldn't have dribbled! I tried to wipe it off but smudged the ganache, grrrr!

When it came to have a taste, I was quite pleased at how well the Sachertorte sliced. The ganache looked lovely and thick and the cake dense and moist. As expected, this cake proved to be VERY rich and chocolatey! It tastes pretty much exactly as it looks. It really should be served in small slices. Even I couldn't finish a slice and, as you know, I am very greedy! This cake is absolutely a must for a special occasion; it looks rather special after all.
Ta da!

Yes, it is VERY rich!

Bakewell Slices

Recipe Number One Hundred & Five:  Page 239.

Well, these were the winner on this week’s Facebook Poll and I have to say I was rather pleased. Although I haven't made them for a few years, I used to make them fairly regularly. They were a real favourite and I'd make them whenever the family were visiting for birthday teas, etc. When I came to read through the recipe in my Baking Bible, I noticed a few subtle differences to the recipe I always used to rely on from ‘Mary Berry Cooks Cakes' book. For instance, butter is used instead of margarine and some of the quantities are smaller.

Once my little boy was in bed for his midday nap, I happily wandered into the kitchen to make the bakewell slices; I was so looking forward to revisiting my old friend! This cake isn't a five minute job like some of Mary's cakes as, not only do you need to make the sponge, but pastry is used as a bottom layer. I rubbed some chilled butter into a bowlful of flour. It took me ages to rub it in as my hands were freezing cold. By the time I had finished I noticed that my finger nails were a pretty shade of blue! I just needed to add in a little water to combine and form a soft dough. Now for the part I don't like, rolling the pastry out. I'd had it in my mind that I used just to press it into the tin. Well, I had remembered wrong! I've learnt through this challenge to roll my pastry out onto greaseproof paper rather than directly on the worktop. This means that I use less flour, but the best part is that I don't end up with pastry glued onto the work surface; it takes ages to scrub it all off. Eventually I had rolled out the pastry to fit inside my traybake tin. Now that job was out of the way, I moved on to making the sponge. This follows Mary's all in one method. I love the throw it all in a bowl and mix idea! I simply had to weigh out the butter, sugar and flour. I nearly flooded the kitchen with milk when measuring it on to my tablespoon. It was rather tricky to tip a full six pint bottle of milk without my hand shaking like crazy; a spillage was inevitable! Next I cracked two eggs into the bowl, swiftly followed by a tiny dribble of almond extract. As only a tiny amount of almond extract is ever used in recipes, I wondered how strong it actually is neat. I couldn't resist a little taste test, yeuck! At least I now know never to try it again! After beating the ingredients together until nice and smooth, I could move on to the fun part of smearing raspberry jam over the top of the pastry. Mary says to be generous with the jam as it makes all the difference. I adhered to this advice and dolloped on a good amount. I had to be careful when I added the cake mixture over the top as the jam could easily get mixed into the cake mix. I wasn't very taken with the idea of a marble effect! Last of all I sprinkled some flaked almonds over the surface of the cake, which looked rather pretty. Now it was ready for the oven. I impatiently waited for it to cook; I was dying for a slice. It took an extra eight minutes in the oven, which didn't help matters. Mary cruelly advises us to leave it to cool completely in the tin before cutting and removing from the tin, sob!

Isaac kindly took my mind off the long wait by passing me book after book and demanding that I read one particular book at least 15 times!! Finally I was saved from my reading marathon and it was time for me to cut and remove the bakewell slices from the tin; my slices were massive! Thankfully, all the slices came out easily and I was soon tucking in. This still has to be one of my favourite Mary Berry bakes. Yes, it takes a little longer due to the two layers, but I promise it is worth it. The sponge layer is light and has a subtle almond flavour; any more would be too much. The pastry is unsweetened and rather dry, but the jam offers sweetness and moistens the slice. Even though I had added a little more jam than Mary suggests, I feel I could have added even a little more. This is still my faithful friend; it has always been popular and friends and family seem to enjoy the different flavours and textures. I think I need to employ a wrist slapper. Their job would simply be to slap me on the wrist every time I reach for another slice. I just can't resist this cake!
A family favourite!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Apricot Swiss Cakes

Recipe Number One Hundred & Four:  Page 122.

I was quite intrigued by this recipe as I had never heard of Swiss cakes before. There isn't a photograph of the finished result in the baking bible, just a black and white drawing!! Looking through the recipe I thought they should be fairly easy to make; I imagined I could make them in about half an hour from start to finish. I was a little confused by the name of the recipe as, looking at the list of ingredients; I couldn't help but think it was more of a biscuit than a cake.

