Category Archives: Cakes etc

On the politics of cake tins

Cake tin

The amateur baker's most precious possession - wars have been fought over less...

Ask any amateur baker what their biggest concern is, and I’m willing to put money that their answer won’t be about traumas with leaden sponge cakes or temperamental macarons.

It’s cake tins.  Not the ones you actually bake stuff in (that’s a whole other discussion…) but the ones you lovingly put the fruits of your culinary labours in for transportation to the lucky recipients.

Good cake tins are surprisingly hard to come by. Every Christmas I’ve seen fights break out over who in the office gets to keep the tin once the traditional Roses chocs are eaten.  I lost a treasured tin at a recent gig – that’s occupational hazard of baking cakes for the audience, I guess.

And when I sent a tin of cookies along with my boyfriend to his workplace, the tin never came back. Despite my repeated requests for its safe return, like a closed community hiding a criminal, nobody apparently remembers ever seeing it in the first place.

The biggest dilemma for me is what to do if you’re baking cakes as a gift and can’t hang around to rescue the tin. Do you leave the tin with the recipients in the vague hope that they might remember to give it back next time you see them? Or do you just write it off, mourn the loss, and sharpen your nails for the battle for the next Quality Street tin that appears on the office filing cabinet?

My twitchy paranoid vigilance has only increased since I bought a Cupcake Courier for taking cakes to gigs. I’m now terrified that some low-life bakery/music fan will swipe it while I’m on stage, and I’ll have to go back to dragging around piles of battered tins filled with squished cakes.

So here’s a question for all the bakers out there – how do you transport your goodies? Are you obsessive about your tins? And how far would you go to nab a new one?

I *heart* cake

I meant to post these to coincide with Valentine’s day, but I forgot. Or I’m just not very romantic.
Love heart cake 1

These are cupcakes that I made for last week’s Sunday Driver gig in Cambridge, and for a photoshoot with the Shadow Orchestra, which coincided with drummer Dave’s birthday. The pics from the shoot look great – I’ll post a few up soon.

They’re plain old vanilla cupcakes (recipe from Eat Me), cored and filled with strawberry jam, and iced with vanilla buttercream (recipe from the Primrose Bakery). I decorated the ones for the gig with a few sprinkles and some Love Heart sweets, as we had a Valentine theme. I can report that they were totally yummy.

To fill them, I used an apple corer to cut out a hole in each cake, then squirted in the jam using a plastic icing bag with a large hole cut in the end.

Love heart cakes 3

The filled cakes, waiting to be iced.

Love heart cakes 2

Easy peasy Florentinesy (or something like that)

Just a quick baking post, because I’m so proud of these florentines I made following Sian’s simple recipe on Domestic Sluttery. Instead of chopping my own nuts, I used about 120g of “Berry and Nut Sprinkle” from Waitrose – a handily pre-chopped medley that it also awesome sprinkled into yoghurt.

I also added the leftover glace cherries from my Christmas cake, and didn’t put in any mixed peel, because I didn’t have any. Like Sian, I also coated the backs of them in Maya Gold choc for a spicy finish.

Florentines top

Florentines bottomBe warned – florentines overcook in a flash, and the first batch I made were definitely well-browned.  But it’s such a simple and tasty recipe, I certainly think I’ll be practising a bit more 🙂

I also knocked up these tasty cheese bites, using some leftover pastry from a cherry pie.

Cheesy bites

The pastry is amazing – light and flakey, and dead simple to create – made by whizzing 100g chilled butter with 125g plain flour in a food processor, then mixing in 60ml soured cream until it clumps into pastry.  I used most of it to cover the pie, but cut the scraps into rounds, and sprinkled them with grated cheddar mixed with a little bit of mustard powder and black pepper. Yummy!

 

Cookie wreaths

Love CookieI got the idea for these fabulous cookies from Sweetopia – a wonderfully inspiring sugarcraft blog – and thought I’d make some as a belated Christmas gift for the nearly-in-laws.

I used circular gingerbread cookies about 4 inches in diameter, made according to the recipe in Peggy Porschen’s Pretty Party Cakes. I’ve never tried her gingerbread recipe before – made with honey rather than the usual golden syrup – and the cookies are absolutely delicious. A rather large number of them never made it to the decorating stage, purely in the name of quality control you understand…

Here’s how I made them. For an explanation of how to make royal icing, and the different consistencies, have a look at Louise from CakeJournal’s helpful blog post. NB: I’m lazy and make my royal icing using a Silver Spoon box mix.  Frankly, my life is too short to be buggering about with egg whites on top of everything else.

Outline the cookies in soft peak white royal icing using a number 2 writing tip or piping bag with the tip cut off. Leave to dry briefly.

Cookie outlines

My circles leave rather a lot to be desired.

Flood with runny white royal icing, using a toothpick to push the icing out to the borders. I usually make the mistale of not making my flooding icing runny enough but this time the icing I used was quite runny, if you can tell from this picture:

Cookie flooding

I'm afraid it is rather runny, sir... (insert Monty Python joke here)

I slightly lost my nerve when filling the cookies as I started to worry I didn’t have enough icing to do them all and that it was going to leak over the edge, so I didn’t fully flood them. Leave the cookies to dry overnight somewhere where the mice/slugs/housemates can’t get them.

