Monday, 20 August 2012

American Chocolate Wedding Cake

Recipe Number Two Hundred & Nineteen:  Page 143.

So here it is, my final recipe from Mary Berry's Baking Bible - and what a cake to finish on! A three tier chocolate wedding cake. I've never made a tiered cake before, and I felt a mixture of both trepidation and excitement! If I could successfully tackle this impressive cake I would be thoroughly pleased with myself!!

Scanning through the list of ingredients I was overwhelmed by the enormous quantities. I would need to purchase over 7lbs of chocolate, but most shocking of all were the eggs. I required thirty eight in that isn't a typo, it really was THIRTY EIGHT!!! I very much hoped this cake would be a success as it was proving to be very expensive. It was a shame not to be catering for a wedding as it seemed rather wasteful to make such a spectacular cake without a special occasion.

Isaac was spending the day with his grandparents so that I could get on with this time consuming cake. It was a hot and muggy day, so I pulled my hair up into a scruffy bun and wore one of Neil's long baggy t-shirts. I was not a pretty sight, but I was more concerned with comfort than appearance!

I decided to make each cake individually as there would be no way I could fit all the ingredients into my modest mixing bowl in one go. Thankfully Mary allows for this, and helpfully lists the quantities required for each cake. I would make the smallest cake first and, if it were a total disaster, then it wouldn't be too wasteful! In an attempt to be organised I made sure that all of the three tins were greased, lined and ready to go before I started baking. Not only did I have to line the bases but also the sides. This fiddly and quite frankly tedious job took half an hour. Heaven forbid how long it would take to bake and ice the cakes, but I tried not to dwell on this matter for long!

First of all, I gathered up a glass bowl and placed it over a pan of simmering water. I opened up the first of many bars of plain chocolate, broke it up into neat squares and shoved them into the bowl to melt. I resisted the urge to turn up the heat to hurry the process. Instead I paced the kitchen, stopping every so often to give the stubborn chocolate a gentle stir. Eventually I had a bowlful of glossy melted chocolate and I could take it from the heat to cool.

Meanwhile I separated a few eggs, placing the yolks into one mixing bowl and the whites into another. To the yolks I also cracked in a whole egg, followed by a pile of caster sugar. Now it was time to whisk the yolky sugary mixture until thick and light in colour. I thought this would take a while, but it transformed almost immediately and I was quickly able to put the electric whisk to one side. I was surprised not to require any flour. Instead, I tipped in a good quantity of ground almonds. It appeared that this would be a fudgy dense cake, which wasn't what I had been expecting. Now I needed to put the kettle on and brew up a little cup of fresh black coffee. Sadly this wasn't for my own consumption (mine would be full of milk and sugar). I just needed to measure half a teaspoonful of coffee into the mixture. It hardly seemed worth bothering!! By now the melted chocolate had cooled off a little and was ready to be mixed in. It was a difficult mixture to mix as it was extremely thick; it certainly felt as though my biceps were receiving a tough workout! Last of all, I whisked up the egg whites until stiff before folding into the chocolaty mixture. It was a challenge to combine with the thick and heavy chocolate mixture. I found that the egg whites liked to sit on top of the bowl while the thick mixture preferred to be at the bottom! Surely in my attempt to fold the two together I'd knocked out any air it once contained?! I poured the doomed mixture into the awaiting tin, placed it into the hot oven and crossed my fingers very tightly!

I thought I'd better catch up with the washing up while the small cake cooked so that all the bowls and whisks were ready to be used again for the second cake. To my horror it wasn't long before I caught a whiff of burning. I hurtled to the oven at breakneck speed to investigate. The top of the cake had formed a crust which was turning a deep shade of brown! I grabbed some foil and hurriedly placed it over the top, hoping to avoid any further burning. Despite the burnt crust, I found that the cake took an extra ten to fifteen minutes in the oven and even then I didn’t feel confident it was ready.

I followed the same procedure for the second cake and found it a lot trickier due to the much larger quantities. The mixture reached the top of my mixing bowl with not even a tiniest sliver of space remaining. It was really difficult to fold in the whisked egg whites; some were lost over the side of the bowl! Again the almond mixture sank to the bottom of the bowl. I had little hope for this cake!

Again, the cake formed a crust which burnt in the oven, just like the smaller version. I re-checked the recipe and was relieved to read that a cake crust is normal! It is simply down to the high quantity of sugar, phew!

By now I was really dreading the third and final cake which required a twelve inch tin! The quantities were of course larger still. I would have to melt the chocolate and whip the egg whites in several shifts. The amount of washing up I was creating was alarming and I really wanted to run away and hide!!

I remembered the huge ceramic bowl my mother-in-law had given me. It was stored on top of the fridge and was full of cake sprinkles and other odds and ends. Most odd was Isaac's long lost toy recorder!!! I washed up this monster of a bowl and felt sure it would provide enough room for the final cake mixture. Although I only just had enough space, I managed to get the job done and the cake was finally ready to be cooked. I let out a whoop of delight after successfully manoeuvring the heavy tin into the oven! I washed up the final load of bowls and utensils and breathed a huge sigh of relief. I'd made the three cakes so that was, I hoped, the hard part of the work over. The icing looked fairly simple and straightforward, so I would leave that job until the evening.

When I finally sat down, the aches and pains hit me and I found it very difficult to get moving again. In fact, I felt the need to lie on the bed for an hour or so to give my muscles time to relax. It was really difficult to find the impetus to ice the three cakes later that evening. However, Neil reminded me that this was the last push and offered to help where he could.

I never would have imagined it possible to injure yourself whilst breaking up bars of chocolate. However, after breaking up over twenty bars, I'd developed red sore marks on my fingers!!! Surprisingly, I wasn't tempted to pinch a few squares; after dealing with so much chocolate I really didn't fancy it (shocking)! I made up the icing for the largest cake first. To the huge bowlful of melted chocolate I added almost a whole packet of butter and waited for it to give in to the heat. It took some time but it turned into a beautifully smooth and glossy mixture. It really did have an attractive sheen. I poured the thick icing over the cake and Neil assisted me by smoothing it out with a palette knife. We seemed to have way too much icing, but a fair amount slid off the sides of the cake which seemed very wasteful.

The same procedure followed for the remaining two cakes, but I managed to tackle the smallest cake all by myself!! It didn't take long for the chocolate icing to set. However, I decided to leave them overnight to set completely before attempting to stack them. I put all three cakes onto cake boards and stored the bottom tier in a huge cardboard cake box. The other two layers had plastic containers placed upside down over the top with wodges of kitchen towel shoved underneath; I hoped this would allow the air to circulate. I was worried that the icing would 'sweat' if I put the airtight lids on.

The following day I was pleased to discover that my cakes had all survived the night and were ready to be stacked. I feared that the bottom cake would not be able to support the weight of the other two cakes, but amazingly it did just that and there was no sign of subsidence! I smothered the three layers with some fresh white flowers. Mary's finished cake looked far more elegant than mine but I was still really pleased with it! I'd managed to make a three tiered cake – hooray!!

I was intrigued to find out what it tasted like considering the omission of flour. It was a very moist, dense and rich chocolate cake. The ground almond flavour was much in evidence. I thought it to be more of a dessert than a cake. The icing was fudgy and delicious, but there was perhaps a touch too much. You really couldn't eat more than a sliver as it was so chocolaty!!!

All in all I am delighted with this wedding cake. Eighteen months ago I would never have imagined that I could have made this cake and I wouldn't have bothered to try. I'm really grateful to this challenge for making me attempt new things and helping me to gain in confidence from doing so.
Yay - I made a wedding cake!!

Very moist and dense.

Gateau Saint Honoré

Recipe Number Two Hundred & Eighteen:  Page 157.

This recipe has terrified me from day one; so much so that it almost singlehandedly put me off the whole idea of this challenge. The recipe spreads across not one, not two, but THREE pages! Fear had seeped into every atom when I saw how many components there are to this Parisian speciality. I would be forced to revisit my nemesis, paté sucrée (or to you and me sweet pastry), then move on to choux pastry which, on its own, I quite enjoy making. However, it wasn't going to end there. I'd then tackle Crème Patissiere and boil up a helping of caramel AND spun sugar. Surely even the most experienced baker would be daunted by the mere mention of a Gateau Saint Horne! If I was wearing boots I'd be quaking in them!