I placed 12 cupcake cases into my bun tin and then set to work on the Swiss cakes. The first instruction was to soften an obscenely large amount of butter in a large bowl. I didn't think Mary meant to soften the butter in the microwave, so I used a wooden spoon to smooth the butter into a more softened state. I sifted some icing sugar into the bowl; I only needed a very small amount in comparison with the butter. I assumed the icing sugar would make the cakes melt in the mouth. I used my electric whisk to beat the two ingredients together. It took quite some time until they came together to form a soft and fluffy mixture. I tipped in a lot of self raising flour, followed by a modest amount of cornflour. This is the first time I have used cornflour in a Mary Berry recipe, how exiting! I don't know a lot about cornflour, just that it is used as a thickener in sauces and gravies etc. I wasn't too sure why Mary had chosen to use it in this recipe. I used a wooden spoon to mix the flours into the butter and sugar. I think things would have become rather messy if I had used my electric beaters! Eventually, after a lot of elbow grease, I had a creamy thick mixture. Now came the fun part of piping the mixture into the cupcake cases. On my last visit to the Island to see my family, I had left behind two of my large star piping nozzles. My mum kindly posted them on to me amongst the other things that I had forgotten! Goodness knows where I had put them. I hunted through the house but they were nowhere to be seen! We have a lot of building work going on in our house at the moment. Neil is building a downstairs toilet from scratch, so everything is all over the place; this doesn't help my scatterbrain one bit!! In the end I had to settle for a cheap plastic star nozzle. On my first attempt, I forgot to put the nozzle in the piping bag!!!! Second attempt, only a teeny tiny amount of mixture came out. I squeezed with all my might, but it wasn't budging! I had to transfer the mixture to another piping bag and gave up using a nozzle altogether, but even then it was impossible. Neil flexed his muscles and managed to pipe a circle of mixture into the base of each paper case, phew! He had a very red face by the time he'd finished! The by now hated Swiss cakes went into the oven; it only took an hour to get them there!! At least the cooking time was short as, after 15 minutes, they were ready. The hole in the middle of each cake had disappeared but there was a slight indentation. I expect they would have looked prettier if I had managed to pipe with a star nozzle. However, I'm not sure if they would have kept their shape very well when rising in the oven.

Once the cakes were cold, I put a dollop of apricot jam into the dip in the middle of each cake and dusted with a little icing sugar. They looked rather sweet and I can imagine they would fit in well at a kid’s party. Neil was very surprised when he took a bite into a Swiss cake. He said that, although they looked like a cake, they were definitely more of a biscuit. When I tried one, the first thing I thought was that it tasted much the same as a Viennese finger. They did indeed melt in my mouth and were rather crumbly. They were also quite rich due to all the butter, but also rather addictive! Shame they were such a faff to make, but I believe this to be due to it being such a firm mixture it was impossible to pipe. It was a very chilly day so maybe that made things more difficult. If I attempt these again, I will make sure I bake them during a heatwave!
These may look like uncooked cakes but are infact more of a biscuit!

Sticky Ginger and Orange Cake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Three.  Page 86.

Over the last couple of days I have noticed a real autumn chill in the air. Before we know it we will be within the depths of winter. Although this means that Christmas is closer, it also means getting the washing dry on the line will be impossible, my feet will be cold in bed and I will miss my flip flops! I felt in need of a comforting and warming bake to cheer myself up! Mary Berry has a lot of ginger cake recipes throughout the Baking Bible; I felt this was the perfect time to make one. How could I not be tempted by the title? I love sticky ginger cake and adding orange should take it to a whole new level! Mary suggests making this two days ahead of icing so the cake has time to mature and become moist and sticky. My mouth watered at the thought, yum!

I had a nasty migraine Friday evening, but thought it wouldn't take me long to make the cake; it appeared relatively straightforward. This would mean that it would be ready to be iced on Sunday evening. I had to line not only the base of the tin but also the sides; this alone took me ten minutes! Now came the sticky part – I had to weigh out golden syrup and black treacle in equal quantities into a saucepan. I find weighing syrup and treacle is easier when I place the saucepan directly onto the scales; it makes it more accurate. Unfortunately my scales thought it was a good time to go on the blink! For a few seconds the display would settle on 0g and then pick numbers at random; it was all over the place. The same thing happened months ago and was corrected with a new battery. We tried this method again and it had no effect. I could have cried! As soon as I turned the scales on and they went to 0g, I quickly added the ingredients before it did its own thing. I did not feel confident of the results! To the hopefully accurate amount of syrup and treacle I needed to add quite a lot of water. I then brought the mixture to the boil. This was certainly a different method to what I am used to!

