66. Finnish Apricot Cardamom and Pistachio Pulla

Braided Pulla infused with cardamom, orange, apricot and pistachio

Braided Pulla infused with cardamom, orange, apricot and pistachio

I realise that I’ve slowed down on the old blogging front in recent months sorry! Partly due to it being Summer and not feeling the need to have an extra cake layer to keep me warm and also due to breaking my phone (and camera) which meant I’ve lost quite a bit of data and worked my way through 5 faulty handsets in 2 months… Anyways I’ve salvaged enough to bring you my braided Pulla.

Apricot Cardamom  and Almond Pulla  recipe

Apricot Cardamom and Almond Pulla

I felt the urge to bake something delicious and not too sweet. This cardamom infused apricot and almond pulla braid is just what the phone doctor ordered.

Fluffy, fragrant, light and slightly sweet Pulla is an enriched dough that compliments a good strong coffee perfectly. Gently scented with cardamom and studded with dried apricots for extra pops of flavour. If you were in need of additional luxuriousness ribbons of water icing would transform this into an excellent iced bun too.

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Traditionally Pulla is served with coffee in thin slices or as individual buns. Leftover Pulla (if you ever get that far!) can be twice baked to create a crisp biscotti type biscuit to dunk in your coffee.

Prove the dough until doubled in size

Prove the dough until doubled in size

As with all other yeasted doughs bring the ingredients together and knead for 10 minutes to allow the gluten to develop. Once the dough is shiny, stretchy and springs back when pressed it’s ready to place in a greased bowl, cover with greased cling film and prove.

pulla recipe

Proven pulla dough awaiting it’s cardamom and orange zest

Enriched Dough proves best in the fridge overnight, allowing the freshly kneaded supple dough, permeated with butter, sugar and an egg to slowly rise and firm up. Making it much easier to shape the following day. But if you’re in a rush to get it in your face feel free to prove at room temperature for an hour then shape and prove it again.

pulla recipe Now to knead in the pistachios and dried apricots

Now to knead in the pistachios and dried apricots

Once you’ve kneaded in the finely chopped nuts, and apricots along with the grated orange zest and ground cardamom into the dough so the flavours are fully incorporated, split the dough into 3 equally sized pieces.

3 little dough balls pulla plaiting bread dough

3 little dough balls

Roll the 3 pieces into long thin sausages (making sure you pop any little air bubbles that sneak there way in) and gather the strands together at one end.

The beginning of a plait

The beginning of a plait

Push the strands together so that they stick to each other and plait them together to form a braid. Once you reach the end, carefully join the two ends of the plait together to form a braided ring. Squish the ends together to form a join and tuck any loose bits underneath (no one will ever know after it rises.)

Plaiting the pulla

Plaiting the pulla

Place your braided Pulla crown into a semolina sprinkled baking sheet or dish. Cover with greased cling film and leave to prove a room temperature for an hour or two until doubled in size.

Ready to prove it's worth

Ready to prove it’s worth

Bake it at 190 degrees c for 30 minutes until it’s golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Whilst still warm glaze your Pulla generously with runny honey. Whilst the honey is sticky sprinkle with flaked almonds to decorate. Or if you’re feeling extra indulgent feel free to use water/glace icing to make an extra rich white icing that would look oh so pretty against the plait.

The final baked Pulla braided Crown

The final baked Pulla braided Crown

This is such a gorgeous sweet treat. It’s fluffy and tender with an wonderful spicy warmth from the cardamom. Balanced against a chewy nugget of apricot and a crisp morsel of pistachio. I love this bake and enjoyed it au natural with coffee to bring out the exotic notes and subtle sweetness. Delicious! And perfect for a special breakfast.


Things I used to make my Apricot and Cardamom Pulla

Enriched dough

  • 350g strong white flour
  • 5g salt
  • 40g sugar
  • 7g yeast
  • 45g margarine/butter
  • 175ml milk

Flavours to infuse the dough with after the first prove

  • 31 cardamom pods (seeds taken out and ground to fine powder)
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 8 chopped dried apricots chopped into small chunks
  • 20g pistachios chopped roughly

Topping/decoration

  • A handful of flaked almonds for sprinkling on top
  • Honey to glaze the top whilst still warm
  • You could also whip up a thick sticky water icing with the juice of the orange and icing sugar to pipe on top of the pulla if you would prefer a sticky bun effect.

Method

  1. Knead the flour, yeast, salt, butter, sugar and milk together for 10 minutes to create a sticky dough
  2. Leave to prove overnight in the fridge (or until double din size at room temp)
  3. Knead in the flavours; ground cardamom, orange zest, chopped apricots and pistachios
  4. Split the dough into 3 equal pieces and roll out to long strands
  5. Join one end of the 3 strands together and plait it into a braid
  6. Join the two ends of the braid together to form a circle
  7. Cover with greased cling film and prove on a semolina lined baking tray/dish until doubled in size
  8. Bake at 190 degrees c for 30 minutes until it’s golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped underneath
  9. Whilst still warm glaze with runny honey and sprinkle with flaked almonds
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48. Oh Canada! Oh Nanaimo Bars!

