Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas creativity in the Back Of Beyond.

Gluten free Christmas cake.
This week has been all about the Christmas cakes. I have iced four in the past week which has given me plenty of practice with fondant and royal icing. The most creative design was the gluten free Christmas cake which I iced first to reduce the risk of cross contamination. I liked the idea of making a Christmas present cake as this would indeed be a Christmas gift. After the rigmarole I had had with my previous bow attempts for my sisters cake I found a different Youtube clip showing an easier way to make a fondant bow. Ha ha ha! They might look easy in the video clips but do not be fooled. Anyone who says you can work with fondant shapes a few hours after making is fibbing. It needs to be left over night to totally harden otherwise it is just too fragile. So after 2 attempts at the bow for that Christmas cake I decided to revert to an easier design for the other three!

The Vander-Cave family cake.
As well as the full sized Christmas cake I also produced some Santa and snowmen cupcakes from a design in the latest free Sainsburys Christmas magazine. Again I would question their instructions which states all you need is some fondant icing in a selection of colours and a round and serrated edge cutter. In reality I used at least 2 of my fondant tools for making Santa's beard. Although having looked at the site which the recipe initially originated from their Santa has simpler styling.
For anyone who wishes to attempt these the instructions can be found at:
Snowmen and Santas.
I used my own Vanilla cupcake recipe which you will find below!

Vanilla cupcakes 
makes 12
125g unsalted butter at room temperature
125g caster sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
125g self raising flour sifted
2 tsp vanilla extract
2tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 190c. Line a cupcake pan with paper cases.

Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy (at least 5 minutes).

Add the eggs, flour, vanilla and milk and beat until smooth and a soft dropping consistency. If the mixture is a bit stiff add an extra drop of milk.

Divide the mixture between the cupcake cases and place in the oven. Cook for 15 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Decorate in any way you please!

Number 3 trying out my new snowflake cutters!

 Snowflakes sprayed with pearl spray on number 4!

                                              Happy Christmas Everyone!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A ginger bread monster!

This weekend is the annual village Christmas Pantomine and party. This year young Master Vander-Cave has a part in the panto. He has been attending weekly rehearsals and is looking forward to playing the part of...... The magic carpet! He is also playing a market trader but that's not his main part you understand. Gemmy and her family are coming to stay for the weekend so they can also enjoy Master V-C's public acting debut! As mother of one of the actors I felt duty bound to produce something just as theatrical and impressive as my son will be on Saturday. The only festive option I could see which would fit the bill would be a gingerbread house! Having never made a gingerbread house before, I discussed my ideas with Mr V-C, who quickly jumped on board with this project and gave his technical drawing skills an outing to design the aforementioned house. From here on in I need you to remember that men think "bigger is better". Mr V-C decreed that this house needed to be big enough for all the children to have a piece and the size will be what makes it amazing. So, yesterday morning I found myself rolling out 34cm high front and back panels for the house, only one of which would only fit on my biggest baking tray at a time. Therefore I had to cook each piece on a separate baking sheet! The rolling, cutting and cooking took all morning and there were several moments when Mr V-C's name was mud! In fact, when one of the roof panels burnt, I found myself stamping my feet and growling in exasperation! Temper tantrums by 30 something women are not becoming, and I do not advocate this behaviour generally but I did feel better afterwards!

It took both myself and Mr V-C to stick the house together with copious amounts of royal icing and some flasks for wall supports! I had several "fridge and pray"(see Great British bake off for this reference) moments during this exercise and spent the next few hours anxiously watching the walls for signs of subsidence whilst I decorated the roof. The roof took 8 bags of jelly tots to decorate and once decorated, the tricky mission of getting the roof panels in place and the icing to set was all that was left to do. As architect of the house I felt it only fair that Mr V-C should hold the panels during the most delicate stage of the operation. bless him he had to hold the panels in place for a good 10 minutes before we were confident that the roof had stuck. The finished result is not as tidy as I would like but for a first attempt it's not bad and the size definitely counts as impressive!

Lets just hope it tastes as good as it looks!

Ginger bread house
This recipe was modified from the BBC good food website recipe. I must point out that the dough is quite wet and greasy and I initially thought I had got something wrong but stick with it and it will come out fine! for their template clicke here

250g unsalted butter
200g dark muscovado sugar
7 tbsp golden syrup
600g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 tsp ground ginger
4boiled sweets

Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6.

Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan.

Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger into a large bowl, then stir in the butter mixture to make a stiff dough. If it won't quite come together, add a tiny splash of water.

Cut out your template. Put a sheet of baking paper on your work surface and roll about one quarter of the dough to the thickness of two £1 coins.

Cut out one of the sections, then slide the gingerbread, still on its baking paper, onto a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, re-rolling the trimmings, until you have two side walls, a front and back wall and two roof panels. Cut out windows in the front wall and place boiled sweets in the holes to make stained glass windows. They melt during the baking process and set as 'glass'. Any leftover dough can be cut into Christmas trees, if you like.

Bake all the sections for 12 mins or until firm and just a little darker at the edges. Leave to cool for a few mins to firm up, then trim around the templates again to give clean, sharp edges. Leave to cool completely.

Using royal icing as 'glue', stick together the walls of your house. Use a bowl or 2 as supports for the walls. Leave to set for a few hours before adding your roof. When adding the roof you may need to hold the roof panels in place for a few minutes until no slippage occurs.  Remember to remove anything used as temporary wall supports from inside the house. Decorate in any way you fancy!