Into my mixing bowl I measured butter, sugar and an egg. I also needed plain flour and some bicarbonate of soda. I wondered why I was using bicarbonate of soda instead of baking powder. Mary says in her introduction section that it is a raising agent with a bitter flavour, so is best used with strong flavours, such as gingerbread. It is also most effective where there are natural acids present in the ingredients such as black treacle, lemon juice or buttermilk. So, after reading this, it was perfectly clear why Mary had chosen to use it in this recipe! Next, I had to add the important ginger and orange flavour. The orange I used had such a soft skin that I ended up grating in some flesh as well as the zest! It smelt so lovely and fresh and, once I added in the ground ginger, the kitchen smelt rather Christmassy! I very nearly forgot to add the cinnamon. Surprisingly, I needed to add the same amount as the ginger; I wondered if the taste of ginger would be lost against the cinnamon. I tried to beat the bowl of ingredients together. I only had the egg and butter for moisture and my electric whisk did a fantastic job of flicking the flour everywhere. This was turning out to be more stressful than I had expected and my head was pounding even harder, I reached for the paracetamol! I tried using a wooden spoon and then a hand held whisk to blend the ingredients, but it wasn't having it. I admitted defeat and went ahead, adding the hot syrup and treacle mixture and giving it a good whisk. In the process my lovely Baking Bible got sprayed with brown sticky liquid, marvellous! At least the liquid helped smooth out the mixture; I had feared I would have to sieve it! My worries hadn't ended there though as, when I poured the mixture into the tin, the consistency was little thicker than water!!! My scales were not reliable, so I wasn't sure if this was down to that or the recipe. I put the watery brown mixture into the oven to cook for just under an hour. The smell wafting from the oven was divine, so at least the house smelt good; that was one blessing!

I wasn't really sure what I was going to find when I went to retrieve the cake. Anxiously I peered over the top of the oven door and saw what appeared to be a nicely cooked cake. Success was confirmed on taking it from the oven for a more thorough inspection. It looked good to me! I left it the tin to cool for ten minutes and then tipped it out onto a wire rack to cool further. I felt more than a little disappointed that I had to wrap the cold cake in baking paper and foil; I wanted a slice now!!

On Sunday afternoon I unwrapped my ginger and orange cake and was delighted to see that it had increased in stickiness!!! I placed the cake on a wire rack above a baking tray to catch the excess drips of icing. I weighed out some icing sugar and squeezed in the juice from half an orange. The icing should have been fairly thick but mine was too runny, so I added in a little more icing sugar. I drizzled the icing over the cake, and found it was still a bit thin; it glided straight off the sides!! I tried to scoop the drips from the tray and reapply but, in the end, I decided not to worry about it and leave it as it was. I was almost speechless after just one bite of ginger and orange cake; I've never been completely speechless! It tasted truly wonderful. Neil and I both thought it tasted almost exactly like a Jamaican loaf, which we get sometimes to go with custard. This is by far the best ginger cake I have ever made or eaten. It might be a plain Jane but I assure you it tastes like a million dollars!
Not pretty to look at but tastes so good!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Pecan Pie

Recipe Number One Hundred & Two:  Page 350.

This won the vote on my Facebook page by a good sized margin and, from the comments I received, it is obviously a very popular and well regarded dessert! As I have never tasted a pecan pie and had no idea what to expect, I did feel a little lost. Thankfully there is a picture in the Baking Bible, so I at least had some idea what my finished pie should look like. I went into the nearby town to buy the ingredients. I had no problem buying pecan nuts. However, it was a little harder to find the maple syrup. Maple syrup is expensive and I went into a number of shops trying to get the best deal, but I still ended up paying more than I really wanted to!

When it came to making the pie, I have to say that I was worried about even entering the kitchen let alone trying to bake something new; it was just one of those days! Everything I touched seemed to go wrong. If I could, I would have gladly gone back to bed and hidden under the duvet. However, no such luck!

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that I would be making rich shortcrust pastry. I had been beginning to wonder if Mary used anything other than fiddly sweet pastry! First of all I measured plain flour into my mixing bowl. Instead of using caster sugar for the pastry, Mary uses icing sugar. I can only presume that this helps to make the pastry a little lighter. For a change the butter didn't need to be softened, so I took it straight from the fridge, sliced it into cubes and added it to the mixing bowl. My usually icy cold hands were scorching hot as we had only moments earlier arrived home from a long walk. Rubbing the butter into the flour and sugar didn't take long due to my excessive heat; not good news for my pastry! Next I needed to add a single egg yolk and a little water to bind the mixture together. I found it to be a fairly dry dough, but was reassured as Mary says it should be firm. I wrapped the dough in some cling film and placed it in the fridge for half an hour. Meanwhile, Isaac and I cuddled up to watch 'In The Night Garden', a very odd programme!

