29. Messy Macaroons – France

In Hiroshima, I spotted shop windows stylishly displaying towers of tantalisingly multicoloured circular sandwiches, of every colour in the rainbow. At this point, a couple of yearrs ago now, I had never even heard of Macaroons, let alone tasted one. I kept promising myself one, but with all the other amazing food I never got round to it! Returning home I realised I was macaroonless.

Hello Hiroshima

I then heard more and more about Macaroons, they were everywhere, from Gossip Girl to Lorraine Pascale. (Think Blair Waldorf eating an entire box of pistachio macaroons in the bath.) Then The Great British Bake Off with Edd Kimber’s fabulous macarons. The more I heard about them the more I wanted to try them. Newcastle is not the Macaroon (or macaron – you choose which spelling you prefer, English or French?) central of the world. However my Mam happened upon them in Betty’s Tea Room and bought me an entire box! How decadent and divine, so light and sweet. I sampled the lot,  lemon, pistachio, chocolate and strawberry glossy and smooth macaroons filled with delicious jam and buttercream. They feel like something French aristocrats would enjoy on a daily basis.

Betty’s Tea Rooms Handmade Macaroons – note the glossy exterior, feet and lift!

I had to attempt them myself. They are a French invention, but it seems quite a few other countries have their own variation and have adopted them too. We used to make coconut macaroons with my Mam, but they are something entirely different. (But I have bought some rice paper to have a go myself soon…)

My Messy Macaroons

You can use the Italian meringue method (which uses hot sugar syrup to cook the egg whites before drying out the meringue in the oven. I used it to create my Key Lime Pie) or the French meringue method (where the raw meringue is cooked slowly in the oven)  to make the macaroon shell. I opted for the French method, as it seemed easier! However upon further research the Italian method may be more tricky but it supposedly produces more consistent results. (Next time I’m up for experimenting a bit more with this!)

I learned a few things along the way when making these. They are quite technical and a bit tricky but essentially they are a meringue and like when I made pavlova and mini meringues they require ‘drying out’ or cooking in a low temperature oven.

I chose a classic macaroon recipe to follow and adapted it to suit the flavours that I had in my cupboard. Which meant that I ended up with pink lemon flavoured macaroons. This kind of messes with your mind a little.

Whisking the egg whites

I started by whisking the egg whites and a tablespoon of lemon juice with an electric mixer for quite some time until it becomes stiff. Then gradually whisked in  the rest of the lemon zest and sugar until it was fully incorporated. I also added some powdered red food colouring at this point until I reached my desired pinkness. It’s probably best not to use liquid food colourings here as you don’t want to disturb the consistency of the egg whites too much… Runny egg whites make for one flat and merged meringue. (I should know I’ve already been there and done that.)

Adding the pinkness

It can take 10 minutes or so to whisk the egg whites until they are shiny. Then you known they’re ready for the ground almonds. Using a metal spoon I carefully folded in the ground almonds, so as to keep as much air  in the meringue as possible.

I spooned the meringue paste into a piping bag with a plain round nozzle and piped freestyle. Some people like Holly Bell, who are far more prepared than me, use a template of equally spaced circles (or other shapes) under their greaseproof paper to pipe equal amounts onto the tray.  I however was in a baking frenzy and choose to guess. Therefore my  results are somewhat less than consistent. My piping was supposed to produce little delicate rounds of meringue onto the baking tray lined with grease proof paper. Occasionally little meringue peaks formed on my macaroon circles. I quickly flattened them down again with a slightly wet finger. Good news however! There’s no need to grease the paper before piping, which is always a nice treat.

Piped onto the baking paper – all shapes and sizes

Now here’s my lesson at this point I wish that I had

a)    Gently banged the tray on the worktop to make sure the bottom of the macaroons were flat.

b)    Left the macaroons for 20 – 30 minutes to dry slightly and form a skin on the top before putting them into the oven. (I have since discovered that you get a more glossy finish by doing this and it helps the macaroons to form their characteristic ‘feet’(the little rugged ridge around the base of the shell) and lift up from the tray in the oven.

c)    Blitzed my ground almonds in the food processor before using them to make sure they were really fine. This is supposed to help ensure a smooth and glossy finish. I may have even sieved them if I could have been bothered.

d)    Used icing sugar! The recipe just called for caster sugar. Other recipes I’ve looked at use powdered sugar to get a smoother finish.

e)    Froze the first batch before I filled them. Apparently freezing macaroons helps to make them look and taste even better.