Without trying to sound over dramatic, it felt as though I was about to walk the plank rather than enter the kitchen! The time had finally come to make this dreaded recipe and I could think of at least a hundred other things I'd rather be doing!! Unfortunately I had to face my old arch enemy, sweet pastry, first of all. I think every baker has something they battle with and mine is certainly sticky sweet pastry. I dug a bowl out from the cupboard and measured in the plain flour. The butter was supposed to be softened but mine was still in the fridge, whoops! As it turned out it didn't much matter, as the heat from my hands soon worked its magic! After the butter had been successfully rubbed into the flour it was ready for the addition of a little sugar and couple of egg yolks. Goodness knows what the chickens had been eating; the yolks were fluorescent orange! I brought the mixture together to form a soft dough. It was easier for me to get stuck in with my hands rather than use a spoon or knife; no doubt I'd pay for it later with an overworked tough pastry! As instructed, I wrapped the smooth dough in cling film and placed it into the fridge for half an hour. I was lulled into a false sense of security at this point as I was able to sit down with a cup of tea while I waited; it was all pretty straightforward so far!

After the cup of tea had been sipped it was time to trot back into the kitchen to take the chilled pastry from the fridge. I usually roll pastry out between two sheets of cling film. However, as I was running low, I used greaseproof paper instead. Unfortunately the pastry circle I'd just rolled glued itself to the bottom sheet of paper. ARGH, the stress levels started to rise! Neil suggested placing the baking tray on top of the pastry and flipping both over so the paper could be peeled away. It worked beautifully and I ran over to embrace my genius husband. I ignored the terror in his eyes as I forcefully planted a kiss on each cheek!! I clumsily crimped the edges of the pastry and placed it into the hot oven to cook for around twenty minutes. It must have been in the oven for a tad too long as the pastry ended up a little brown around the edges.

While the pastry cooled on a wire rack I made a start on the choux pastry. I've made this pastry quite a few times and it is one of my favourites. Maybe this has something to do with the omission of a rolling pin! I poured some water into a saucepan and tipped in a thick slice of butter. With the pan set over a low heat, I waited for the butter to melt into the water. I then brought it to a bubbling boil. This signalled that it was time to turn off the heat and reach for the flour. I dropped the flour into the pan and used my whisk to bring it all together. Almost immediately the mixture transformed into a silky smooth ball of dough. I left the mixture to cool down for around ten minutes before beating in the eggs. This in turn loosened things up and the ball of dough turned into a shiny paste.

My energy levels were flagging at this point but I had yet to pipe the mixture. After a prolonged search I finally found a piping bag well hidden in an untidy drawer. I didn't bother with a nozzle as the hole in the bag was already the perfect size. I piped an untidy ring of choux pastry onto a greased baking tray and then dotted walnut sized pieces alongside with the remainder. The full tray was ready to go into the oven where the pastry would cook at a high heat for ten minutes. The temperature was then dropped and the pastry carried on cooking for a further twenty minutes. Finally I could sit down and tuck into some lunch. I hoped that a sandwich and a drink would help to fuel my weary body. It was perhaps a mistake to sit down, as twenty minutes later, I could barely peel myself from the sofa. However, my aching feet managed to transport me to the kitchen and I took the well risen, golden delights from the oven. I used the prong of my cake tester to stick little holes into the base of all the pieces of cooked pastry to release the hot steam. To dry out the pastry completely I put the tray back into the oven for a further five minutes before leaving them to cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile I got on with the next stage of the recipe! To make the crème patissiere
(vanilla egg custard) I needed to measure quite a lot of milk into a saucepan. I couldn't use a small pan as suggested as there was just no way that it would fit. I could just picture the milk boiling over the sides and spilling onto the hob! I'd purchased some vanilla pods ages and ages ago on a whim but had yet to make use of a single one. Here was finally a chance to break into the packet as I needed to add a pod to the milk! I brought the milk to just below boiling point, then turned off the heat and left it to infuse for about ten minutes before straining the milk. The vanilla pod had served its purpose and was callously tossed into the bin! I grabbed yet another mixing bowl and to it I added numerous eggs, a heap of sugar and a little plain flour along with a dribble of milk and beat them together. Back into the pan it all went; I was very glad I'd used a larger saucepan!! I kept stirring the mixture whilst it was on the heat and, after a few minutes, it thickened up. This meant that it was ready to be poured into a clean bowl to cool.

I was able to enjoy another sit down whilst I waited for the vanilla custard to cool. In fact it took ages to cool off and I grew increasingly impatient as I was dying to get on and finish the recipe! Thankfully, Isaac managed to distract me from my clock watching with his new toy, a plastic whistle. His granny had posted him a few little goodies and this little toy had proved to be a real hit. He was thrilled to learn quickly how to produce a high pitched whistle. The only problem was that he was keen for me to have a go too. “Mummy do it” was frequently demanded and I was forced to ignore the dribble!! It’s amazing what you'll do for your child!

After well over an hour the custard was finally cool. This meant that I could move on to whipping up some double cream and folding it into the mixture. Yay – this was another section of the recipe I could tick off! I put the rich custard into the fridge to chill. Thankfully this didn't take long and I was soon able to pipe the soft mixture into the awaiting choux pastry. This was a bit of a messy business as the custard insisted on dripping from the end of the nozzle and all over the worktop.

Now came the part I had been dreading the most – it was caramel time! Surely this could only end in a third degree burn and a lot of tears! I required a heck of a lot of granulated sugar and a modest quantity of water which was poured into what felt like the hundredth saucepan of the day. Mary says to bring to the boil and boil the syrup until a golden colour. This seemed a little bit vague to me as I would have preferred to use a sugar thermometer rather than guessing when it might be ready! However, I hoped for the best and, as soon as the bubbling syrup turned a golden shade, I plunged the pan into an awaiting sinkful of cold water and relished the loud sizzle! I had a large bowl of boiling hot water to one side of me, ready to receive the pan full of scorching hot syrup; Mary says this will help to keep the caramel fluid. Quick as a flash I picked up the by now heavy and highly delicate ring of filled choux pastry and placed it on top of the circle of sweet pastry. With a shaking hand I gingerly dipped each choux bun into the caramel and positioned it onto the pastry ring. Once in place nothing would budge them, not even a hammer and chisel!! For a finishing touch the remaining caramel was spooned over the top of each choux bun.

Sadly there was STILL yet more work to be done. I really didn't see the point of spun sugar, but I was determined at least to try it! I made up the syrup in the same manner I'd made the caramel but in a smaller quantity. While it came to the boil I oiled a large amount of foil and placed some on the worktop and some around my biggest rolling pin. I pinned two forks together back to back with an ancient rubber band. I was ready for a bit of spun sugar action!!! I got to enjoy the sizzle once more as I plunged the searing hot pan into the cold water again. I dipped the prongs of the forks into the syrup and attempted to flick the forks back and forth over the rolling pin. Sadly I did not create long strands of sugar as Mary suggests. Instead I managed a few tiny pieces which clumped together into an unfortunate lump. I wasn't surprised by my unsuccessful attempt, but at least I could say I'd tried!!

I spooned the remainder of the vanilla custard into the middle of the choux case and propped up my pathetic tiny mass of spun sugar against a choux bun! It couldn't exactly profess to be a pretty gateau. It looked rather plain if anything. It certainly didn't suggest the six hours spent on it.....yes I really did say SIX hours (to be fair I had to wait for things to cook and cool down, so wasn't on my feet for all of that time)!

The pastry was lovely and crisp. The vanilla pod had definitely served its purpose well as the flavour was quite strong in the creamy custard; this was Neil's favourite bit. The choux pastry was still crisp but we had trouble eating it due to the caramel. It managed to weld our teeth together and made talking almost an impossibility! This may cause anxiety for those with fillings or loose teeth! It was a very tasty bake but I don't think it was worth the hours of effort, not to mention the mountain of washing up. A big thank you to Neil for selflessly clearing up after has to be love!
Not the most attractive thing I've ever made!!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Iced Lemon Traybake

Recipe Two Hundred & Seventeen:  Page 174.