Happy Birthday to Chris  Nanaimo Bar

Happy Birthday to Chris – your own personal Nanaimo Bar

This blog has been a looooong time coming. I wanted to recreate a special treat from our Canadian travels for Chris’s birthday (last October…). My Aunty Carol in Canada recommended the quintessentially Canadian Nanaimo bar to satisfy my Canadian cravings.

Hike up Mount Doug

Hike up Mount Doug

We spent a glorious week with my family on Vancouver island. Taking in all the sites, hiking up Mount Doug, whale watching, exploring the ski slopes and of course meeting a Mountie or two.

Mountie Meeting

Mountie Meeting

Ziplining through the forests in Whistler

Ziplining through the forests in Whistler

So many beautiful sights to take in

So many beautiful sights to take in

Nanaimo bars are as popular in Canada as Tim Horton’s coffee shop. I still dream of those bear claw doughnuts. Unfortunately in England we don’t seem to know what Graham Crackers are or sell them in any shops… and they are an essential ingredient in Nanaimo Bars.

Smash up your biscuits with whatever's handy in a sandwich bag

Smash up your biscuits with whatever’s handy in a sandwich bag

My educated guess is that it’s some sort of spiced caramelised rich tea biscuit. So I did what I do best with limited store cupboard. I improvised. Smashing up a load of rich tea biscuits and adding in a combination of ginger and cinnamon to the mix.

The beginnings of the biscuit base

The beginnings of the biscuit base – combine sugar, butter, egg, biscuit crumbs, nuts and coconut

The base required a tasty combination of biscuits, melted butter, sugar, egg, cocoa powder, almonds, and coconut. It’s really quick to mix it all together. A 20 second blast in the microwave is all the butter needs to be fully runny.

Stir it all together until fully combined

Stir it all together until fully combined

Stir it all together until fully combined and comes together into a stiff mixture.

Biscuit base ready to be baked

Biscuit base ready to be baked

Once combined press the mixture firmly and evenly into all of the corners of a flat lined and greased 9 inch baking tray. Bake the biscuit base in the oven for about 10 minutes at 180 degrees C.

Whipping up the custard filling

Heating up the cream, milk and vanilla to make the custard filling

The next decadent layer is a lovely custard cream. At this point in my baking repertoire I was still yet to attempt custard concocting. Daunted yet undeterred I proceeded to my cupboard to retrieve the custard powder the recipe requires. Disaster struck when I discovered the custard powder was over a year out of date! Not wanting to poison Chris on his birthday I decided I had gone too far and didn’t have time to make another cake so I would have to proceed and whip up my own custard instead.

Thickening up the custard

Whisking up the eggs, sugar and cornflour

I decided a full custard recipe would be far too much for a small Nanaimo bar recipe so I adapted a Mary Berry recipe to make up my own sweet filling. As with gelato or ice cream you start off heating the cream and milk with a vanilla pod to infuse the custard. Then you whisk the eggs until fluffy with the sugar. Taking the cream off the heat and pour over the eggs. Continue to whisk until it thickens. Then return the custard to the pan and whisk over a low heat until it thickens.

Keeping whisking til the custard thickens

Keeping whisking til the custard thickens

The Nanaimo bar is quite a firm cake so I knew I would have to adapt the rather runny custard to make this work. I added the butter, vanilla extract and a lot of powdered (icing) sugar to the custard. Continuing to whisk it over the low heat until it reached the right thick consistency. You may need to add more powdered sugar to make your custard set firmly. It will end up a much paler custard due to the white icing sugar.

The baked biscuit base - nanaimo bar recipe

The baked biscuit base – look at those nuts!

Take the biscuit base out of the oven and let it cool fully. Once the custard has cooled you can then happily pour the custard over the biscuit and let it set in the fridge whilst you whip up the chocolate topping.

The custard layer setting - nanaimo bar recipe

The custard layer setting

Using a bain marie, pop the chocolate in a bowl suspended over a bowl of boiling water to allow the chocolate to melt gently. Save the last third of the chocolate back to add to the melted chocolate to help reduce the temperature of the chocolate. This tempering of the chocolate stops it from blooming or sweating when it’s cooling. It helps to keep your fingers slightly less sticky.

Gloriously gooey melted chocolate

Gloriously gooey melted chocolate

Pour the glossy melted chocolate all over the custard layer and simply let it cool and set.

