Monday, 28 November 2011

Butterfly Cakes

Recipe Number One Hundred & Twenty Four:  Page 118.

I have such fond childhood memories of making and eating butterfly cakes. I think they were and still are a staple cake for children’s parties and a wonderful thing to bake with little ones. Baking is definitely not one of my mother's favourite pastimes but that doesn't mean she didn't bring out a mixing bowl and wooden spoon when my sister and I were small. I can still remember having great fun making these; I was amazed when my little cake turned into a butterfly! I really think these cakes started me off on my baking obsession. My mum is currently staying with us and I know how much she still loves these little cakes, so I thought I'd take her on a trip down memory lane.

The recipe is very similar to Mary's Victoria Sandwich cake and so very simple to make. I measured the flour, eggs and butter into a bowl. When I added the sugar a giant lump, big enough to rival a golf ball, fell from the packet and landed with a heavy thud. This amount was far too much. When I carefully tried to remove the oversized sugar lump, it of course fell to bits. It took a while to extract the surplus with a spoon. Once all of the ingredients were included, I used my electric whisk to combine it all together. Mary is quite particular on how long to beat the mixture; she says to keep going for two to three minutes. It did seem a long time but it did indeed take that long before it became smooth and lump free. I can quite imagine her whisking with a stopwatch! I spooned the smooth mixture into the cupcake cases. I love making cupcakes and muffins as I don't have to faff about lining tins! They only needed 15 – 20 minutes in the oven. I very nearly forgot about them as I was too busy yacking to mum!

My little cakes were a little more golden in colour than perhaps I would have liked but they looked good and well risen. I had to make the buttercream next; I don't know why I had decided to clean the kitchen the day before making these. It was heartbreaking whisking the butter and icing sugar together and watching it spray all over the once gleaming work surface and floor. It seemed to take ages before the two ingredients combined, or at least it seemed so. The buttercream was so light and fluffy by the time it was ready that it almost melted in the mouth.

I enjoyed slicing the little domed top off each cake and then cutting it in half to form the wings of the butterfly. I piped what I thought to be generous swirls of buttercream onto each cake. I can't have been as generous as I'd thought as I still had nearly half of the buttercream left over. I therefore went round each cake again! I happily popped the wings on top of each cake; I really did feel like I was six years old again. It was a lovely feeling and I can't wait until my little boy can get baking with me in the kitchen.

Once my little butterfly cakes had the obligatory dusting of icing sugar they were ready to be eaten, yippeee! They were of course just as I'd remembered; a light cake with sweet smooth buttercream. Neil thought them very moreish and Mum loved not only the look but the taste. I think they brought memories back for Mum too. This time I didn't have to stand on a chair to reach the worktop or need help with weighing the ingredients. I felt rather proud to pass a cake to my mum and know I'd made it all by myself!!
Fluttering butterflies! :-)
Recipe Variation: Chocolate Butterfly Cakes

I was in need of something to perk me up after a long week; a chocolate fix was in order! These little cakes sounded very tempting and I was keen to sink my teeth into one or most likely two. I could either leave the sponge plain and simply fill with a chocolate butter cream or both could be chocolate. Well, I think you can guess which I went for. As if there was ever any choice!!

I made the sponge up as for the original recipe. The only variation was to deduct a little flour and replace with cocoa powder. I used my electric whisk to combine all the ingredients together. After a couple of minutes of vigorous whisking I was left with a beautifully smooth chocolatey mixture - YUM! Isaac took over the important task of licking out the bowl. I felt rather envious as he greedily scraped the bowl clean. When his little brother is born I will be elbowing him out of the way!!! 

The cakes rose beautifully in the oven and as they cooled on a wire rack I made the chocolate butter cream. I heated up some water in the kettle and poured a little into a mixing bowl along with a few tablespoonfuls of cocoa powder. When the lumps of cocoa had dissolved I tipped in a horrifying amount of butter. I thought I would give it a quick beating before adding the icing sugar. Big mistake! The chocolate liquid splattered over everything within a twelve inch radius. I should of used a larger bowl. To try and avoid further mess I whisked in the dreaded icing sugar a little at a time. Of course a cloud of dust soon appeared but it wasn't as bad as I'd feared!

I ended up with a huge amount of butter cream. I filled the cakes as much as I could but I was still left with a half full piping bag. The cakes looked very rich and chocolatey and they tasted just as they looked. I was in heaven! The cakes were moist and light and the butter cream was sweet and mousse like. I went to share one with Isaac. I tried to give him one of the 'wings' but he wasn't sure that this was a fair deal. He turned his nose up at my offering and said "want the big one" pointing at the butter cream filled cake I was about to scoff!! 

I know I will be making these delicious little cakes again. They really hit the spot!
Oh go on then!
Recipe Variation: Lemon Butterfly Cakes

Before starting this challenge I'd only ever made butterfly cakes as a small child. For some reason I associated them with childhood and hadn't considered making them since. Now I'm on my third batch of these cute little cakes and I am hooked once again.

For the variation I simply needed to add the zest of one lemon to the cake mixture and a little juice to the buttercream. I have to say that the lemon buttercream was quite addictive and I could of eaten it on its own!

The cakes were light with a delicate lemony flavour and the buttercream almost melted in my mouth. Yet another yummy butterfly cake. They really are for ALL ages not just for children!! 
Lemon Butterfly Cakes

Chocolate Éclairs

Recipe Number One Hundred & Twenty Three:  Page 274.

As Mary mentions in the recipe header, chocolate éclairs are sheer luxury. Although I love them, I rarely buy any as they are dreadful for the waistline. I have never made éclairs before but I used to make the closely related profiterole. It must be over 15 years since I made those so, although I had a rough idea of what needed to be done, I was certainly a little rusty!

I was feeling even keener to pick up my Baking Bible and get baking. I'd been lucky enough to attend the Good Food Show the day before. Mary Berry was at the show giving a demonstration and signing books. The lady herself signed my very well used book! It was so lovely to meet her; she is even tinier than I had expected. After checking the front page of my book once more and seeing Mary's rather flamboyant handwriting, I entered the kitchen with a real spring in my step!