I adore anything lemony and I'm also a huge fan of Mary's easy peasy traybakes. I had high hopes for this cake and was looking forward to scoffing numerous slices!

Isaac had kindly set an assault course for me in the kitchen. Sadly I'm not very agile and so was left with a Lego imprint on the sole of my foot. I hobbled over to the cupboard to gather up the dry ingredients then laid them out on the worktop. My attempt at being organised! I'd even remembered to take the butter from the fridge and leave it to soften on the window sill. As it was a warm day, the butter was almost dripping from the packet. I had to use a spoon to scoop it into the awaiting mixing bowl! Next I added in a large quantity of caster sugar and tried to forget about how many calories a slice of this cake must contain! I opened up the brand new packet of self-raising flour and attempted to tip the contents in a little at a time. Of course a great big pile fell into the bowl, giving me almost twice the amount of flour than was actually needed. Out came a spoon and I painstakingly picked out the surplus! A little baking powder followed by four eggs also made their way into the bowl. One egg nearly didn't make it as it escaped my clasp, fell onto the worktop and rolled off the edge. I've never really taken the opportunity to test my reflexes, but on this occasion they were like greased lightning and my egg was saved!! Next I headed to the fridge, plucked out the bottle of milk and measured four tablespoonfuls into the mixing bowl to join the rest of the ingredients. My next trip was to the fruit bowl. I picked the two lemons out from underneath the pile of overripe bananas and collected the grater on my return to the mixing bowl. My last job was to grate the rind from the two lemons. Of course, the sour juice managed to find a tiny cut on my hand and it REALLY stung!!

Isaac had been in the living room playing with his daddy but chose this moment to come and investigate what I was up to. He is a tad nervous of my electric whisk and he walked into the kitchen to see me clutching it ready for action. He took one look at the offending item and quickly backed out of the room! As the butter was extremely soft it took next to no time to combine everything together and form a smooth mixture. As I transferred it into the lined tin Isaac reappeared, sat on the floor with a book, and 'read' the story out loud. Once the cake was in the oven, he took the opportunity to take my hand and yank me into the living room at high speed. I sat down and he was soon on my lap with his book; it was clearly story time!!

After thirty five minutes of reading the same story over and over AND over again, it was time to get up and take the cake from the oven. It was well risen and a light golden brown. Rather frustratingly the cake had to cool in the tin. This was torture; I was dying to try a slice! After an hour of more stories and games the cake was cold and I was able to get on and make the lemon icing. Isaac joined me in the kitchen to survey the proceedings. The icing sugar cloud I created was of great amusement to him, but I can't say it had the same effect on me; I hate the stuff! Once the mountain of sifted icing sugar was in the bowl I moved on to the lemon juice. I cut a lemon in two and couldn't believe how pippy it was. I counted eleven pips in one half; now surely that has to be a record?! I had to add more than the suggested three tablespoonfuls of juice to get a runny consistency and I found it a pain to spread over the cake. It kept peeling off the top layer of cake and this resulted in lots of crumbs intermingling with the icing, grrrr!

Once the icing was set I could slice the cake into messy squares. Yippee, it was time to have a taste! The cake was gorgeously light and suitably lemony. The icing was sweet and, unsurprisingly, also lemony! What a wonderfully easy and tasty bake. These sort of recipes are the reason I love Mary Berry; they are simple to make and even easier to eat! 
Not exciting to look at but tasty all the same!!

Monday, 13 August 2012

Chocolate Mousse Cake

Recipe Number Two Hundred & Sixteen

It is pretty clear when a recipe spans two pages that it won't be a five minute job. Even Mary mentions in her recipe header that this isn't a cake to tackle if you are in a hurry. I can't say that I was in any real rush but, as it was a hot day, the thought of hours in the kitchen wasn't a particularly thrilling prospect!

For a change I'd actually read through the recipe in its entirety before making a start, so I already knew that I would be unable to eat the fruits of my labour. I've rather stupidly left the most complicated recipes until the end of this challenge; it seems that a fair few contain raw eggs (it is not advisable to eat raw eggs when pregnant). If I had known that I would be six months pregnant just before crossing the finishing line I would have done things differently!

First of all I gathered up my cake tin and lined the base with greaseproof paper. I seem to spend a large portion of my time lining tins, yet I still manage to make a hash of it. This may be due to being too lazy to spend time doing it properly. I think I'm what you might call a bodger!

For the chocolate sponge I needed to melt a small quantity of butter in a saucepan and then leave it to cool. I was lucky the butter survived as it was bubbling at a frantic pace when I returned from answering the door to the postman! I was obviously making a large sponge as I needed to whisk six eggs with a substantial quantity of sugar. It took a good five minutes of whisking until the mixture achieved the appropriate thickness and moussey qualities required. It was then time to weigh out the self-raising flour and cocoa powder. To this I measured in two tablespoonfuls of cornflour. Following Mary's instructions, I sifted half of these dry ingredients into the awaiting egg mixture. Unsurprisingly the flour stubbornly refused to combine with the voluminous mixture and I grew increasingly frustrated to come across yet another pocket of unmixed flour, grr! I poured half of the cooled melted butter around the edge of the bowl and gently folded it in. I continued in this fashion with the remaining flours and melted butter. The combined mixture didn't look as chocolaty as I had envisaged; I soon discovered why when I poured it into the awaiting tin. As it made its descent from the bowl, a huge lump of uncombined flour tumbled into the tin – argh!! I swirled the unmixed mixture with a spoon as best I could before shoving it into the oven. I resigned myself to the fact that this would be a heavy cake.

While the cake cooked I took the time to make a start on the washing up before enjoying a short sit down. Thirty minutes later I was back on my feet and checking on the cake. On inspection it was still not cooked through; it ended up requiring another fifteen minutes in the oven and even then I wasn't convinced it was ready! While the cake cooled I made a start on the mousse filling.

I resisted the urge to pinch some of the chocolate as I measured it into a small glass bowl. I had plenty in stock, so I planned to reward myself with a generous helping once I had finished! The mousse would have a bit of a kick to it as I was to include two tablespoonfuls of brandy to the broken pieces of chocolate. I placed the bowl over a pan of simmering water and gave it an occasional stir. Obviously the stirring was a bit too occasional as the chocolate overcooked and became rock hard – whoops! I swallowed the tears of frustration and decided that getting cross with myself would achieve nothing! I had just enough chocolate to try again so all was not lost (apart from my cook’s perk). This time I watched the bowl like a hawk and stirred much more frequently. However, I still didn't feel entirely happy as the chocolate, although not burnt, was still a very firm lump. I had thought that it would be runny and not lumpy. I let out a big sigh and carried on with proceedings, hoping that it would all come good in the end!

While the chocolate cooled I added a little cold water to my smallest bowl. To this I sprinkled over some powdered gelatine and left it to 'sponge' for ten minutes. I then had to stand the bowl in a pan of hot water and allow the gelatine to dissolve.

I headed back to the cooled lump of chocolate and stirred in two egg yolks. The whites were put into yet another bowl to be made use of later. The wetness of the yolks helped to loosen up the solid chocolate and I started to hope that things might just turn out OK. The small quantity of dissolved gelatine helped further still – phew! My trusty electric whisk was put to use yet again to whip up the double cream. Neil was horrified by the large amount of cream and started to question whether he should eat it!! After folding in the whipped cream I moved my attention to the bowl of egg whites. They were the last ingredient needed for the mousse; this meant that it was nearly time for a sit down, which by now I really needed! After some whisking the whites were suitably stiff and ready to be folded in. Their addition to the mixing bowl made things a little tricky as the contents was now in danger of overflowing. It looked delicious, and I was disappointed not to be able to have a crafty taste.

By now the chocolate sponge was cold, so I could gingerly slice it in half horizontally. The cake tin used to cook it in had been washed and was sitting draining beside the sink. I hurried the drying process with a flick of a tea towel, and then placed half the sponge into the base of tin. Now I could pour the thick chocolate mousse over the surface; there was a lot of it and it almost reached the height of the tin. There was just enough room for the remaining sponge to sit neatly on top. It went straight into the fridge to set while I collapsed on the sofa to watch the Olympic canoeing which left me feeling even more exhausted!