When the half an hour was up I could move on to rolling out the pastry. After watching a British Bake Off Masterclass with Mary Berry last week, I was keen to follow her seemingly wonderful tip on how to manoeuvre pastry into a tin. Following her instructions, I rolled the pastry directly onto the removable base of my tin! It is rather hard to explain, so I have taken photographs. Just pop over to my Facebook page to see the step by step guide. Before adding the filling I needed to blind bake the pastry for fifteen minutes. I know it is sad, but I was quite excited to be using my baking beans; they rarely get to venture out from the drawer! Mary is obviously very keen that we should not experience a soggy bottom (with our pastry base of course)! Therefore, after taking the partly baked pastry out of the oven, I removed the beans and returned the pastry to the oven for another five minutes to make sure that the base was cooked through. Once the pastry case was fully cooked I could move onto making the filling.

I wasn't sure what to make of the filling; it wasn't like anything I had ever made before. First of all I beat some butter and muscovado sugar together. Even though I had left the butter out to soften, I found it really hard to combine the two together. The worktop and floor were soon pelted with lumps of butter and sugar. In the end I used a wooden spoon with slightly better results. I cracked several eggs into the bowl along with a tiny amount of vanilla essence. Last of all was the very important maple syrup. I required a large amount, so at least I would be getting my money's worth! After beating all the ingredients together I was left with a very runny dark mixture. I hoped it would set OK in the oven! Before I could add the syrup mixture to the pastry case I had to place pecan halves directly on to its base. I had bought exactly the amount required. I imagined that I would have to make several layers with the nuts as I had so many to use. I should never doubt Mary, as of course I had just enough to cover the base in one neat layer! Now was the time to pour over the maple syrup mixture. Just as I was about to put the tin into the oven I re-read the instructions. Ahh, I was supposed to place a baking tray under the tin before adding the filling. I quickly learned the reason for this as, when I gingerly tried to place the pecan pie onto the baking tray, a tiny amount of mixture spilled over the side of the pastry. Uh oh, this pastry was doomed to have a soggy bottom! Feeling very annoyed with myself, I put the pie into the oven and left it to cook for just over half an hour. My mood brightened when I took it out of the oven, as it looked very similar to the picture in the Baking Bible, yay!

After leaving the pecan pie to cool I went to lift it out of the tin. Unfortunately, the pastry was welded to the base of the tin. I am sure the syrup mixture would make an excellent glue! Eventually I managed to cut a slice and prise it from the tin with only a small amount of pastry missing! I had a taste. I wasn't sure my pie was cooked through; the filling had a consistency similar to custard (with a crisp top). In a panic I asked an American friend who is a pecan pie connoisseur. She said that was exactly how it should be. Phew, what a relief! The pastry was perfectly cooked, but I think I had rolled it a bit too thin. I was amazed that it wasn't soggy! The filling is ultra SWEET and, of course, nutty! I really like the toffee flavour and, as Mary says, it is best served warm with ice cream - delicious. After a day of everything going wrong it was nice to end up with something going right!
Not perfect but still tastes good :-)

Monday, 10 October 2011

Classic Rich Christmas Cake

Recipe Number One Hundred & One:  Page 134.

The word Christmas is enough to send shivers of dread down some spines. Not me, I love it! I rarely sleep a wink the night before. I still feel the same as when I was a child when I used to lie in bed listening out for the jingle of Rudolph's sleigh!

I have made the same Christmas cake every year for as long as I can remember. I have never deviated from the recipe. It's a recipe torn from a magazine and is by now very tatty and suspiciously sticky! Every year I lose it and then, to great celebration, I unearth it from the depths of a drawer or pile of recipe books! Although using a Mary Berry Christmas cake recipe does of course fill me with a sense of confidence, I have to admit that I am a little nervous of the outcome. I suppose I must be a creature of habit; it will be odd having something different this year.

Even though Mary says to start making the cake the day before you wish to bake it, I decided to do it all in one day. This has nothing to do with not reading the recipe through in advance of course! The reason for making it ahead of time is so that you can soak the fruit in brandy overnight. Thankfully, I started early enough to allow for a decent soaking. I thought seven hours should do it and I'd bake the cake in the evening before going to bed.

I sliced some cherries into quarters before rinsing off their delicious sweet syrup; such a waste! I patted the cherries dry with some kitchen towel. Apparently it is important for them to be dried thoroughly. The next fruit to deal with were the dried apricots. Although I really like fresh juicy apricots, I really don't like eating the dried version. The chewy texture and almost hairy skin make my skin crawl! I can't say I was tempted to have a nibble as I snipped them into pieces with scissors! I added raisins and sultanas in equal quantities. I didn't need anywhere near as much as I'd imagined. The last ingredient to be added was candied peel, again not very tasty to eat as it is, but delicious cooked in a fruit cake. I had almost a full bottle of brandy left over from last Christmas, so that saved me a few pennies – it is quite expensive. As I added a couple of tablespoons of brandy to the bowl of fruit, I came over all Christmassy and started singing Christmas Carols; maybe the waft of alcohol was to blame! I left the fruit to soak in its boozy bath while I kept the little man from helping himself to the contents of all the drawers and cupboards. Before I had time to catch my breath it was time to make the cake – how exciting!