The chocolate layer

The chocolate layer

But… just before it’s fully set quickly score the chocolate with a sharp knife to mark out the bar squares. You’ll thank me later. Once the chocolate sets fully it’s really difficult to cut through the chocolate and get properly portioned slices, as the chocolate cracks. (I wish I’d known this when I made Millionaire’s Shortbread!)

The scored Nanaimo Bar

The scored Nanaimo Bar

Then once it’s fully set you can take it out of the tin, chop it up and tuck in! I served Chris his for a special birthday breakfast. In hindsight it might not be the best breakfast food, but you can eat whatever you like on your birthday. That’s the rules. It’s a wonderfully sweet treat.  The coconut, custard and chocolate are a brilliant combination. That’s 3 of my most favourite ingredients all wrapped up into one cake. And even better,  it doesn’t take an age to make. I can see why the Canadians love it so.

Nanaimo Bar recipe

Nanaimo Bar

Thank you so much for the wonderful memories and for showing us the sights Aunty Carol, Uncle Malcolm , Kelly and David!

At the top - Whistler

At the top – Whistler

Things I used to make Nanaimo Bars

  • 1 cup or 250g rich tea biscuits smashed to fine crumbs (or if you have access to graham crackers go for it!)
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup or 125g desicated coconut
  • 1/3 cup or 75 g of flaked almonds
  • 1/4 cup or 60g cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup or 60g sugar
  • 1/3 cup or 75g  melted butter
  • 1 egg

Custard Cream Filling

Custard

  • 285ml milk
  • 25ml cream
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 15g sugar
  • 1 tsp cornflour

*Or alternatively use 2tbsp custard powder if you have it!

  • 1/4 cup or 60g butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups 500g icing sugar

*add 30ml milk if you’re not using home made custard

Chocolate Topping

  • 200g plain dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp butter

100 Boozy Birthday Cupcakes and Counting

We have been busy bees recently. I put some of our wedding present vouchers to very good use and invested in a beautiful Candy Apple Kitchenaid Mixer. I have christened her Joni and she has already proven her weight in gold.

Introducing Joni my candy apple buttercream dream making machine Kitchenaid mixer

Introducing Joni my candy apple buttercream dream making machine

My 30th birthday was approaching fast and wanting to mark the occasion my friend Jill (who’s birthday just so happens to be the day before mine!) and I decided to have a little soiree at our local pub. Cupcakes seemed to be a good option for a gathering, so we didn’t have to worry about plates, knives and such like. It also meant that we could go a bit mad with the flavour combinations too.

What a lucky birthday girl I am with 2 surprise birthday cakes!

On my actual birthday! What a lucky birthday girl I am with 2 surprise birthday cakes from my mam and my sister. We’re not going to go hungry. EVER.

The week before our birthdays, Jill and I spent a merry evening baking everything in sight. Modifying Hummingbird Bakery recipes to our hearts content. It’s amazing what can be achieved in 3 hours by two 29 year old girls, armed with a Kitchenaid and a bottle of prosecco. We got very creative indeed.

How many cupcakes can 2 girls make in less than 3 hours whilst drinking a bottle of fizz??

How many cupcakes can 2 girls make in less than 3 hours whilst drinking a bottle of fizz?? There’s still more in the oven…

We baked well over 100 cakes and still made it to the pub afterwards to meet our husbands. I must admit we sampled rather a few along the way so not all of the cakes made it into our freezers to await their icing. It’s hard to resist when you’ve got cupcakes hot out of the oven dancing in front of your eyes.

The beginnings of Pina Colada Bundt cakes from a genuinely German Gugelhupf tin!

The beginnings of Pina Colada Bundt cakes from a genuinely German Gugelhupf tin! Soaking in white rum syrup

The following week we defrosted our cupcakes and spent an entire day icing the lot, with lashings of buttercream, glitter and ganache. The results were very well received by our friends and the bar staff! The Jasmine green tea cupcakes were a surprise success after I accidentally  emptied the entire bottle of Jasmine Extract into the cupcake batter… They are the most fragrant cupcakes I’ve ever created. Perhaps an acquired taste for some and definitely an excellent air freshener accessory.

Amaretto and Coconut Snowball cupcakes

Amaretto and Coconut Snowball cupcakes – my personal favourite. I shall be rolling many more cakes in coconut in the future

Our 30th birthday party cupcake table

Our 30th birthday party cupcake table! (From left to right; coconut mini bundt cakes, amaretto snowballs cakes, pina colada bundts, jasmine green tea, double chocolate, more jasmine green tea, amaretto sours, and peppermint cream cupcakes,)

Amaretto Sour Swirl Cupcakes

Amaretto Sour Swirl Cupcakes

Pina Colada Gugelhupf cakes

Pina Colada Bundt (Gugelhupf) cakes

Extremely fragrant Green Tea and Jasmine Vintage Rose Swirl Cupcakes (With obligatory birthday glitter and lustre powder)

Extremely fragrant Green Tea and Jasmine Vintage Rose Swirl Cupcakes (With obligatory birthday glitter and lustre powder)

Double chocolate Cupcakes complete with golden lustre, glossy ganache and white chocolate hearts

Double chocolate Cupcakes complete with golden lustre, glossy ganache and white chocolate hearts

Chocolate and Peppermint Cream Cupcakes

Chocolate and Peppermint Cream Cupcakes

Happy birthday to us! What a wonderful start to the new decade!