First of all, I needed to make the choux pastry. This pastry is a bit different to what I'm used to as it's made in a saucepan. I heated the butter with some water and gently brought it to the boil before taking it off the heat. The sifted flour was then tipped in. I needed to beat it all together. Very quickly the mixture combined to form a smooth and very soft dough. Even though the dough was hot, I couldn’t resist a poke; for those who might be interested, it felt much like mashed potato!! I left it to cool a little and then came back to it and beat in two eggs. I followed Mary's advice and used my electric whisk. It did take a minute or two of whisking before I had a smooth and shiny paste.

A few weeks ago I'd had a search for a plain 1cm piping nozzle. I ended up ordering one from a fantastic kitchen shop in town. I didn't bother to measure it before using it, but it did look the right size. I popped it into my piping bag and then filled the bag with the choux pastry. I piped the rather runny mixture onto several baking trays. The éclair shapes were so thin, they reminded me of pencils! I was concerned about the size but hoped they would spread when cooking. I put them into the oven and willed them to grow. They did indeed grow but not very much! I was so annoyed with myself as I should have used a bigger nozzle. The éclairs were so petite that I decided to start again, this time using my larger nozzle. The results were much more successful and I had decent sized éclairs, hooray! I split them down one side while they were still hot so that the steam could escape and then left them on a wire rack to cool completely.

I whipped up an astoundingly large amount of whipping cream; this is the point that the éclairs become unhealthy! I put the cream to one side and started on the icing. I needed less chocolate than I'd imagined. I had half a bar left over. I could either save it for another day of baking or just eat it...hmmmmm....difficult choice! I melted the chocolate with a little butter and water. The melted mixture didn't look very appealing as it had a grainy watery consistency. Thankfully, adding in the sifted icing sugar took care of the problem and it became smooth and glossy. I piped the cream into the by now cold pastry and spooned the chocolate icing over the top. They did look yummy! Neil was happy as he got to watch a Formula One race whilst sipping a cup of tea and eating éclairs. I can't believe how many I ate! My mum, who is staying, was a little more restrained and ate only two!!! The pastry was crisp and not at all soggy. The icing was rich and so chocolaty. I really was in utter bliss when taking each large bite!

I didn't want to leave my little boy out but thought the éclairs were a little rich for a 17 month old. I therefore made use of the tiny plain éclairs and gave a few to Isaac; he absolutely loved them! As they contain no sugar they made for a great treat. I may have to make him some more!

Although chocolate éclairs take a while to make I do think it's worth the effort every once in a while. They are not something I would make regularly, otherwise I'd surely become morbidly obese or die from a heart attack (probably both)!
They weren't on the plate for long!!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Coffee Victoria Sandwich

Recipe Number One Hundred & Twenty Two:  Page 42.

Before the start of this challenge I'd never made a coffee cake. I had it in my head that they were unfashionable and a little dated. I honestly didn't believe I'd like them, so I never made them! Mary Berry, however, seems to be quite fond of coffee cake and there are a plenty of recipe variations throughout the Baking Bible. This means that I've been forced to have a go and actually give the cake a fair trial. After making my first coffee cake several months ago, I was very surprised to find out that I absolutely adore coffee cake! This is why I am enjoying my little challenge so much. It has taken me out of my comfort zone and opened my eyes to all the different and wonderful flavours and ideas.

I needed to go and do some food shopping so, in the morning, we went into town and got what was needed. We of course found time for my little boy’s favourite activity, the swings! We even managed to go and explore a soft play centre. Of course I couldn't resist the bouncy castle, even though Isaac wasn't particularly fussed! We arrived home at lunchtime. I wondered why my legs ached and then I realised that I hadn't sat down for nearly five hours. When Isaac was tucked up in bed I went to make a start on the cake. I wouldn't allow myself to sit down until after it was made!

I found the start of the recipe to be different to what I had become used to. Usually the coffee granules are dissolved in a tiny amount of water and then everything gets chucked into a bowl and mixed. On this occasion, I had to break the eggs into a bowl and whisk them with a fork before adding the coffee granules. After a few minutes of stirring, the granules dissolved and I ended up with a mixture that, I have to say, certainly didn't look very nice! Despite its bad looks it smelt heavenly and made me fancy a mug of hot coffee; I was soon reaching for the kettle! Things were soon back on track, as I just needed to add the butter, sugar and flour. I brought out the might of my trusty hand whisk and gave everything a good mix. When the mixture was smooth and well combined I spooned it into my two sandwich tins and placed them in the oven.

While the cakes cooked I enjoyed licking out the bowl and then washed up. I really used to miss this perk when I was pregnant (licking out the bowl, NOT doing the washing up)!! After 25 minutes I retrieved the cakes from the oven. One of them had risen in a rather lopsided manner but the other had risen perfectly; this would be the top piece! I left them in their tins for a few minutes and then tipped them out onto wire racks to cool.

Now came the not so enjoyable part of making the buttercream. Don't get me wrong; I love eating buttercream, but I just wish icing sugar wasn't so 'dusty'! I tipped the loathsome icing sugar into a bowl with a small amount of butter and whisked it together with a tablespoon of coffee essence and a splash of milk. I whisked for a while to make sure it was light and fluffy. I didn't seem to have much buttercream to sandwich the two cakes together as well as smooth over the top. Having said that copious amounts can make a cake very sickly. Perhaps it was better to be a little sparing. The cake looked a good size; I cut into it and took a generous slice. As it was such a well risen cake, the slice was larger than I'd at first anticipated. Even I couldn't eat it all – don't worry I made sure I finished it off later! The cake was light and moist. I think it was just a little overdone around the edges; I should have taken them out of the oven maybe two or three minutes sooner. The coffee certainly wasn't shy; the cake had a good strong flavour. The buttercream was lovely and light and again the coffee sang out. I wondered if I'd soon be on a caffeine induced high! My mum is coming up to visit and I just know how pleased she will be to have a large slice of this ready for her arrival. She is a big coffee cake fan! All in all it was a fantastically easy cake to make; it tastes rather splendid too, hooray!
Fancy a slice?! ;-)

Monday, 21 November 2011

Austrian Curd Cheesecake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Twenty One:  Page 381.

