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…
 

17. Matcha Green Tea Drizzle Cake – Japan

I love Japan. This is probably an understatement. The North East of England has slowly but surely caught on to the variety of foods that other countries can offer. For a long time we only had one sushi restaurant. I’m happy to report that we now have at least 3 that I’m aware of. Wagamama posed quite a revolution when it first opened its doors and we all queued down the street for a chance to eat some gorgeous food.

The Golden Palace

Traditionally Japanese food focuses more on savoury things rather than cakes I found this fantastic recipe for a Green Tea Drizzle Cake in the Wagamama cookbook.

A delicious slice

I went to Japan last year after dreaming about it for many, many years. I love that pretty much everything has green tea in it. I ate so much Green Tea ice cream…

My favourite ice cream parlour (this may have bee rose but I ate so much I forget)

went to a Tea Ceremony,

Me making Matcha in the Tea ceremony

Tea Ceremony

dressed up in kimono

The Full Kimono Experience

Kimono

and ate tonnes of sushi and noodles and maple leaf cakes (if I can find a recipe I will be attempting this very soon!)

The best cold soba noodles I have ever had. EVER

I’m quite adventurous when it comes to food and when in Japan of course I’m going to experiment a bit further, so yes I ate Bento boxes on the bullet train til they were coming out of my ears, (octopus legs and all)

Tasty Octopus Legs

but I drew the line at raw horse meat which was almost eaten by accident, slightly lost in translation somewhere…

No raw horse meat here!

Luckily during my Hello Kitty splurges I also insisted on purchasing Matcha (Green Tea Powder although the bamboo whisk is yet to see daylight and is still sealed in its packet at the back of the cupboard) My Asian cooking obsessions mean that I regularly purchase bizarre things from the Chinese Supermarkets, so I have a cupboard full of tapioca pearls, jasmine essence and of course gunpowder green tea.

The strong stuff

We had friends coming round for takeaway and I thought Green Tea Cake would be a perfect light end to the meal. It was quite a quick bake too, so just enough time to whip up a double batch as I wanted to bake one to take with me to my friends house the night after too.

Unlike a normal sponge cake, the sugar and eggs were beaten together in a bain marie until it tripled in size.

Eggs and sugar into the whisk

Whisk it all until it triples in size

Magic

then flour, baking powder and matcha powder were folded in.

Matcha Green Tea Powder (and flour)

I divided the batter between the 2 tins and set them away to bake whilst I brewed up the strongest green tea I’ve ever made. It goes against my tea teachings to use boiling water when brewing green tea, but that’s what the recipe called for so I followed the instructions, wincing at the bitter green tea smell.

Brewing tea

I sieved the stewed tea to separate out the leaves and then reduced the tea down to a syrup with sugar.

Dark green tea

When the cakes they had to rest in their tins until cooled. I pierced the top of the cakes with a skewer and then poured the syrup generously over the 2 cakes.

Green Tea Syrup

They needed a little more resting and then wrestling out of the sugary tins, as the syrup hardened and required some brute force to release the cakes. Normally with a drizzle cake I use a solid tin and can dunk it in hot water to release it, but as this wasn’t water tight with a loose bottom I didn’t want to drown it before we had a chance to eat it!

Drizzled

Having saved a little syrup back, I ‘spiked’ the crème fraiche with green tea.

Green Tea spiked Creme Fraiche

I usually don’t like cream on the side of my cakes, but this was divine! The cake didn’t taste anything like how it smelt, which to be honest wasn’t the best smelling cake I’ve made.  (Nor was it the prettiest!)

The Final Cake

It was clean tasting and refreshing, with a crispy coating on the outside and soft and moist on in the inside. Beautiful! I would definitely recommend this to anyone.