The Creative Cupcake Modification Method

I’m not entirely sure if this is the scientific way to create your own recipes but it seems to work for me. My basic understanding of creative baking is to find a recipe that works for you then add and subtract from it. Experiment to the extreme! My general guidelines are

  1. Don’t alter the specified oven temperature (unless you have to because you’re using a fan/non fan oven) cupcakes bake at around 170-180 degrees Celsius and should take about 20 minutes depending on the size of your cases
  2. Maintain the combination of wet to dry ingredients
  3. Use whatever is in your cupboards
  4. Feel free to double the quantities if you need to bake lots but be prepared to bake them in stages
  5. Naked cupcakes freeze really well and can keep for a month. Freeze them as soon as they’re cooled in freezer bags/Tupperware and this holds all of the moisture in sponge. Leaving you with a wonderfully moist cupcake when you choose to ice it later on.
  6. You normally need more buttercream than you think so again feel free to make a double batch!
  7. The more you beat buttercream the better it is.
  8. Feel free to experiment with shapes if you have a Madeleine tin, Gugelhupf or mini bunt tin they work really well too
  9. A squiggle of melted chocolate works wonders if you can’t be bothed to whip up buttercream to top your cakes and a sprinkle of coconut and glitter hides a multitude of sins

The Basic Cupcake Recipe

Makes 12-16 cupcakes (using cupcake not muffin sized cases)

For the sponge:
Rub together (using an electric whisk if you have one) the sugar, butter, flour salt and baking powder. When it all looks quite sandy beat in the wet ingredients including your choice of flavouring!

Then pour the smooth liquid batter into prepared cupcake cases in a muffin tin.
Bake for 20-25 minutes in the centre of the oven at 170 degrees celsius until golden brown and springs back when pressed. To be extra certain they’re cooked insert a cocktail stick and if it comes out clean it’s definitely done.

The Basic Cupcake Sponge Ingredients

  • 120g  (4½oz) plain flour
  • 140g (5oz/) caster sugar
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • 40g (1½oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 120ml (4½floz) milk
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg

Cupcake Roulette!
Choose from an array of flavour combinations such as

Green Tea

  • 3 Jasmine Green Tea bags steeped in 3tbsp just-boiled water (reduce the amount of milk by 3
  • Replace 30 ml of milk with jasmine extract

Vanilla

  • 1 vanilla pod
  • Replace caster sugar with vanilla flavoured sugar (if you have pre-prepared some but if not don’t worry!)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Amaretto

  • Replace 40ml of milk with amaretto
  • You can also add almond extract for extra oomph

Amaretto Sour

  • Replace 40ml of milk with amaretto
  • Add 1 tsp lemon extract
  • Add zest of one lemon

Coconut

  • Replace 25g of flour with desiccated coconut
  • Use coconut milk instead of normal milk

Chocolate

  • Replace 20g of flour with cocoa powder

Lavender

  • Steep the milk in 1 tbs of dried lavender flowers overnight
  • Infuse the sugar with 2tbs of dried lavender flowers for a week
  • Sieve the lavender petals out of the sugar and milk before use
  • Blitz 1 tsp of lavender into the sugar before use

Rose

  • same as lavender but using dried rose petals
  • Replace 1 tbs of milk with rose water

Piña Colada

  • Replace 40ml of milk with Malibu
  • Replace 25 g of flour with desiccated coconut
  • Use coconut milk instead of milk
  • (soak cupcakes in rum syrup whilst still warm)

Chocolate Brandy

  • Replace 40ml of milk with brandy
  • Replace 20g flour with cocoa powder

Orange

  • Use orange extract instead of vanilla
  • Add orange zest

The possibilities are endless! Create your own flavour combinations!!

You could choose your own favourite liquor, (Gin?)  cordial (sasparilla, blackcurrant), extract (Orange Blossom, violet), and just follow this idea. I’m very tempted to create some Brandy Alexander cocktail cupcakes very soon…

Then to choose your topping to enhance your flavour combination even further…

 

The Basic Buttercream Recipe
Depending on your style of icing you may want to double the quantities of buttercream. Piping swirls and roses uses a lot more icing than creating a palette knife swirl.