I couldn't help but be intrigued by the title of this recipe as I'd never heard of it before. I wasn't overly happy by the revelation that this particular cheesecake is without a biscuity base; that is my favourite part! A picture does accompany the recipe and it did look very tasty so I was hopeful it would still be just as enjoyable minus the buttery biscuit base.

It had just passed midday when I started to pull the ingredients from the shelves and the bowls and spoons from the drawers. Cheesecakes do take a little while to cook and then to cool down but I thought it should be ready for an afternoon cup of tea. I like to have something sweet on hand for the afternoon slump! My first failing was my usual one, forgetting to leave the butter out of the fridge. As I haven't learnt by now I doubt I ever will. But, hey ho, that is what the microwave is for!

I took the soft butter from the microwave and softened it even more in a bowl with a spoon. I was definitely going to be receiving a sugary fix in the afternoon judging by the amount of sugar I weighed into the bowl. Suffice to say I rechecked the recipe at least twice to be sure! I could either use curd cheese or ricotta. Well it had to be the second choice as curd cheese was nowhere to be seen during a search at the supermarket. All of this butter, sugar and ricotta had to be mixed together; I used my balloon whisk as I misguidedly thought it wouldn't require much beating as everything was so soft. Alas, this was not the case and I ended up asking Neil for assistance. In the end we decided a few little lumps wouldn't hurt! After shaking out my aching wrist I moved on to separating the eggs. This did not go well. Each of the four egg yolks broke and a tiny amount ended up in the bowl of egg whites. After chasing the tiny dribble of yolk around the bowl for some time with a spoon, I came up with another approach. I dipped a piece of kitchen towel into the bowl and it absorbed the yolk, huzzah!! Glowing from my victory, I beat each of the egg yolks into the bowl of sugary cheesiness and then stirred in some ground almonds and a little semolina. Now I had to add the sultanas. I found an old packet and pondered if they'd still be edible, then thought ’Oh what the heck!’ and chucked them in regardless. I do like to live on the edge! Next, to add in some more flavour, I grated the zest from two lemons and I also used the juice. Once I'd stirred everything together I had to leave it to thicken for ten minutes. I think the lemon juice helps to firm things up, or so I believe. While I waited for the magic to happen, I went back to the bowl of egg whites and whisked them until stiff. This time I used my electric whisk! When the time was up, I carefully folded the whites into the thickened mixture and poured it into the lined cake tin. It was obvious this was going to be a very deep cheesecake as it was almost to the top of the tin. I left it to cook in the oven for an hour, placing foil over the top half way through the cooking time.

I was very excited when the hour was up to check on my cheesecake. It had the perfect wobble in the middle; I know this is meant to be good. I forced Neil to come and witness the wobble and kept shaking the poor cheesecake!!! I turned off the oven but left it to cool down inside with the door shut. We decided we would go to an indoor play centre and let Isaac burn off some his excess energy. I checked on my cheesecake before we left and found that it had a crack to compete with the Grand Canyon, I don't think I should have wobbled it quite so enthusiastically; it certainly can't have helped!

We arrived home feeling a little glum as the play centre had been packed and we couldn't get in! I went to find comfort in the cheesecake, retrieved it from the oven and turned it out of the tin to cool completely. I was tempted to try a slice whilst it was still warm, but we thought we should head to the park before it was too dark. This time we returned home with happier hearts as all of us had a go on the swings and laughter had rung out across the park!! With chilly hands and red noses it was time for a cup of tea and a slice of cheesecake. Neil really enjoyed his large slice and commented on how lemony and light it was. I could definitely taste the lemon and almonds. I didn't miss the base; I really don't think it needed it. Isaac whipped several pieces off my plate, so I think he also enjoyed it!
The light was terrible so not a good picture!
A lovely slice of yummy cheesecake! :-)

Blueberry Muffins

Recipe Number One Hundered & Twenty:  Page 128.

Whenever I am lucky enough to go out for coffee, I never intend just to have a coffee; cake always comes into the equation. Also, when I choose a cake, it's usually a muffin that gets picked. The reason I always go for a muffin is because I can't make them! They are always tough and stick to the paper cases. As blueberries do not come cheap, I really hoped I could get these to work. Otherwise it would be a waste of perfectly decent blueberries!

Although Mary advises that these muffins are traditionally served at breakfast time, I personally like to stay in bed on a Saturday for as long as I can get away with it! Homemade breakfast muffins are really the last thing on my mind. I did manage to make a start at midday, however, which I considered to be quite an achievement in itself!

First of all I needed to put the flour and baking powder into my mixing bowl and rub in a small amount of butter. Once the mixture resembled breadcrumbs, I moved on to stirring in the sugar, blueberries and lemon rind. As I didn't add much sugar and I don't consider blueberries to be overly sweet, I wondered if they would be sweet enough to meet my sugary requirements! I mixed everything together before adding a couple of eggs and a scarily large amount of milk. I poured the liquid on top of the dry ingredients and then set about stirring it all together. My friend Ashley, who also has trouble with her muffins, said she had tried combining the mixture with a fork and found she had much better results. I had to try this method and see if it worked for me too. Very carefully I mixed everything together with a fork; I know how crucial it is not to overwork the mixture. Mary is reassuring when she says it should have a lumpy consistency as this is certainly what I had sitting in my bowl; it did not look good! I spooned the unattractive mixture into the muffin cases. Mary says to fill them almost to the top. This was easier said than done as I barely had enough mixture to get to the half way mark! The undersized muffins went into the hot oven for around 25 minutes. Meanwhile I enjoyed a doorstep sandwich, one of my specialities!