Several hours later I dragged my flagging body back to the kitchen to whip up yet more double cream. A slice of this cake would surely stop the blood from flowing freely through your veins!! I took the cake from the fridge and took away the sides of the tin. Ahhhh, it hadn't set!!!! Quick as a flash the sides of the tin were shoved back on and it went back into the fridge for another hour! Thankfully this did the trick, and with the second attempt it exited the tin without complaint. Now I was able to cover the entire cake with a thin coating of whipped cream. Mary had suggested making caraque with both plain and white chocolate. I decided against this as a previous effort had failed miserably. It was also a hot day which wouldn't help. Instead, I used a vegetable peeler to make tiny chocolate curls. My goodness it was messy! My hands ended up encased in a thick layer of sticky melted chocolate! I sprinkled the pretty curls over the cream until the cake was completely coated. Talk about a chocolate overload! It actually made me feel a little sick!!!!

The cake wasn't too difficult to slice but the mousse still wasn't firmly set in the middle so was a little bit gooey in the centre. Neil tucked into his large slice with gusto. After a few mouthfuls he started to flag, and by the end he was unable to move! He said it was delicious but very rich and chocolaty. The top layer of sponge was light as a feather, but the bottom piece was heavier and fudgy. This was probably due to my poor mixing efforts! He described the mousse to be fluffy, light and not too chocolaty. The brandy flavour was just right. He could taste a hint; it wasn't at all overpowering. This chocolate mousse cake was certainly much enjoyed but definitely not something for the fainthearted or those watching their waistline!!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Angel Sponge Cheesecake

Recipe Number Two Hundred & Fifteen: Page 376.

I felt a little sad that this was to be my last cheesecake from the Baking Bible. I'm a sucker for a buttery biscuit base with a generous helping of smooth creamy cheesecake piled on top. The mere thought is enough to send my taste buds into overdrive! However, my longing for a biscuit base was on this occasion to be unfulfilled. It was time to attempt something different; the cheesecake would be sandwiched between two layers of fatless sponge. I confess I wasn't entirely convinced by this prospect (how would I live without my beloved biscuit base) but I was of course willing to give it a try. I felt sure it would still be very tasty!!

My greedy enthusiasm meant that I entered the kitchen with a spring in my step. The instructions for the recipe looked rather lengthy, so I resigned myself that this cheesecake was going to take a while to make. However, the first stage looked very straightforward. I just needed to make the small fatless sponge. I say small purely because it's half the quantity Mary uses for her Swiss roll recipe! It seemed to take ages to whisk the eggs and sugar to the correct thick mousse like consistency. I wondered if this was due to the small quantity; perhaps there wasn't much for the electric whisk to 'get hold of'! Finally I had a mixture which had more than doubled in size and was ready for the sifted self-raising flour. Since beginning this challenge I've made a fair amount of fatless sponges. At the start I'd spend ages gently folding in the flour. Over time I've become quite heavy handed as the flour always refuses to intermingle with the egg and sugar mixture! Now I was ready to pour the voluminous mixture into the awaiting tin. Mary says not to worry if it appears you don't have enough for the size of the tin. I'm so glad she added that little detail as it barely covered the base of mine! I whacked the sponge into the oven and started to get all the ingredients for the cheesecake ready.

After about five minutes I started to notice the oven smelt very hot. I peered through the glass door and noted that my sponge was already on a rapid rise. Something smelt fishy (not literally) so I went back to the Baking Bible to check the cooking temperature and time. It didn't take long to work out that, instead of having my oven set to gas mark 4, it was in fact set to its highest temperature of gas mark 9 – ARGH!! A few choice words were uttered as I quickly adjusted the heat. For the remainder of the cooking time I kept throwing the oven anxious glances as I feared the high heat would cause the sponge to sink. The heavens must have been smiling on me as the cake survived its ordeal and exited the oven unscathed and well risen – phew!

While the cake cooled on a wire rack I was instructed to wash and dry the cake tin. Well, as I'm sure you are already aware; I am an inherently lazy cook. It didn't look bad to me, so I just wiped the tin with a sheet of kitchen towel. As it turned out I had to line the base and sides with greaseproof paper so it would all be covered up anyway! I gingerly cut the by now stone cold cake in half. As it was so thin, I was delighted to slice it successfully and not be left with a pile of crumbs! I laid one half into the lined cake tin before turning my attention to the cheesecake filling.

It felt as though I was embarking on another cake as I had to cream together a helping of butter and sugar. Once the mixture was suitably soft and fluffy I moved onto separating the eggs. This was when it suddenly dawned on me that I'd be unable to eat the cheesecake. Raw eggs are a big No No for a pregnant lady! I was on the brink of tears as I REALLY fancied cheesecake and felt so disappointed. I unceremoniously dropped the egg yolks into the bowl with a heavy heart. I reluctantly grated the zest from two oranges and squeezed in the juice. Everything suddenly felt like too much effort and I very much wanted to go and sit down – yes I was sulking!!!

I retrieved the cream cheese from the fridge and beat a fairly small quantity into the mixture. Neil kindly whisked the double cream by hand using a balloon whisk whilst I lazily used my electric version to transform the egg whites into voluminous puffs of cloud. The thick whipped cream and fluffy egg whites could then be folded into the unattractive (slightly curdled) mixture. There was such a lot that I couldn't see how it would fit into the tin, but it did...JUST! There was a sliver of space left for the remaining sponge half to squeeze on top. I placed a piece of cling film across the tin as instructed and put the heavy cheesecake into the fridge to chill and set for the suggested four hours.

Once the time had passed it was early evening and Neil was hankering for a slice of cheesecake. Isaac was enjoying his tea as I did the unveiling. I removed the sides of the tin and watched aghast as the cheesecake subsided and the filling gently oozed over the edges of the sponge. Oh dear, that really wasn't supposed to happen!! I made the mistake of saying “urgh” so had to listen to Isaac's repeated exclamations of “URGH” as I hurriedly dusted icing sugar and covered the surface of the sponge with orange wedges! As expected it was a nightmare to slice as the filling was so very soft. It ended up looking extremely messy and I felt in need of a bath.

Neil was chief taste taster on this occasion; he reported back that the filling was delicious, very orangey, light and moussey. He wasn't sure about the sponge; as he said that there was so much filling he couldn't really notice it. It would appear that four hours wasn't anywhere near long enough in the fridge, as the next day the cheesecake filling had firmed up considerably and was much easier to cut. Neil confirmed that it was also much easier to eat!
Not sure about my orange decoration!!

I promise the cheesecake firmed up after longer in the fridge!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Doboz Torte

Recipe Number Two Hundred & Fourteen:  Page 155.

Some things in life can't be put off forever and this was one of those instances! I've tried to ignore this recipe’s existence for over a year. However, as I now have less than five recipes left to complete, I was finally forced to acknowledge it! The apparent amount of skill required for this Austrian cake was the reason for my reluctance; it certainly didn't sound simple. There were numerous layers of sponge sandwiched together with a complicated version of chocolate butter cream. To top it all off, I had to make caramel! Just thinking about it sent a shiver of dread down my spine!

I had hoped to make an early start on the cake but my plans were soon scuppered. I awoke to discover that I'd pulled a tummy muscle during the night (it is quite difficult to turn over in bed at the moment)! This meant that getting out of bed, washing and dressing all took much longer than usual. As a result I didn't make it into the kitchen until late morning. At least I didn't have to run around after my little boy as he was spending most of the day with his grandparents. I had the house to myself and plenty of time to make the terrifying cake with, I hoped, time spare to give the kitchen a scrub afterwards. How thrilling!

The first part of the recipe looked surprisingly straightforward. I had to make a simple fatless sponge so, as long as I used the muscle power of my electric whisk, all should be well. Before getting started I made the most of the empty house and put on my favourite music nice and loud. I hoped jigging about might make time go that bit faster and eliminate my stress! Instead of lining cake tins, I was instructed to do something a bit different. I had to cut out six circles of greaseproof paper and lay them out on multiple baking trays. I only own three baking trays, so I would have to bake the cakes in two batches.