  • 25 ml milk
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 80g unsalted butter, softened

Icing Flavour Options

Vanilla

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Amaretto Sour

  • Replace 25 ml milk with amaretto
  • 1 tsp lemon extract
  • Zest of 1 lemon

Coconut

  • use coconut milk

Peppermint

  • Use 1 tsp peppermint extract

The General Buttercream Guidelines

You can see here the rules are simple. Add whatever flavour extracts you like. Substitute milk for liquid or boozy flavourings.  Zests are good to add as they are dry so won’t effect the consistency of the buttercream. If your icing is looking a bit sloppy beat in some more icing sugar and return it to the fridge to set a bit if it’s too runny.

Use a piping bag and star shaped nozzle to pipe swirls,  Mr Whippy peaks, stars or roses onto your cupcakes. Or use a palette knife to smooth a swirl of buttercream onto your cakes.

Syrup

If you would like extra moist cakes you can add a syrup to the sponge whilst it’s still warm.

Tropical White Rum Syrup

  • 200ml white rum
  • 60g sugar

Warm the sugar and rum in a pan over a low heat. Simmer it until it’s reduced by half in volume. Once cooled pour over your cakes. Allow it to soak in before icing your cakes. Feel free to use other flavours too! Lemon juice, rose water, cordial etc make a really good syrup!

Colourings

Using a cocktail stick add a couple of drops of your food colour gel of choice and beat until its fully incorporated. You can always add more if needed.

If you want to swirl 2 colours together, split your buttercream in half. Colour each half whatever you fancy. Pipe one colour buttercream down one side of a piping bag and then pipe the different colour down the other side of the bag. You will then get a lovely swirl of colours on you cupcakes when piping the two colours simultaneously from the same bag!

Chocolate Ganache

  1. Heat up 300ml of double cream to just about boiling
  2. Take it off the heat
  3. Smash up equal amount of dark plain chocolate 300g
  4. Stir the chocolate into the hot cream until completely smooth
  5. Spoon a generous blob onto cupcakes and let gravity do the work to create a smooth level shiny ganache top

You could use white chocolate if you add more white chocolate to the mix as it contains less cocoa solids so it won’t set until there’s more chocolate than cream in the mixture.

  • 150ml double cream
  • 250ml white chocolate

Decoration
Arm yourself with a selection of…

  1. Sprinkles
  2. Glitter
  3. Desiccated coconut
  4. Chocolate shavings
  5. Hand made chocolate swirls (melt chocolate squiggle it onto some grease proof paper allow it to cool and hey presto fancy looking chocolate bits)
  6. Lustre powders
  7. Popping candy
  8. Pearls
  9. Cupcake wrappers (if you have some)

And go wild!

Cupcake Combinations That Work Well

  • Chocolate sponge and peppermint buttercream
  • Jasmine green tea sponge and vanilla buttercream
  • Chocolate sponge and chocolate ganache
  • Amaretto sour sponge and amaretto sour buttercream
  • Piña colada sponge and coconut buttercream
  • Amaretto sponge and coconut buttercream

31. Mexican Chocolate and Chilli Cake – Hot! Hot! Hot!

Chocolate and Chilli Cake! Glazed and Glorious

Having never been to Mexico before  or eaten chilli and chocolate together, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I am now a chocolate and chilli convert! What a combination! They compliment each other so well, with the gentle heat from the chilli and  the creamy chocolate, this cake is oh so moreish. Originally the Aztecs and Mayans drank a lot of spicy chocolate, on a daily basis, and believed it had wonderful medicinal and magical properties. Therefore this cake must be good for you and eaten in large quantities.

I baked this originally as I had a major cake disaster. I broke my Mary Berry ‘ultimate chocolate cake’ that I was baking for my leaving do at work. (Unfortunately there are no photos available I seem to have had a baking meltdown at this point.) I had baked myself crazy (making macaroons and a chocolate cake in one go) and when I attempted to cut the Mary Berry creation in half to layer it up, it fell apart in my hands. I almost cried. Then I remembered I had bookmarked the chilli and chocolate loaf in the Great British Bake Off Book for a rainy day, and this was most certainly a rainy night.

Grabbing the book from the shelf and rolling up my sleeves I was ready to improvise and muddle my way through with what I had left in my cupboard to create a new chilli and chocolate cake.

I threw the milk in a pan and blasted it on the stove until it was almost boiling and switched on the oven at 180 degrees C/350F/gas4. While it heated I had time to start preparing the rest of the cake.

Whisk the butter and sugar together and then keep whisking and whisking!

I was surprised by the amount of whisking the butter and sugar needed, I had chosen this cake for it’s simplicity and hadn’t anticipated whisking for 5 minutes, but it was totally worth it. I may even start to whisk the butter and sugar for longer in all of my cakes as you can real feel the difference in the texture. It is a really light and moist sponge. I think it might actually be the lightest sponge I’ve ever made.

