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 glacĂ© 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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Thursday, 5 July 2012

Chocolate Ganache Petits Fours

Recipe Number Two Hundred & Seven:  Page 219.

I wanted to make these little treats with my mother-in-law in mind. She really enjoys chocolate liqueurs and, as these petits fours are laced with brandy, I had to be onto a winner.

Neil's parents come over most Thursday mornings and take Isaac out for a few hours. I made a start just before they arrived. Despite the recipe appearing to be very simple, it was clear that it would take a while to complete. I laid out the required 24 petit four cases and unwrapped several bars of plain chocolate. There were a few squares going spare so I merrily tucked in. It was still quite early in the morning, but at least I'd eaten my breakfast first! I placed the large quantity of chocolate, along with a drizzle of sunflower oil, into a bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water. It took a little while to give in to the heat but, before too long, I had a bowl full of deliciously smooth melted chocolate.

I allowed the chocolate to cool for a few minutes while I hunted for one of Neil's paint brushes. I thought it wise to steer clear of his most expensive brushes, and instead opted for a tiny cheap one which had clearly never been used. I gave it a quick rinse and then started the long and laborious task of painting each paper case with chocolate. Of course Isaac appeared to 'help' mummy at this moment. He quickly grabbed and ran off with a paper case before heading back for another. Thankfully he was happy with two as I was finding it hard to fight him off with chocolate covered hands! By the time he'd started to kick a plastic onion around my feet I was beginning to feel a little fraught! Thankfully, at this moment Neil's parents arrived and they were able to take him into town for an adventure.

Now able to enjoy some peace, I took my tray of paper cases and bowl of chocolate over to the kitchen table. I had to take the weight off my feet and sit down! I carried on painting the cases, all the while wondering if I was wasting my time. I just felt as though something was going to go wrong! Once I'd finished, I placed the tray in the fridge. Mary says to place them somewhere cool and I couldn't think of anywhere cooler than the fridge! Twenty minutes later my chocolate cases had set and I could carry on and paint on a second layer....Yes ANOTHER layer. On this second attempt I followed my mother-in-law’s advice. She suggested using a teaspoon to drop a blob of chocolate into the bottom of the case and then drag it up the sides with the brush. I found that this worked well and speeded the process up. Apart from having to reheat the bowl of chocolate in the microwave for a few seconds (it was starting to firm up), I found the process pretty painless. Once the tray was back in the fridge for the final time I made up the ganache.

I poured the double cream into the saucepan and placed it on the hob. When the cream had reached boiling point I took it from the heat and added in the chocolate. I am not keen on liqueur chocolates, so I halved the mixture, stirred a few drops of brandy in to one half and left the other plain. When the chocolate had melted it was time to reheat until boiling. Once this was done the ganache needed to cool, so I used this time to go for a quick walk to get some fresh air. It was so nice to get outside after being cooped up due to the recent wet weather. I enjoyed my wander in the sunshine but, all too soon, I was back in the kitchen; I didn't like what I saw. The chocolate ganache had separated. An oily layer covered the surface. I really could have cried! It also had a runny consistency, so would be impossible to pipe. I was ready to give up for the day and try again the following morning.

An hour or so later, once Isaac was home and tucked up in bed, I dared to examine the mixture once more. It had finally firmed to a piping consistency, so all was not completely lost. I thought I might as well try to get it to work. The chocolate was still edible after all!

Mary says to peel the paper cases away from the chocolate after piping in the ganache, but I chose to disobey! Surely it would be far trickier to peel once they are full of filling. I was amazed when I managed successfully to remove the cases. I only suffered a few casualties!! I fitted a star nozzle to a piping bag and managed to pipe the ganache into the pretty chocolate cases – hooray! Sadly I only managed to fill half as I ran out of ganache (I didn't like to use the oily bits). However, do not fear – the empty cases will still get eaten! For a finishing touch I broke up some pistachio nuts and placed a few on top of each petit four. The green contrasted beautifully.

Now for the very important taste test! I tucked into a little mouthful and felt my arteries immediately slam shut. It was so very rich and chocolaty. I loved the chocolate cases the best as they look so pretty and also provided a contrasting crunch to the smooth ganache. I think I might use the cases with different fillings. I'm sure that the list is endless! These rich treats might take a while to make but they really are special. They are perfect for a gift or a party. It was just a shame that I didn't have them ready in time to give to my mother-in-law. Oh well, I'll just have to make them again!
Chocolate overload!!

Monday, 2 July 2012


Recipe Number Two Hundred & Six:  Page 153.