On my return to the oven I couldn't believe how well risen the muffins were. Some were well over the tops of their cases. They certainly looked much prettier once cooked! I did leave them to cool for a little while but I felt forced to snaffle one whilst it was still warm. I had my usual problem with the paper sticking to the base of the muffin, grrr! It did taste delicious; the lemon flavour really shone through and, unlike previous muffin attempts, it had a nice light texture. I wonder if this was due to the fork method. As I'd predicted, there wasn't quite enough sugar to appease my sweet tooth. However, for the sake of my teeth I'm sure it's for the best!

The following day Neil and I had another muffin each and were pleasantly surprised when the paper cases peeled cleanly away, leaving the muffin perfectly intact! We also both agreed that they tasted much better than the ones we had eaten the day before. I had always been led to believe that muffins are best eaten the day they are made but obviously that isn't always the case. So, no excuse to scoff them all in one day thinking that they'll be no good tomorrow – they'll been even better!
Fresh Blueberry Muffins :-)    

Bursting with blueberry goodness!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Chocolate Swiss Roll

Recipe Number One Hundred & Nineteen:  Page 47.

I still can't get over how many votes this recipe received on my Facebook Poll. I think it's very clear that we are a nation of chocoholics! Although I love chocolate much more than I should, I was a little concerned about making this Swiss roll. For those who have read my much earlier posts, you will know that I've had two previous attempts at a Swiss roll. Sadly, my first attempt was a complete failure and ended up in the bin! My second was a little better but still a feeble effort. I hoped I could beat my demons and have a successful result this time.

I took another look through the recipe before making a start; it was so nice to see such a short set of instructions! All being well, it would take mere minutes to make and I'd soon be tucking into a delicious Swiss roll. I could but hope! I broke the eggs into a mixing bowl and tipped in some sugar. I've learnt that this next part is crucial. Basically the eggs and sugar have to be whisked for a very long time! On my previous attempts I gave up far too soon. I should have whisked until the mixture was very thick and frothy. Obviously I am lacking in patience. I really don't think it can be done without an electric whisk; well not unless you have arms like Popeye (after a few cans of spinach)! When I lifted the whisk from the bowl and it left a thick trail on the surface of the mixture I knew it was ready. I measured the flour and cocoa powder into a separate bowl and then sieved them into the mousse like mixture. I carefully folded in the flour and cocoa. I wanted to avoid losing the air I had taken so long to create! It was a little tricky as the cocoa powder didn't want to be mixed in. Just when I thought it was all combined I'd find a large section of dry powder! I poured the fluffy mixture into my lined Swiss roll tin and tilted the tin to get the mixture into all the corners. I thought it best not to spread it out with a knife or spoon. It only needed to go into the hot oven for around ten minutes. This gave me just enough time to wash up, yay!

Just before the Swiss roll was due to come out of the oven, I placed a piece of baking paper on the worktop and sprinkled some caster sugar over the surface. Next was the moment I had been anxiously waiting for. I opened the oven door and peered inside. To my complete and utter joy I saw that my Swiss roll had risen, hallelujah! I quickly tipped the cake out of the tin and on top of the sugared paper. I whipped off the paper from the base of the cake and trimmed the edges of the Swiss roll. At first I thought that removing the edges was unnecessary as they appeared perfectly satisfactory. This was until my greedy brain clocked that I would get to eat the trimmings – oh yummy! With a mouth full of chocolaty cake, I scored a deep groove into one of the short edges and then rolled it up with the paper still inside. This seemed odd to me, I hadn't left the paper in with my other Swiss rolls. I had to leave it to cool whilst wrapped. I couldn't help but worry that it would fall apart when I unrolled it to fill with jam and cream. I would have been really upset as I felt so close to triumph!

Once cold, I gingerly unwrapped the Swiss roll and, thank goodness, it remained in one piece. I warmed a few tablespoons of blackcurrant jam and spread it over what would be the inside of the roll. I had to get my whisk out once more; I felt so grateful to get to wash it twice! I whisked up the double cream which thankfully only took a minute. The delicious cream got spread out over the top of the jam and I then rerolled the Swiss roll. This time it was generously filled, so I had to be even more careful. Compared to my previous attempts this Swiss roll looked gigantic! I was so pleased with it. If I could have reached I might have been tempted to give myself a pat on the back! I had finally made a decent Swiss roll!! To others this will be a really easy and basic recipe but it had been my nemesis!

I was soon cutting a slice and taking a large bite. It tasted as good as I'd hoped. It was light and chocolaty; the cream and blackcurrant filling was divine. Now I've had a taste of success I will be making Swiss rolls all the time. It just goes to show that, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again!!
Yay - I've finally mananged to make a decent Swiss Roll!!! :-)

Monday, 14 November 2011

Coffee and Banana Vacherin

Recipe Number One Hundred & Eighteen:  Page 365.

I had never heard of this meringue dessert before; its flavours certainly sounded interesting. I love bananas and coffee but I can't ever remember combining them together. I couldn't wait to give it a try; I felt certain it would please my taste buds!

I was a bit worried about attempting this dessert as the morning had not really gone very well. Everything I had touched had gone wrong and then, just as I went to make a start, I realised that I had lost my Baking Bible. Neil helped me with the search; we looked under the sofa, behind the sofa, in the kitchen and even under the bed! I found myself aimlessly calling out for Mary!! I feared that the search would be futile until I whipped back the living room curtain and found it, sitting on the windowsill of all places. I'm quite sure it looked pleased with itself! I was so annoyed to have wasted almost half an hour looking for it! I marched the book into the kitchen and plonked it firmly on the worktop!