The cake was enjoyed by all

Bonsai Trees at Hiroshima Peace Park

 

Things that I used to make my Matcha Green Tea Drizzle Cake (Courtesy of Wagamama Cookbook) 

This will make 1 Matcha Green Tea Drizzle Cake. I doubled these ingredients and made 2 cakes at the same time. (Just in case you’re feeding a few people! The cake should serve about 6-8 people)

For the cake

  • 110 g plain flour
  • 10 g matcha (powdered green tea – you can get this in most oriental supermarkets)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 75 g butter
  • 110 g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs

For the green tea syrup

  • 2 tbsp green tea leaves (I used gunpowder loose green tea leaves to make the syrup)
  • 150 ml boiling water
  • 150 g caster sugar
  • Don’t forget to save a little of the syrup to spike the crème fraîche  with!
  • about 200 g crème fraîche  to serve

14. Key Lime Pie – America (but with a massive Italian Meringue!)

There seems to be a pattern emerging here. It was my friend Jenny’s birthday and I wanted to bake something special for her. When I asked what she would like her immediate response was ‘Key Lime Pie’. Your wish is my command.

I’ve never had Key Lime Pie before but I immediately thought of the Hummingbird Bakery recipe that I had gazed at longingly many a time but had thought it was too complicated and messy to attempt. I would not let my niggling doubts defeat me.

I knew that I would need a bit of time to prepare this one in order to bring it to work to celebrate Jenny’s birthday in style. I got up extra early the day before to smash up digestive biscuits. It’s days like these that I wish I had a food processor. Chris had to ask me nicely to stop hammering the biscuits with the rolling pin as it was simply too early. I ran out of digestives and supplemented the rest with rich teas instead. (that’s ok right?!)

Smashing Digestives

Again I had to shield my eyes from the flying digestive debris when I blitzed the shards with the hand blender. I may, or may not, have gone to work with crumbs in my hair. (It’s hard to tell with my curly mop sometimes).

I melted the butter in the microwave successfully not causing any fireworks this time and quickly stirred it all together. I quickly realised as I attempted to press the buttery biscuit paste into my flan dish that if I used all of the biscuits as instructed in the recipe that there simply wouldn’t be any space for limes in the pie…

Can't fit any more biscuits in!

I had felt a bit guilty and frivoulous for  buying mini pie dishes recently, but this Key Lime Pie emergency meant that I got to christen them! My sleepy brain missed a step in the recipe which said you bake the biscuit base and I assumed they would need to set in the fridge (hence the extra early preparations). Into the fridge they went to wait for me upon my return from work.

Mini Tins

I realised that I had to bake the base and cool it before the lime filling could be poured in. No baking beans needed for this inital bake unlike the Tarte au Citron.

Ready for round 2. Into the oven...

The grating and juicing of the limes was intense and made me crave a mojito. Once it was all grated I whisked it into the lashings of condensed milk and egg yolks, which I lovingly separated from their whites to save for the magnificent meringue.

A lot of limes went into the making of this.

and eggs 🙂

Then to pour the limey goodness onto the biscuit base  which was now a thick greenish creamy paste and bake it in the oven. The lack of light in my oven could pose a problem for checking the bake, but I’ve lived with it for over 2 years now and found a torch is a handy cooking tool.

Ready for round 2. Into the oven...

Who needs a light inside their oven? Torches are the way forward. Is it done yet?

Now for the exciting bit. I’ve never made Italian style meringue before. (and only made normal meringue for the first time recently!) I saw it on the Great British Bake Off  being created very precisely with thermometers and such like. If you’ve read any of my blog you will know by now that I simply don’t do precise, so I was relieved that a thermometer was not needed in this recipe. The only thermometer I own is a forehead strip one that I bought during the Swine Flu Panic last year. Somehow I don’t think I could use that to measure the temperature of sugar syrup…

Frothy egg whites (Before sugar)

8 egg whites were whisked into a frothy frenzy whilst the sugar and water bubbled merrily on the stove. I couldn’t remember if you were supposed to stir sugar constantly or if it makes it return to it’s crystallised state, so I did a bit of both. Stir, let it bubble, stir again. It eventually reached what I assumed to be the ‘soft ball stage‘. A mystical sugary state that frankly I’ve never heard of before I attempted to make fudge the other week, which was a disaster, so I clearly can’t recognise this stage of sugary wonderment. To be on the safe side I let it bubble some more..

Sugar Soup?

Bubblin Hot

When the sugar is syrupy and hot enough it needs to be poured slowly into the egg whites whilst whisking it. It’s a good job I can multi task, as I poured the liquid molten lava with one hand and held the electric whisk with the other, praying I wouldn’t slip and scald myself. When I win the lottery I have promised myself a Kitchen Aid mixer (and a bigger kitchen).

