Monday, 31 December 2012

Turning 30 in 2013

There are just a few hours left of the last full year of my twenties. In three days I turn 30.

I will not be sad to see the back of the last decade, which seems to have had more downs than ups. But I've come out the other side with a wonderful boyfriend, a house I can call my own, and consider myself a much nicer person than I used to be. My twenties taught me a lot, even if the ride wasn't that enjoyable.

I'm not where I want to be yet, by any means, but where I am gives me a lot and I'm grateful for everything in my life right now. I fully indeed to remember all the things that make me and my loved ones happy and do more of those things in the next year, and decade.

It's important to look after yourself and not ignore the warning signs. Your body tells you a lot about your mind, and both are fragile things that need to be cared for.

Cakes and baking makes me happy, as does quilting and sewing. Feeling the pressure to complete a million challenges and projects does not make me cheerful, and so I will craft and bake as much or as little as I want. Walking, in the woods, by the river, being on my bike, seeing churches and castles, reading.

This year I also want to get out and sort out our new garden. We moved in at the start of autumn so we've not been able to do much yet. I got a big book of gardening for Christmas so I'm going to read up on what to do first.

Keep close those around you who you care for, and also who care for you. Remember that friends are supposed to support you and not make you feel like a worse person for their presence.

Dark and light are both vital for existence. We can strive for more light and happiness, but the dark times make the bright ones worthwhile. I just hope I've ha my fair share of dark for a while yet...

Friday, 28 December 2012

Gingerbread house demolition site

Last year I made a gingerbread house at Christmas for my godson, George. This year, as he's a little older, I decided I would bake and construct the house, and then help George to decorate it.

Last year's gingerbread house...
...and this year's demolition site...

I thought this would mean letting go of my perfectionist tendencies and desire for everything to be 'just so', and I was right. But I needed to relax even before George came close - the construction was a nightmare, and it looked terrible without any Jelly Tots came close. George's mum is expecting, so I couldn't use Royal icing because of the raw egg, so just normal icing sugar and water it was. This was just not stable enough, and it was impossible to keep the walls and roof in place.... One of the roof panels snapped in half and I nearly had a breakdown.

Broken gingerbread house roof
However, although George did say "It's broken!" the minute he saw it, I don't think the roof issues stopped us having fun covering the house in sweets and chocolates. We had a great evening making a right mess, and it was night not to worry about whether all the sweets were lined up neatly.

Looking pretty
A great tip I learned a couple of weeks ago when baking gingerbread is to roll out the dough on baking paper, preventing the terrible sticking to the work surface that can ruin many a roof tile.

Someone was eating more chocolate buttons than he was sticking on the house...
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Christmas biscotti biscuits

I love a good biscotti biscuit. These are great as an after-dinner treat with a cup of good coffee, and also make great gifts for friends and family at Christmas.

Now, I know these aren't cakes, but they are Christmassy, so I'd like to enter these into the Calendar Cakes 'Go Crackers for Christmas!' blog challenge! Calendar Cakes is the brainchild of Dolly Bakes and Laura Loves Cakes and has a fab theme every month.

Christmassy biscotti

350g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
2tsp mixed spice
250g golden caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
Zest 1 orange
85g raisins
85g dried cranberries
50g flaked almonds
50g pistachios

Mix together the flour, sugar, spice, and baking powder. Add the eggs and zest, and stir, then knead.
Add fruit and nuts and work in.
Roll into 4 sausages.
Bake at 180C for 25-30 minutes.
Take out and cool for 5 minutes. Slice with a bread knife into 1cm thick slices.
Bake again at 140C for about 15 minutes, turn over, and bake for another 15 minutes.

These are lovely with coffee after a Christmas meal, but I do love to give them as little presents too. There are loads of flavour varieties you could try with them, they're very adaptable.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Not very red velvet cake

For the second meeting of the Stamford Clandestine Cake Club, the theme was 'Black Tie', the idea being that instead of going to a fancy party, we'd make our cakes the glamorous element while we could all lounge around definitely not wearing black tie. I thought, one might wear a red velvet dress to a black tie event, so decided on a red velvet cake - decorated with white Malteasers, pretending to be pearls.