I grabbed a large mixing bowl from the cupboard and cracked in four eggs before tipping in a heap of caster sugar. The eggs and sugar would need to be whisked fast and furiously for some considerable time so, without hesitation, I reached for my beloved electric hand whisk. The music I had been enjoying was immediately obliterated by the racket emanating from the whisk, hey ho! Once the mixture was light, foamy and mousse like it was ready to be spread over the paper circles. Thankfully the moussey mixture behaved and didn't gush over the sides of the paper as I had feared! With the three trays of cake mixture in the oven there was no time to get on with anything else as they only took six minutes to cook! The cake circles exited the oven slightly puffed and golden. They were then plonked straight onto wire racks to cool while I got the second and final batch into the oven. When all the cakes were cooked I could turn the oven off and get on with the chocolate butter cream, eeek!

I decided to melt the plain chocolate first of all so that it had time to cool while I got on with the rest of the task. For the first time I disobeyed Mary and melted the chocolate in the microwave instead of placing it over a pan of simmering water - tsk tsk!!! I felt sure she was standing in the shadows shaking her head with disapproval! With a shifty glint in my eyes, I gave the chocolate some short sharp blasts in the microwave. As it was a fairly modest amount it didn't take long to give in to the heat; it turned out unscathed despite my disobedience!

While the chocolate cooled I cracked two egg whites into a glass bowl followed by sifted icing sugar. It was a welcome change not having to use a mountain of icing sugar – I just hoped this would limit the mess! The bowl could now be placed over a - guess what? Yes, a pan of simmering water of course (there was no escape)!! Out came the trusty whisk again and I whisked until the creamy white mixture held its shape. Once it was off the heat I reached for yet another bowl (the washing up was growing at an alarming rate) and tipped in a large slab of softened butter. However, it can't have been soft enough, as Mary tells us to cream it until very soft before adding in the egg white mixture. I beat in the egg white mixture a little at a time and lastly stirred in the melted chocolate which was by now cold. It looked so creamy and delicious, but there seemed to be a lot of it.

Now for the part I'd really been dreading; making the caramel. I could almost picture myself at a burns unit receiving skin grafts. I am so accident prone it’s not true, while I know from experience how hot caramel is – OUCH! Ignoring the feelings of impending doom, I placed the granulated sugar into a saucepan along with some water and put it over a low heat. While the sugar melted I searched online to see how hot the caramel should get - in other words what temperature it should reach when ready. Mary just mentions that the mixture should be straw coloured, which I didn't feel was very helpful! An American website stated 143 degrees Fahrenheit, so I shoved in my sugar thermometer and turned up the heat. I placed a single layer of sponge onto a piece of greaseproof paper and laid out a second piece of greaseproof paper alongside. Once the caramel was ready I quickly poured half of the sticky mass onto the sponge and the remainder onto the sheet of greaseproof paper. The caramel on the sponge set fairly fast but I was able to use a knife to spread it out. Next I was instructed to mark, then cut, the sponge into sixteen wedges. Even with an oiled knife it was very tricky to achieve neat slices, so I opted for just eight wedges instead. What can I say; I was obviously in a rebellious mood!

Once the caramel on the greaseproof paper had completely set I bashed it to death with a heavy rolling pin. This is when my stress levels began to rise. The caramel stuck stubbornly to the paper and only a teeny tiny amount crushed as it was supposed to. In the end I had to admit defeat and leave it at that!

Finally, some two hours after starting this cake, it was time to assemble it. I sandwiched the remaining five layers of sponge together with some of the butter cream and smeared a generous amount over the sides. This still left an ample quantity for piping. I was determined to make use of the crushed caramel, so I pressed what little I had onto one side of the cake, just to give an idea of what it SHOULD look like! The butter cream was very soft, and the warmth from my hands didn't help matters when I piped rosettes around the top of the cake. It was almost dripping out of the nozzle! Lastly, I placed the caramel topped wedges of sponge at an angle on top of each chocolate rosette. At first glance I thought the finished cake looked a little odd with the pale wedges sitting on top of a chocolaty cake. It wasn't until the cake was sliced that I realised just how special it was; the five layers certainly looked impressive!

I hadn't intended to sample this cake due to the partly cooked egg whites in the butter cream. It isn't wise to eat such a thing when pregnant. However, my greed took the better of me and I found myself licking out the remains from the bowl of butter cream – big whoops! Considering I'd already consumed a large helping, I carried on and ate a big slice of cake. I have to say that in this case all the effort, mild stress and massive stack of washing up was worth it! The layers of sponge were so very light in texture, while the butter cream was a real winner. It was deliciously chocolaty and it almost melted in my mouth. It wasn't too rich or sickly like some other types of butter cream. The caramel cake wedges were obviously sweet and crunchy. It was nice to have another texture, but I think the cake would not suffer without it.

Neil has been hard to please of late as he is “caked out”, so I was amazed when he gave it a big thumbs up. He said it was lovely and light and he scoffed two slices in quick succession!

I wouldn't say no to making this cake again but I doubt if I would bother with the caramel. It was time consuming to make and I don't think it would be missed. I'm sure another form of decoration could be used. As the cake took so long to make and clear up after I never did find time to clean the kitchen – but something tells me it will still need doing tomorrow!
Eight wedges instead of sixteen!!

Five layers of sponge

Monday, 30 July 2012

Sponge Christening Cake

Recipe Number Two Hundred & Thirteen:  Page 149.

Although Mary's sponge is suggested for a Christening, there's no reason why it shouldn't be enjoyed at any other special occasion. There was no impending Christening on the horizon, but I knew my baby niece would be born before the end of the challenge. I was very much looking forward to her arrival and couldn't wait to make this cake to celebrate.

Little Evie Mae was born on 19th July after a long and complicated labour. Thankfully both mother and baby recovered well from the ordeal and I was excited to visit a few days later to meet my beautiful niece. She is adorable and I am of course a very proud Auntie! Now I was able to get on and make a cake to celebrate Evie's birth. The recipe didn't look to be too difficult. However, it was another swelteringly hot day, so I was dreading turning on the oven!

First of all I weighed out a smallish quantity of butter and then melted it in a saucepan. I wasn't looking forward to the next part. After adding sugar and six eggs to my Mum's largest mixing bowl, I had to set it over a pan of simmering water and whisk the living daylights out of it. This was probably not the best activity for a boiling hot day and I hadn't anticipated how long it would take. Ten minutes must have passed before the mixture became suitably thick and creamy. By the time it had reached the correct consistency it was threatening to spill over the sides of the bowl! I was getting unbearably hot, so I was very relieved to turn off the heat. Unfortunately I couldn't sit down and cool off; I had to carry on whisking until the mixture became cold. This meant a further ten minutes of aching legs!

Finally I was able to sift half of the self-raising flour and cornflour into the already fit to burst mixing bowl. Just as I'd congratulated myself on successfully folding in the flour I'd find a heap hidden at the bottom of the bowl. I had the same problem with the butter; it also had happily sunk to the bottom. After repeating this process with the remainder of the flours and butter I felt sure I'd knocked out all the air I'd worked so hard put in. I poured the voluminous mixture into the awaiting tin and found that I had a fair amount left over. Hmmm.........this couldn't be a good sign. Was my tin not deep enough?!

With the cake now safely in the oven I went upstairs to lie on the bed. I was very hot and felt a desperate need to cool down. After ten or fifteen minutes I could smell a strong whiff of burning. ARGH!! I raced to the kitchen and discovered that my cake was burnt to a crisp! It was supposed to have another twenty minutes in the oven, so I put some foil over the top of the cake and kept my fingers crossed. Alas it was of no use; the cake turned an even darker shade of black and sunk in the middle. After suffering in the heat to make this cake I was devastated and I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried my eyes out!! I just had to hope it would be cooler the next day so I could have another go and attempt the cake again.

