Love cakes and baking? Me too!

Welcome to my blog! I hope you enjoy reading about my efforts in the kitchen!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Cheats' Cake Pops (of the Oreo, Nutella and White Chocolate variety): faffy, faddy or fabby?

First it was cupcakes, then it was whoopee pies, then macarons, then cake pops became the next big (well... actually quite little) thing. As far as I can see, cake pops are still enjoying a bit of a "moment". But are they here to stay?

I'd read a lot about cake pops on others' baking blogs and enjoyed looking at pictures of various impressive chocolate-clad-cakes-in-miniature-on-sticks (or CCCIMOS as they might be referred to). Whilst I didn't doubt that they tasted great, and, evidently, they can look stunning, I always thought they sounded a bit faffy to make, and wondered whether I could justify the hours in the kitchen if the outcome was just 12 mini mouthfuls. Going to the trouble of baking a lovely cake only to put it in a food processor and reduce it to crumbs as a preliminary activity seemed a bit long-winded and labour intensive to me. As I've implied, I have a sneaky suspicion that cake pops might be "totes gim" (a total gimmick) as my friend Esther might say. Style over substance. Something and nothing. As such, I was in no rush to give them a go, however, I stumbled upon a cheats' recipe involving pre-bought biscuits so thought I'd give that a go. The following recipe is for 12 x Oreo, Nutella and white chocolate cake pops.

1 x Packet of Oreo cookies
c. 5 x tablespoons of Nutella
100g of White Chocolate
12 Cake Pop Sticks
nonpareils/hundreds and thousands (or similar) for decoration

1) Using a food processor, blitz the Oreo cookies until you are left with fine, dark crumbs.
2) Add the Nutella to the crumbs and blend until a dough (of sorts) is formed.
3) Take a small amount of dough, and roll into a cake pop-sized ball (I found this bit really messy as the Nutella is of such a wet, sticky consistency!)
4) Roll 12 x Oreo-Nutella pops.
5) Freeze for 15 minutes. When the pops have less than 5 mins chilling time, carefully melt the white chocolate. Take care not to burn it (remember white chocolate burns more easily than milk/dark chocolate).
6) Dip one end of each stick into the melted chocolate, then push into the pop. Re-freeze for c. 5 minutes.
7) Dip each of the pops in the melted chocolate, and once the chocolate encrusted ball(!) has cooled, dip it into your nonpareils.

 Totes gim?

The verdict:
Quite nice. But assuming that you like the constituent ingredients, what's not to like? My other half (who is the extremely professional hand model in the above picture) approved of my chocolately comestibles... but then he might have just been being polite.

I don't think I'll rush to make them again. I can think of plenty of other bakes/confections that I would gladly make again before I bothered with these. This was the low-faff version and yet I still found it quite a bit of faff (and messy!) What do you think of cake pops? Faffy, faddy or fabby?

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Maple and Pecan Cake

untouched 2-layer Maple and Pecan Cake
On bank holiday Monday, I made this layer cake using the Hummingbird Bakery "Cake Days" app. For those of you who own this, the recipe can be found under the "birthdays and celebrations" tab. I used two thirds of the prescribed quantities to make two layers rather than three which is plenty big enough if you ask me! I think I'd only do three layers if I was making this for a particular special occasion and planning to serve it to lots of guests, but as I was making it as more of an "every day" cake, two layers was ample. I've made this cake before to share during my final lesson with some Year 13 students and, on that occasion, the recipe turned out perfectly. For some reason, when I made it this time, the cake needed much longer than the suggested time in the oven though (in fact, I removed it, turned it out of the tin, scratched my head, then put it back in its tin, then back in the oven for another 20 minutes). The finished outcome was quite good, if a little too sickly for my taste (thank goodness that I didn't add an extra layer!). Not sure I'll be making this one again in a hurry, not least because the icing sugar goes absolutely everywhere when you make the buttercream. It took me the best part of 2 hours to clean up behind myself. Anyone got a solution to this problem?!

Ingredients (for 2 tiered version):
For the sponge:
80g unsalted butter/stork (I used the latter)
267g caster sugar
240g plain flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
240ml whole milk
40ml maple syrup
2 large eggs
67g chopped pecans

For the frosting:
160g unsalted butter
500g icing sugar
40ml whole milk
1 tsp maple syrup
10 pecan halves for decorating

For the sponge:
1) Preheat the oven to 170 degrees, grease and line the two 20cm sandwich tins with baking parchment.