After sugar... I think the meringue's cooked!

I think I may need a bigger bowl if I’m ever going to make this again. It was amazing. Compared to uncooked meringue this was like magic. It quadrupled in size and almost over flowed the bowl! The only downside was after all the sugar was incorporated was that it involved 15 – 20 minutes of more whisking. Thank god for my little electric whisk and my ipod on random. Elvis and whisking. What can be better?

A mini one

Once the meringue had cooled, it was cooked through and ready to be assembled on top of the lime pies. It was a sticky process. With each mountain of meringue in position I popped them all in the oven for the final bake!

The Key Lime Pie Family Portrait

What a wonderful sight! So impressive! I struggled to get the pie into my cake box to transport to work. So cling wrapped it to the hilt and carried it like a baby. I got A LOT of smiles from strangers on my way to work that morning! Someone actually offered me their seat on the metro. It just goes to show people LOVE cake and Key Lime Pie is an attractive bake.

The grand reveal (somehow pearls of toffee appeared from the meringue, I know not how or why but they look pretty.)

This pie goes a long way. We shared it amongst 11 people and then I still had 3 mini pies at home! (don’t worry I didn’t eat them all by myself) The wonderfully sweet meringue balanced out the sharp and creamy lime. The digestive base tasted almost gingery after their third bake in the oven. Perhaps it was the addition of rich tea biscuits, whatever it was, it was wonderful.

Heaven is a massive slice of Key Lime Pie. Happy Birthday Jenny!

Very Neapolitan

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 – New Zealand and the Ram Van

I love New Zealand. When we visited it was the middle of winter and despite the snow and a week in a The Ram Van camper sleeping in all my clothes and a body warmer, I still loved the experience. Rambling through river beds to touch the nose of Fox Glacier, bathing in the naturally hot spring waters at the bottom of a snow capped mountains (and freezing to death jumping between the pools) at Hamner Springs and 5 hours on a very rocky ferry accompanied by the little known Hugh Grant classic ‘Music and Lyrics’ (that film got me through a very dark point in my life of extreme seasickness). It doesn’t get much better than this. Such a beautiful country.

Me in the Ram (Camper) van. Can you see the snow capped mountains in the background?

I can’t actually remember eating very much cake whilst in New Zealand, but I do remember eating pumpkin soup when we had to stay in a motel when I cried following the horrific storm filled ferry crossing. It was the best pumpkin soup I’ve ever had. Also coffee and cream from a tube that we had whilst camping. I’ve since tried to buy it in England and it’s unheard of here! Travesty! All those outdoor shops we have and not a sign of coffee in a tube! I really wanted to buy some but thought $35 was a bit too steep to mail order some.

It doesn't get much better than this!

I feel a bit like a broken record, but I’ve never baked a Pavlova before and thought why not give it a go? It can’t be that difficult, can it? Perhaps I should have went for something a bit easier when I had friends coming round for dinner? Perhaps this was a bit too daring, baking New Zealand’s National Dish without practicing or preparing beforehand? Perhaps I should have baked something a little less technical when I hadpeople visiting?? Perhaps, perhaps perhaps, but I always seem to throw myself in at the deep end and look forward to seeing if it turns out ok.

Action shot

Somehow I hadn’t really thought about the hour and a half that it requires in the oven on a very low temperature and that it needs to cool down quite a lot before you can serve it. But I had already whisked  everything up by the time I realised this and the oven was already full of pork and potatoes, which needed 2 hours at a very high temperature… Compromises had to be made and we didn’t eat until ridiculous o’clock (sorry Sarah and Ole!). We were all very hungry by this point!

Glossy and fluffy

I thoroughly enjoyed whisking the egg whites this time without any traces of yolk (Hurrah, progress!) and watching them become very glossy and stand up on end. Throwing in sugar I whisked it all up into a frenzy. The meringue mix too on the light brown hue of the soft demerea sugar that I had blitzed in the blender to make it an even finer grain.