I needed to make the meringue first of all. This, of course, is not too challenging; it just takes rather a long time. I whipped the egg whites until stiff and then proceeded laboriously to add a teaspoon of light muscovado sugar at a time, whisking continuously until the meringue was really stiff. Mary mentions that half caster sugar and half muscovado sugar can be used if a lighter meringue is preferred. I liked the idea of using just muscovado. I hoped this would produce a really tasty caramel flavour. I find getting meringues to the right consistency for piping to be somewhat problematic. It always ends up too soft. This time I was determined and spent longer whisking to make sure it would be stiff enough to pipe. It was a real pain filling the piping bag. I ended up smothered in the rich meringue. It was coming out of the top of the bag and all over my hands. I ended up eating the surplus and my goodness did I soon feel sick!! I untidily piped circles of meringue in a spiral pattern onto two sheets of baking paper. Now the two trays of meringue circles had to go into the oven on a very low heat to cook for just over an hour. I realised I was a little short of double cream, which was needed for the filling, so a trip to the shop was in order.

For the first time in my life I actually came out of a shop with exactly what I needed and nothing more; something must be wrong with me! Once home, I checked on my meringue circles. They were still soft in the middle. I ended up leaving them in the oven for almost two hours, which was a lot longer than the recommend time, and then of course I had to turn off the oven and let them cool down with the door ajar. However, I am glad I left them until they were properly cooked as, once out of the oven, they peeled easily from the paper. I whipped up an exceedingly unhealthy amount of cream. Now was the time to add the coffee flavour. For this I simply put a teaspoon of coffee granules into a cup and added the smallest of dashes of water to dissolve the coffee. I stirred this into the cream and then added the sliced banana. I spread all of the coffee and banana cream over the top of one of the meringue circles before placing the other circle on top. The finishing touches were just a dusting of icing sugar and yet more cream. It was a race against time as the light was fading fast and I wanted to take a photograph! Typically, the reusable piping bag sprang a leak, cream shot out and yet again I was smothered. I squeezed cream onto the meringue as quickly as I could before the whole bag erupted; hence it was not the prettiest of desserts!

The coffee and banana vacherin tasted delicious; I loved the coffee cream filling, while having bananas with it made it even more special. They make for a great combination. I am so pleased with my meringue; it is definitely the best I've made so far. Maybe I am finally getting the hang of making them! Neil had a large slice and then immediately went back for more. There is still some left. I think I'll just treat myself to another slice, only a sliver of course!!!
Only a few calories per slice! ;-)

Walnut Teabread

Recipe Number One Hundred & Seventeen:  Page 309.

I chose to make this teabread as it looked quick and easy to make. I was attending a cupcake lesson in the morning, so I wanted something I could quickly whip up on my return home.

I had such an enjoyable morning learning to make festive cupcake decorations with the lovely Jessica's Cupcakes. I came home with a head buzzing with ideas! The lesson has made me even more aware just how much I love talking, thinking, reading about and, of course, making and eating cakes!

As this loaf is called a teabread, I was expecting to have to soak the fruit in strong tea. However, rather surprisingly, a tea bag has nothing to do with this cake. I did, though, enjoy sipping on a cuppa whilst making it! I needed to use granulated sugar instead of the perhaps more usual caster. I wasn't really sure why it should make much difference as it needed to be heated so would melt anyway! Next I moved on to adding sticky golden syrup. Thankfully, I didn't find the experience too sticky as I'd put the saucepan onto my scales and weighed the syrup directly into it. A lot of syrup did of course glue itself around the top of the tin, but we should be alright as it's not ant season! I had to add a large amount of milk. I wouldn't have imagined it possible to use so much milk in a recipe! I also tipped some sultanas into the pan. Maybe heating them with the sugars and milk would help to soften them. At this moment, I heard an ominous sound behind me. My little boy was on the loose and had worked out how to open a cupboard; he was gleefully helping himself to a mug! To distract his attention, I gave him a sultana (I know, I've resorted to bribery), Isaac approved of this distraction. The only problem was, he kept wanting more!

After rescuing the mug, I went back to stirring the contents of the saucepan over a low heat. Once the sugar had melted I took it off the heat to cool. Whilst it was cooling, I measured the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Isaac soon had floury armpits as I had to drag him away from the kitchen cupboard once more - now where did I put those sultanas?! Of course, walnuts had to be included as they are featured in the title of the recipe. I needed far less than I had imagined I would; they looked lost in the bowl of flour. It took some time for the syrup mixture to cool down. I burnt a finger when testing it, ouch! Once it was finally cool, I just had to stir it into the bowl of flour and add a beaten egg. I apparently just had to stir to combine. I found the mixture to be very runny, which wasn't really a surprise considering the amount of milk in the batter. Rather annoyingly, I could see that some of the flour hadn't combined properly; there were still tiny little lumps of flour. I spent a long time trying to get rid of them. This led me to worry that I had over worked the mixture. I poured the runny batter into the loaf tin and then placed it in the oven to cook for around 50 minutes. Meanwhile, I took Isaac back into the living room for his afternoon biscuit. Within approximately five seconds swathes of biscuit crumbs covered just about every nook and cranny of the room – sob!

When I took the cake out of the oven, I was relieved to see that it had risen well. However, one side had risen more than the other. It was a fairly light colour, but felt firm and cooked to the touch. It had a wonderfully sticky top! I left it to cool in the loaf tin for ten minutes before turning it out to cool on a wire rack.

The taste was sweet due the sugars and the sultanas and the texture was very moist and light. It is the sort of cake that doesn't appear overly exciting, but you can't help but reach for another slice. If I get round to making it again, maybe it would be best if my little 'helper' wasn't quite so helpful!!!
A really lovely teabread :-)

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Baked Apple Lemon Sponge

Recipe Number One Hundred & Sixteen:  Page 344.

This recipe was the out and out winner of my Facebook Poll. It does appear that offerings containing either lemon or apple are particularly popular and, when combined together, it is just too tempting! Mary describes this sponge as being similar to an Eve's Pudding. This certainly had my attention as I do like a good Eve's Pudding and it has been far too long since my last helping.

Happily I didn't need to buy many ingredients as I already had most of what was necessary. I did, however, pop to the shop to get some single cream. Rather frustratingly the standard size was not quite enough, so I had to get two. Mary advises that when buying lemon curd only the best will do; it has to contain butter, sugar and lemons. I was relieved that our little shop even stocked lemon curd so I wasn't fussed that it was a cheap variety; beggars can't be choosers! I came home armed with two pots of cream and a jar of inferior lemon curd. I decided to crack on and make the pudding and was so looking forward to eating the finished result!

