Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Summer berry USA flag traybake

For my second Cake Club meeting, I made a lemon sponge traybake, decorated with strawberries and blueberries in an American flag design - the theme was 'Born in the USA'.

Can you guess what it is yet?

It took me a while to think of a cake themed to our cousins across the pond. I've visited America loads of times, but I have to admit that I can't remember eating cake there - at least, none so good that it's stuck in my memory. Doughnuts, yes, plenty... Lots of pie... Loads of cookies... But I couldn't think of the sort of cake that would sum up my experience of America. Should I make a bundt cake (a la Dolly Bakes)? They eat them 'over there', and I certainly have a lot of recipes to choose from. But then someone said the clue in the name was that they were German, not American, so I scrapped that idea.

Everyone I canvased opinion from simply replied with Mississippi mud pie, or key lime pie, or apple pie... It's a CAKE CLUB, I retorted!

I set on the idea of using the American theme in the decoration, having seen a similar idea with the Union Jack for the upcoming Jubilee. I had been considering it for our Jubilee party, but instead decided to turn it into the Stars & Stripes.

The Stars & Stripes

I used a simple yet fluffy and light lemon sponge recipe, topped with buttercream, with blueberries and strawberries in the flag design. I even counted the number of stripes.

I have to admit, this was one of the best cakes I've ever made. The buttercream was delicious - the creamiest, smoothest, loveliest buttercream. I used my Kitchenaid for the buttercream this time, which I normally don't bother with, but I always will in future. I heeded Eric Lanlard's comments on a recent episode of Baking Mad where he explained how to cream the butter and ensure the result wasn't too grainy, by making sure the sugar was properly dissolved into the butter. Yum.

My first traybake
100g marg
175g self-raising flour
50g ground almonds
2tsp baking powder
4 eggs
225g caster sugar
125ml Greek yogurt
zest of 2 lemons

Put all the ingredients in a bowl. Mix them all together. Job's a goodun.
Pour into a traybake cake tin, 30cm x 20cm - I treated myself to a new tin just for this bake.
Bake in the oven at 180 degrees (160 fan) for 30 minutes.

I used about half a pack of butter and about 300g ish of icing sugar (but I never measure buttercream!). After laying out the stripes, I thought about laying tiny white marshmallows inbetween, just to crank up the American-ness of the cake. But I didn't like how it looked, and preferred the simplicity with just the berries.

Everyone at Cake Club was impressed. Mine certainly was the most attractive cake. I have lots of berries left over, so I might yet make a Union Jack version at the weekend.

A delicious use of summer berries

Sunday, 27 May 2012

My first Meal Planning Monday

I'm grabbing hold of the Meal Planning Monday baton and running with it...

I've always been a weekly meal planner - I've just never written it down before, so why not start now. For me it's a must. It organises me and the other half, and takes the pressure off trying to think of something tasty and nutritious either first thing in the morning with bleary eyes, staring into the freezer trying to imagine being hungry in 10 hours, or in a rush the second I get in the door from work when all I want is a cup of tea. It also saves money, most definitely, and is a great way to make sure everything is healthy and balanced. I'm not very good at being spontaneous, neither in general day-to-day events nor at dinner time, so it suits me.

It also means I get a dedicated amount of time to sit down with recipe books and food magazines, browsing through new ideas and recipes.

This week, we shall mostly be eating:

Monday: Steve's still in Wales mountain biking, and I'm going to a cake club, so I won't have dinner.

Tuesday: Sweet & sour chicken kebabs, with peppers and pineapple, with fruity noodles.

Weds: Jacket potatoes with tuna and beans (a guilty pleasure of mine).

Thurs: Salmon and brown rice salad with soya beans and cucumber.

Friday: Curried chicken and mango salad.

Saturday: Sausages with a salad of roasted butternut squash & peppers with rocket.

Sunday: Who knows. I like to leave one day open for whatever's left in it fridge!

Thanks to Dolly Bakes for introducing me to Meal Planning Mondays!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Cake Night - Cherry Bakewell Cake

Cake really is made for sharing.

Tonight I had Cake Night with my friend and colleague, Kelly, a talented journalist so full of ideas she doesn't know what to do with them. But although she's mastered the art of words, she isn't so great in the kitchen (we had to explain how to make scrambled eggs not so long ago).

Cherry Bakewell Cake
So, we arranged Cake Night, a bit like a school cookery lesson, but time to chat and relax together too. We baked a Cherry Bakewell Cake, something quite simple but with great results. I was proud of Kelly's first cake...

200g margarine
200g golden caster sugar
100g ground almonds
100g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp almond essence
4 large eggs

Put everything in a big bowl and mix together (it helps if the marg is nice and soft to start with). Pour into two 20cm cake tins, and bake at 180 degrees (160fan) for about 30 - 35 minutes. The cake will be quite soft and spongy when cooked, but a skewer should come out clean.

When cool, spread one layer with cherry jam or conserve. Place the second layer on top, and spread over some icing (icing sugar & cooled boiled water - I never measure icing amounts!). Finish off with a sprinkling of toasted flaked almonds. 