Just baked macaroon shells – oh so many I ran out of trays to pipe them on! (oh and I dropped a wooden spoon on that one in the middle before it made it to the oven…)

But this is all fine and well in hindsight. I didn’t have this wisdom then. I was pleased that they held their shape (whatever shape that may be)  in the oven when I baked them for 40 minutes at 150 degrees C with the oven door slightly open. However they didn’t develop the little feet or lift that they are supposed too so they weren’t as sophisticated as I hoped. They were most definitely not smooth, glossy or shiny either, but more of a pumice stone texture. Thankfully they didn’t taste like pumice stone! They were chewy in the centre and crisp on the outside, just how I like them. (I couldn’t resist trying a few straight from the oven.)

I left them to cool completely before filling them with a generous smudge of my home made lemon curd and a sneaky layer lemon buttercream. Then sandwiched two shells together.

Little and Large

This recipe was only supposed to make 15 macaroons. I ended up with well over 30, so perhaps I made slightly smaller ones than I was supposed to, but they seemed massive to me. All the more macaroon to enjoy in my opinion.

My Messy Macaroons

I took a whole box along with me on my last day in my job and they were the first thing to disappear from the buffet table, which indicates success despite their ever so rustic appearance. With the other half I wrapped the empty shells carefully in layers of greaseproof paper and stored them in an airtight container. I froze them for a month and defrosted them for my friend’s leaving do. They accompanied me to the pub in their own takeaway container.

Take away macaroons

I have a whole macaroon book to experiment with so you can definitely expect messy macaroons part 2 in the near future as I’m determined to perfect them!

Things that I used to make messy macaroons

4 egg whites (I used medium eggs)

1 lemon (juice and zest)

250g caster sugar

200g of ground almonds

Buttercream

Approx 300g icing sugar (enough to create smooth sweet paste when combined with the sugar)

1 lemon zested

1 tsp vanilla extract

250g butter

Lemon Curd

Approx 3 tablespoons of homemade lemon curd (but you can add as much or as little as you like)

Baked for 40 minutes at 150 degrees C with the oven door slightly open.

**Note to self – I also used a little splodge of the uncooked meringue mix on each baking tray to hold the greaseproof paper in place**

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27. Paul Hollywood’s Peshwari Naan Bread – India

Paul Hollywood’s Naan Bread

Rolling on to India and bake number 26! (All this baking is taking its toll! I’m now increading my exercise to 15 miles of walking a week, Ashtanga yoga and the occasional spin class/torture session.) But I love food and I love naan bread, particularly Peshwari Naan but then again who doesn’t love a good Naan? And not just any Naan bread but Paul Hollywood’s, the King of bread bakers, Naan bread?

Looking for the perfect accompaniment to my home made dahl and pilau rice I stumbled across the Paul Hollywood recipe I’ve been saving for a special occasion. Any excuse to whip out my trusty food processor too! I combined the flour, yeast, salt and oil and mixed it all up using the dough hook attachment, adding water until it became a good sticky dough.

The food processor alone was not enough to knead the dough properly and the food processor was about to leap off the worksurface with the sheer effort of spinning the dough. I had to admit defeat and resort to my own hands.

Shiny Happy People – Kneady Stuff

I kneaded the dough for about 10 minutes on an oiled surface, to stop it sticking, which is so much easier than a floured surface. Until it was smooth and shiny and bounced back when pressed lightly. It’s times like these that I wish I was 2 inches taller so I didn’t have to knead the dough whilst teetering about on my tip toes to get the right force required!

Time to Prove

Whilst the dough proved under it’s oiled cling film covering I set to work on arranging my naan flavours. Paul Hollywood’s recipe called for caraway seeds and coriander. Unable to follow any recipe without substituting something or ad libbing somewhere, I decided to attempt a Peshwari Naan, guessing that I could throw some crushed garlic, spices (coriander, cumin and cardamom seeds), raisins and coconut into the mix and it would produce Peshwari Naan. Upon opening the cupboard I found dried fruit store severely depleted! My normal store cupboard staple, raisins, were nowhere to be found! (I forgot earlier in the week I bought an extra double amount to feed an entire litre of rum to for a very special future bake! All of my dried fruit is currently sitting patiently soaking up lashings of rum. All will be revealed soon!)

Naan Flavourings: Coconut, Garlic, Coriander, Cardamom Seeds and Cumin

Slightly disappointed I ploughed on with a combination of coconut, half a bulb of crushed garlic, dried coriander and cumin instead. Noting I must buy more dried fruit as soon as possible.

Risen to perfection

After about an hour of rising, (near the hot hob on the stove while I was cooking a chicken and vegetable dahl to encourage the dough to prove) the dough had doubled in size and was ready to be flavoured! I added the flavours a third at a time and kneaded them thoroughly through the dough.