The most difficult part was trying to plonk it all in some sort of attractive mess on a baking tray. Genius struck when I realised I could separate the round flat tin from the loose bottom cake tin and use that instead of trying to squish it into a baking sheet, and it would give a good pavlova shape too!

Sculpture of meringue

It took forever to bake and due to the pork emergency we were having I left it in a bit longer than required on a slightly higher temperature than required. Resulting in a rather two toned, tanned pavlova.

It's not burnt... it's just a bit oven tanned.

I whipped up the cream with lemon zest (very nice touch, I will do that more often!) I threw it all together and attempted to balance an enormous amount of fruit (raspberries, blueberries and strawberries) on top and hoped they wouldn’t fall off when I walked through the beaded curtain from our kitchen to the living room.

Extreme Close Up

This is definitely a dessert to assemble 5 minutes before it’s served and eaten straight away. I was surprised by how soft the meringue was, possibly because I used a different type of sugar as I don’t have golden caster sugar… and possibly because it hadn’t completely cooled down. It was more like a sponge cake on the bottom, once the cream had been added, and chewy meringue on the edges. We all cleared our plates so it must have been ok!

8. Make and Bake – Chocolate Cheesecake – America – Hummingbird Bakery

With it being Chocolate Week last week and National Baking Week this week, I thought I should bake something else chocolatey and lovely. A triumphant return to America to one of the few Hummingbird Bakery Recipes that I was still to attempt… Baked Chocolate Cheesecake.

Baked Chocolate Cheesecake

After watching the Baked Cheesecake GBBO episode I was aware of how tricky this would be. But I’m still dreaming about Jo’s Rum and Raisin Cheesecake! I was a little surprised in the supermarket when purchasing all the cream cheese needed for this one… 4 packets of cheese seems like a lot!!

Beacoup de Cream Cheese

I decided to improvise with the biscuits as I already had rich tea in the house rather than buy digestives. That won’t make too much of a difference right?

Biscuity Base

I must admit I was in a little bit of a hurry when putting this one together and roughly blended rich tea biscuits and cocoa powder into sweet dust which permeated the entire kitchen with my little hand whisk. An emergency tea towel was required to protect my eyes.

I pressed the biscuity mess into my borrowed loose bottomed tin and shoved it the fridge to set.

I threw all the cheese with the melted chocolate into a bowl and whisked it all up then added all the eggs… Using one hand to smash the eggs and one hand to whisk, i ended up with egg shells all over the floor, but an effective method nonetheless.

Thoroughly Whisked

I poured it all into the tin then once again disaster struck. I’m most definitely consistent in one area. My inability to read recipes. Dear Lord, I despair at my own ridiculousness. I realised I hadn’t read to the end of the recipe! I didn’t have a tray big enough to submerge the cake in, in order to bake it in a bath of water. I only had another loose bottomed cake tin which I managed to gently manoeuvre the runny cheesecake into. Upon pouring water into the second tin, I thought I could hear rain. No. It was all the water running out of my cake tin over the electrical items down the back of the kitchen units and onto the floor. BRILLIANT.

I had to abandon the water bath idea and hope that it wouldn’t burn being baking directly in the oven.

Just as I was lifting the precariously full tin unto the oven I had a flash of panic. I’ve forgotten something…. SUGAR! (and also vanilla). How did I forget sugar??!! I was so very lucky to have realised at the very last minute, as this would have been a rather expensive and disgusting cheese and chocolate bake.

not quite oven ready... quick hand me a ladle!!

Quick to rescue yet another failure on my part I grabbed a ladle and scooped the gloopy mixture it of the tin and back into the bowl. A quick whisk of sugar and vanilla and it was time for the oven again.

Oven Ready?

To compensate for the lack of water I turned the oven down to hopefully prevent burning. From watching GBBO I know the cheesecake has to wobble a bit in the middle, but mine just kept wobbling all over. I probably kept it in the oven a bit too long.

The Double Tin Effect - sadly no water (probably should have stopped baking at this point...)

An hour and a half later I had one massive chocolate cheesecake on my hands, albeit with a huge crack down the middle, it looked ok!

Rather than at this point...

It needed a night in the fridge and then it was ready for tasting. It’s definitely rich and creamy. It’s so filling  you can only eat a little bit in one go, but I quite like it. The Rich Tea base is actually pretty good too! This feeds about 25 people.