To make the sauce (which lies underneath the sponge top), I had to measure the cream into a bowl. It seemed like such a lot, almost enough to paddle in! As I placed tablespoonfuls of lemon curd in with the cream I regretted not making my own. I've made it once before using Ruth from the Pink Whisk's delicious recipe. Seeing how much I was adding to the bowl it would have been worth making. Just a couple of tablespoons of sugar were all that was needed to give the sauce a touch more sweetness. Last of all, I added in a tablespoon of plain flour and beat the mixture together. I scanned the recipe again and realised it was supposed to have been only a teaspoon of flour – whoops! Well, it said a heaped teaspoon, so hopefully I'd get away with it!!

Next I moved on to the boring and long winded exercise of peeling, coring and very thinly slicing the cooking apples. Mary uses the mandolin cutter on her food processor. I do not own such a luxury, so had to use my own two hands and of course a sharp knife. I imagine it would have been a lot quicker with a processor! I gently stirred the apples into the creamy mixture before pouring into my ovenproof dish. Even though the dish was the correct size, suddenly it didn't look like it was going to be big enough!

I of course had yet to finish, as I still needed to make the sponge topping. This was nice and straightforward. I cracked several eggs into a bowl along with a good helping of self raising flour. I had stupidly left the butter next to the hot oven to soften - as I had underestimated the time this bake would take; it had been sitting there for rather a long time. As I picked up the packet, melted butter dripped frantically and spilled all over the floor! I had to gallop over to the sink to try to stem the flow! I had to disregard a lot of the butter as it was of course ruined! Thank goodness I had just enough vaguely solid butter to use. I measured out the same amount of sugar and also tipped in a little milk. I didn't want to wake my little boy up by using my noisy electric whisk (our walls our like tracing paper) so resorted to my balloon whisk. This may have been as quiet as a mouse, but my goodness it was hard work. Even with the VERY soft butter it was still a stiff mixture and took a lot of elbow grease to get it almost smooth, I couldn't really be bothered to get it perfectly smooth! As gently as I could I smoothed the sponge mixture over the cream and apples. I was even more certain the dish wasn't big enough; the mixture was threatening to spill over the top. As the pudding would be cooked in the oven on top of a hot baking tray at least it would catch any spillages. Last of all, I sprinkled some Demerara sugar over the surface and then placed it into the moderate oven.

After 30 minutes cooking time, I had to cover it over with some foil and cook for another 45 minutes – how cruel to make me wait so long! Eventually the baked apple sponge was ready to come out of the oven. I really couldn't believe there were no spillages; I should never have doubted Mary! The top of the sponge was a dark golden brown and firm to the touch. I restrained myself for 10 minutes and then eagerly grabbed a bowl and spoon! My generous helping of pudding was gone in less than a minute – it was delicious. The sponge was well risen and light; the apples were perfectly cooked with no hint of mushiness! The lemon cream sauce was utterly divine. The flavour of lemon was evident but subtle and the cream made it beautifully creamy and rich. This has be my favourite pudding so far – yum!
Deeeeelicious!! :-)

Monday, 7 November 2011

Farmhouse Brown Seeded Loaf

Recipe Number One Hundred & Fifteen:  Page 291.

Due to our tomato plants deciding to offer us a generous but late crop, we had tomatoes dotted over our window sills. Thankfully they have now ripened so are all ready to use. Neil is a keen soup maker; he is always whizzing vegetables in the blender and creating lovely but VERY spicy creations! To him the bounty of tomatoes was too good an opportunity to miss. He therefore decided to make a large batch of soup and we could then freeze what was left over. I made him promise to measure the chilli powder this time, rather than eagerly shaking it in! Now we just needed a rustic bread to go with it. It was a chilly day and a nice hot bowl of tomato soup with crusty seeded bread sounded heavenly; it was an easy choice to make.

The picture in the Baking Bible made my mouth water; the bread looked so tasty. I couldn't wait to make my own. Quite a few ingredients were needed, so a trip to the supermarket was required. Once equipped with all the necessary seeds and oats I could make a start.

The linseed and porridge oats needed to soak in boiling water. As I added the piping hot water, the seeds and oats acted as a sponge and, within seconds, the water had vanished. When I mixed the soggy mixture I felt like I was making porridge; it certainly looked and smelled the same. I left the porridgy mixture for ten minutes to cool off. I then could tip in a large amount of white bread flour, followed by a little wholemeal bread flour. The amount of brown was tiny in comparison to the white, which was surprising given the title of this recipe. Next, I added a good quantity of sunflower seeds; this was shaping up to be a very healthy bread! I just needed to add the yeast and a large quantity of warm water and mix it all together. Mary mentions it should be a sticky dough, but mine felt rather dry to start with. I had the opposite problem when I started to knead it as it soon turned sticky. I required a fair amount of flour to stop it glueing to the worktop. The dough was huge and I had trouble dealing with it as, unlike the rest of me, my hands are quite small! After five minutes of kneading, the dough felt more responsive and was smooth and elastic. I placed it into a bowl covered with cling film to rise for an hour. I was impressed to find that after that time the dough had indeed doubled in size! As proud as I was of its sheer size, I of course had to knock it back and knead it again for several minutes. I could have chosen to shape the dough into one large loaf or two smaller ones. I went for the latter of the two options; we could save the second loaf for sandwiches the following day. I had to line a tray with baking paper. I wondered if this was due to the dough being a little on the sticky side. I covered my two enormous rolls and left them to grow even more for around half an hour.