Flavoured and divided

Once all the coconutty goodness was distributed evenly throughout the dough I rolled it into a fat sausage to chop it into quarters. Each quarter of dough should then be cut in half and flattened. Paul Hollywood is obviously a bit more of a perfectionist than me as he insists that a rolling pin is required to flatten the dough portions out. I can’t believe that people in India whip out a rolling pin at this point and so I decided to do all this flattening with my bare hands. Which did mean that my first attempt was more like a paperback novel than a fluffy, naan bread.

Stacks of semi flattened naan bread dough – must be flatter than this before hitting the pan!

I re-read the recipe and realised that the dough should be stretched into circles about 25cm in diameter, probably twice as big as my inital attempt! This explains the chunky naan brick that I produced.

Chunky Naan

Once flattened the dough has to be rested again for 5 minutes before plopping them (individually) into a hot pan with a splash of oil. I quite enjoyed the sizzle of the naan in the oil as the naan immediately puffed up and bubbled away happily in the pan. Then a quick flip over to sizzle it on the other side too. I was worried the coconut would all fall off as I got a bit bored whilst frying up the naans and decided to press some more coconut and coriander into the awaiting naan breads. I’m not sure if Paul Hollywood would approve of my inconsistent making-it-up-as-I-go-along approach but hey they were looking golden and lovely in the pan, so why worry about presentation and consistency now?!

Naan -ish and Golden (look at those bubbly edges!)

Once the naan is golden brown on both sides, it’s ready to hop out of the pan on onto a plate. I continued pan frying all 8 of the naans, piling them high on a plate ready to be devoured with daahl.

Stacks of Naan

Tea time! It smelt amazing, although a tad smokey in my kitchen as I definitely had the heat up too high on the pan. The windows had to be opened to get rid of the haze in order to see at one point. But other than my carelessness when it comes to fire safety, this recipe was a resounding success. I did slightly chargrill (burnt) one naan and created a naan brick, but I still had 6 more naans to get the technique right with. When I eventually got it right, I really got it right!

Chargrilled Naan

The bread was fluffy and light around the edges with thinner crispier bits towards the middle, where I had possibly been a bit over enthusiastic with my thinning process. I quite liked the texture and it was a good call to add an extra layer of coconut before frying the bread as it toasted on the top. Lovely! I’ve frozen the rest of the batch after we had eaten our share, to be defrosted in naan bread emergencies, of which I’m sure I will have many.

Tea Time! (The naan was so massive I couldn’t fit it all on the plate or in the photo…)

The recipe, just in case you would like to try it is…

    • 500g/1lb 2oz strong white flour
    • 10g/¼oz salt
    • 15g/½oz fresh yeast
    • 30ml/1fl oz olive oil
    • water, to mix
    • 1 tsp cumin seeds (I substituted this for – the crushed seeds of 4 cardamom pods)
    • 1 tsp caraway seeds (I used a generous 1 tsp of dried coriander and 1 tsp cumin)
    • I then added further to Paul’s recipe with 1/2 a cereal bowl of coconut (sorry its a very rough guestimate, my usual measurement unit)

You can also find the full Paul Hollywood Naan Bread recipe on the BBC Food website.

Paul Hollywood’s Naan Bread Recipe

21. Whatcha cooking Lebkucken – Germany

Lebkuchen

I’ve always loved lebkuchen. It always seem like Christmas when the shops start selling these chewy and crunchy pink and white sugar coated cookies. This year seemed the right time to attempt to make my own. I’ve not visited Germany (yet) but if the continental Christmas markets are anything to go by I know that I will love it.

A quick google later and I came up with a simple yet effective BBC Good Food Recipe. (I seem to use this website a lot for my continental recipes!) They seemed fairly easy to make with honey, eggs, spices (cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon)  ground almonds, a bit of flour, black pepper and butter. Simple! Although in my case I had nothing to smash up the cloves with, so improvising with a sandwich bag and a jam jar I hammered them into rough chunks. It kind of did the job, but some biscuits were definitely more clovey than others…

Spicy Stuff

This is definitely a different type of gingerbread to the Sunderland Gingerbread, very rich and sweet. But like Sunderland Gingerbread you throw this all in a pan and melt it together! Fantastic!

Butter, honey and sugar

Then throw in the dry stuff and spice

It needs quite a good stir to mix it all together..

Seemed a bit sticky but trust in the recipe

At this point I started to get a bit worried as it seemed a bit on the sticky side and I couldn’t imagine how on earth I was a) going to roll the dough out or b) cut it into Christmassy shapes… Nevertheless I continued and read the recipe through again and realised it needed some time to cool down. Throwing it into the fridge I popped the kettle on and had a well deserved rest (whilst starting the washing up!)