2) To make the sponge, mix the butter/stork with the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt until the batter reaches a sandy, crumb-like consistency.

3) In a jug, mix together the eggs, maple syrup and whole milk. With the mixer/whisk on a low speed setting, pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and beat until everything is incorporated. Stir in the chopped pecans by hand. Hint - don't worry that the batter seems quite liquid - it is supposed to be like this).

4) Divide the batter between the two lined tins, place in the centre of the oven and bake until the sponges are golden and springy. A skewer inserted in the middle of the sponges should come out clean. Hint - this may take longer than 30 mins. Leave in the tins for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

For the frosting:
1) Mix the butter and icing together until fully combined and sandy in texture. In a jug, combine the milk and syrup, then pour this into the butter and icing sugar mixture. Beat until light and fluffy.

2) Assemble the cake using a palette knife to smooth the frosting over the first layer of the cake and to cover the layer cake.

Friday, 25 April 2014

A tantalising glimpse of my behind...

...the scenes cake.
Perhaps that's a rather odd title for a cake, but, to some at least, it may sound a bit more appealing than plain old "lemon cake with lemon cheesecake icing".

Behind-the-scenes cake
Allow me to explain why I'm calling it "behind-the-scenes cake"....

A good quote that I came across recently reads as follows:
"The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel"
It is certainly true that, in the world of social media, we like to put our best foot forward, to project success, and to share our "highlight reel" with the world. When we blog, tweet or update our status, on some level, we're really engaging in a form of self-promotion, from the "#humble brag" to out-and-out, unashamed gloating. Am I wrong? For my part, I've censored any perceived "#baking fails", and generally only blogged about "successful" items I've baked (i.e. things that I think look pretty, professional and inviting), but times they are a-changin'. In the past, I might have omitted the above cake on the basis that it's quite ugly, but now, here I am exposing it to you. You'll just have to trust me when I tell you that it does taste delicious - really moist and tangy, and the mascarpone, cheesecake filling with lemon pulp is lovely. I used a Mary Berry recipe which was featured in a BBC masterclass. You can find it here:

The recipe says to use four free-range eggs, but it doesn't specify whether to use small, medium or large eggs. With my new-found confidence in tweaking recipes and making bold, big-girl baking decisions for myself (see blog below), I decided to throw in an extra egg (I used five medium eggs). This seemed to work well. I also substituted butter for margarine. Is there no stopping me now? 

To make the cake look more pretty, professional and inviting, I would recommend sifting the fondant icing sugar before adding the lemon juice. This will result in a smoother, glossy finish without unsightly lumps. 

 As you can see from this cross-section, my sponge layers aren't very even, as a I made a bit of a hash of slicing each sponge in half. I think I'll use a serrated knife next time.

Anyway, I hope you haven't objected to me exposing my lumpy, behind-the-scenes bits with you. Let's hope it doesn't count as over-sharing.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

White chocolate fudge with red berries - *my own* oh-so-easy recipe

Two years ago, I'd never have had the courage to freestyle in the kitchen. Not even a little bit. I followed every recipe absolutely to the letter in an almost OCD-like fashion. So imagine my pride in devising and creating something all of my own in the kitchen this Easter (albeit only modestly adventurous in its scope... and... alright, quite similar Nigella's rich, dark chocolate recipe for "Chocolate Pistachio Fudge").

White chocolate and red berry fudge

Nevertheless, having made some substitutions and altered quantities to make these fruity beauties, I can happily share the ingredients and method with you knowing that I cannot be accused of plagiarism...

400g of white chocolate (I used milkybars)
1 x 387g can of condensed milk
30g butter
60g* freeze dried berries - I used strawberries and raspberries that were left over from my white choc Valentine's day heart.

* Ideally, increase the volume for berries. I reckon you could take it up to 120g to get the optimum sweet, white choc:tart berry ratio. I only used this small quantity of fruit as that's all I had left over.

1) break the chocolate into squares and put it in a heavy-based saucepan with the condensed milk and butter over a low heat, stirring constantly (white chocolate has a lower boiling point than milk/dark chocolate so it burns easily).

2) Remove from the heat and stir in the berries, mixing well.

3) Pour the mixture into a small foil tray and smooth over the top so that it looks level.

4) Let the fudge cool, then refrigerate it until it's set.

5) Once it's set, cut it into large cubes.

6) Give it to someone you love (could be yourself), and they'll love you right back provided they have a very sweet tooth...