My little boy was up from his nap when it came to putting the rolls into the oven. I want to get him involved with baking soon, so I crouched down next to him with the tray of rolls balanced precariously on my knees. As I brushed over some milk he couldn't resist having a poke; he looked most perturbed at the feel of the dough. However, it didn't stop him poking it several more times! I gave him a few oats to sprinkle on top of the rolls but of course they went straight into his mouth. Oh well, I tried! I finished off the sprinkling and then popped the tray into the hot oven. Soon the glorious smell of bread was filling the house. I couldn't wait to try a slice of hot bread with butter, mmmm. After the suggested cooking time I took the tray out of the oven and tapped the bottom of the rolls. They didn't sound quite hollow, so I turned them over and put them back in the oven upside down, to cook their bottoms, for five more minutes. I was very pleased with the look of these rolls, they certainly looked rustic. After leaving them to cool for ten minutes I could resist no longer. I cut a slice, spread on some butter and watched it melt quickly into the bread. Isaac toddled over to me, offering his most winning smile. I wasn't sure if he would like it due to the seeds but I selflessly gave him a little of my slice of bread; he loved it and wanted more and so did I!!!

Later that evening, Neil and I enjoyed the bread with Neil's delicious tomato soup; it was still spicy but much tamer than his previous batch! It is such a treat to have fresh homemade bread. I feel bad that I don't make it much more regularly, but unfortunately homemade bread is rather time consuming. We have a bread maker which we use, but I feel like I'm cheating if I don't make it with my own two hands, silly I know!! There is no doubt this bread is delicious and I particularly like the nutty flavour of the linseeds and the crunch of the sunflower seeds. It is a really lovely bread that was good fun to make and is deliciously good!
Mmmmm.....fresh bread!

Chocolate and Vanilla Pinwheel Biscuits

Recipe Number One Hundred & Fourteen:  Page 246.

As I had messed up and forgotten to make Mary's parkin ready for Bonfire night, I had a panic stricken search through the Baking Bible to see if I could find any other recipes which could take its place. Now I realise that there is no comparison between a slice of darkly spiced parkin and a pinwheel biscuit. However, Mary mentions that these biscuits are good fun for bonfire night. Well, what more of a reason did I need! Sadly my little boy is too young to help as suggested; he would no doubt force fistfuls of uncooked dough into his mouth and be promptly sick! This was not really what I had in mind.

We had spent the day at Neil's parents’ house so didn't get home till after 6pm. I was so stuffed from all the lovely food which had been made for us, I didn't feel like getting on with the baking as soon as we walked in the front door. Sitting down with a full and satisfied stomach was a fatal error. By the time, I made a start, it had already gone 8pm; I always leave things to the last minute!

First of all, I had to whack the butter in the microwave to soften it for a few seconds, not the best start! I needed to make two separate doughs, one vanilla and one chocolate. I started off with the vanilla. I placed the butter into the bowl followed by a little sugar. As I had to add some cornflour I imagined that these biscuits would melt in the mouth. I measured the plain flour on top of the cornflour. I tipped it in a little too eagerly and added what I thought to be too much. I painstakingly picked it out, careful not to pick out the cornflour with it. It took me ages, only to find when re-checking the recipe that it was supposed to be what I'd put in in the first place. I just had to add it straight back! I now needed to add one egg and then mix it all together. It quickly became clear that the mixture was much too loose, I had formed a paste! Mary says to knead the 'dough' and later on it would have to be rolled out – eeek! The only answer was to add more flour; I added until the mixture firmed up and turned into a soft dough. I wrapped the dough in cling film and placed it in the fridge as instructed. Next, I had to move on to making the chocolate dough. I made it exactly as before but also added cocoa powder. This time I placed my bowl on the scales to see how much more flour I needed. I also added a little extra cocoa powder to balance out the additional flour. It turned out that I needed an extra 50g in total; I had to assume that the recipe was wrong. I wrapped the chocolatey dough in cling film and then put it in the fridge to join its vanilla companion. After the half an hour in the fridge, I had to roll each ball of dough out to an oblong shape; I couldn't find a ruler so guessed on the size! The dough wasn't as sticky as I expected and was very easy to roll out. I placed the vanilla strip on top of the chocolate and then rolled the two up together. My sausage of dough was rather long so Neil held one end, while I took the other. We manoeuvred it carefully into the fridge to chill for yet another half an hour. I didn't realise when I started just how long these biscuits would take to make – I couldn't stop yawning!

The dough had firmed quite a bit by the time the chilling time was up, so I was able to manage extracting it from the fridge on my own!! I unwrapped it and sliced the sausage of dough into 20 rather thick circles. They did look the part and I felt proud of my little uncooked pinwheels. I placed two trays of biscuits into the oven. I found they required closer to half an hour rather than the suggested 20 minutes. They puffed up a little in the heat of the oven but, other than that, looked pretty much the same as when they had gone in. I took the biscuits straight off the baking trays and put them onto the waiting wire racks. After they had cooled on the racks, Neil and I had a pinwheel biscuit each. It might have been almost 10pm but it was still Bonfire Night!! I have to say neither of us were overcome by these pretty little biscuits. Neil was confused as he didn't feel sure if it was a biscuit or a cake! It was true that the texture was almost cake like. They also tasted a little dry. Maybe I had added too much flour; should I have upped the cornflour too? Although they looked good and I am sure they would appeal to children, the flavour just wasn't there. This could well be down to a mistake with the recipe.
Not my favourite biscuit! :-(

Gingerbread Traybake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Thirteen:  Page 185.

Gingerbread is perhaps one of those things you either love or could perhaps live without. To some the flavour is too dark and strong, but equally that is the appeal for others. One thing I do know is that my brother-in-law loves it. I don't know him to be overly fussed by cake in general, but he will always have a second slice of gingerbread. As his birthday was on Saturday, I looked through the many gingery recipes in the Baking Bible and decided upon this traybake. I chose to make the cake the night before. Gingerbread is at its best a day or two after baking, so there was no rush to make it on the day.

It had been a busy day and it was almost nine o'clock before I trotted into the kitchen with my Baking Bible tucked under one arm. I was very pleased that all the ingredients were to be mixed in one saucepan, yay, less washing up!