Now that's more like it!

In a bid to speed things up I divided the dough in half and froze half for other Christmas baking emergencies. I then folded cling film around the dough to roll it out without needing my pastry board and to prevent it sticking to the rolling pin.

Cling Film Queen

Choosing my most Christmassy cookie cutters I cut out the festive shapes and popped them into the oven for a mere 15 minutes.

Off to the oven with you

Then all they needed was a glossy sugary coating once they cooled down enough. Whisking an egg white up with some icing sugar to create a glaze is something that I’ve never done before. There’s another first to cross off my list.

Glazing

I drizzled it over the biscuits and let them drip dry onto kitchen roll. Once they hardened slightly they were ready for eating and the biscuit tin! They were lovely and chewy on the inside. They aren’t overwhelmingly spicy but rich and I enjoy the kick of the black pepper and cloves. I will be baking these every year from now on. I may even try some new variations. I’ve seen some with a much more crispy coating and with a little jam in the middle too to make them extra gooey!

Glazed

I did whip up the second batch in a baking emergency, during a Christmas baking marathon, so didn’t cut them into shapes but made a dough roll (using cling flm to roll it up of course)  and chopped it up… very quick and easy!

Dough roll (not to be mistaken for a sausage)

Lebkuchen Quick Chunks

The Caribbean Christmas Cake Collection Continued…

Caribbean Christmas Cake Collection

This post has been a long time in the making. About a month ago I began the Caribbean Christmas Cakes after an extreme test of my patience in greasing and lining 14 assorted mini cake tins and baking the little blighters for a couple of hours. I don’t mind this of course as I know the fruits of my labours are worth the effort and the wonderous rum, raisin, cinnamon and coconut smell that permeated the entire house let me know just how wonderful it will be.

The baked cakes

I’ve tended to my little cakes every week, topping them up with a bit more rum, until they could take no more. They still required a little house of marzipan and another week to dry out all in their specially purchased enormous Tupperware box.

Roll out a lot of marzipan... this has got to fit round 14 cakes

I decided one Saturday night, before heading out for a party to attempt to coat them all in a quick blanket of marzipan. I managed to finish 9 of them before I decided enough was enough and I would very much like to go to have a dance instead.

Firstly they needed to be glazed with apricot jam to make the marzipan stick…

Warming Apricot Jam

Then as all the cakes are very different shapes and sizes, they each needed to be fitted individually for their marzipan house. In an attempt to minimise rolling out marzipan, as it is frankly infuriating with its tendency to stick to the work surface just as you get it to the right thickness and it’s perfectly smooth so you have to start again, I squeezed as many on to one sheet as possible and trimmed it so there was very little excess to remove on the cake itself.

cutting each cake its own marzipan house

Once it was face down on the marzipan I had to simply lift the marzipan up and force it to stick to the sides of the cake, achieving a (relatively) smooth finish. I’m not too bothered about getting it perfect at this stage as the fondant should cover any major flaws…

Off with its head! (far too wonky)

Occasionally I got too frustrated with the cake being all oddly shaped and cut a lump off it. This didn’t really help matters as the cake was no straighter after being hacked into. I just made a big mess and dropped cake everywhere… but it did mean that I had a midnight snack when I got back in later on. 🙂

Then for the fondant

After a week the marzipan was settled enough to add the final icing layer. I was greeted by a fantastic whiff of almond and rum when I came back to the little cakes. The white fondant icing needed to be kneaded until it was pliable and then rolled out in the same way as the marzipan, however a bit more carefully and precisely (if I can ever be precise?!) as this is the layer that everyone sees. Cue more irritated rolling pin action.

I didn’t have any vodka to brush onto the marzipan so I used the rum in the cupboard. I’m sure that will do the same job and perhaps enhance the rumness of the cake while it’s at it?

Trim its skirt

The cakes needed a little trim to tidy the edges and I ended up rolling the cakes themselves around like a rolling pin (as they’re so small) on the worksurface to smooth them out and flatten the icing down. It’s impossible, even with my childrens sized rolling pin to roll the icing smooth on the cakes. Then they needed a quick polish with the palm of my hand to bring the icing to life.

I love the film Elf. It always makes me think of candy canes so as an homage to Elf I wanted to make Candy stripe cakes. I was very kindly donated a block of red fondant which is amazing!! (Thanks Lucy!) I rolled it out and using many handy palette knife/ruler cut strips of red icing.

Lines and lines and lines and lines

Then I glued them on to the cakes using a dab of water.