'Red' velvet cake with white Malteasers

Of course, best laid plans and all that. In the event, I had food colouring issues, and ended up with a brown velvet cake. I still argue that you might wear a brown velvet dress to a black tie do...

I used a recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook for red velvet cupcakes, and doubled the recipe to make a large cake. It was far from incident-free - but, as is the important thing, it tasted quite lovely.

I would like to enter this cake into the Tea Time Treats challenge for December, the theme being Chocolate (admittedly I could enter quite a lot into this category!) - this month being hosted by the lovely What Kate Baked (it could also have gone into last month's 'cake' themed TTT, which was hosted by the equally lovely Karen at Lavender and Lovage but I wasn't quick enough!).

120g butter
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
20g cocoa powder
Red food colouring - the recipe says 40ml Dr Oetker food colouring for a large cake, but I don't like using it in such quantities, so I bought some proper gel stuff. However, I think I did it wrong (I think I should have diluted it in some liquid before adding it to the mix, but didn't, and hence the cake stayed brown!)
1 tsp vanilla paste
240ml buttermilk
300g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarb
3 tsps white wine vinegar

Ready for cake club
 Preheat the oven to 170C (160 fan)
Prepare two 20cm cake tins
Beat the butter and sugar togethre.
Slowly add the eggs.
In a separate bowl, mix together the cocoa, food colouring, and vanilla. Mix into the egg mixture.
Slowly add half  the buttermilk, followed by half the flour, then the remaining buttermilk, and rest of the flour.
Add the salt, bicarb, and vinegar, and mix until combined.
Fill the cake tins equally and bake for about 25 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

I wanted to cut each layer into two, so there would be four layers to the cake - but, one decided to fall apart as I got it out of the tin, so I didn't want to risk it falling completely to pieces by trying to slice them in half.

Sandwich the layers together with a cream cheese buttercream frosting (I used 300g icing sugar, 50g butter, and 125g cream cheese, and this was enough to sandwich the layers and also cover the top and sides). I attempted painting the cake all over with melted apricot jam, in order to prevent crumbs mixing into the frosting. However, this didn't work either (a comedy of errors, this cake was), and so all the frosting got a bit crumby. I decorated it with white chocolate Malteasers. Best to eat this cake quickly because of the cream cheese in the frosting.

Not very red on the inside...
Although it looked nothing like it was supposed to, and I really missed the dramatic redness that I was expecting, this cake definitely tasted lovely. It is light and fluffy while being moist too, and the tang of the cream cheese frosting really works well.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Stamford Clandestine Cake Club goes Black Tie

The second meeting of the Stamford Clandestine Cake Club on December 3 was a glamorous event, full of decadent delicious cakes.

With Christmas just around the corner, we wanted to shun all those sleek and sassy festive parties that we'd been invited to, and instead to meet at a cosy pub in our comfy clothes and let the cakes bringing the glamour. The theme was Black Tie, although all bakers ended up baking a variety of chocolate cakes. It was a testament to everyone's imagination and baking skills that each cake was different in taste, texture, colour, and look. Well done everyone!

Two nervous-looking bakers!
We had a few cancellations due to sickness, and indeed I nearly cancelled myself as I'm still recovering from surgery, slowly. But, nothing stops for cake, and eight of us got together to eat cake, talk about cake, and take cake home.

We met in the All Saints Brewery, aka Melbourne Brothers Brewery, in Stamford. This pub was another brilliant venue, full of ancient beams, comfy and characterful furniture, and lovely owners who really looked after us. We all commented on what a great pub it was and how we would all be returning. Maybe the CCC will make a return journey in the future!

The range of cakes included:
Red velvet cake
Three chocolate sponges, one with silver balls, one with chocolate sprinkles, and one with glitter, silver balls, and mini champagne bottles
Chocolate and caramel layer cake
French chocolate orange cake, decorated with a black tie silhouetted in icing sugar
Chocolate cloud cake with Cointreau cream 

Red velvet cake with white Malteasers

I decided on my own cake, the red velvet decorated with white Malteasers, thinking one might wear a red velvet dress accessorised with pearls (the Malteasers) to a black tie event. In the end, however, the food colouring didn't quite work and it was a brown velvet cake instead - but I still maintain that you may wear a brown velvet dress to a black tie event!!