I thought it would be wise to make use of my largest mixing bowl. There are a lot of ingredients in this cake; I didn't want it to spill over the edges. The flour was first to be added to the bowl, followed by a small amount of both ground nutmeg and mixed spice, which smelt wonderful. I had remembered to leave out the butter so it was appropriately soft on its entrance to the bowl! Dark muscovado sugar was called for. This made me hopeful that it would be a dark, rich fruit cake; I like them as rich as possible! Next I needed to add four eggs, followed by a disappointingly small quantity of black treacle. I quickly chopped up some almonds and then moved onto grating the rind from a lemon and an orange. I looked forward to eating the orange afterwards, but thought I'd pass on the lemon! I whisked the ingredients together. I wondered why, after two minutes of whisking, it still had lumps. I used a teaspoon to inspect the mixture and found that I had completely forgotten about the chopped almonds! My excuse for my being so thick is that my usual recipe doesn't contain any nuts; it doesn't take much to confuse me! Feeling a little dazed, I folded in the brandy soaked fruit. I caught a whiff of the fumes, COR it smelt good!!! The combined mixture was a rather light brown and nowhere near as dark as I had hoped it would be. Also, there didn't seem to be much of it! I tipped the fruity mixture into a double lined tin. I then siphoned off enough to fill a cupcake case as I was impatient for a taste. I placed the cake tin into the smaller oven which was on a very low heat. It would remain in the oven for around four and a half hours. I put the cupcake case into the larger oven alongside our dinner and put the oven to a higher temperature. Once the tiny cake was done, I was quick to have a taste. It really did taste good and the enclosed fruit was scrummy. It hadn't been left to mature, so obviously the actual Christmas cake would be far richer. I just couldn't help but feel a little disappointed that is was such a light cake, but that is just my personal taste. Before I went to bed I took the cake out of the oven. The top of the cake had a sort of sugary crust, it was so shiny! I left it to cool in the tin overnight and took my weary body off to bed.

It seemed a little odd to head straight for a bottle of brandy first thing in the morning, but I had an important job to attend to. I made tiny holes in the cake and then poured around a tablespoon or so of brandy over the now cold cake. I could actually hear the cake soaking up the brandy! I took the inebriated cake out of the tin and took off the greaseproof paper before wrapping it in another fresh double layer followed by a single layer of foil; at least it will be warm for winter. I just have to remember to keep 'feeding' it with brandy every so often until it is ready to be covered with marzipan. I will, of course, update this blog entry when I come to decorate the cake and let you know what it tastes like. Now I have made my Christmas cake it is officially the season to be jolly – Ho, Ho, Ho! (sorry)!

I promised I would give a Christmas cake update once I'd decorated it and had a crucial taste, so here it is!

My mum, who has been staying with us for the past few days, will sadly be heading home tomorrow. I wanted her to take back some cake so that it could be shared out amongst friends and family. This meant that the cake would be sliced and, of course, eaten much earlier than normal. I have never decorated a big cake before so I was feeling quite apprehensive! I decided to stick to a simple design and not try to do anything overly ambitious, which would undoubtedly end in tears! I covered the cake in marzipan a few days ahead of icing. Mary seems to favour Royal Icing but I wanted a smooth finish, so I used Sugarpaste. It took a lot of elbow grease to roll out the Sugarpaste; I should have rolled it thinner, but I ran out of steam! I managed to transfer it from the worktop and over the cake without any breakages. I cut some stars to make the tree and then made some little parcels. I arranged them on top of the cake then stood back to admire my handiwork! I was reasonably chuffed, but then it's such a simple design I'm sure a five year old could carry it off!

Mum was devastated to witness me cutting the cake and I have to say I felt sad ruining my display! However, we soon recovered from our distress and took large bites of cake. Oh my goodness, it really is out of this world! We both could taste the fruit, especially the cherries. The cake is so moist, but at the same time light. I knew I wouldn't be disappointed as it is a Mary Berry recipe after all, but it really has exceeded my expectations. I know I will be making this year after year.
The finished cake!!

Easy Lemon Cheesecake

Recipe Number One Hundred:  Page 383.