Chunky Candy Stripes

Not bad for my first attempt even if I do say so myself (and as I was completely making it up as I went along). Not content with just one design, I had ordered some daisy flower cutters from Ebay and thought I could perhaps christen them and pass them off as Poinsettia?

The daisy/poinsettia flower cutters

Poinsettia Flowers

I added some silver edible ball things (can’t remember their real name) by mixing a tiny bit of icing sugar with water to make a paste then squishing them into the cakes. There’s still 5 more cakes that require some attention and I have some holly leaf cutters and green food colouring to play with 🙂

All shapes and sizes welcome in this collection of cakes

4 hours of icing later... 9 down, 5 more to go.

I’m also entering this in Vanessa Kimbells’ fantastic Let’s Make Christmas Competition as I will be packing up these mini cakes in cellophane with lashings of ribbon and giving them to my friends and family very soon! Have a look at her blog and competition below…
 

15. Millionaire’s Shortbread – Scotland

Shortbread is traditionally Scottish and delicious so what better way to bring it to life than with a generous coating of caramel and chocolate?

Millionaire Shortbread

I’ve been to Scotland many, many times and love it. Who else has a shop dedicated to Chocolate Soup?

Edinburgh

Edinburgh

I’ve made biscuits before but not like this and never Shortbread. After my mam kindly donated a tin of what we thought was caramel I craved Millionaire Shortbread for a week so I dug out a Shortbread recipe and set to work.

The Beginning

It seems strange that Shortbread only consists of sugar, butter and flour. I had to keep checking the recipe to make sure I hadn’t missed something. Where’s the eggs?! Surely this won’t work?

I treat myself once more to another new piece of baking equipment. This time to a very big and deep tray. Perfect for a traybake like this. The can of caramel had a recipe for Millionaire Shortbread printed on it which said to break up Shortbread then squash it into the tin. I was about to bake loads of biscuits then crush them up but realised this was ridiculous. I could simply bake a layer of Shortbread and layer the caramel and chocolate on to it, making one big tray instead. Genius.

The new rolling plan

I quickly whipped up a batch of Shortbread and attempted to roll it out directly onto a sheet of greaseproof paper in an attempt to minimise mess and washing up! Another innovation, although I had to weigh the paper down with various kitchen implements.

Upon rolling the dough it became apparent that we were going to be dining on pauper Shortbread if I had to eek out the dough to fill the entire tray. It would have been a sorry sight to serve up wafer thin Shortbread.

Squished into all the corners

I ended up making another batch and combined the two doughs. A quick roll to flatten it out. Then all I had to do was lift the entire baking sheet into the tray and press the dough into the corners. Minimal effort required!

A quick bake in the oven for the Shortbread and whilst it was cooling in the oven I opened the can of caramel, only to discover that the price label had cleverly concealed its true contents. It was in fact a can of condensed milk! I thought my plan was scuppered but I rooted around in the fridge for some spare butter and sugar. I had enough to turn this can into a wonderful pan of caramel!

Let's make caramel

I hadn’t attempted caramel before, although I have made Dolche De Leche by simmering a closed can of condensed milk in a pan for a couple of hours. I assumed caramel couldn’t be that different and threw myself into the caramel creation with some gusto. Yet with some caution, following my previous burnt pan messes which have killed off a few of my pans. I didn’t want to have to buy any more pans!

add the butter

I was surprised by how relatively easy this was. I didn’t burn then pan or set fire to anything. Success!

And we have... caramel! (No burnt pans!)

Once the next layer of caramel was added to the shortbread it needed to set in the fridge for a while. I left it to cool and threw 3 bars of plain chocolate into a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water to melt.

Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate

This meant just before bed all I had to do was spread the thick chocolate onto the caramel, and leave it to set in the fridge once more.

I discovered a little white chocolate lurking in the fridge too and thought it would be nice to make a swirly pattern on the top with it. So I threw it into a sandwich bag and left it in the hot water to melt.

Swirly

A quick snip with the scissors and I have a handy disposable piping bag (thanks for the tip mam!) and less washing up for me. I swirled it up with a knife and it looked rather pretty, even if I do say so myself!

Look at that thick chocolate!!

The hardest bit of this bake was trying to cut it up into equal pieces without the chocolate cracking in all the wrong places. My hands were a bit sore pressing the knife into the chocolate! Perhaps a sharper knife would help?

How do I cut this??

It was very well received at home and at work. It is genuinely the bake that just keeps going. I must have cut it up into about 35 pieces!  I’ve enjoyed a bit everyday with a massive cup of tea. I predict I will be making this again in the future…

Delicious!