It was good to see two male bakers at the event this time, although one was a guest and didn't bring a cake on this occasion, I'm hopeful he will bring one next time. The other male baker, Simon, showed off with his cloud cake, topped with Cointreau cream, and informed us that he certainly is a dedicated caker as his lunch was cake batter.

Chocolate caramel layer cake

The chocolate and caramel layer cake, by Anthea, was a real star, although we ignored the fact that it has about 12,000 calories in each slice! 

Thanks to everyone who made it and for all the effort everyone put in with their lovely cakes. I'm loving our Stamford cake club and long may it continue. Hopefully in the New Year all the nasty bugs that kept some members away will be gone and we can kick 2013 off with a big cakey bang. 

Friday, 16 November 2012

Spiced sticky toffee apple cake

For the first meeting of the Stamford Clandestine Cake Club, I made a lovely spiced sticky toffee apple cake. The theme for the club was The Great British Fruit Off, so anything with fruit was suitable. I made a practice run of this cake the week before and it passed all the taste tests with flying colours, and it went down well on the night too.

It's lovely as a cake, although I think it would be really good warm, with a little custard, as a special treat. It really is like a sticky toffee pudding.

200g dates, roughly chopped
200ml milk, plus a splash
250g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
280g self-raising flour
200g light soft brown sugar
½ tsp baking powder
4 large eggs
1 tbsp mixed spice
1 tsp vanilla paste
2 eating apples
squeeze lemon juice
handful of toffees

Heat oven to 180C/160C fan. Grease and line a 20 x 30cm baking tray with baking parchment.
Put the dates and milk in a small pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and set aside for 15 mins to cool.
Whizz the date mixture to a smooth purée in a food processor or blender, then scrape into a large mixing bowl. Tip in the butter, flour, brown sugar, baking powder, eggs, mixed spice and vanilla, and set aside while you prepare the apples.
Quarter and core the apples, then slice quite thinly, tossing in a little lemon juice as you go (although I only had lime – oops!).
Beat together the cake ingredients until smooth, then scrape into the baking tray, and smooth the top. Arrange the apple slices, overlapping in rows, on top of the cake.
Bake for 45-50 mins until a skewer poked into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the tray.
When you’re ready to serve (as the sauce is best when it’s warm and runny), put the toffees in a small pan with a good splash of milk and gently melt, stirring, until runny. To finish, dust with a little icing sugar, then drizzle sauce all over the cake. 

You can find this recipe in Good Food Magazine (November 2011 issue). You can also find another fab version by Gingerbread Boy, one of my Twitter pals, here. Love his opening photo! 

A mention to the Tobie Norris, in Stamford, Lincs, where our cake club was held. It was a great venue and the staff really looked after us. Plus, their presentation of a pot of tea was top notch. Loving the Le Creuset crockery and the mini milk bottle is just to die for. 

It's taken me a while to upload this post as I've had a sudden hit of bad luck. I ended up in hospital for most of last week, after unexpectedly having surgery to remove my appendix, and am currently resting at home recuperating. I'm not a good patient when I'm ill - I find it hard to rest and do nothing while I recover, so instead tend to try to do more than I can manage and then set myself back again. I'm not eating much, and can't move a lot, so baking anything is out of the window both as I can't physically manage it and I don't want to eat the results anyway. Sucks. 

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Great British Fruit Off

The first meeting of the Stamford Clandestine Cake Club could not have gone better. Twelve bakers got together at the Tobie Norris, in Stamford, Lincs, for a very fruit evening.

As the inaugural event, we were all a bit unsure about how the evening would pan out. It was a complete success and everyone got on brilliantly. The cakes were amazing – everyone went to such a lot of effort and there were no disasters, even if the bakers themselves thought there had been.

The Tobie Norris was a welcoming and generous host venue. It’s a brilliant pub that serves the most amazing pizzas, in a beautiful old building that’s thought to date back to the 13th century when there was a medieval hall on the site. The staff were all intrigued by the notion of a cake club and asked all about it. Their service was second-to-none and brought all our drinks up to our hidden room, to save the bakers’ legs climbing the stairs and balancing cups of tea. The room itself was atmospheric and full of character – just like the club members!