Make sure to grease your tins and use baking paper. We didn't have any baking paper, and so a little part of the cake fell off as we were trying to turn them out, but the icing soon covered that part up - and it tasted great even if it wasn't the neatest.

Slighty wonky part...

It was lovely to spend time with a friend, chatting and baking together, and then being proud of something we made together. There's something so fulfilling of slicing up that cake you'vev spent time perfecting, sharing it out to friends and family, and enjoying watching them tell you it's delicious.

This cake was ideal for a beginner, as you just bung everything in a bowl, mix, and hope for the best. The taste is beautiful - the tang of the cherries, the sweet icing, the scrumptious almonds... It really is like a cherry bakewell tart in a cake.

Delicious and just like a cherry bakewell tart

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Delicious chocolate cake

To celebrate my almost-brother-in-law's birthday this weekend, I made a gorgeous Devil's Food Cake. This chocolate cake recipe is just divine - it's fluffy, light but dense, sticky but melting and floaty. I love this recipe and I maintain it's the best cake I've made.

I still haven't made the ideal frosting - an egg white, marshmallowy creation - but have been experimenting with different approaches. This time, I melted 150g of dark chocolate in 150ml of double cream, heated in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Once cooled, I spread some to sandwich the cakes together, then more on the top....and then the leftovers around the sides too. Topped with a few chocolate vermicelli, it looked yummy.

And it tasted SO GOOD......!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

How to make a strawberry meringue roulade

My boyfriend is brilliant, and knows how to make a strawberry meringue roulade, without any help from me... I feel proud, but also a little jealous that he's reasonably adequate in the baking department - that's supposed to be my thing!

 This recipe makes a really yummy meringue, squidgy in the middle, with a good crunch from the almonds.

4 medium egg whites
1 tsp lemon juice
225g caster sugar
1 tsp cornflour
Some flaked almonds
Some strawberries, chopped

Whisk the egg whites and lemon juice together until you have stiff peaks. It doesn't need to be totally stiff as if you were making proper meringues though.
Mix together the sugar and cornflour.
Whisk in the sugar mixture one spoonful at a time. You want the egg white mix to look thick, smooth, and gloss, but don't over-whisk.
Spread evenly into a roulade baking tin that you've lined with baking paper.
Sprinkle almonds on top.
Bake at 150C for about 45 minutes.
Turn meringue out of tin on to a piece of baking paper and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Take the paper off and place on a cooling rack.
Once cool, whip some double cream - I never measure it, but used most of a 300ml tub of cream. Spread whipped cream on to meringue, sprinkle over the chopped strawberries.

Now, you're meant to roll from long edge to long edge, although sometimes I roll from short edge to short edge. The former gives you a longer sausage of roulade, meaning you get more slices out of it... however, the latter means you get less slices, but they're bigger slices...

Delicious. But it's best to feed a crowd - the boyfriend made it just for the two of us, and we kept the leftovers in the fridge, but with the strawberries this meant it leaked a bit. Best eaten on the day.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

A recipe for leftover hot cross buns

I know leftover hot cross buns rarely ever happen, but if you do find a couple going a bit stale at the bottom of the tin, there's a lovely pudding you can make with them.

Cut hot cross buns in half.
Spread some lemon curd and sandwich back together.
Put buns in an ovenproof dish.
Cover with custard.
Bake for about 15 minutes.

Delicious, and adding to the taste is how easy and quick it is!

Admittedly, tonight's recipe for leftover hot cross buns was actually made with new ones from M&S - they don't really have a chance to become 'leftover' in my house!

Leftover hot cross bun pudding

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Follow the recipe - how not to bake whoopie pies

I made some chocolate chip whoopie pies. They look OK, but I didn't enjoy them. Top tip: always follow the recipe.

I read a great blog by the brilliant Dolly Bakes the other week, about when does a recipe become yours - can you make your own recipe, knowing the science behind how much raising agent will impact on the weight of flour... Well, I don't know that much, and ought to trust those who do know enough to write a recipe book.

I didn't have enough plain flour (and again, couldn't be bothered to go to the shops - I wish I lived within walking distance) so I used a bit of self-raising flour as well, and just halved the amount of baking powder. Then, I didn't have enough cocoa powder, so I pretended that wasn't important. I also didn't have any yogurt, so I used buttermilk instead. And I didn't have any chocolate chips, so I just chopped up some chocolate. I didn't have enough dark chocolate, so I used half dark, half milk.

At this point I'm thinking, probably the same as you are, dear reader, why did I bother with a recipe when I didn't have half the correct ingredients?!? I don't know - sometimes you get that baking bug, and you can't ignore it even if your kitchen is empty. But yes, I should have gone to the shops.

Needless to say, the mixture looked rather odd, had a weird consistency, and actually didn't smell that appetising either - I have a sneaky feeling the buttermilk was a little off. They didn't cook in the right shapes, and they certainly didn't taste right.

I let the boyfriend eat them. He thought they were great. But he'll eat anything.