I feel like chilli tonight, like chilli tonight

When the milk reached scalding point (just before boiling point wait until it starts to steam a bit) I took the pan off the heat and plopped the broken chocolate into the hot milk. After about 5 minutes the chocolate melts into the milk. It needed a good stir to get the chocolate to distribute evenly into the milk.

Chocolate and Chilli Milk – floaty chilli oil

I added all of the wonderful chilliness to the chocolate milk. As you know by now I don’t ever follow a recipe exactly. I can’t resist tampering with it or tweaking it. Therefore I opted for adding chilli oil (extra hot), chilli powder, paprika and ginger to the milk. Just to ensure it had that added oomph! You can tell if you look closely how much chilli I actually added as there are speckles of red floating in the milk 🙂

Still whisking the butter and brown sugar together, adding one egg at a time and then keep on whisking…

Once you think you’ve whisked the butter and sugar together enough, you still need to whisk it a bit more. Then in goes the treacle. Keep whisking until the treacle is incorporated, until it becomes a smooth sugary paste. The butter, sugar and treacle combination needs whisking for about 5 minutes in total. Then it’s time to whisk in an egg at a time. This creates wonderfully fluffy and creamy pale brown batter.

Sifting the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda together

Now if like me, you’re in a real hurry and enjoy the danger of multi tasking to the extreme you can throw all of the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and cocoa powder into the sieve and while you’re still whisking the sugar and eggs with one hand, sift all of the dry ingredients together in a seperate bowl. Lifting the sieve up high to add as much air as possible to the mix. Or if you’re more sensible, chose to do these 2 steps separately.

Folding in the flour

Then all that’s left to do is fold the flour into the sugar batter with a metal spoon, (about a third of the flour mix) then fold in a third of the chocolate chilli milk,  alternating the flour and milk until it’s all incorporated and there are no hidden lumps of flour lurking in the bottom of the bowl. I love my pyrex mixing  bowl for this very reason, it makes it so easy to check to see I’ve finished my folding. It will end up as a glossy batter that can be poured slowly into it’s greased and lined tin.

Tin Time

The recipe calls for a 900g loaf tin. I did originally bake a chocolate and chilli loaf, however I failed to take any photos whatsoever due to my aforementioned baking meltdown, so I used this excuse to bake it again. (Did I tell you how much I love this cake??) This time I opted for my favourite bundt tin and made sure I greased it really well to avoid any sticky disasters.  I reduced the baking time by 5 minutes to take into account  the variation on the tin and it worked brilliantly. It needed 50-55 minutes in the bundt tin or 55- 60 minutes in the loaf tin.  But just to make sure I did the cocktail stick test to make sure it was cooked all the way through.

Chocolate and Chilli Cake – look at those flecks of red chilli

I allowed the cake to cool in the tin for about 20 minutes and then tipped it upside down onto the cooling rack. It slid out effortlessly. No coaxing required!

Pre Glaze

Now I did mention that I had been baking a Mary Berry chocolate cake originally. This cake also had a chocolate glaze. I figured I wouldn’t need all of it after I broke the Mary Berry cake so I poured it all over my chocolate and chilli cake instead. What a triumph! The original recipe calls for a sifting of cocoa powder over the loaf but now it seems that I have added a chocolate ganache glaze instead. I think this glaze helps to balance out the savoury undertones of the chilli (and mellow out the extra hot chilli oil that I added) so if you can be bothered to add an extra step into the recipe I really recommend that you do.

Glorious Glaze

While the cake was cooling I warmed a good tablespoon of butter in a pan and added 100g of icing sugar and 10g of cocoa powder. Once the butter has melted I added 4-5 tablespoons of warm water to the mix, or enough water to create a smooth glossy glaze. When the cake had cooled enough I simply poured it all over and spooned it onto the gaps. The glaze will crisp up slightly once it has cooled.

Dripping Glaze

The cake will cut easily when it’s cooled, if you can wait that long for your first slice! If you can’t, just dig in with a fork, as it’s so tender it will melt in your mouth 🙂 This was a perfect pick me up after my first 10k practice race that I ran at the weekend, in preparation for the Great North Run. I must admit the thought of wedge of restorative Chocolate Chilli Cake did help to keep my feet moving and got me round in 1 hour 1 minute 🙂

Chocolate and Chilli Cake – The final slice

Finished the Sunderland 10k. Now time for cake…

Mexican Chocolate and Chilli Cake

Things that I used to make Mexican Chocolate and Chilli Cake*

Cake – Milk Base

  • 250ml milk
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • a good splash of chilli oil (1/2 to 1 full  teaspoon depending on how hot you like it)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of hot paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon of dried chilli powder