The theme was ‘The Great British Fruit Off’ – a nod to everyone’s favourite BBC TV programme, and a chance to indulge in some lovely autumnal fruit flavours. As this was our first meeting, I wanted to pick a theme that had a lot of variety to it and would offer everyone a chance to try something traditional, favourite, or completely brand new. We had a great range of cakes:
Sticky toffee spiced apple cake
Pineapple upside-down cakes x2 (one light and fluffy, the other with a brilliant crunchy caramelised crust – the baker thought it was burnt, when in fact the crunchy bits were a highlight of the evening)
Fruit loaf
Disaronno cherry cake
Spiced apple cake
Sticky orange marmalade cake
Raspberry Bakewell cake
Rich chocolate fruit cake
Apple and almond cake

Selection of cakes
All were delicious, and everyone tried a piece of each – we were all suitably caked out by the end of the evening. We spent two hours chatting non-stop about cake, baking, and other cakey themes. One member is the editor of Making Cakes & Bakes magazine and hopefully our club will make an appearance in its pages in the future.

My spiced sticky toffee apple cake
Thank you to everyone who attended and here’s to a long and happy future for the Stamford CCC. There are so many lovely potential venues in this gorgeous Georgian town and so many cake themes to enjoy – here’s to the next meet!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Spooky spiderweb fudge muffins

Happy Halloween! To celebrate the witching hour, and, more importantly, October's Calendar Cakes challenge from Dolly Bakes and Laura Loves Cakes, I made some scrumptious chocolate fudge spiderweb muffins. Don't get too scared, they're only cakes...

Spiderweb muffins in a witch's cauldron
The recipe is from BBC Good Food.

50g dark chocolate
85g butter
1 tbsp coffee (you can use milk or just water if you prefer, I used espresso coffee)
200g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
85g light muscovado sugar
50g golden caster sugar
1 egg
142ml soured cream

For the decorating:
100g dark chocolate
100g white chocolate

Don't be too scared of these fudge muffins

Melt the chocolate, butter, and coffee (or other liquid) in a glass bowl over simmering water. Allow to cool.
Mix together the dry ingredients and sieve.
Beat the egg and mix with the sour cream. Add this to the dry mix, then pour in the chocolate mix. Stir together carefully and don't over-mix.
Pour into muffin cases and bake at 190C (170C fan) for about 20 minutes.
 To decorate, melt the white and dark chocolate separately. Pour a little of each into separate piping bags. Spoon dark chocolate on to a muffin, quickly pipe circles of white chocolate on to the muffin, then use a small skewer to draw through the chocolate to make the spider web design. Do the same with the opposite design.

I found the decorating quick tricky as my kitchen was cold, and so the chocolate was hardening quickly. I would suggest melting half the chocolate at a time, and doing half a batch before melting the rest. Whatever you do, don't re-melt the chocolate if it hardens, as it will just turn into a glumpy mess. If the chocolate hardens inside the piping bags, I dipped them into the warm water over which I had melted the choc, which helped loosen it up a bit. Working quickly is KEY for them to look right. Mine are a bit hit and miss!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Fruit cake therapy

Tonight's bakes were a fruit loaf and chocolate brownies. I like the pun I made in the headline there - fruit cake as therapy, and also therapy for a fruit cake, aka me... Ha! Made a joke...

The cakes are for my uncle's funeral, on Friday. He sadly died just over a week ago. My aunt is hosting the wake at her house so I thought a couple of bakes would help her out. I chose a traditional fruit loaf, which my uncle would have loved, and my favourite chocolate brownies for more contemporary tastes.

Simple fruit loaf

The fruit loaf was a Great British Bake Off recipe, from the second book. A very simple recipe, although I'm very worried about the results as this was the first time of cake baking for the oven in my new house! I still haven't got to grips with it yet and am unsure about how it will do with cakes. The proof is in the pudding....and the cake.

175g butter
150g caster sugar (I only had golden caster sugar in the house, so I wonder what difference it will make)
400g plain flour
Pinch salt
4 tsps baking powder
300g luxury dried fruit
125ml milk
2 eggs

Loaf tin is meant to be 900g (about 26 x 12.5 x 7.5cm) but mine isn't that big (I really must buy a new one) - so I ended up with some small fruit cakes too.

Melt the sugar and butter. Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder together and stir in the fruit. Beat the eggs into the milk and mix into the flour. Add the melted butter and stir until all combined. In the right loaf tin, bake this at 180C for about an hour - but as I had a smaller tin, it only took about 45 minutes.