Things that I used to make Millionaire’s Shortbread

Shortbread Base

I had to make twice as much shortbread to fill my tin so I doubled all of the ingredients listed below…

  • 125g/4oz butter (I used 250g butter)
  • 55g/2oz caster sugar (I used 110g sugar)
  • 180g/6oz plain flour (I used 360g plain flour)

Caramel Filling

 

  • 175 g butter
  • 175 g caster sugar
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 x 397 g can condensed milk

Chocolate Topping

  • 1 bar (200 g) dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 1 bar (200g) of white chocolate

 

 

13. Lovely Lamingtons – Australia – Lord Lamington’s Finest

As a surprise birthday treat, I decided to bake Chris his favourite Australian treat, Lamingtons. We ate Lamingtons the size of house bricks when visiting Australia. One particular Lamington stands out from our visit this year when we drove the Great Ocean Road and stayed in the seaside towns of Lorne and Apollo Bay to take in the sights (and the cakes and pies too).

Look at this little fella! Spotted on the Great Ocean Road

Somewhere over the rainbow…

I spotted a Lamington recipe in Marguerite Patton’s Everyday Cookbook and planned it all well in advance, purchasing an industrial sized bag of desiccated coconut, only for Chris to then ask for Lamingtons (and a Chocolate Roulade) for his birthday! My plan was discovered, but then again I’m not very good at keeping surprises secret and our tiny Tyneside flat doesn’t leave much to the imagination anyway…

Lamingtons. The classic Australian ones

I googled Lamingtons as they caused a bit of debate in the office. Many of us remember eating these chocolate, coconut, jam, sponge cubes as children, although others remember a pink version. They are also known by different names, such as Madelines, or pink Lamingtons. Some Australian Counsellor put me right. Apparently an Australian Lord loved cake. His maid  accidently dropped his cake into chocolate. Despite being a Lord he didn’t want to waste his cake (Don’t blame him!). So he told her to roll it in coconut so he wouldn’t get messy fingers. Et voila! Lamingtons were born and Australians are very proud of their 100 year recipe. (Check out the Australian Lamington official blog for evidence of the City Counsellor of Queensland shovelling Lamingtons into his mouth and the record breaking Lamington).

Celebrating 100 years of the Australian Lamington

Counsellor Paul Tullly enjoying Lamingtons – Courtesy of australianlamingtons.blogspot.com

I was a bit worried about how technical this recipe was and I didn’t actually own a square tin. I made a quick trip to visit my mam to borrow her tin. I’ve never baked one cake and sliced it in half before. It seems a bit dangerous. Is it difficult? What if I slip with the knife and ruin the entire cake?!

Sponge time

The sponge itself was pretty simple to make. A basic vanilla batter, which smelled gorgeous and tasted rather like a dense madeira cake.

Smells so good

I had to leave it to cool overnight and the next day chopped off the slightly domed top to create a flat surface instead. This was nerve wracking too as the last time I attempted this I cut my hand. I managed and kept all my fingers intact. This meant that I got a sneak preview and ate the lid before work. Hurrah! It was delicious!

Off with it’s dome

I set about creating the chocolate soup, from cocoa powder and icing sugar. I carefully sliced the cake through the middle widthways and had two perfect halves!!

Chocolate Soup?

The recipe was supposed to make 16 portions… I was a bit worried that this dinky square cake just wasn’t enough for the Australian cakes that we were accustomed too. So I baked another one. This time in a big roasting tin to make one flat cake, remembering this time to leave a bit of a dint in the top (pushing more mixture to the edges) so I didn’t get a dome finish.

The second sponge… (please ignore the cat food in the background)

Our guests were arriving for fish and chips and Lamingtons so I didn’t have much time for mistakes. I threw almost a full jar of strawberry jam onto the sponges and rubbed it in with the back of a spoon. (Excessive? Me?)

JAM

Then plonked one half on top of the other and decided that 4 big cakes were better than 16 little ones. I used the sharpest knife I could find and cut the sponge into quarters. Although they still didn’t look that ‘Australian sized’ to me.

That’s more like it

The recipe suggests you use a skewer to pierce the cake and dip gentily into the chocolate soup before lovingly rolling it in desiccated coconut. Who has time for these things? I picked the cakes up with my bare hands and within 2 seconds was up to my eyes in chocolate and coconut. Everything stuck to me! My messy yet effective method.

Step one. Dunk yourself in chocolate

Step two. Roll around in coconut (Do not try to a. answer the phone b. push your hair out of your face c.  say hello to the cat until hands can be throughly washed.)