This is a very "full-on", sweet fudge, and not for the faint-hearted! One cube is usually sufficient to take the edge off any sugary craving, I find. Whilst I'm pleased with the outcome, especially given the moderate free-styling, I'll certainly look to increase the amount of fruit in any future batches in order to balance the flavours more effectively.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

# "Two hearts for eatin' together...

...I'm in love, a-whooo...!" Soz, I couldn't resist a cheeky Kylie reference! Sorry I've not posted in a while - this Valetine's post is loooong overdue! I can scarcely believe that I've not baked anything since February (although, strictly speaking, the items below aren't baked).

So... above on the left (or should I say "in the brown corner"), you have my classic, milk chocolate Rocky Road with, Maltesers, mini marshmallows, mars bar slices, cornflakes, raisins and dried apricots. It occurred to me after making this heart-shaped creation that I ought to have have put the marshmallows on last to make this love token a little more aesthetically pleasing (in fact, that's what I did when I recreated it a week later as a gift for my parents). There's a whole lotta brown going on there and it ain't pretty (but it's mighty tasty, and my other half needed no persuasion to tuck right in). On the right, you have a variation on my snowy road/Rudolph's rocky runway: white chocolate replete with freeze-dried strawberries, raspberries and rose petals giving it a festive Valentine's appearance. Much prettier than it's milk chocolate counterpart.

Both love hearts were decorated within an inch of their lives...

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Snowy Road

Last Saturday, I made another batch of white chocolate rocky road to give to two friends I was meeting up with for a belated "Christmas" get-together. With the inclusion of red cranberries, and green pistachios this really is a winning, seasonal recipe. You'll see from my "bakin' with berries" blog entry of 30/12/13 that I'd made lots of this to give as gifts over the holidays. I love the appearance of it, and it tastes lovely too! 

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Black and White Chocolate Cheescake bars

So, last weekend, I undertook another baking project using the Hummingbird "Cake Days" app on my phone. The recipe was for Black and White Chocolate Cheesecake Bars.

Chocolate Cheesecake fresh from the oven

The recipe is rated as "easy". I would agree that it is fairly straight-forward, but it is quite time-consuming as you have to allow time to chill the dough before baking the base, time to let the cooked base to cool and a couple of hours to let the finished cheesecake chill in the fridge so, whilst it is indeed quite easy to throw together, it's not something you can whip up in an hour. You may have read my thoughts about the frustrations of baking with an app, as opposed to a good, old-fashioned book, in my last blog. Should you choose to make this (using either the Cake Days app, or the book), here are a few observations, tips etc.peculiar to this recipe. I hope they are of some use to you:

  • Tip #1: when you come to press the dough into the baking tray, use the heels of your palms to press down if your hands are warm! The dough doesn't stick to your fingers this way.
  • Observation/panic #1: When I took the base out of the oven, I was concerned to note that it had risen quite high on the baking sheet, leaving little room for the white chocolate top layer. Also a concern was that it felt undercooked. I was worried that the voluminous, molten mound before me wouldn't set properly and that it would be too liquid in the centre to form a distinct layer. However, I but my trust in the recipe (which I'd followed to the letter), left it to cool and was relieved to note that the centre of the base had deflated (leaving room for the next layer), held its form when lightly prodded, and, happily, appeared firm enough to paste the white chocolate layer on top without disturbing. In the end, I wondered whether this was all intentional as the sunken middle left a helpful lip around the edge of the baking sheet (as if by design).
  • Fail #1: I deviated from the recipe in my method (only once!) and attempted to melt some Belgian chocolate chips in the microwave rather than making a bain marie. This backfired horribly - the chocolate seized/curdled and I had to throw it away. Such a waste! Fortunately, the night before I executed this project, I had bulk bough four 100g "milkybars" in Tesco as the had 20% off, and I knew they'd be useful for baking projects of some description.
  • Observation/panic #2: When making the white chocolate layer, I feared that I had added the melted chocolate to the Philadelphia, icing sugar and egg mixture when it was still too warm causing the egg to react to the heat and form a grainy texture. I think it should have been a smooth batter. Once the cheesecake had been baked and set, this didn't seem to affect the flavour or texture though.
All in all, this is a really good recipe. I would say that the bake tastes better and better with age (to a point, obviously!) I also advise letting it stand for a good 20 minutes before eating as you taste the flavours more when it's closer to room temperature. I will definitely be making this again!