Mix up some soft peak royal icing and colour it red – I use Squires Kitchen colouring pastes for this. Using a number 2 writing tip, pipe happy words on the cookies. Next time I make these I’m going to do rude words (obviously not for the in-laws. Maybe for my parents…)

Next, mix up some stiff peak icing and colour it dark green using food colouring paste. Using a star tip (mine says “31” on it), roughly pipe rosettes around the cookies to look like a wreath.

Using the red writing icing, pipe little dots to look like holly berries. Leave to dry for several days.

Christmas cookies 1

Christmas cookies 2

In retrospect, I wish I’d made a little bit more flooding icing and had the nerve to flood them all the way to the ege. Once the leafy border is on, you can’t really tell I cut the corners, but a couple of them look a bit scruffy round the edges. Bloody typical.

Cheesy Feet

Cheesy feet 2Here’s a fun baking project – I made these for my friend Emily’s party, as she’s a big cheese fan. Not sure if she’s a big foot fetishist, but never mind…

Can’t remember where I got the foot-shaped cutter from, but I bought it with this idea specifically in mind. I’m sure I read about these in a recipe book (possibly Nigella?) but I couldn’t find it when I looked, so I adapted a cheese straw recipe from a different book.

Cheesy Feet 1
Recipe – Cheesy feet:

  • Whizz 90g cold butter with 175g self-raising flour and a pinch of salt in a food processor until it looks like breadcrumbs.
  • Mix in 30g finely grated parmesan and 30g finely grated cheddar, along with 1/4 tsp mustard powder and 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper.
  • With the motor running, add 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk to bind to a stiff pastry – you made need to stop the processor and do the final mixing by hand if the motor struggles.
  • Turn on the oven to 190C.Wrap pastry in clingfilm and put it in the fridge to chill while the oven heats up.
  • Roll out the pastry to about half a centimetre thick. Cut out feet or any shapes you fancy.
  • Put on a baking tray – greased or lined with non-stick liner. Bake for 15 mins or until golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Cheesy Feet 3

They would probably have benefited from a milk or egg wash but they look pretty good au naturel, I reckon. I also slightly undercooked them, as I was paranoid about burning them. *sigh* I’ll never get this baking lark right…

Crafty Christmas

Just a quick roundup of some of the crafty gifts I gave this year at a lovely dinner party hosted by our friends Paul and Megumi.  So much absolutely amazing home-cooked Japanese food (and plum wine) that we practically rolled onto the bus home.

Socks for Amy:

Socks for Amy

Socks for Naomi. These were knitted right down to the wire – I was literally out the door to catch the bus the second I had weaved in the ends:

Socks for Naomi(possibly not the socks’ – or Naomi’s – most flattering angle. Really need  blocking too. Naomi, not the socks.)

A cute crochet hat for Megumi:

Megumi and Naomi

Marzipan moons (marzipan discs dipped in melted Maya Gold chocolate):

marzipan moons

Apologies for the slightly fuzzy pics. I blame the surfeit of Japanese plum wine and hot sake…

Christmas brownies

It’s a testament to the tastiness of these festive brownies that I only just managed to grab a photo of the last two before they vanished completely.

They were amazing. Not just “Ooh, nice with a cup of coffee” good, but good enough to cause a worrying outbreak of orgasmic noises across the office.

Christmas brownies

You too can be the bringer of chocolatey joy – and use up that leftover mincemeat. Here’s the recipe.

Christmas Truffle Brownies

Adapted from the Popina Book of Baking

Ingredients:

  • 100g Green and Black’s Maya Gold chocolate
  • 140g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
  • 100g butter
  • 3 eggs (large)
  • 135g caster sugar
  • 55g plain flour
  • 2-3 “knobs” of stem ginger in syrup (drained, chopped finely)
  • Approx 1/3 jar of Waitrose Cranberry and Port mincemeat

Method:

  • Get your eggs and butter out of the fridge and go and do something else for a bit.
  • Preheat the oven to 150C (300F, gas 2).  Line an 18x18cm square pan with greaseproof or a re-usable baking liner.
  • Break the chocolate into pieces. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Take this bit slowly – avoid keeping the heat on the saucepan all the time. You could probably do it in the microwave too. Stir until melted, and leave to cool down a bit.
  • Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl, and whisk in the caster sugar with an electric whisk until pale and creamy. Or use a hand whisk and firm muscles.
  • Fold in the flour.
  • Fold in the choc/butter mixture carefully.
  • Stir in the chopped stem ginger and the mincemeat.
  • Pour it into the tin. Lick the bowl and spoon.
  • Into the over. The book suggests 15mins, but mine were still very wobbly in the middle, so I gave them 5 mins longer. Avoid over-cooking though. Nobody likes an overcooked brownie.
  • Leave to cool completely in the tin. I left mine in the fridge once they’d cooled to room temperature before slicing them up.
  • Makes 1 enormous greedy slab, 9 coronary-inducing size, 16 or 25 bite-sized (I usually make 25).