The chocolate brownies are a favourite recipe that I make frequently. Again this was the first time of baking in the new oven. They don't look quite right - they don't have the lovely crack across the top like normal, but I hope they're OK. It takes a bit of trial and error with a new oven, I know. Especially when the oven has no light, and no digits on the buttons so I don't know what anything does....

It was good to do some baking. I put my generic mp3 player on random and enjoyed some music while the baking took my mind off everything else. Baking really is therapy.

I can't wait for the Stamford Clandestine Cake Club meet in a couple of weeks. Numbers are slowly increasing - luckily it is looking sure that I won't be sitting in the corner by myself with a cake....

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Welcome to the Stamford Clandestine Cake Club!

Drumroll please.... The Stamford Clandestine Cake Club has launched!

The first event will be on November 1. The theme is The Great British Fruit Off - to honour the best programme on the telly (The Great British Bake Off, if you didn't know...). I thought I would kick the club off with a simple theme that covered all bases and that hopefully would allow everyone and anyone to take part, whatever their baking competancies or confidence in such clubs. It could be a classic fruit cake, a lemon drizzle, fruity decorations, or something more exotic and experimental - I thought the theme would allow as much or little imagination as people wanted. I have lots of ideas for fun themes but I didn't want to overwhelm everyone in the first month!

I'm scared and excited in equal measures. Hopefully it'll bring new and old friends together to enjoy cake and chat in a lovely location. But I do worry that I'll be the only one there....

For more info about CCC visit and for the Stamford event visit here.

From tiny acorns....

Friday, 5 October 2012

Plea for oven help

Does anyone know the make of my oven?

No instructions, no numbers on the knobs.... I have no idea what does what or at what temperature. I will be buying an oven themometer very soon.

The blub also doesn't work. We replaced it and it went bang. If any oven technicians happen to be reading this, please don't hesitate to comment and tell me what you think...!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

All change

Project 'Don't bake anything else made with chocolate' is going well - mainly because I haven't really baked anything at all due to The Big House Move and the subsequent quandary of How The Heck Does My Oven Work.

We underestimated how many little things would be wrong with the house when we bought it - I think it would have been easier to buy a 'project' property that needed ripping apart and starting again. Instead, we're just trying to fix a million and one tiny broken things left behind by the previous owners/tenants. One of which is an oven with no discernable markings. I don't know what make it is, it has no temperature numbers on the knob, it has no oven setting figures on the other knob, so if I actually manage to guess when I've turned on the oven rather than the grill, heaven only knows what temperature it's at.

I managed to bodge together a raspberry frangipane tart, after a lot of swearing, but that's the only thing I've baked since we moved in.

This morning, I made pancakes. They made everything OK again. I know they're not baked, but they tasted goooooooood.

I know I normally only share baking things with my bloggy friends, but to deviate, I must mention my uncle Jim. He's suffered with Alzheimer's for several years. On Friday he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He's gone downhill very quickly. He's comfortable in hospital now. But I don't think for long. Here's Uncle Jim and me in 1986.

Little me and Uncle Jim

Friday, 21 September 2012

Moving on up...

My eye is twitching. I'm not sleeping very well. I have a pretty constant headache. I'm not doing much baking, and my sewing machine is going dusty. What's the cause of this malaise? Oh, yes, I'm moving house! When this post goes live (don't you just love the schedule thingy) I will officially be a homeowner. How scary is that.

It's been a long time coming. Our landlord announced in November 2011 that he was selling up and wanted us out. We thought we'd be in a new home by March 2012, but that wasn't to be. Two sales fell through in quick succession and I began to lose hope. Then we found our perfect home, somewhere that would suit us down to the ground. We were meant to have moved in at the start of July, but then the unstable tenant decided she didn't want to move out, and no one was going to make her. She stuck fast and my resolution faltered. The threat of court action meant we didn't think we'd be in before Christmas - then suddenly, the mad woman was out, and all systems were go go go! We get the keys today, Friday September 21.

My first house, bought together with my brilliant boyfriend. Our real home. I can't wait, but at the same time I am petrified. Scared of the future, the past, and the present. I'm not sure I can cope with everything, but I will try. I will try my hardest to make everything in our new home perfect for me and Steve.