My friend said they looked like baked potatoes. I'd rather eat a baked potato than another of these.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Cake Club absence and a review of Ragdale Hall

After only one meeting of the Market Deeping Clandestine Cake Club, I had to be excused from the second inaugural get-together. I was distraught, as this meeting's theme was 'Death by chocolate - no calories spared'. Now that's my kind of theme. I planned a chocolate Devil's Food Cake, with a double cream and melted chocolate filling which could double up as the icing, to be finished off with dark and white chocolate curls. However, my chocolate feast was not to be, as the meeting date had to be changed and I was unable to go.

But, I still made cake...

It was deliciously dark and moist, and just scrumptious, if I do say so myself. Possibly the best cake I've made in a long time. I didn't bother with the double cream and melted chocolate filling in the end, as that required a trip to the shops - instead I went for a buttercream standby. Which did the job, and did it well.

50g cocoa powder

225ml water
100g marg
275g caster sugar
2 large eggs
175g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb

Blend the cocoa powder and water - I suggest using a mini whisk to make sure there's no lumps.
Beat together the sugar and butter until fluffy.
Whisk the eggs together, then add to the mixture - I needed to gently add a little flour at this point to stop the mixute separating.
Sift in half the flour, bicarb, and baking powder mixture, then stir in half the chocoaltey water, then the rest of the flour, and the rest of the liquid.
Divide into two prepared tins.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for about 35 minutes until springy.

Once cooled, sandwich together with filling - which was butter and icing sugar blended until smooth and creamy. I never measure ingredients for my buttercream, I just rely on a little finger dipped in to taste.

I missed Cake Club as I was staying at Ragdale Hall Health Hydro for two nights. This was a special treat to myself, using the money I saved up from making quilts over the last two years. I went by myself and simply spent the time relaxing, reading, getting pampered, and spending time doing nothing.

In these days of non-stop hectic stress and pressure, we've forgotten the importance of doing nothing. Of appreciating silence, time to think, time to stop and let our minds wander. It was really hard to concentrate on relaxing, which is such a contradiction - it was hard work. I have so much on my mind, so much to fret and worry about, that it was almost impossible to relax. But I enjoyed the time to myself, away from reality, away from everything for just a couple of days.

The spa itself is amazing. There are several lounge areas to relax in with a book (I finally finished Sophie's Choice by William Styron, and also read Switched by Amanda Hocking), plus two main pools, a steam room, jacuzzi, sanarium... and the thermal spa area. This is a circular glass-roofed area filled with ferns and plants, surrounded by a variety of spa rooms: the rose sauna, the scent room, volcanic salt bath, thought zone, candle pool, colourflow cave, and the waterfall pool which flows outside - this was wonderful in the rain, as the warm water steamed upwards... Every possible way to relax is catered for. Dinner, lunch, and breakfast was all of a five-star hotel quality, every member of staff was brilliant, and the mud wrap dry floatation treatment was devine. I could stay there forever.... The weather was dreadful, and rained pretty much constantly - but I was cocooned away from the world and didn't care how much it bucketed it down.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Let's make whoopie pies

Red velvet whoopie pies. What other four words sound so yummy? Well, a few, but they sound pretty good don't they.

Red velvet whoopie pies...
I find whoopies pies quite addictive to make. Every time I bake some they turn out differently, and I'm learning each time to do them a little better. And who could resist such a colour? Originally the attraction of the red velvet was all down to the chemistry between the cocoa powder and the acidity of the buttermilk, but most modern recipes just rely on food colouring to make it so bright.

This recipe made about 14 whoopie pies (28 individual pie bits), but I'm sure they're supposed to be a lot bigger than I make them. But I'd rather have several smaller ones, than just a few big ones.

120g marg
200g soft dark brown sugar
1 large egg
120ml buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla essence
340g plain flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder (I ended up with just over 1, as I ran out when I thought I had a whole tub, woops)
1/2 tsp bicarb
1/4 tsp salt
15ml red food colouring

For the filling, I used some butter and some icing, with about half a tub of marshmallow fluff. I never measure when I make buttercream, I prefer to just make it to taste.

Red mixture - a tip is not to wear a white top while making these...

Cream together the marg and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and mix.
Stir together buttermilk and vanilla, then stir into rest of mixture.
Sift into the bowl the flour, cocoa, bicarb, and salt, in two or three batches. Stir until combined, then add food colouring a bit at a time until the red colour really comes through.
Spoon on to baking trays lined with baking paper. I prefer to use an icing bag for this part, but mine burst and I haven't remembered to buy a new one yet... and folding up baking paper did not work.
Bake in the oven, preheated to 170 degrees, for about 15 minutes.
Wait until cool before making and spreading on the fluffy filling.

Looking good on the cake stand

Partly why I love these is the burst of colour, which you don't get from just a chocolate cake. But what I especially like is surprising, or rather, confusing, people who eat and enjoy them. No one can ever seem to figure out the flavour - because of the colour I think. It's like when you eat a raspberry jelly that's coloured green... our little brains are easily fooled.