The following day was no cooler so Neil (long suffering husband) very kindly did the whisking part for this cake. It he hadn't I'm not sure that I would have summoned up the enthusiasm to have another go! After folding the flours and butter into Neil's beautifully whisked mixture I could put the cake in the oven. My family didn't look at all surprised to find me sitting on a chair in front of the oven watching the cake cook. My mum caught me watching paint dry once!!! I was determined that this cake wouldn't burn, so I was happy to keep my beady eye on it. We'd decided that my parents' oven runs too hot, so I had lowered the temperature and hoped this would work. It did - HOORAY! The cake cooked beautifully this time and it wasn't at all burnt when it exited the oven – phew!!

While the large cake cooled I got on with making the simple filling. All there was to do was to whisk up a large quantity of double cream and then mix in some lemon curd. Of course I thought it only wise to sample a taster - purely for quality control purposes. It was hard to resist the urge to scoff the entire contents of the bowl. It was heavenly!

I was terrified about splitting the cake into three layers as the sponge was quite fragile. However, I managed to get the job done with only a few patch ups necessary! Once the cake was filled I covered it with fondant; this was going to make for a very sweet cake. Instead of using the suggested crystallized flowers for decoration, I made a pair of pink baby booties to adorn the top of the cake. If you have seen Neil's cartoons on my Facebook page you will know he is the artistic one in the relationship, so he piped Evie's name and date of birth on the fondant. The finished cake didn't turn out quite as I had imagined, but my sister and her husband seemed pleased with it. I cut generous slices for everyone and, by the time I'd remembered to take a picture of the sliced cake, most of it was gone and the remainder looked rather messy! The cake was light and, unsurprisingly, tasted like a Swiss roll sponge. The lemon cream filling moistened the sponge and tasted delicious.

It was a lovely cake but, due to the stress involved, I can't say that I enjoyed making it! For all that hot work I expected a WOW cake which would have made it worth all the effort. Despite it being very pleasant it just wasn't special enough for my liking. However, in hindsight perhaps making such a cake on a blistering hot day when 25 weeks pregnant was a bit misguided!! 
For gorgeous Evie xxx
Apologies for rubbish photo!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Fairy Cakes

Recipe Number Two Hundred & Twelve:  Page 113.

I must confess that I've put this recipe off for some time. I've nothing against fairy cakes as such but the un-iced variety holds little appeal. A plain sponge doesn't sound particularly flavoursome. However, they really are the perfect cakes to bake with children. They take moments to make and little ones can enjoy spooning the mixture into paper cases. Due to the short cooking time, those with patience can peer with wonder through the oven door to witness the mixture transform into well risen delicious cakes! How lovely for children to take part in the entire cake making process and be rewarded for their efforts. Not only is there the pure joy of licking out the bowl but also to scoff one of their cakes warm from the oven and proudly utter the words “I did it all by myself”!

So it was with a glad heart that I took Isaac into the kitchen to make fairy cakes on a sunny afternoon. Neil was out in the garden fixing the back fence so we had to stay inside. Isaac was torn between watching Daddy banging nails into a piece of wood or following his greedy streak and helping to make cakes with Mummy. He decided upon sharing his attention between the two, running intermittently between the back door and the kitchen.

As I turned on the oven to pre-heat it, Isaac kindly reminded me that it was hot and that we would have to be careful. He even passed me the oven glove! I weighed the softened butter, caster sugar and flour into the bowl. I gave Isaac a spoon so that he could stir them all together; he did a great job. While I measured in the baking powder, he took the opportunity to check on his father's progress. His little nose pressed to the glass while he supervised proceedings. The mere mention of the word “egg” was enough to regain Isaac's attention and he trotted back to me at great speed. Watching me crack the two eggs into the bowl caused great excitement. I'm always sure to hold the eggs at a great height so that he can watch the contents “plop” into the bowl!

Once all of the ingredients were in the bowl I simply had to whisk the mixture for two to three minutes until smooth. That is a long time for a two year old, especially when he doesn't like the noisy electric whisk. This was an excellent time for him to back away and regain his post at the back door.

As it was a lovely warm day the mixture became smooth in next to no time and was soon ready to make its way into the awaiting paper cases. I put the tray of cases onto the kitchen floor and we sat alongside with the bowl of mixture and several teaspoons. Isaac enjoyed watching me place heaped teaspoons into the cases. We had to say “plop” each time. Apparently this was very funny! I held Isaac's hand for the last few. He was so pleased with himself. As far as he was concerned he had made these cakes all by himself! I placed the tray into the oven and left Isaac to lick out the bowl. He made a wonderful job of it and must have scraped with his spoon for almost half an hour. Daddy's fence repair job was long forgotten!!

The cakes came out of the oven beautifully risen and golden. It would have been second nature to ice them but, as we've recently eaten so many sweetly iced cakes, it made for a welcome change. They were light and moist. The only trouble was that they were terribly morish!

Isaac and I had such a fun time making these simple cakes. To see the pride in his little face as he tucked into one of his cakes was so rewarding. I think it's safe to say we'll be making them again!
Isaac's Cakes :-)

Recipe Variation: Chocolate Fairy Cakes

Anything containing chocolate gets my attention so I was dying to try this recipe variation. As with the original fairy cakes they would not be iced, but to be honest, after 18 months of scoffing cakes I am getting a bit sick of ultra sweet icing! 

This time I made the cakes without the assistance of my little helper. We'd had a busy morning and he was indulging in a long afternoon nap. To make the fairy cakes chocolatey I simply deducted some of the self-raising flour and replaced with a heap of cocoa powder. As I whisked all the ingredients together they  transformed into a brown silky smooth mixture. It took all my control not to stick in a finger and have a taste!!

To my dismay I had run out of my usual cupcake cases so had to resort to a festive set; red and covered in snowflakes!! Once in the oven the cakes rose beautifully and it wasn't long before they were cooked and ready to cool on a wire rack. 

The finished goodies tasted delightfully moist and chocolatey. What more could you ask for! I don't think they needed any icing but there is not reason why your own choice couldn't be added. Another simple and tasty cake - yay!
They didn't last long!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Tiny Fruit Cakes

Recipe Number Two Hundred & Eleven: Page 145.

I love the idea of small individual cakes. They'd surely make an ideal gift for loved ones. However, I was disappointed to discover that the recipe makes just three cakes. It seemed a lot of effort for such a small outcome! I rigidly stick to Mary's recipes to be certain that the final result is a true representation. On this particular occasion it was tempting to double up the recipe and make a more worthwhile quantity of cakes, but I reined myself in. If it was a success I could always make alterations next time.

The first unexpected task was to buy three small cans of baked beans! Mary informs us that the cans make ideal cake tins. On the way back from the park Isaac and I popped to the shop. I was worried that the small shop might not stock the small cans. I received a few funny glances when I spotted some on the shelf and let out a squeal of delight! Once home, the baked beans were tipped into a bowl and shoved in the fridge. Beans on toast anyone? Neil very kindly sorted the tins so that they would be ready to use the following day. He was worried that I might cut myself on sharp edges, so he painstakingly smoothed them off. He knows how clumsy I am!

The night before making and baking the cake I had to prepare the dried fruit and leave it to soak in a little brandy. Considering the small scale of this recipe, I realised that the quantities would be fairly sparse but I was surprised when I weighed the delicious glacé cherries. I required just five in total! It hardly seemed worth opening a new tub of cherries for such a pitiful amount, so I consoled myself by polishing off another five or six. I made a mental note to brush my teeth extra thoroughly before bed! I needed just a little more of the raisins, sultanas and currants. Once added to the bowl they made things appear a little more substantial. I was delighted only to need a couple of dried apricots – I hate snipping them with scissors as it can take ages. This time it must have taken less than a minute! Lastly I tipped in a tiny quantity of candied peel and gave the fruity mixture a brief stir. I only needed a paltry two teaspoonfuls of brandy to soak the fruit. It hardly seemed enough to soak a few raisins let alone a whole bowlful of dried fruit! Now that the fruit was sorted it was time to tuck it up for the night, then climb the stairs and tuck myself in.

The following day it was raining yet again. I'm pretty sure my feet are becoming webbed! We stayed inside in the dry and made a mess of the house instead. We had plenty of fun pretending cardboard boxes were drums and building leaning towers of Lego! However, by late morning I was running out of ideas to keep a very active toddler amused. This meant it was cake making time! Isaac loves to watch me bake; especially now that he's wise to it usually leading to a treat!