Cake – Fluffy Base

  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 300g brown sugar (demerera or muscovado will do)
  • 1 tablespoon of treacle
  • 3 eggs (I used medium but you could use large

Cake – Dry Ingredients

  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Glorious Glaze**

  • 100g icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of butter/margarine
  • 10g cocoa powder

* Recipe chaotically adapted from The Great British Bake Off  ‘How to Bake’ Book – Chocolate Chilli Cake

** Glaze made up from a Mary Berry recipe (Ultimate Chocolate Cake) and a Marguerite Patten recipe (Water Icing with chocolate)

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**

Happy Mother’s Day Mam! Here’s a Cath Kidston-esque cake just for you

Happy Mother’s Day! Cath Kidston inspired cake

Happy Mother’s Day to my Mam! I wanted to bake something special, Cath Kidston -esque and chocolate free for my Mam and came up with this haphazard star cake. I will tell you all about the inside of the cake later on as it’s still a little secret (and we haven’t tried it yet!).

After some frantic last minute icing shopping I managed to get a layer of marzipan and royal icing on the very alcoholic cake in record breaking time. Fingers crossed it’s all set in place now as there was no time to let the icing dry before adding the decorative touches. Especially with the cake inside having taken 2 weeks of soaking and 7 hours of preparing/baking. I’m hoping it tastes good!

The various colours of icing and star shape cutters

I attempted to colour my own icing after failing to create purple with red and blue food colourings I managed to use some silver spoon blue liquid colouring to create the blue icing and I was lucky to have some pre coloured red icing left over from Christmas too, that needed to be used up.

Glitter plate

I rolled the different colours of icing out using my mini silicon rolling pin and used a variety of star cutters to cut out the shapes.  Adding a liberal coating of glitter on each star to give it a bit more sparkle. I found tipping the glitter onto a plate and swishing the stars in the glitter made life a bit easier and a good generous layer of glitter to boot. Although the curious cat also got a bit glitterified too in the process.

Super Hans the glittery cat

I don’t own edible cake glue so I made my own with a bit of water and liquid glucose and used a knife to spread it on each star (sparingly) as I didn’t want the colours to bleed into the white icing and ruin the effect. The idea is to create just enough stickiness to hold the decorations on.

Stars climbing up the side of the cake

I got a bit carried away and put as many red and blue stars on to the cake as I could fit, including a few that are climbing up the side of the cake… I was envisaging a Cath Kidston fabric print and hope that it kind of conjures up that image but with more glitter 🙂

I’m off to take it to my Mam now. Let’s hope she likes it!

Star shaped and sparkly

All shapes and sizes

25. Happy Birthday to me! Triple Lemon, Triple Layer Victoria Sponge – Extravagana – England

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Triple Lemon, Triple Layer Victoria Sponge

Ok, ok I’ve baked rather a few things already from good old England so it may not be that exotic to choose a Traditional Victoria Sponge. However! I know a true test of baking skill lies in the creation of a perfect sponge. I’ve never made one of these before but I sure have eaten my fair share of them. I have pondered over baking a layered cake for quite some time and debated over experimenting with a Hummingbird Bakery venture delicious although it would have been it involved too many ingredients that I couldn’t find so back to Marguerite Patten! Always wanting to try something a little bit different, and having rather a lot of home made lemon curd still to use up, I made mine a triple lemon triple layered Victoria Sponge…
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The Marguerite Patten recipe for Victoria Sponge has so many variations I think you need a Home Economics degree to put it all together! After engaging my non mathematical brain I managed to measure out in ounces (reading my scales correctly this time- I recently realised that I’ve been reading Llbs instead of ounces… This may explain why my last sponge cake went SO very wrong…)

The Many Variations of Marguerite

I used the variation for one 10 inch cake tin, the plan being that I would simply split my one cake in half and fill it with buttercream and my lemon curd.

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Whisking the eggs well

As I was making probably the biggest cake in Marguerite’s recipe options I had to increase all the ingredients from 4oz to 6oz. Simple?

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Creaming the butter, sugar and lemon zest together

I simplified the method for myself: 6oz of butter and 6 of sugar creamed together. 2 medium eggs to be whisked ‘well’. 2 lemons zest and half a lemons juice added to the butter then beat the eggs gradually into the butter being careful not to curdle the lot.

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Scrambled eggs?

Then to fold in the 6oz of plain flour and ta da we have a cake mix!

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Folding in the flour

Careful not to knock the air out of the mixture I lovingly spread it as flat as I could get it into the greased and lined tin. 35minutes at 180 degrees and I had one slightly thinner than I expected lemon sponge.