Looking foward to baking a cake in our new home. Hoping the oven works...

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Raspberry Bakewell tart and a soggy bottom

Project 'Don't bake anything else made with chocolate' is going well. Admittedly, I've only baked once since I made the pledge, but it wasn't with chocolate, so I consider that a success.

In the midst of moving house, surrounded by cardboard boxes, baking was a little piece of heaven in a cake tin this weekend. I intended to bake a cake using apples, but I found I had already packed all of my recipe books that contained such a gem. So the apple cake must wait for another time - although, I won't need a book, as the lovely Camilla at Fab Food 4 All has entrusted me with her favourite apple cake recipe by her mum, which sounds delish.

Instead, inspired by Steve's mum's home-grown raspberries, I went for a sort-of Bakewell tart. I even made the pastry case myself - although I have to admit to the biggest failing seen on the Great British Bake Off #GGBO - a soggy bottom *weep*. However, I blame the recipe. I intended to blind bake the pastry, before adding the jam and frangipane, but the recipe advised to bake it all at once. I should have followed by instincts - rookie mistake.

I would write out the recipe here, but I have packed it already. It included shortcrust pastry, raspberry jam, a simple frangipane mix, topped off with fresh raspberries. I wanted to drizzle icing on top once it was baked, but Steve said no. Boo.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Choco no more

I need to wean myself off chocolate. I make too many cakes and bakes with chocolate. I need to branch out and try some completely different recipes.

I know why I rely on chocolate so much - and not just because I blummin love the stuff - but it's because it's so easy to knock a chocolate something up. There's always chocolate powder in the cupboard, so no other ingredients are required. It means I don't need to go to the shops for other ingredients.

But enough is enough! Project 'Don't bake anything else made with chocolate' begins NOW!

As we are moving house next week (ARGH!) I have been sorting out some cooking magazines and finding lots of recipes I need to try. Lime and ginger cake, blackberries, lemon, raspberries....No chocolate!!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Out of the flames...comes a rubbish phoenix

Major, impressively terrible, disasterous cake fail at the weekend.

For my dad's birthday, I thought a chocochino cake would do well. Deep chocolate sponge, with a cappuchino cream frosting...bitter, sweet, and creamy all at the same time. Brilliant. I chose a recipe from Mary Berry's brilliant book. All the ingredients were spread over the kitchen, apron was on, oven was hot and ready....

It was one of Mary's "bung it all in the bowl and stir all at once" recipes, which I've never been a fan of - I much prefer the creaming butter and sugar approach. I just don't trust recipes where you just throw everything together and hope for the best. But, in Mary we trust. Bung it all in the bowl I did, and stirred until it looked presentable. Into the prepared tins it went, tucked into the oven they disappeared...

Checking on the sponges halfway through the cooking time, I thought they looked a bit odd. A bit flat, and a bit greasy on top. Hmm. Curious. My panic went into overdrive somewhat, and I pretty much stayed staring at them for the remaining cooking time. I gingerly took the tins out of the oven. Nope, they're not right at all.

Flat, brown, circular house bricks. I think they would have tasted nicer.

I grasped Mary's book in desperation. Surely I followed every step? I didn't use the wrong flour again, did I? No, no, definitely self-raising. Checking the list of ingredients one by one, tick, tick, yes, did that....


Here's a great baking tip for you: when making a cake, ALWAYS REMEMBER THE SUGAR. Every ingredient counts. A cake that's meant to have sugar in, which doesn't, will be terrible.

It tasted like bitter, weird bread, sort of. It certainly didn't taste like a cake.

This disaster pre-empted the longest-lasting bake-related bad mood for a long time. However, I don't like to be too much of a defeatest, and so thanks to an idea from the brilliant Karen Burns Booth of Lavendar and Lovage fame, I set out about turning this fireball of a cake fail into a phoenix in the shape of a trifle. I soaked the chocolate house bricks in a bit of sherry, topped with a tin of cherries, poured over some jelly, and let it all set. On top went custard, then cream, then some shaved dark chocolate.

Shouldn't have blummin bothered. It was the worst trifle in the world. Cue several expletives. None of it set, the 'cake' was ridiculous even when soaked in alcohol, and I couldn't eat it. Yes, I wrote that - I couldn't eat a trifle. That's never happened before.