Wow – this is my hundredth recipe. I am in to triple figures, hooray! I wanted to use decoration to signify the milestone; this somewhat limited my choice of recipe. I had several possibilities in mind, but it all depended on what I could get at the shop. As it was the weekend and Neil was home, I was able to go to the shop alone - no pushchair to navigate along the ridiculously narrow aisles and a few rare minutes to myself!! Early on in my search, it became clear that lemon cheesecake was the order of the day as I could get all of the required ingredients. I was happy with this outcome; I love cheesecakes and I hadn't made one for a little while. With a full shopping bag but an empty purse (apart from a few coppers) I headed home.

Neil needed to get on with tiling the bathroom, so I was my little boy’s playmate for the afternoon and, as he has two more teeth coming through, it felt like an especially long afternoon! I didn't get round to making the cheesecake until after eating our rather unsatisfying stir-fry. As I had started so late it would mean we would have to wait till the following day to try it, it would need to set in the fridge overnight. I was upset by this; suddenly all I wanted in life was a slice of cheesecake!

First of all I had to make the biscuit base. I needed ten digestive biscuits for this. Mary's cheesecake recipes so far tend to have bases rather on the thin side. I put the biscuits in a large polythene bag, and retrieved my rolling pin. There were a lot of biscuits left over and somehow I managed to eat three of them, whoops! I bashed away at the bag of biscuits with my heavy rolling pin; my goodness my arm ached. I paid special attention to making sure that there were no large lumps of biscuit left. I melted some butter in a saucepan and very nearly burnt it. Suddenly it was sizzling away a bit too merrily; I think I must have been distracted by the digestives! I tipped the biscuit crumbs and a small amount of Demerara sugar into the saucepan of melted butter and gave it a good stir. I was worried when I pressed the mixture into the flan tin as it was very dry, I hoped it had enough butter to set. Sure enough, I found large pieces of uncrushed biscuits. I always miss bits!

I left the biscuit base while I got on with making the lemon cheesecake. I added some cream cheese to a bowl, swiftly followed by a whole can of condensed milk. My goodness! It was clear that this was going to be a very sweet cheesecake! As I also needed to add a small tub of single cream, this wasn't a low fat option either. Well, I always consider that the things which are bad for me taste the best, so I took this as being a promising sign! My aching arm didn't get long to recover as I needed to grate the zest from three lemons; I think you will agree that is a lot of zest. Sometime later I could mix everything together. As the cream cheese was lumpy, I needed to grab my balloon whisk. This easily broke it up and very quickly I had a smooth and creamy mixture. This cheesecake was obviously going to have more than just a subtle hint of lemon, as the next job was to squeeze the juice from each fruit. I poured the juice through a sieve first to make sure that no bits ended up in the cheesecake and then added it a little at a time. The lemon juice helped thicken up the mixture and, after a few seconds of frantic beating, it was thick and creamy. By now the biscuit base had set so I could tip the lemony mixture on top. It looked so good! I was even more upset that I couldn't have any until the next day. I popped it into the fridge to chill. The next day I would decorate it with whipped cream and strawberries; at the least the strawberries would be part of my five a day! Of course, now was the time to lick the bowl. I took the experience to another level by using a digestive biscuit to wipe round the bowl instead of a finger (or spoon when in polite company). I was determined to have my cheesecake one way or another. Neil caught me in the act and he looked more than a little horrified. But I didn't care; I was unashamed in my enjoyment – it was as good as I imagined it would be!

The following day I had some help from Neil with the decoration. I think he wished I had just left him to it as I couldn't help interfering, I am not sure we had the same vision!! The top of the cheesecake was covered with whipped double cream and then more was splodged in the shape of 100. All that was left to do was to dot some strawberries on top as decoration. Neil gave the cheesecake ten out of ten. He is a tough marker so this was high praise indeed! The base, although a little thin, was deliciously sweet and highly addictive. The cheesecake topping was so light, creamy and obviously lemony. The lemon taste was slightly sharp but not at all overpowering. I could sit and eat the whole plateful if allowed, but I am not sure Neil would let me get away with that!
YAY my 100th recipe and it tasted mighty fine :-)

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Frangipane Tartlets

Recipe Number Ninety Nine:  Page 269.

I have hazy memories of my one and only attempt at a frangipane tart; it must have been around 15 years ago! I'd pestered my mum to come on some baking workshops with me. I was desperate to go but didn't want to go alone. My school friends were too busy daydreaming about the Backstreet Boys to care about baking!! My mum, an unenthusiastic baker, dutifully but more than a little reluctantly came along. However, I think she would agree that she rather enjoyed it and surprised herself with her tasty creations. One of the things we had to make was a frangipane tart. I remember finding it rather challenging, mainly due to the dreaded sweet pastry. Both my mum and I enjoyed eating the end result. It was delicious but, due to the pastry, I never ventured to make it again.