The cakes needed about an hour to ‘set’. I definitely used more coconut than suggested as the chocolate from my fingers kept leaking onto the pristine white finish and ruining the effect slightly.

The Setting Process

When piled onto my new vintage cake plate, topped with candles, lit and then carried through the beaded curtain from the kitchen to the living room. (No fires were caused in the making of these cakes, don’t worry), They suddenly transformed into magnificent brick like beasts. I had made giant cakes. One cake was more than enough for two people and I still had an entire sponge cake left to assemble!

Happy Birthday Chris!

Happy Birthday Chris! I loved these cakes and was so impressed with how they turned out. The sponge doesn’t need to be the perfect shape, the coconut makes up for any inconsistencies and they are so very moreish.

My Half

I attempted some pink Lamingtons (or English Madelines as Nigel Slater informs me in his ‘Eating for England’ book) especially for Caroline at work as they were her favourite, using powdered jelly. Bizarre stuff but apparently they tasted excatly like the ones she had when she was little. Success!

Pink Jelly Soup

One flat sponge cake goes a long way…

Things that I used to make Lovely Lamingtons…

Sponge cake

  • 5 oz butter
  • 7 oz caster sugar
  • splash of vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 10 oz self raising flour
  • 4 tablespoons of milk

Filling

  • strawberry/raspberry jam

Coating

  • 7 oz icing sugar
  • 1 oz cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons of boiling water

Decoration

  • 6 oz desiccated coconut (or as much as you need to coat the lamingtons liberally!)

Method

  1. Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla essence together
  2. add the eggs gradually
  3. fold in the sieved flour alternatively with the milk
  4. spread the mixture into a baking tin (8 inch square)
  5. bake for 50-60 mins at 350 degrees F/gas mark 4
  6. cool the sponge and store in an airtight container over night
  7. carefully slice the sponge through the centre to create 2 square sponges
  8. spread with jam
  9. sandwich the two sponges together
  10. mix the icing sugar and cocoa powder together in a shallow bowl adding the boiling water gradually to create your chocolate soup. Add more sugar/water as required.
  11. chop the sponge into equal sized squares (4 if you want big pieces or 16 smaller ones)
  12. dip each piece into the chocolate soup and then into a shallow bowl of desiccated coconut
  13. leave on a cooling rack to harden
  14. eat with a big cup of tea!

* Recipe lovingly adapated from Marguerite Patten’s Everyday Cookbook

 

12. Carribean Christmas Cake – Jamaicing me crazy and setting the kitchen on fire

My battered Delia Recipe

I LOVE Christmas and Christmas Cake! A few years ago I decided, the week before Christmas, to make my first ever independent Christmas Cake. I now know that this is breaking all of the Christmas Cake rules. It needs time to mature, to be fed Brandy and then the icing needs to be spaced out, one layer at a time over a week, so the marzipan has time to dry out and to achieve a much smoother finish. But in true Lauren style, I dove straight in and was sitting up til 1am waiting for the cake to bake. Then a spot of slap dash icing (which I had never EVER done before) til ridiculous o’clock on Christmas Eve.

My first ever Christmas Cake and decoration attempt. I went a bit overboard with the fondant icing! The marzipan snowman lost his head on the way too!

I didn’t want to make the same mistake(s) again this time. My Mam has a fantastic recipe, but I ended up adapting a Delia Recipe as it was a very spur of the moment decision when I first baked it and I have used it ever since. Even the same print out to be exact!

As per usual I didn’t have the correct ingredients in the cupboard so I had to substitute a the vast majority of Delia’s recipe. Ending up with dried mango, dates and raisins instead of cherries, candied peel and currants. Although I did splash out on a big bottle of brandy.

As the rules of Around the World in Eighty Bakes states, I have to bake something that I haven’t baked before. I pondered over this for a while and decided to modify my Christmas Cake and put a Caribbean twist on it. Also I wanted to make mini Christmas Cakes so I can give them as presents this year too,  inspired by a wonderful little short story by Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory.

Rum Soaked Fruit

In order to put a different slant on the classic Christmas Cake I replaced the Brandy with Rum. There’s always some in my cupboard and having tried to drink the leftover Brandy following reading  Gone with The Wind (Scarlett was a Brandy advocate) I realised I’m not a huge fan, perhaps Tesco Value Brandy is not the best to start with….

After soaking all the dried fruit in rum for a day. Opting for cranberries (very Christmassy), raisins and apricots, it was time to start mixing everything together. The butter was a bit hard so I decided to soften it slightly in the microwave, after ensuring the butter packet was paper only I popped the whole block in the microwave for 30 seconds.