We trotted into the kitchen. Isaac sat on the floor playing with a packet of long forgotten crisps (it was soon a bag of crumbs), while I weighed the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. First of all I measured in a tiny quantity of ground almonds before the blanched almonds took their turn. Again, chopping almonds is not a favourite pastime of mine. I was therefore thrilled only to have a few to deal with. I now came to the lemon. It seemed wasteful only to grate in a quarter of the zest. I'd have to remember to use the rest up, otherwise it would end up going mouldy in the fridge. It wouldn't be the first time! Isaac helped me to dig out the plain flour from the depths of the cupboard. A fair amount was lost onto the floor in the process. This kept Isaac occupied for some time – a fine layer was soon spread over almost the entire floor. Just the tiniest amount of mixed spice was added and then it was time to sweeten things up with the dark muscovado sugar. I don't know if my hormones are to blame, but I couldn't get enough of the dark toffee smell. I could have sniffed it all day! I'd managed to remember to leave the butter out, so it was suitably soft when I tipped it into the bowl. By now Isaac was kicking his lightweight football around the kitchen. Before reaching for the black treacle we had a quick game of footie. For some reason Isaac found my kicking technique to be hilarious! Before the game became too competitive I grabbed a teaspoon to measure the treacle. I couldn't believe I only required two teaspoonfuls.

I have to say that I was really beginning to enjoy making these small cakes. It was so nice just to add a little of this and a little of that. Another bonus was having copious space in my mixing bowl – so nice not to have it overflowing!

Next it was time to add in the tipsy fruit. To be honest I could barely smell the brandy and there was certainly no excess liquid as Mary suggests there might be! After a gentle stir it was time to place the mixture into the fully lined baked bean tins! The mixture divided perfectly between the three. For some reason I was nervous about placing the tins into the oven. I'm not sure what I thought might happen! Now the cakes just needed to cook for around an hour. This was enough time to stuff Isaac full of his favourite meal (pie, mash and veg – a typical man already). There was then more Lego time before bed. The cakes smelt glorious as they cooked. They smelled very festive and, due to the chill in the air, I could almost believe it was Christmas!

Before I knew it the cooking time was up. After inspection the cakes seemed to be cooked through, so I left them in the tins to cool before drizzling over a tiny sprinkle of brandy. I wasn't looking forward to attempting to remove the cakes from the tins. I could picture myself resorting to a saw! Thankfully each little cake exited the confines of its tin without complaint. Hooray! They looked pretty enough plain but, as Mary gives instructions for covering with fondant, I will have a go at decorating them, eeek! I will give them the suggested week to mature and then I can let you know how they taste.
Apologies for greaseproof paper but meant to stay wrapped up for a week (to keep moist)!

After a week it was time to cover the little cakes with a layer of marzipan and fondant. I am no cake decorator so I approched the task with a heavy heart. It was a rushed job and as the weather was warm it was sticky work!

I couldn't wait to try a taste of fruit cake and I was thrilled with the result. The cakes were beautifully moist and simply delicious!! I couldn't believe they had cooked so well in baked bean cans! I know I'll be making these again and again.

Sorry there is no pic of cut cake. They were all eaten by the time I remembered!!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Mushroom & Garlic - stuffed Picnic Loaf

Recipe Number Two Hundred & Ten:  Page 296.

I've been waiting for a suitably hot and sunny day to make this picnic loaf. I had visions of us tucking into slices whilst sitting on the warm grass. Pah! It was becoming excruciatingly clear that my wish for such a scenario was unlikely to be fulfilled any time soon, so I'd best bite the bullet and just get on with it!

My first challenge was to locate a jar of wild mushrooms in oil. We needed to visit the supermarket in town, so it was added to the list. I had never heard of mushrooms in oil before, but I imagined it would be stocked alongside jars of olives. Neil went to visit his granny while I pushed Isaac around in the trolley stopping every once in a while to pluck what was needed from the shelves. Isaac seems to associate shopping with singing; every time we go he breaks into song. It is very cute to start with, and passers-by compliment him on his lovely voice. This serves only to encourage him and, before long, he reaches an ear shattering crescendo. I look forward to embarrassing him when he is a surly teenager! Despite the distractions, I carried out a hunt for the jar of mushrooms in oil. I hunted high, I hunted low. Once Neil returned he joined the search. We found lots of questionable things in oil, but not a mushroom. There was only one thing for it; buy some fresh mushrooms, shove them in oil and hope for the best!

By the time we had arrived home it was evening and too late to make a start on the picnic loaf. I did, however, find an appropriate sized empty jar and filled it with freshly sliced mushrooms and olive oil. The result wasn't very appealing to the eye. It looked as though I was pickling something vile for a science project!!

The following morning I was lucky enough to enjoy a lie in while Neil took Isaac to the park. I sat up in bed and read a chapter of my book. What bliss! As I wanted the loaf to be ready for lunch time, I decided to head downstairs before having a shower. Wrapped in my dressing gown and sporting a fetching finger in socket hairstyle, I padded around the kitchen gathering up the necessary ingredients and mixing bowl. Before I did anything else I tipped the mushrooms from the jar and into a sieve. I collected the drained oil into a small bowl as it would be put to use later.

I weighed a good quantity of white bread flour into the mixing bowl, swiftly followed by a teaspoonful of both salt and yeast. That was the dry ingredients taken care of, so I was ready to add the wet. After pouring in the warm water I added a few tablespoonfuls of mushroomy oil. Mary mentions how wet and sticky the resulting mixture should be. Typically, my dough was as dry as a bone! It was hard to bring it all together and I wondered if I should perhaps add more water or oil. Thankfully I chose to leave well alone as, after a little kneading on the worktop, the dough became smooth and just slightly sticky. It was easy peasy to work with and required no extra flour. After a ten minute workout on my flabby biceps my kneading work was done. Next, I simply drizzled a little more of the reserved oil into the mixing bowl and rolled the ball of dough around it. Rather unusually, I placed the oily dough back onto the worktop, turned the bowl upside down and placed it over the top. While the dough hopefully doubled in size, I waddled back up the stairs to enjoy a long shower.

Two hours later and the dough was suitably puffed up; it was time to move on to the next stage. The mushrooms were already sliced and drained so all that was left to add to the filling was a potent amount of crushed garlic, a good handful of chopped fresh parsley and a little seasoning. I wasn't instructed to give the dough another knead. I simply rolled it into an oblong shape on my largest baking tray. I laid a trail of filling along the longest side of dough then folded it in half, making sure that I left a border of mushroomy filling on show. A quick egg glaze, followed by a sprinkle of sesame seeds, and it was ready to have another proving session. I turned on the oven to preheat and left the covered dough nearby. On my return, some forty minutes later, I was left disappointed as the dough hadn't bothered to rise much at all. I hoped it would inflate a little in the oven!

Mary says it is hard to judge when the bread is cooked through due to the moist filling. I found my picnic loaf took the full suggested cooking time. The bread was golden brown, firm to the touch and reeked of garlic! Before transferring it to the wire rack to cool, I brushed over some of the reserved mushroomy olive oil. The oil was quickly absorbed by the thirsty bread, but it left behind an attractive shine. Although Mary suggests leaving the bread to cool I didn't fancy cold mushrooms, so I cut generous slices whilst the loaf was still warm. Neil and I found it hard to transport our slices from plate to mouth. A great deal of filling insisted on falling out! I absolutely adored the crisp richly flavoured bread. It reminded me of foccacia, which happens to be a real favourite of mine. I admit that I wasn't particularly enamoured of the filling. I do not like the texture of mushrooms so I found it difficult to chew! I would have preferred some red onion and cheese instead. As for the garlic, well, there was a LOT of it. Certainly not the thing to eat before a dental appointment! Neil loves mushrooms and garlic so his portion didn't last long. However, he didn't think it made for a great picnic loaf as it was so messy to eat!

This is another recipe which relies heavily on personal taste. Next time I make it I will add my own choice of filling!
Couldn't fit it all on one plate!!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Date and Walnut Traybake

Recipe Number Two Hundred and Nine - Page 188.