Wishing you a joyful Christmas

Hope you have a wonderful Christmas full of happiness and cheer. For me, it’s summed up by this year’s cake, which I nearly forgot to decorate at all in the run-up to the festivities.

Christmas cake 2010

Tech spec:

Cake made according to the Delicious magazine recipe here. Decorated with a layer of marzipan stuck on with agave syrup, as I didn’t have any apricot jam. Coated with 2 layers of royal icing. Still a bit uneven but better than last year’s attempt (and not helped by my housemmate dropping a Mars bar on it…). Sugar-paste ivy leaves, dropping-shaped holly berries and wonky piping are all my own work. The flowers are shop-bought.

Wishing you a joyful Christmas, however you celebrate it. Here’s one of my favourite Christmas songs. It’s not cheerful at all, but it is utterly beautiful.

This year’s Christmas Cake

Christmas cake

Last Christmas I gave you my cake...But the very next day, you put on a stone

The nights are drawing in, the campaign for Christmas number one has started (aka The X Factor), and the girls in the office have already organised a Secret Santa. It must be time to make a Christmas cake.

I’ve been making the same Christmas cake every year since 2003, using a recipe from Delicious magazine – here’s last year’s (pic above). It’s incredibly boozy, phenomenally moist and rich, and will have you pinioned to the sofa in a happy, leaden slump within a few minutes of eating it. In my eyes, this makes it the perfect cake. Your mileage may vary.

Anyway. Here’s the recipe as I make it -you’ll need a food processor. I’d advise you not to drive after eating a slab of it.

Christmas Cake Coma

Start at least a day before baking: Put 450g mixed dried fruit, 175 chopped ready-to-eat prunes (the soft type), 150g halved glace cherries and about 100g chopped stem ginger in syrup in a big bowl, along with the zest of a large orange. You can switch some of the dried fruit for dried cranberries, blueberries etc, but usually I can’t be bothered.

Pour over 250ml brandy. Not the really cheap stuff, but it doesn’t have to be Courvoisier. I also tend to bung in a bit of syrup from the stem ginger jar, and also often add about a third of a tub of candied mixed peel.  Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it overnight at least, or even longer. Snaffle boozy teaspoonfuls out of it at regular intervals. Just to check it’s OK, obviously…

christmas cake fruit

Mmmmmm boozy fruit...

Baking day! Find your tin – 8 inch diameter loose-base one for preference. Grease it with butter and line the bottom and sides with greaseproof paper (Delia Smith tutorial here). I do enjoy the ritual of this bit.

Get out the food processor and chuck about a third of the boozy fruit mix into it. Whizz to a thick puree.  Taste it again, just to be sure…

Make the cake mix. Preheat the oven to 150C (gas mark 2). Beat together 175g butter with 175g dark muscovado sugar until it’s “light and fluffy”. Or as light and fluffy as it’s ever going to be. I gave it a good 5 mins in the Kenwood Chef.

Beat in 4 beaten eggs, a bit at a time. If it goes curdley (which it will…) chuck in a bit of flour. Stir in the fruit puree, the remaining boozy fruit and brandy, 1 tablespoon of golden syrup, and 200g self-raising flour. Sometimes I also add a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Sometimes I don’t.

Stir it all up and then bung it into the prepared tin.  Level the top, and try to make a bit of a dip towards the centre.  This is a good trick, and gives you a flatter cake which is easier to ice, as the middle tends to rise more.

Stick the tin in the oven and go and find something else to do for about 2-3 hours, depending on the vagaries of your oven. Use a skewer to test if it’s done from about 2 hrs onwards – there should be no gooey mixture stuck to it if it’s cooked.

Christmas cake

This year's cake - off to stew in a tin for a month or two

Leave the cake to cool in the tin. I usually poke a skewer into it in several places and chuck some more brandy onto it when it’s warm. Wrap it up well in greaseproof paper, then tin foil.

Care and feeding of your cake: Every couple of weeks, unwrap the cake, stab it with a skewer and pour over ashot of brandy. Wrap it back up again and leave it somewhere where the dog can’t get it.

Serving: Ice it however you damn well like, and serve cautiously to non-driving guests.

Skeleton cookies for Hallowe’en

In between ploughing through enormous piles of laundry and swearing at video file export formats last weekend, I made these:

Skeleton iced cookies

Skeletons! Thousands of 'em!

They’re a little stumpy, due to the unfortunate anatomy of my gingerbread man cutter, but suitably spooky for Hallowe’en, I think.  Also, they’re very simple to make, compared to how impressive they look.

Here’s a little video I made, showing how I iced them – also testing out my new tripod. The music is Black Spider, by my band Sunday Driver: (NB I’ve replaced this with a new version with much better audio. Apologies – I’m still learning how to do this stuff…)

I think this one is my favourite – he’ got a cute smile, but I diagnose a poorly-healed femur…

Smiley skeleton cookie

Technical specs:  Vanilla sugar cookie recipe from Peggy Porschen’s Pretty Party Cakes.  Royal icing made from a packet mix, mixed to a pretty soft Soft Peak stage (a bit too soft, I think), number 2 writing tip.