Love cakes and baking? Me too!

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

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!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Bakin' with berries (cont.) and an aside

White Chocolate & Cranberry cookies:
So today is the 11th day of Christmas. I can scarcely believe how quickly the season has passed this year. Or that it's nearly time to take down all the decorations (apparently it is bad luck to have Christmas decorations up beyond 12th night...)

In attempt to squeeze as much Christmas as possible out of the remaining days of my holiday, I decided to do a final bit of festive baking this weekend. Below are a selection of the white chocolate and cranberry cookies that I made using the Hummingbird Bakery recipe that can be found in the Christmas section of the "Cake Days" iPhone app.

They taste really good (even if I do say so myself) with a squidgy, chewy consistency - just as cookies should be. You can detect just a hint of cinnamon when you taste them which, together with the cranberries, gives them they're Christmass-y flavour. I think that, if you packaged them up nicely in a kilner jar with some nice red and white gingham ribbon (or similar), these cookies would make great Christmas gifts. I'll have to bear that in mind for next year. They were very easy to throw together, so you get a lot of reward for not too much effort. That's always good in my book.

Speaking of books, I'm not wholly convinced about using baking apps. Call me old-fashioned, but I definitely prefer to follow a recipe from a book. The problem with using an iPhone/tablet is that it goes into snooze mode between each step, so you end up having to unlock the keypad every few minutes with increasingly buttery/sugary/dough-y fingers. You're also guaranteed to get your device covered in a film of flour/sugar as you weigh out your dry ingredients. Oh well. As you've gathered, I was still pleased with the final outcome, so I'll not grumble too much.

I'd learnt from last week's cranberry biscuit baking experience to always ensure that each unit of batter is as similar in shape and size to its neighbour, and to allow each unit of dough plenty of room to spread. This was useful knowledge, and I reaped the rewards (and felt quite smug) when the cookies came out as uniformly as they did. From yesterday's cookie baking, I also learnt that, if you roll the cookie dough in your hands to create a glossy, smooth ball of dough before baking, you get a better outcome than heaping an untidy mound of rough-edged batter onto your baking sheet.

11 Pipers Piping (on golden flutes):
Ok. Quite a tenuous link with my opening about it being the 11th day of Christmas, but go with it... Although this isn't a berry bake, a fairy cake or, indeed, any kind of foodie confection, I wanted to share it with you as it was a wonderful Christmas discovery for me and, if, like me you're a bit of a sweet-toothed magpie,  it might be something that you'd enjoy too. The discovery in question is Smirnoff Gold - a vodka infused with cinnamon, with 23 carat gold leaf flakes in suspension - how very Christmassy (and how very beautiful), eh?

I first glimpsed this novelty liqueur in the alcohol aisle of my local supermarket whilst buying boozy presents for family this holiday, and I was immediately intrigued and captivated. The perceived decadence of sipping an alcoholic drink containing flecks of pure gold was immediately appealing to me, so I eagerly researched cocktail recipes which feature this product. As the product is, I believe, relatively new on the market, there aren't a great deal of recipes out there yet. The "Apple Bite Gold" (a long drink containing Smirnoff Gold, apple juice and lemonade, and advertised in this rather gruesome advert: is the most common one you'll come across. I've not yet tried this, but I can whole-heartedly recommend an alternative, called the "Golden flute" to you. I first sampled it on New Year's eve. It's as easy as pie to put together: one part Smirnoff gold to two parts sparkling apple juice (Appletiser) served chilled in a champagne flute. You must, I think, take a moment to watch the gold sparkles dance in the fizz - a mesmerising effect,  before quaffing. It's a multi-sensory experience. In terms of taste, this simple little cocktail slips down *very* easily with the cinnamon flavour slightly off-setting the potentially cloying sweetness of the apple juice. On a different note, the pretty design of the Appletiser bottle (by Eliza Doolittle, of all people) caught my eye - I'm always a sucker for pretty packaging so my new year Golden Flute really was a visual feast.