This German cake can be found within the pages of the 'Special Cakes' section. Mary says that Nusskuchen comes in many forms. The only version I'd previously been aware of is a traybake style sponge with a nutty crumble topping. Mary's version was completely different and I found it hard to visualise. Oh to have a picture for every single recipe! Thankfully I found a photograph in another of my Mary Berry baking books. The cake looked fairly unusual and I wouldn't describe it as pretty! The sponge layers were remarkably flat. I was glad to have seen this picture before starting to bake; otherwise I would have thought a flat cake to be a disaster!!

The day started off gently enough with a trip to the hairdresser’s. After a quick trim and a light hearted natter I met up with Neil and Isaac at the park. I sat on the bench and watched Neil run around like a mad thing kicking a football. Isaac seemed bemused by all the activity and was more interested in the skateboard ramp. He was determined that it could be used as a slide; frustratingly the wood offered too much friction!!

It wasn't until late afternoon that I summoned up the energy to start my baking session. I read through the entire recipe and decided it shouldn’t take as long as I'd first feared. However, it certainly wasn't as simple as one of Mary's all-in-one recipes! I was very eager to get the first task out of the way. I estimated that roasting and grinding the shelled hazelnuts would take longer than making the cake itself! After the hazelnuts had been in the hot oven for ten minutes, I rubbed off their skins. I found it easier to remove them after they'd cooled for a few minutes – this also helped to eliminate burnt fingers! Next came the boring bit. I do not own a food processor, so had no choice but to grate the hazelnuts finely by hand. Twenty minutes of mind numbing boredom passed before I had finished. Never again! At least once I had completed the tedious task I could move on to the fun part of actually making the cake – yay!

I measured a surprisingly small quantity of butter and sugar into a mixing bowl and used my electric whisk to beat the mix together until suitably light and fluffy. Next I needed to separate the eggs. I rummaged in the drawers and, in my haste to pull out a bowl, managed to drop a cake tin down the back of the cupboard. It was wedged! I almost fell into the drawers as I reached to the back to tug it out. Hot and flustered, but with the tin finally unwedged, I could carry on and separate the eggs! The whites went into the clean bowl ready to be used later while the yolks were beaten into the creamy buttery mixture.

After spending ages grating the hazelnuts I had developed a real dislike of them. It was with reluctance that I stirred them in to the creamy mixture. The addition of coffee was a surprise. There are quite a few flavours in this cake! It took mere seconds to dissolve the tiny amount of coffee into a small quantity of warmed milk. Once this had been poured into the mixture I could fold in the flour. I was left with a VERY stiff mixture. It resembled a thick paste! I hoped the addition of the egg whites would help to loosen things up. I whisked the whites until they reached soft peak stage, and then folded them in as gently as I could. It really wasn't easy as the mixture was impossibly thick. Once combined I could spoon it into the waiting deep tin. I had barely enough to cover the bottom. I couldn't understand why I was instructed to use a deep tin!! While the cake cooked I got on with the apple filling.

Not many dessert apples were required so it didn't take too long to peel, core and slice them. Mary says to cook until the apples are soft but still hold their shape. I therefore made sure that I sliced them fairly thickly. Once they were in a saucepan I added some apricot jam, lemon zest and juice. With the lid firmly in place I cooked the apples until just tender. This only took ten to fifteen minutes so I was soon ready for a sit down.

After a brief rest it was time to take the cake from the oven. While there was no denying that the cake had risen, it was still almost as flat as a pancake! When I tipped it out I wondered how on earth I'd be able to slice it in half horizontally. Surely it would all end in tears! While the cake cooled I gave Isaac his tea. Unfortunately his eyes clocked the tempting treat sitting on the wire rack. For some reason he was no longer keen on his Marmite on toast!

I was forced to listen to calls of “cake” and “want cake” as I very carefully and very gingerly sawed the sponge in half. I couldn't believe it when it actually worked. I put it down to its being such a firm cake. Now it was ready for the apple filling. I think it could have done with a more generous filling – it just didn't seem enough to me. Once the sponges were sandwiched together it was time for the chocolate – woo hoo! As I only required 50g, I let the microwave take the strain. Within moments I had a little bowl full of delicious melted chocolate. There was just enough to cover the surface of the cake with a very thin layer. Finally the cake was complete.

I was too impatient to wait for the chocolate to set completely before cutting several slices. Neil had his own while Isaac and I shared. Isaac loved it, so Mummy wasn't left with much! Neil said he wasn't too sure about all the flavours. He thought they were competing with each other. True, there was a strong hazelnut flavour along with the bitter coffee in the sponge, the tangy apple filling and the thin layer of plain chocolate on top. However, I thought they went well together and I could taste each clearly. I thought it resembled a Jaffa cake but an apple version of course! Maybe that is why I enjoyed this cake so much, as I do have a real thing for Jaffa cakes!
My pancake cake!!!! ;-)