Utter cake bake fail. I didn't even take a photo of the trifle, it's too embarassing. The next bake will be successful. It will. I promise.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Chocolate thunder cupcakes

It's thundering and lightning-ing like its a bank holiday weekend here. To take my mind off it (I am a chicken) I made some chocolate cupcakes.

I haven't baked for ages - my last kitchen moment was some flapjacks. I didn't have any eggs and needed to bake - but heavens, I didn't realise how very very bad they are for you! I knew they weren't 'healthy' but the inclusion of oats made me think they were 'ok'. But no. The whole pack of butter makes those oaty bits as healthy as cheesecake.

Anyway. I digress. Chocolate cupcakes. I didn't know whether to go for an old favourite or a new recipe this weekend. But, the thunder and lack of exciting ingredients in the cupboard combined to mean only the former was possible. But who doesn't love chocolate cupcakes?!

I used a Hummingbird Bakery recipe. I've used it before so I won't repeat it here. I'm always a bit wary of their recipes. They can use strange methods, and as with this one, it was very wet and runny. It also was supposed to make 12 but I could only stretch to 10 and a half one.

The frosting is delicious. This is my favourite use of my Kitchenaid mixer. It really does help make the best ever frosting. I only make half the quantity of what the book says otherwise there'd be three times as much frosting ad there is cake. I decorated with chocolate vermicelli and silver balls. How on earth are you supposed I get those balls to go in the right place?!? I ended up pouring some in my hand and dipping the cakes in.

Perfect for a rainy thundery weekend.

These are my first entry into the brilliant Calendar Cakes blog challenge from Dolly Bakes and Laura Loves Cakes. To coincide with National Cupcake Week (September 17 - 23), this month's challenge is CUPCAKES! Yay!

GBBO book review

I love The Great British Bake Off. It's my only 'must-watch' TV programme at the moment - no one dare phone me, text me, or even ask if I'd like a cup of tea while it's on. I applied this year, but wasn't successful - not even through to the auditions - but I still feel a little part of it ;)

I have both of the previous books to accompany series 1 and 2, and so as soon as I saw this season's 'Showstoppers' book it went straight on my bookshelf.

All three books have had different approaches while retaining the joy of the competition, lots of recipes, and new ideas. In this year's book, the challenge theme is announced (such as hidden picture cakes), with the basic recipe given. Then there are three alternative ways to tackle the challenge, ranging in difficulty. I think this is a great way to reach new bakers and the old hands - something for everyone. I was happy to see that I'd already attempted the first variation of the hidden picture cake challenge - a chocolate marbled cake - which means I can go straight on to attempt either the chess board cake, or the marzipan heart. Watch this space to see which I try...

There are lots of hints, tips, and advice, with great intros to each section, and surprise gems of knowledge throughout. I've already learned lots of handy tips to put into practice. I particularly liked the info about icing, and how to approach royal icing and sugar paste, things that I haven't gone near as they've always been a bit daunting.

The book follows the flow of ther TV series, and it's full of photos of the contestants, recipes from the show mingling with new and old favourites, and they hint at successful bakes from the show without ruining the surprise of who wins master baker in that episode. The only negative thing I can say is a personal bugbear about many recipe books, and that is including recipes without photographs. I think especially with a baking book this is vital, and as a novice/beginner baker I am always a little reluctant to try something new without having a clue what it's supposed to look like - how can you judge whether you've done it right?

Aztec cookies
I've already made one recipe from the book - Aztec cookies (page 96). These were absolutely delicious - made with melted dark chocolate (it's meant to be dark chocolate with espresso, but my local shops didn't have any, so I stirred in some ground espresso instead), plus chunks of white chocolate too. Very adult cookies. They're sprayed with gold dust in the book, but as this wasn't a bake to go on show, I missed that out, and they were no less delicious for it.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Nice buns

I have a couple of buns I'd like to show off to you:

Meet Scruff and Tengo!

These little chaps are part of the reason why I've been doing little baking lately - so things so small, they take up a lot of time. Tengo is mine, Scruff is Steve's bunny. Scruff is the trouble maker, the naughty one - so him and Steve go well together. Tengo is quicker, cleverer, and less messy. Just like me!