This is my last traybake recipe from the Baking Bible. I felt rather sad as I love Mary’s traybakes. For the most part they are simple all in one recipes which can be made in next to no time. I must confess to being put off by the mention of dates. They are something I associate with old age; my grandparents seemed to eat their way through an awful lot of them. Surely I have at least another thirty years before I feel the urge to start gorging on dates!

Before I made a start in the kitchen I thought I had better take Isaac to the park. For a change the sun was shining, which is a rare sight. I was in the middle of a hot flush, so I stuck to short sleeves and flip flops (I was wearing trousers too!). Isaac, however, insisted on wearing his raincoat. It turned out that my two year old has more sense than his mother. As soon as we'd arrived at the park the heavens opened. Within moments rain was bouncing off my eyelashes and dripping from my hair! We made a swift exit from the park and dashed for home. We arrived through the front door soaked to the skin; it was straight upstairs for a change of clothes.  My plan to bake while Isaac napped was abandoned. Instead I lay on the sofa wrapped in a blanket and watched Anne of Green Gables for what must be the hundredth time. I lasted a full hour before I fell asleep!

When Neil arrived home I decided to crack on and make the traybake. It shouldn’t take long and I could make dinner at the same time. I needed to soak the chopped dates in a fair amount of boiling water before I could put them to use. Strangely, I also had to add a small quantity of melted butter to the bowl. Why it needed to be softened first was beyond me! With the kettle being put into action this seemed like the perfect opportunity to add extra water and brew up some tea. As I waited for the mixture to cool we settled back, while Isaac made himself dizzy by running round in a continuous circle - strange child!

With the date mixture now cool, I could carry on with the cake making process. I whisked several eggs and a hefty quantity of dark brown muscovado sugar together. I used my balloon whisk for this little job. There were quite a few stubborn lumps of sugar which required a great deal of elbow grease to break them up. Feeling rather hot and bothered, I moved on to the gentler task of tipping in the ground almonds; I was surprised to be using so much. Breaking up the walnuts was quite relaxing and I became lost in a daydream as I broke them with my fingers. I never bother chopping with a knife as I find most will inevitably flick onto the floor. I had to double check the quantity of self- raising flour as it seemed as though it could have been too much, especially when I considered the ground almonds that had already been added. Surely the cake would turn out too dry! Last of all I sprinkled in the ground cinnamon, and then brought the mixture together with the aid of my balloon whisk. As I had feared the mixture was very stiff, so much so that the metal part of the whisk bent with the effort! My worry increased when I read that I should pour the cake mixture into the awaiting tin. I had to spoon mine in, eeeek!!

As I put the tin into the oven I realised that the chilli I had bubbling on the hob for our supper was starting to stick to the pan. I really should not attempt to multi task as I'm not very good at it! Thankfully our meal was still edible, and it soon disappeared from our plates and into our greedy tummies. After cooking the evening meal my body and brain start the shut down process. I have completed my daily tasks, therefore my work is done. I am very grateful that this cake produces a glorious toffee smell as it cooks, otherwise I would have forgotten all about it. I even asked Neil what the lovely smell was!

I took the cake out of the oven ten minutes before its maximum cooking time as it was already a deep golden brown and felt firm when poked.  The thought of getting in a mess with the icing sugar before bedtime put me off making the icing. It could wait until tomorrow.

First thing the following day I made the icing. This was partly to get it out of the way but also so that I could dig in and have a slice of cake.  Isaac watched as I sifted the icing sugar into the awaiting bowl. A few lumps landed on the floor and he 'helpfully' broke them up and made pretty patterns with his hands and feet! I smiled through gritted teeth. Now for the lemon. I required both the zest and the juice. It was a very firm lemon, so I shoved it in the microwave for a few seconds which helped to get out a bit more juice. Mary says to add a little hot water to the lemony mixture to create a spreading consistency. I must have splashed in too much as mine became rather watery, whoops! As I spread the icing over the cake a fair amount danced merrily down the sides.  I wasn't left with much on the surface and the lumps and bumps of the cake were clearly visible. I hoped the broken pieces of walnut used to decorate the top would help to hide my sins!

After leaving the icing to set, I eagerly cut a large slice. When inspecting the cut cake I did think that it looked dry in texture. Thankfully it didn't taste dry when I bit into it. The dates obviously provide the moisture and a delicious fudgy texture. The nuts were also much in evidence. The icing offered a welcome sweet sharpness against the rich cake. I wouldn’t say that I will now start to crave date cakes but I really was pleasantly surprised. They certainly aren't just for the elderly!
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Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Lavender Biscuits

Recipe Number Two Hundred & Eight:  Page 206.

I've been waiting patiently for the lavender to burst into flower so that I can make these biscuits. On my daily walk around the village I've eyed up the bounteous supplies tumbling over the sides of garden walls. At last the flowers have awakened and the air is scented with a potent perfume. As far as I was aware we didn’t own a lavender plant so, as I only required two tablespoonfuls of the flowers and leaves, I was sorely tempted to head out at dead of night and pinch a few springs from our neighbours’ garden!! Just as I was contemplating a suitable disguise, Neil discovered that we had a very small lavender plant in our back garden. Hooray! Just before I started the biscuits on the Friday evening, I headed out into the garden to pick the flowers. My first challenge was to find the plant. Our garden is compact to say the least, but I still had to carry out a prolonged search. Finally I stumbled across the tiniest lavender plant I have ever seen. I doubted there was enough to fill a teaspoon but I picked all that I could, rendering the poor plant completely bald!

Once back inside I plucked the flowers and tiny leaves from the lavender stalks. I'd collected more than I had thought, but I still had only half of the total amount. I considered abandoning the recipe but decided that, as I'd never eaten anything containing lavender before, it might be wise to start off with a mild flavour. I carried on and weighed a generous amount of butter into a mixing bowl. The flowers and leaves were next to follow. Mary says to beat the two together as this will obtain the maximum flavour from the lavender. It smelt rather as though a bottle of perfume had been spilt nearby; the smell was intense and quite overwhelming!

To sweeten the mixture I poured in a relatively small quantity of caster sugar. I gave it a final beating before stirring in the flour. Due to the large amount of butter it didn't take long to bring the mixture together to form a soft dough. It was smooth in next to no time; it performed beautifully from start to finish. It was so nice not to be left with sticky hands! I divided the dough in half and rolled it into two sausage shapes. I grabbed the Demerara sugar and sprinkled a good quantity on to a sheet of greaseproof paper. Now I could roll the 'sausage' of dough through the coarse sugar until it was evenly coated. It was time to wrap the sugary dough in the paper and store it in the fridge. I repeated the same process with the remaining dough. While they firmed up in the cold fridge, I prepared a quick evening meal. By the time we had scoffed our food, the two 'sausages' had firmed up and were ready to be sliced. I must have rolled my dough too long and thin as I made a few more than Mary suggests. Now there's a first; normally I don't make enough! The sliced biscuits made their way onto the greased baking trays and into the hot oven. I'd been instructed to space the biscuits well apart on the trays but I think I could have fitted more on as they didn't spread as much as I had expected.

I was really worried about burning the biscuits, so I stayed close by while they cooked. A lovely scent wafted from the oven; they smelt delicious. Once cooked, I carefully transported the biscuits over to a wire rack to cool. I couldn't resist trying one while it was still warm. With my first bite I really loved the buttery flavour and crumbly texture. With my second bite I recoiled. It tasted as though I'd licked a bar of soap! I must have had more than my fair share of lavender in that mouthful! It is definitely an acquired taste. Neil thought the biscuits were a little on the soapy side, but he kept going back for more. I wasn't sure what to make of them. The biscuits themselves were delicious but I just couldn't enjoy the lavender flavour! I took them on a trip to London the following day where I met up with some truly lovely cakey friends. We all agreed that it was a good job I didn't have a larger lavender plant as any more would have been too much. The texture and butteryness of the biscuits was enjoyed and they certainly went down well with our morning cup of tea.

I feel sure that I will make these biscuits again but will omit the lavender!! This is another recipe that comes down to personal taste. I have heard rave reviews from other bakers who really enjoy the fragrant flavour. You won't know unless you try!
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