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Spread as even as possible in the tin

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One slightly sad looking thin lemon sponge

This rather sad looking sponge would be impossible split down the middle and ice. So I just had to bake another 2 layers!! It would have been a bit of a disappointing cake had I not. To speed up the process I doubled the ingredients to make enough for 2 cakes in one go. I wasn’t entirely sure this was technically the best thing to do but hey I didn’t want to be on all night. The problem being I only have one round cake tin so I had to bake one sponge at a time in order to re use the tin. This meant cooling the cake quickly and hoping the last sponge wouldn’t be airless and dry after the sponge mix had sat around waiting to be plopped into the tin.

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Citrus buttercream

Throwing an unmeasured amount of butter and icing sugar into the food processor, (probably around 1 and a half packs of butter and enough icing sugar to make a good smooth sweet texture) I whizzed it all up with a splash of orange extract and vanilla too. I ran out of lemons by this point so thought any citrus would be a good move…

I am not very good at icing cakes with buttercream. My cupcakes always look a bit sad so this was a bit of a trial by fire. I’ve watched Lorraine Pascale ice cakes and it looks easy so I do what I do best and make it up as I go along. Lorraine made a mint sugar syrup and spread it on to her layered sponge cakes before icing, so I thought this must be a good idea although it did mean deviating from Marguerite’s recipe somewhat.

Lemon Syrup

Using what I had left over from the sponges I simmered the juice from all of the zested lemons with some sugar (enough to cover the bottom of the pan) to make a lemon drizzle. When it and the cakes had cooled slightly I spread a generous sticky coating on all 3 sponge layers to add to the lemony flavour and to help keep it moist.

The Terrible Trio

The exciting bit was then whacking on a thick layer of lemon curd followed by buttercream then smushing on a sponge layer (and it cracked slightly but no one will see this once I coat the entire thing in buttercream. The problem was the lemon curd started to dribble out everywhere! For the second layer I put buttercream first then lemon curd which helped hold it in place a bit better.

Layer 1! Lashings of Buttercream

Layer 2. I could stop here for a traditional Victoria Sponge…

Lemon Curding it up

Layer 3! Looking a bit rustic

It was looking enormous and slightly lopsided. I had obviously not spread the buttercream evenly but the leaning tower of Pisa look is so in right now (I tell myself). Once the third sponge layer was added I spread the remaining butter cream, around the sides of the cake, sealing all 3 layers in. Smoothing the cream round with a palette knife. I saved a little buttercream to finish it off after the entire cake had a little rest in the fridge to ‘set’.

All 3 leaning layers encased in buttercream

The cake was so massive I had to take some shelves out of the fridge just to squeeze it in! Once I smoothed on the final finishing touches of buttercream in an attempt to hide some of the crumbs that had broken off the sponges and worked their way into the cream I faced a little challenge. How to cover the leaning tower of cake up to keep it fresh in the fridge?! It was too big for any of my cake boxes and I had welded it to my glass cake stand with buttercream so it wasn’t possible to move it.

Cake Tent

I fashioned a rudimentary cake tent by selotaping cocktail sticks underneath the glass cake stand and gently folding 2 sheets of tin foil around the cake and skewering them onto the sticks. The cocktail sticks meant the tin foil didn’t touch the buttercream but would stop it all drying out in the fridge. Perfect!

Triple Lemon, Triple Layer Victoria Sponge

Once you start you can’t stop

This cake was immense!! I loved the sharp lemon flavour of the Curd combined with the gentle citrus buttercream. The sponge was probably a bit dry around the edges (hence the loose crumbs) so I would probably take it out the oven a little sooner if I was making it again. But hey for a first attempt at a layered cake I was happy. The tilt definitely gives it a certain je nais sais quais. I enjoyed the quirky take on the traditional Victoria Sponge. I took some to work and one comment was “that is the best cake that I have ever tasted’ which is high praise indeed!

Ps. This cake was perfect for trying out my lovely new cake slice!

We’re painting the roses red… Sugar flowers (first attempt)

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My Christmas food coloring pastes have arrived. I’ve started icing the 14 mini Christmas cakes and I’ve been watching the Junior Great British Bake Off avidly. I’m so very impressed with the creativity and imagination that the young bakers have.

I’ve been itching to try out sugar craft but been put off slightly by the expense and equipment required.

Improvising to the hilt and having read I read Ruth Clemens sugar rose tutorial a couple of months ago I thought that I’d give sugar craft a whirl. Surely it can’t be too difficult. Can it?

Lacking any official icing tools apart from things I can find in my cupboards which includes a cocktail stick to add food colouring, a glass worktop saver, 2 plastic sandwich bags, my mini children’s rolling pin and of course a block of fondant icing.

Its quite delicate work. Not so much like play dough as I had hoped. I mainly gave up attempting to roll anything out properly and just used my hands.

Here’s the results…