I had bought the ingredients earlier in the day and, for a change, I managed to get all that I needed at the village shop! After acting as a human ladder for my little boy - climbing is his new source of fun - I took Isaac upstairs for his nap. I then headed straight for the kitchen; best not to sit down or I'd perhaps never get up again! Although I was quite looking forward to having another go at making frangipane, I couldn't help feeling a little worried!!

First of all I needed to make the sweet pastry. I weighed out the plain flour and then added to it a relatively small amount of butter. Thankfully I had read through the recipe earlier and had seen that the butter needed to be soft. It was a good job that I had taken note and left it out of the fridge. I rubbed the butter into the flour and then stirred in some sugar. I had a very close call when I came to add the egg yolks to the breadcrumb like mixture. While cracking an egg I knocked the box of eggs off the worktop. I'd never realised what wonderful reflexes I possess! At lightning speed I lifted a knee to break the fall and grabbed the wayward box with my other hand, phew, it could have been VERY messy! I mixed in the egg yolks and then brought the mixture together to form a soft dough. Once I was happy that my dough was suitably smooth, I wrapped it in some cling film before placing it in the fridge. I had to leave it to chill for half an hour. I had just enough time to watch an episode of Friends whilst tucking into my lunch; it's a hard life!

With a full tummy and my laughing muscles well exercised, I headed back to the kitchen and took the nicely chilled dough out of the fridge. Now the part I find so tricky about sweet pastry is rolling it out; it gets very sticky very quickly. I had trouble with a previous sweet pastry recipe and a kindly person left a comment on my blog to advise rolling the pastry between two sheets of cling film. This stops you using an excessive amount of flour to stop it welding itself to the worktop! I found this method to work very well and it did indeed stop the problem. However, I did find it hard to judge how thick the dough was. I was so worried about the pastry being too thick that I ended up making it rather on the thin side and it looked ever so untidy in the patty tin. I endeavoured to tidy things up but ended up making things worse, so I left it looking a mess and told myself that it looked quirky!!

I put the tray of half made tartlets into the fridge whilst I made the frangipane filling. This was very easy and straightforward to make. I simply had to beat some butter and sugar together in a bowl before adding some beaten egg. I was instructed to add the egg a little at a time. It was difficult to add just a little, as the whole lot desperately wanted to jump in, all in one go!! Once I had mixed in the egg, I ended up with a rather unattractive lumpy mixture. However, after I had stirred in the ground almonds, it looked much more pleasant. Last of all I needed to add some drops of almond extract. I should have been more organised and located it before I made a start, but I don't like to make life easy! I climbed onto a chair and rummaged through the kitchen shelves. In my search I found three bottles of half used vanilla extract. Every cloud.......! Just as I was about to admit defeat I caught sight of an unopened bottle of almond extract. It had been hidden behind the gravy granules; there is no order to my kitchen shelves! I added the few drops of extract and gave the mixture a final stir before retrieving the by now cold tray of pastry. I spooned a heaped teaspoon of almondy mixture into each tartlet. It didn't seem a very generous amount but I hoped it would puff up a bit in the oven. As a finishing touch, I sprinkled some flaked almonds on top of each tartlet and then put them into the oven. They only took fifteen minutes to cook and, as I predicted, the thin edges of the pastry burnt! I left the tartlets to cool off for a few minutes before attempting to extract them from the tins to cool completely. I have to admit that I couldn't resist for more than five minutes before gobbling down a tartlet. It was yum! The pastry was perhaps a little thin, but nicely cooked. The filling was slightly cakelike in texture and the flavour of almonds was just right; I had worried that it might be a little overwhelming. In my haste to scoff the frangipane tart, I had forgotten that I needed to glaze each tartlet with some sieved and warmed apricot jam. Whoops! I quickly brushed over the warm jam and then sprinkled a line of ground almonds around the edge of each tartlet for decoration. I decorated a half with ground almonds but decided to the leave the rest as I didn't really see the point of it; I preferred it without! Even though I find sweet pastry to be fiddly, I think on this occasion it was worth the faff as frangipane tartlets are delicious!

On another note, I thought you might like to know that the box of eggs was doomed! The following day my little boy was eating breakfast in his high chair. I turned my back for a second (I never learn) and the little pickle pushed the eggs from the worktop and onto the floor! Two eggs are now no more and it took me ages to clear up the mess, yuck! I think Isaac thought it necessary to test Mummy's reflexes again, just to be sure. Well, it is pretty clear that my reflexes are back to being pathetically sluggish!!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Date and Cherry Butter Bars

Recipe Number Ninety Eight:  Page 238.

As I have mentioned before, I am not overly keen on dates. They are not particularly easy on the eye and to me the texture is quite frankly odd! Having said that, I believe that the date does have its place; surely a sticky toffee pudding would not be the same without them? On the other side of the coin, I adore cherries. I was, therefore, really in two minds when I made a start on these date and cherry butter bars.