But from this angle (and if you squint a little) the disaster disappears! Magic!

I’ve even purchased some take way pots to deliver take away cheesecake to my friends and family this week. If you’re visiting me this week please beware you will be fed cheesecake and then take some home with you too! Its good to share!

Cheesy and Chocolatey

We’re Jammin’ – Marguerite Patten’s Apple and Ginger Jam – England

Homemade Apple and Ginger Jam

Technically not a bake but as I set my own rules and disregard them frequently, I declare that making something on the oven is almost the same as in the oven. Why quibble over semantics?! Also jam making is a skill that I’m yet to master as my previous charred cherry remains and ruined pan are testament to. Watching a 10 minute River Cottage Preserves Programme does make me a jam expert. New baking commandment. Thou shalt not invent your own jam recipe. Disaster shall prevail if so….

My Own Cherry Jam Recipe... Burnt Toffee

Jam features in so many baked items so I think it’s essential to teach myself how to make it. Also I’m sure Holly Bell whipped up a quick pan of jam in The Great British Bake Off final  therefore I can justify it.

My Wonderful Annotations. Thankfully I can now spell milk... My Mam must have loved those additions to her book.

I dug out my Mam’s proper cookbook. The original Prince cooking bible, complete with little Lauren scribbles and misspelt notes. (Mam must have been thrilled when I did that.) She taught me how to bake from this. I tried to help whenever I could with Graham Gingerbread, Carrot Cake and of course, Rock Buns.

My Mam has always been very good and artistic making impressive celebration cakes for the family. I was a very lucky child to have the Pink Panther, Hello Kitty and most recently Frank n Furter recreated in cake, icing, licorice and glitter for my birthdays. I wish I had some photos to share with you here! I tried to repay the honour by baking Mam her favourite, Christmas Cake. Unfortunately the marzipan snowman got a bit squashed when I pushed a tin lid on it…

The First Ever Christmas Cake That I Baked (2009)

I didn’t really appreciate the wonder of this Everyday Cookbook until I started looking through it over the last couple of weeks. I didn’t even know who Marguerite Patten was, or that she received  for her contributions to cooking, a pioneer of economical cookery. A woman after my own heart.

The one and only Marguerite Patton Ever Day Cook Book

With my remaining wedding apples I wanted to do something special. I LOVE apple and ginger jam and can’t find it anywhere apart from Tynemouth Market once, 2 years ago. But lo and behold Marguerite has a recipe for it!

Apples in Ginger

Only one slight hand injury incurred during some late night apple chopping and I left the apples to marinade in a lot of ginger powder overnight. When I tried to measure out the sugar needed I realised that I had been looking at the wrong side of my scales and had over 1kg of apples, not 1lb that the recipe required. (How did I carry them all back from James and Lara’s wedding!?) It was a very close call and a good catch. I re-weighed everything and after a bit of mental arithmetic I worked out very roughly the proportions of sugar to apple that I needed to get the consistency right.

Rather a lot of apples required...

I know jam is a complicated and delicate process but despite not measuring things correctly, I then threw all of the sugar in at the very start. Upon re-reading the recipe I realised this is NOT what you do. It’s all about getting the magical pectin to seep out of the fruit to make it set, but I had probably ruined it. I followed the rest of the rules however and didn’t stir it once it reached boiling point and hoped that I wouldn’t have to throw out my best pan. Putting the lid on I watched it nervously steam and froth.

Don't Panic! It's all (kind of) under control

It didn’t take long, maybe 15 minutes at the most and then I had jam! But I wouldn’t recommend tasting it at this stage. It’s far too hot…

Looking Jammy

I got a bit carried away when jar shopping . Luckily I bought extra jars, just incase I made more jam than the recipe predicted. It’s almost like I’m psychic. The recipe was only supposed to produce 1lb of jam. I made enough to fill 2 1lbs jars!

Marguerite Pattons' Preserves

I kept a little bit back to have on my toast for breakfast and it was fantastic! Real jam!

If you burn the toast perfectly then Hello Kitty's face appears. It's an art form.