My first thought when measuring the very sticky golden syrup and black treacle into the saucepan was – tooth decay!! I couldn't believe how much was required. My horror quickly increased when I added nearly half a packet of muscovado sugar. I might as well book an appointment with the dentist now! When I measured the butter, even though I needed a large amount, it somehow seemed rather sparing in comparison. I put the saucepan over a low heat; Mary makes it clear that it should be heated very gently, if too hot the flour will go lumpy when stirred in. Once the butter had melted, I took the pan off the heat and stirred in the flour. Even though I had followed the instructions and heated the mixture over a very low heat, the flour still went a little lumpy! Not only did I require the obvious ground ginger but also mixed spice. I needed a good quantity of each; this was going to be a dark and well spiced cake, perhaps not for the faint hearted. I needed to beat the eggs a little before adding them to the saucepan. This was swiftly followed by a little milk. The rich but sweet smelling mixture had to be beaten until smooth. As I could still see one or two tiny lumps of flour, I decided to sieve the mixture into the lined tin. I didn't want to take any chances, especially as it was a gift. As with the other gingerbreads I have made, the mixture was alarmingly runny. I always think there is no way it will cook in the suggested time! Ginger soon wafted from the oven; oh what a glorious smell! Once cooked and out of the oven, the cake was well risen and firm to the touch. The top had a wonderful sticky shine, just like a good ginger cake should have, well in my opinion anyway. The spicy dark cake cooled on a rack and, once cold, I wrapped it in a layer of baking paper followed by a layer of foil. It was nice and cosy for bedtime, which was where I was also heading!

The following morning it was time to cover the top of the cake with icing. I made the mistake of sifting the icing sugar whilst wearing my freshly washed and ironed trousers. Well of course they got smothered. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I hate icing sugar! I added just a little water to the evil sugar and mixed to form a thick paste. You really have to like ginger to eat this cake as stem ginger is added to the icing! I chopped several bulbs as small as I could and then stirred them into the icing. It was rather tricky to spoon and smooth the thick icing over the cake, but I got there in the end. I wasn't sure about the finished look of the cake; the lumps of stem ginger didn't look very pretty. I think it would have looked better if sprinkled on top, rather than mixed in. However, once cut into generous squares, it looked more appealing. The dark brown of the gingerbread contrasted beautifully with the white of the icing.

Neil's brother was pleased with his cake and said it was the best gingerbread he'd had all year, a compliment indeed. The cake was as predicted very treacly and gingery! This is a cake for true gingerbread enthusiasts. I found this traybake easy to make. It also didn't require much washing up; I consider this to be a huge plus. The taste was dark, sticky, and delicious! I have to say Mary Berry knows how to make an excellent gingerbread!
Not sure about the lumpy icing!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Marmalade Traybake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Twelve:  Page 189.

Just the very words marmalade traybake sound comforting – well to me they do. I can just picture myself enjoying a large slice whilst curled up in front of a roaring open fire. Unfortunately I will have to make do with huddling next to the radiator!! I always enjoy making traybakes as, more often than not, they are quick and easy and large enough to feed a fair few; I feel I am getting value for money!!

The morning had started well. I took my little boy to the park in the glorious autumn sunshine and felt all the better for it. Soon after arriving back home, things took a quick nose dive. Isaac fell and bashed his chin; the poor thing cut his lip with a tooth. Thankfully it didn't take long to stop the bleeding. He was soon back on his feet as if nothing had happened, whilst his mother was a trembling mess!! Once Isaac was safely tucked up in bed for his nap, I went to the kitchen to make the marmalade traybake. It was obvious my mind was elsewhere when I tried to line the tin with cling film!!!!

Luckily this was a very simple all in one recipe, so not a lot of thinking was required. I weighed out equal amounts of butter and sugar before adding the dried fruit. The quantity of sultanas and currants was the same as the butter and sugar, so this was obviously going to be very fruity. This sounded good to me. I was delighted to add some cherries, but sadly nowhere near as many as I would have liked. However, at least I wasn't told to wash and dry them, so that saved a lot of time. Not only did I require self raising flour but also a generous amount of baking powder. I wondered if a lot of fruit in a cake makes it more difficult for it to rise. Was that why I needed extra raising agent?! I had a panic when I couldn't find the eggs. I wondered if I had forgotten to buy them. I gave myself a stern telling off before realising that the egg box was sitting neatly beside my mixing bowl, oh dear!!! After adding the beaten eggs, I measured several tablespoons of milk into the bowl. I was then ready to move on to the surely very crucial ingredient - marmalade. Well, I only needed two tablespoons. It seemed to get lost in the bowl; it certainly didn't look very much. Mary does say to be careful when measuring the marmalade as too much will make the cake sink in the middle, so I resisted adding more! Now I could beat everything together. It took a while to combine as it was a very thick mixture. It was fairly tricky smoothing it into the tin as it was so stiff. I popped the tin into the oven on a low heat. As it required at least forty minutes in the oven, I took the opportunity to sit and eat a bag of sweeties! I certainly felt better for the burst of sugar in my veins!

Feeling a little over sugared I headed back to the oven to take my traybake out and see if it was ready. It was a nice golden brown on top and looked well risen. I had to leave it in the tin for ten minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack. I got sidetracked and it ended up in the tin for almost half an hour. As I attempted to turn it out, the cake broke in the middle and cracks branched out. There was nothing I could do to stop them! I put the pieces on the wire rack and tried my best to push them back together! When the cake was completely cold, I cut it into jaggedy pieces; I couldn't help but feel sorry for it. I was very disappointed with my pictures. Even though it was only half past four the light had gone, so annoying! The cake was moist and soft and broke apart very easily! It had a really nice subtle orange flavour with a buttery taste. I still think there could have been more cherries but, as I like sultanas, I'll let it go! This was a lovely light fruit cake which was a real joy to bake and to eat.
A terrible photo - will have to start baking earlier!!

Isaac has an addiction to sultanas so this went down particularly well. Even though the middle part of his day was a bit rubbish, it ended on a happy note!