The microwave went up in a loud bang and a massive white flash. I created fireworks in the kitchen! A little girly squeal from me and I ripped open the microwave door, to discover actual flames coming from the cleverly disguised tin foil sandwiched inbetween the paper of the packet.

I’ve never set the kitchen on fire before, so I got a bit of a shock.  But I managed to think quick and decided to blow the flames out, whilst balanced precariously on my tip toes. The microwave is on top of the fridge and I’m only 5 foot 2 (ish) so it’s a bit of a stretch at the best of times… Thankfully it worked and I rescued the butter and the kitchen.

The Offending Article

I persevered following the slight disaster and finished mixing the ingredients, with the addition of coconut too. Let’s hope this tastes nice!

Lovely Mixing. (Make a wish)

Then to grease and line 14 small tins of various sizes! This was a bit of test of my patience. I made the next mistake of popping another pack of butter directly on the oven shelf, ‘just for a minute’ to soften. I forgot about it and returned about 20 minutes later to an empty pack of butter and an oven swimming in grease. Eugh!

Oh dear

I got a bit bored of making lids for my mini cakes and decided to wrap the entire tray in baking paper to protect it from the heat. As the cakes are much smaller than the norm I reduced the cooking time slightly
too, so no 1am cake vigils for me!

Mini Cakes. Individually greased and lined.

Patience wearing thin... I'll wrap the entire tray!

They look lovely and smell beautiful too. These cakes are most definitely a labour of love. Now to feed them rum on a regular basis. I’ll store them for a few weeks then attempt some sort of creative decoration. I predict some sort of gold lustre making an appearance. I will keep you posted on my progress!

Phew! 14 mini Christmas Cakes baked

Close up

Winner! Great British Bake Off Book

I wanted to share some excellent news with you. I was thrilled to find this week that I won a lovely prize from Urvashi  one of the fantastic Great British Bake Contestants! I’ve won a copy of the Great British Bake Off Book!

This made my day, particularly as I had ordered a copy from Amazon about 2 months ago and had been eagerly awaiting it’s arrival. Rushing home from work to check the door mat to no avail for about a month. When I tried to contact the seller on Amazon it turned out he had took my money and closed his account! This win more than made up for my disappointment! Thank you so much Urvashi!

I really can’t wait for it to arrive to bake some more Great British Bake Off goodies!! (Sacher torte perhaps?!) It will also help to stem the Great British Bake Off withdrawal symptoms, waiting for the next series in the new year!

If you get a chance I would also check out her lovely blog too…

Happy Friday!!

11. Pavlova Continued… Modified Meringues!

2 days after the tanned Pavlova creation, I still wasn’t happy with my meringue techniques. I can remember my Aunty Janet making beautiful chewy mini meringues and eating loads of them with my cousin Andrew. They were beautifully piped  and subtly golden. I’ve always wanted to attempt petite meringues like my Aunty Janet used to make. Unfortunately I don’t have her recipe, so I thought I would modify the BBC recipe that I used for the Pavlova.

Super Hans. The cat that got the meringue.

I whipped the eggs and the sugar together. Then out with a piping bag! I should probably invest in  something a little more sturdy than a Wilko’s 90p effort, but this was breakfast cooking at it’s best. I free handedly piped little meringue swirls  onto the baking paper saving a little meringue to experiment with later. Super Hans, my cat, was very intrigued by this recipe and insisted on sniffing some of the leftovers…

Freshly Piped Petite Meringues

I thought ‘let’s have a go at pink meringues and make them more like macaroons by throwing in some ground almonds!’ In my mind these were going to be pretty little pink swirls all light and chewy…

Meringue Dots

A second whisk is not what meringues like. A runny pink mess ensued and I struggled to get it into and keep it in the piping bag. Therefore I invented Meringue Dots. Mainly due to the fact that the piping bag kept  dripping meringue everywhere.

Some meringues didn't quite survive.

I guessed at the cooking time again with these being very little meringues and left them for about 40 minutes or so to dry out in the warm oven. Frightened they would weld themselves to the baking paper I quickly removed them and let them cool fully whilst sampling a few on the way. One for the tray , one for me. Oh dear, that one broke. Two for me, one for the tin..

Petite Meringues

I liked these a lot. And one batch makes tonnes of petite meringues!! Although I can’t say they are anywhere as good as my Aunty Janet’s, for a little experiment I quite enjoyed them. Perhaps the piping bag may have to come out to play more often.

The Final Presentation

Perfect little presents too

Not wanting to waste all those egg yolks I whipped up a quick batch of Nigella’s Egg Yolk Sponge Cakes too.

Egg Yolk Sponge Cakes