First of all, I weighed the self-raising flour and then rubbed in a fairly modest amount of butter. I was surprised to be using so little considering that butter is in the title of the recipe. I stirred in some sugar before moving on to the dates. They were so dry and wizened I hoped they were still edible. I found that they were too tough to chop so I had to resort to scissors! Next was the part I had been looking forward to, adding cherries. Imagine my disappointment when I found that I only needed a couple! I chopped the cherries and ate a couple to cheer myself up. They were so sweet and sticky; I made a mental note to brush my teeth once the bars were in the oven. Last of all, I stirred in a beaten egg. I have never seen a yolk as bright yellow before; I wonder what the chicken had been eating! Mary says to bring the combined mixture together and then to knead it lightly until smooth. I honestly didn't think the mixture was ever going to come together, it seemed so dry. With persistence and a lot of elbow grease, I finally had a very nice smooth dough, phew! It also took a fair amount of time to press the mixture into the traybake tin; it ended up being spread quite thinly. I put the tray into the oven and, instead of being able to leave it to its own devices, I had to stay nearby as I needed to cut it into bars after ten minutes in the oven. After I had marked it into bars, I put it back in the oven for a further ten minutes. Even though it had two or three minutes less cooking time than suggested, they still got a little over cooked. While still hot, I had to cut again into bars and then leave it to cool in the tin. Once cold, I found it surprisingly easy to remove the bars from the traybake tin. When I had a bite to see what it tasted like, I have to admit I wasn't sure what to make of them! I didn't know if they were meant to be a biscuit; they were quite hard. The taste was fairly buttery and sweet. The dates and cherries gave a bit of chew to the bars. They were very nice, but not overly exciting. Neil and I agreed that they were something you wouldn't be able to stop eating though!
Lovely with a cuppa :-)

American Spiced Carrot Traybake

Recipe Number Ninety Seven:  Page Number 179.

I am a big fan of carrot cake, which is a little ironic as I am not overly in love with the root vegetable which plays a key role in this cake! I adore the moist spiced cake with the light cream cheese topping, scrummy! I was very happy when I saw that this particular version of carrot cake did not contain bananas. I personally think that they overwhelm the subtle flavour of the carrots.

As I had the loud whirring of the washing machine to put up with, it wasn't the most relaxing environment to bake in. Oh for a utility room! I tried to ignore the persistent banging and whooshing and started off by greasing and lining my traybake tin. I weighed out some flour and then a rather alarming amount of sugar, always a worry when you have more sugar than flour in the bowl! I was also worried by how many teaspoons of ground cinnamon were required. I am not too keen on this particular spice, so I admit to finding this a little off-putting. I hoped the ground ginger also used would help to balance out the flavours. I took another look at my list of ingredients and noticed with horror that I needed a mixture of chopped nuts. How could I possibly have missed this, especially as Mary mentions the nuts in her recipe header? A trip to the shop was needed; I had to abandon my baking until I had my nuts! The choice at the shop was limited to say the least, but I had to settle for what was available. It also meant that I got to pick out and enjoy the raisins! A little bit of nut chopping later and I could then add them to the bowlful of dry ingredients. I moved on to the most crucial ingredient, carrots. I was quite frankly amazed by how many carrots I needed. Usually I only need two or three but on this occasion I required six in total. As I am sure you can imagine, I had terrible arm ache by the time all six had been grated – ouch! I added the mountain of grated carrot to the mixing bowl and made a silent prayer that this was the correct amount and that I hadn't weighed it wrong. Another shocker was the quantity of sunflower oil I poured into the bowl, but at least it made a nice change from using butter! Last of all, I beat in four eggs. This made the mixture very runny; I poured it into the tin. My fingers and toes were firmly crossed when I put the cake mixture into the oven. The cake cooked for almost an hour and I was delighted when I took the golden cake out of the oven, and it smelt wonderful. I could really smell the spices.

I made up the topping whilst the cake cooled on a wire rack. To my bowl of cream cheese I added a tiny amount of honey and lemon juice and mixed thoroughly. It seemed odd to flavour with honey; I don't think I have ever tried this combination before. Normally it is vanilla extract that is added, or so I believe. However, I am all for trying something new! Once the cake was cold, I could generously spread the cream cheese topping on top and then sprinkle with some more chopped nuts. I was so pleased with the finished cake. I loved the taste, so much better without bananas. The spices in the cake balanced beautifully; I needn't have worried that the cinnamon would be overwhelming. The cake was so moist. The topping was a bit of a surprise to Neil; he hadn't expected the honey! I think we prefer the vanilla flavour but, other than that personal preference, we really couldn’t fault it. It was so delicious and the best carrot cake I have made so far!
Didn't last long!