Thursday, 7 March 2013

Pistachio and strawberry cake

The March meeting of the Stamford Clandestine Cake Club had the theme 'Surprise!', inspired by the venue's Garden of Surprises - we met at the spectacular Burghley House.

I was really lost with this theme (even though I came up with it) and in the end my cake was completely made up. I wanted two flavours that you might not put together and that had different colours, so in a conservative mood I plucked for pistachio and strawberry. Not marmite and celery or anything so adventurous. I decided that the main 'surprise' element of the cake would be the overall design, with a jack-in-the-box type presentation.

The first layer was strawberry sponge. I researched a lot of strawberry sponge recipes but couldn't find the right sort. I really wanted a light sponge that was pink in colour. Most pink recipes used powdered jelly, and that just doesn't exist in Deeping I'm afraid. A lot warned against using just strawberries as the flesh can make the cake unstable. In the end I made a jammy syrup and added that to a normal sponge mix. It looked pink in the bowl, so I didn't add any food colouring - but it wasn't very pink when baked, so colouring would help.

6oz butter
6oz caster sugar
3 eggs beaten
6oz self-raising flour
About 3tbsp strawberry syrup (I heated hulled strawbs with a tbsp of sugar, then sieved)

Beat the sugar and butter until really pale and fluffy.
Add the eggs and beat.
Sieve in flour, then add the syrup.
Bake at 180 (160fan) for about 30 mins.

For the pistachio layer, I added green food colouring, but to be honest I think it was green enough with just the nuts.

250g butter
250g golden caster sugar
4 eggs
Zest of one lemon
1/2tsp vanilla paste
120g pistachios, ground
100g almonds, ground
40g plain flour

Cream together the butter and sugar.
Add the eggs and beat.
Add the zest and vanilla.
Stir in the flour and nuts.
Bake at 160 (150fan) for about 45 mins (to be honest I lost track of time and it may have had a little longer!)

I sandwiched the layers together with strawberry buttercream, made using some more of the strawb syrup.
I then glazed it all over with melted apricot jam, then covered with ready-to-roll royal icing - my first attempt at a square cake. It didn't go too well and there was quite a lot of patching up!

I designed it as a jack-in-the-box with layers of icing peeling back, painted red and green to hint at the strawb and pistachio underneath. Topped with a home-made teddy holding a 'surprise!' sign.

The strawb layer didn't taste as much of strawb as I'd have liked, but it was nice and fluffy. The pistachio layer worked well and was surprisingly moist. I think I'd do the pistachio again, perhaps with a fluffy buttercream with cream cheese. The strawb might be nice as cupcakes, with more strawberries - perhaps topped with fresh cut ones.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Chocolate macaroons

I attempted to make macaroons tonight. My first try at these little buttons of deliciousness. I can't say they were a great success.

I won't repeat the recipe as I don't want to inflict it upon anyone. I got the recipe from the Good Food website, which I thought would be trustworthy. I knew as soon as I mixed the egg whites in that there weren't enough of them (just two egg whites). The mixture looked thick and lumpy. Piping the dots looked like a baking tray of tiny poos, not to be gross. I tapped, and let them rest, then baked them.

They look hard and rubbish. They taste a bit hard and rubbish. Won't be repeating that recipe again. Have been told the Italian meringue technique is much more reliable. Will try again another time.


Monday, 4 March 2013

Stamford Clandestine Cake Club at Burghley House

For the March gathering of the Stamford CCC, we met at the one and only Burghley House.

An amazing stately home in Stamford, Burghley House epitomises this beautiful Georgian stone town, and it was wonderful to host our CCC event here. We were in the Loggia room, just off the Orangery dining room – a wonderful curved long room, with big windows overlooking the garden and fountain. If you haven’t been to Burghley before, it is worth a trip – there’s a massive park to wander through, with deer, a lake, and a Garden of Surprises – the inspiration for this month’s theme, ‘Surprise!’

15 bakers and 5 guests met to talk about cake, and eat a lot of cake. We had a brilliant array of cakes, with everyone embracing the theme and giving such a lot of effort that it makes little me, as organiser of our fabulous club, so proud.

Roll up, roll up, here comes a list of our cakes:
Jack-in-the-box pistachio and strawberry cake – Sophie
Chocolate surprise cake with hidden cake pops inside – Rachel
Vanilla large cupcake cake – controversial! – Lisa
Bunny cake – Mel
Rainbow cake – Kelly
Alice’s ‘Eat Me’ cake with marshmallow filling – Anthea
Tomato soup cake – Kerry C
St Lucia banana cake – Rhoda
Pot of gold at the end of the rainbow cake – Vicky L
Parsnip cake – Vicky R and Jane
Chocolate and sauerkraut cake – Emma
In the pond cake – Judith
Chocolate tiger cake – Esme
Rice crispie cake – Kelly M

It was a delicious range of surprises, with bakers taking the theme from design, to colours, to strange and wonderful secret ingredients. This month, I didn’t collate a menu so everything really was very clandestine, and some of the ingredients were only announced after tasting. The colours on both rainbow cakes – one brights, one pastels – were amazing, and the fish cake (in decoration only!) was the greenest cake I’ve ever tried.

Massive cake troughs were taken home, and I went for a walk through the park with some of the other members afterwards, in an attempt to work off some of those thousands of calories we had consumed.
Thank you to all bakers who came, and thank you for all your efforts. A great venue too – I recommend everyone take a trip to Stamford and have a walk around Burghley park. The house itself will be open to visitors soon, and the Garden of Surprises is a must.

For more details about Clandestine Cake Clubs, visit here.