Breakfast Time. Perfect with a cup of tea

Now just to decide if I should keep it all for myself, bake it in a cake or give it away as Christmas presents… What could say ‘I love you’ more than a big jar of homemade jam or ‘I built you a cake?’ What you will need to make your own Apple and Ginger Jam

  • 1lb of apples peeled and chopped in the cubes
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger (although I added far more and think the more ginger the better!)
  • 1lb of granulated sugar
  • No extra citric acid is needed when making apple jam as its got enough pectin in the fruit to set the jam

This recipe yields 1    2/3 lb of jam in total. When I made it it filled two 1lb jars.  Marguerite’s Jam Tips!

  • Marguerite explains that although it’s best to use preserving sugar which has more pectin added to it to encourage the jam to set, you can still use loaf/granulated sugar (which is often cheaper) particularly when preserving fruits with higher levels of natural pectin such as Blackberries.
  • Some fruits such as cherries have low levels of pectin and therefore you will need to use more fruit than sugar and add some citric acid, such as lemon juice to encourage it to set more.
  • If using a fruit with high levels of pectin such as blackcurrants you should use more sugar than fruit. You should get better results when you use more sugar than fruit in any jam as this helps the jam to set.
  • Stew the fruit slowly to maximise the vital pectin extraction

6. Chocolate Roulade – France

Not just any Chocolate Roulade, but Mary Berry’s quintessential Chocolate Roulade. I wanted to push myself further (yet again) and chose another technical challenge to bake for my Book Group friends. This time round I studied and re-examined the Mary Berry Chocolate Roulade Recipe  which was one of the technical challenges posed to the Great British Bake Off contestants. I wanted to make sure that I fully grasped the method. I even double checked I had all the right ingredients the day before (very unlike me!).

It took a lot of will power not to eat this

I’ve never baked something without flour. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever whipped up so many eggs before. Hoping that my little whisk had made a miraculous recovery I cracked on. Literally. Separating 6 eggs. Disaster struck when one egg yolk split and oozed into the egg whites. I could hear the sage like Mary Berry in my head saying, ‘The egg whites must not contain any trace of yolk or they won’t set when you whisk them’ Frantically scooping yolk from the whites, as my guests were arriving in under an hour and I only had 1 pack of eggs, there was no room for error. I managed to get most of it and then crossed my fingers and hoped for the best!

Splitting the eggs (note the not so white, whites)

Another lesson learnt. Perhaps in future so as to not ruin all of the eggs, I will crack each egg into a cup first, letting the egg white run through my fingers  leaving the yoke,  which can be put into its own separate jug. I won’t be using the sharp egg shell to separate eggs again! My promise to Mary. Only when I know the egg white is pure will I then pour each one individually into the bowl.

Fluffy Eggs Whites (with a splash of yoke... tut tut tut)

The eggs whites did fluff up nicely when I whisked them, but not having done this before I wasn’t entirely sure at what point to step away from the mixer… How much whisking is too much?

As I whisked and folded chocolate into egg yolk more pearls of wisdom from Mary Berry floated into my mind. ‘Use a metal spoon to fold the whisked so no air is lost’ (Emmm I only have a slotted metal spoon Mary, will this do?). ‘Fold the eggs gently, but any flecks of white left will be visible in the Roulade’. This was much harder than I had anticipated and had to resist the urge to just give it a good stir! But persevering it all eventually combined into a lovely chocolatey paste. I then forced it into the pre-prepared (get me planning ahead!) tin.

Ready for the oven

Drum Roll Please...

I now fully appreciate why this was a technical challenge on GBBO. It was so crumbly! It cracked and crumbled all over, but I coaxed it in to a roll -ish shape and then made my own greaseproof paper piping bag to pipe in a little extra cream to hopefully hold it all together. Ta da!

The Final Roulade!

It was so good (even if I do say so myself!) I really enjoyed it and I’m not a big fan of cream. Such a fantastic combination of textures. Light and fluffy on the inside and ever so slighty crispy on the outside. The cream softening it further, so it almost melted in the mouth. It may not have looked perfect but it tasted amazing. The girls loved it and conservation quietened slightly as we devoured it. Always a good sign that a cake is a success that concentration is required to savour it. All praise to Mary!

So Chocolatey, So Lovely

5. Viennese Apple Strudel – Austria (The 4 Foot Pastry Monster- most tricky bake yet)

This week I may have baked myself into oblivion. Following my muffin experiment I wanted to explore a country that I am still yet to visit, Austria. (which I am assured is not in Germany and Prussia no longer exists). We went to our friends’ beautiful wedding last weekend where I was kindly given a boatload of homegrown apples. Congratulations and thank you James and Lara they are very tasty! This is my second bake using said apples.

James and Lara's Wedding Apples

I wanted to find an authentic recipe for something a bit more challenging, stepping up the baking ante. I chose a rather traditional Viennese Apple Strudel Recipe. This involved an enormous amount of apples and butter and yet another pastry effort.

Peeling and chopping a mountain of apples and simultaneously sauteing my previous homemade baguettes in butter I got stuck in.

Best Oxfam purchase ever

Sauteed Baguette

The pastry was epic! My poor little electric whisk started to smell like the blown out birthday candles and I fear it will never be the same again. There’s pastry still trapped inside, even after a took a knife to it, to coax it out!

Poor little whisk

The recipe called for a 4 foot length of cloth to stretch the 4 feet of pastry out on. I’m not even sure my workbench is 4 foot long?! With limited resources yet again I found a subsitiute for cotton, in cling film. (I don’t think this is the traditional method in Austria,) Selotaping vast amounts of cling film to the bench seemed to be my best bet. I felt like the Cling Film Queen. Christening my new fabuolous rolling pin, I set to work flattening it all out and stretching the pastry to within an inch of it’s life.

Miles and Miles of Pastry (new rolling pin!)

Then to add the filling and breadcrumbs quickly before the pastry fell apart. It was very delicate. I had to coat the inside in even more butter, in addition to the extra chunks of butter the recipe requested to accompany the apples and raisins! I hope my guests like butter…

I thought the next bit would be really difficult, folding the pastry over to roll it all up. I was very proud of myself when I got to this point. Who needs 4 feet of cloth to wrap up a strudel?! I thought whimsically. It wasn’t easy, I hasten to add, as the cling film kept tearing but what was still yet to come almost had me in tears…

Roll Up! Roll Up!

Entering in to my second hour of preparation I was getting to that almost frazzled point and needed some stroke of genius to enlighten me as to how I was going to a) get this 4 foot pastry monster out of the cling film and b) on to my quite small baking tray.

I made sure this time I greased the paper very well! But every little attempt to move the strudel made the corners of the apple chunks inside poke through the pastry. Patting down the increasingly thin pastry I went for the Band Aid Method, throw it into the tray and rip off the cling film. I was up to my elbows in butter by this point. Hallelujah! It was on the tray in a Horseshoe shape. Phew!

A Horseshoe Shape?

Now you may notice the obvious mistake here. Despite having the recipe printed out in front of me (without any photos) I still managed to misread it! This is getting beyond a joke. Is my eyesight or my brain failing me? I may have to start wearing my glasses whilst baking. The recipe prescribed half of the bread crumbs to be put into the mix which I successfully did. Then in all the excitement of rolling it up, I thought it said to sprinkle the rest on the strudel. I realised, to my horror, after I sprinkled them all over the final product I had missed a step. The recipe said to put them inside the strudel just before rolling. Damn!! I had a good giggle at my stupidity though. It wasn’t life or death, but I was worried the breadcrumbs would burn and smell like burnt toast.

I'm ready for my close up and look a little twisted but that's ok

Thankfully it was ok in the end! It smelled quite lovely, but as it was now 11pm I wasn’t in the mood for sampling it. Also we had friends coming over the following evening for food so I wanted to save it for them.

No smell of burnt toast at all 🙂

A quick reheat in the oven and lashings of custard and the strudel was a success!

It was well received

The sweet apples and raisins contrasted nicely with the savoury pastry. It should also feed the 5 thousand as it’s enormous. 4 of us hardly put a dent in it! Please send tupperware, or even bring a plate and you can have a slice!

The Final Slice

I may have now reached my pastry capacity now. I may explode. Next bake will have to be something a little different I think…