Update: When we got to the party with the house it was decided that it would be auctioned to raise money for a local charity rather than just let the children loose on it. The house raised £18 and the winning bidder (our very generous neighbour) then gave the house to the children to eat. Below is what it looked like after the children had had their fun with it!
And Finally, I must mention the brilliant actors from last nights performance. It was the best production they have ever done. Our locals clearly enjoyed themselves as much as we the audience enjoyed it. Well Done ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. I particularly enjoyed the flying carpet whizzing across the stage and Abanazar's ad-libs during the ring scene!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Girly Birthday cake baking!

Recently we have had two milestone Birthdays in the extended Vander-Cave family. My darling Sister has hit the big 5-0 (but keep that under your hat!) and her beautiful daughter, my niece, celebrated her 30th. I nominated myself as Birthday cake baker for the joint celebrations that occurred last weekend, mainly so I could continue to practice my fondant icing and attempt a stacked cake for the first time.

For weeks now I been mentally planning this cake and found myself awake at 5.30am on the morning of my designated cake baking day! This time I chose a Madeira cake for my two tiers with a jam and butter cream filling. I have never made Madeira cake before as I prefer a Victoria sandwich sponge and having made the Madeira, I would only use it for fondant iced cakes as it is slightly firmer and dryer that a traditional Victoria sandwich. For this job the Madeira was perfect.

Having made my cakes, next came the nerve racking bit; icing and stacking! Actually, I couldn't stack it until we had travelled the 130 mile trip home to the city because I didn't have a box tall enough to transport it!   Having iced and decorated my two tiers and made the fondant numbers that I planned to add once the cake was stacked, I packed a bag of "tools" including my cake lifter, sugar paste glue, paint brush, pearl spray and royal icing. What I didn't take (and should have) was any extra fondant. Unfortunately, in transport, the "3" for the 30 broke and when I stacked the cakes I had left the dowels slightly too long so there was a gap between the tiers. I was able to get some yellow fondant from a local shop but it didn't have enough time to dry, which is why it looks a little weird. I tried to fill the gap between the cakes with some royal icing but this didn't work particularly well. So the lessons I learnt about stacking cakes are
  • cut the dowels slightly shorter so they do not stick out of your cake. It is better if they recess slightly. 
  • try out your stacking before delivery so you can tidy up / hide any imperfections. Often cakes will have a small ribbon around the joins.
  • make spare parts for your decorations in case of breakage.
  • leave two days between icing and stacking so the base layer of fondant has time to set. 
  • vertical writing with royal icing is difficult. Better to ice on your banner before adding to your cake.
  • Try and get your base layer cake as flat as possible for stacking.

Overall this cake was a good first attempt and both my sister and my niece were thrilled by their cake, my niece particularly liked the ballet shoes hidden around the back of the cake which were a homage to her 6th birthday cake. This cake is the stuff of family legend being that the "ballet shoes" birthday cake looked more like ballet shoes for princess Fiona from Shrek than a little 6 year old. What makes it even more amusing is the fact that my niece has tiny feet and even at the ripe old age of 30 these ballet shoes would have been too big!

Madeira Cake

175g/6oz butter, at room temperature
175g/6oz caster sugar
3 free-range eggs
250g/9oz self-raising flour
2-3 tbsp milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease an 18cm/7in round cake tin, line the base with greaseproof paper and grease the paper.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture well between each one and adding a tablespoon of the flour with the last egg to prevent the mixture curdling.

Sift the flour and gently fold in, with enough milk to give a mixture that falls slowly from the spoon. 

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and lightly level the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until golden-brown on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and set aside to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn it out on to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

Vanilla butter cream
125g unsalted butter at room temperature
250 icing sugar sifted
1tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp milk

 I use my Kenwood chef with paddle beater for the butter cream.
Beat the butter until very soft, it will be very pale and creamy looking.

Add the icing and slowly increase the speed on your mixer until all the icing sugar is incorporated and the mixture is soft and smooth.

Beat in the vanilla extract and milk until you have light and fluffy butter cream.

Use to sandwich your cakes or top cupcakes.
Decorate anyway to your heart desires!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

That Festive feeling in the back of beyond

As the days get shorter. the weather gets colder (and wetter) and now that the Halloween and bonfire festivities are done and dusted, my cake desires change from sunny coconut or light lemon to much darker, stickier goodies. Festive baking starts to dominate my thinking. My Christmas cakes are baked and my Christmas puddings are steamed and tasted. They are now maturing in a dark cupboard with weekly injections of brandy for the 4 Christmas cakes. My plans for Christmas dinner and other sweet treats are coming along nicely and regular fondant and royal icing piping trials are taking up a lot of my time and energy. To keep the energy levels topped up and my sweet tooth sated (and Master Vander-Cave happy) I made some deliciously sticky, chocolatey, Millionaires shortbread. In the past I used the recipe on the back of a Nestle condensed milk tin which involved smashing up shop bought shortbread. this time I made my own shortbread, mainly because I didn't have any shortbread in the house and the shop was too far to go on a cold dark winters afternoon. I used Delia's shortbread recipe from her complete illustrated cookery course which made a nice thick buttery shortbread base which I baked in my silicone baking tin for ease removal of the completed biscuit confection.

Millionaires shortbread
For the shortbread:

110g butter
50g caster sugar
175g plain flour

For the caramel and chocolate topping:
150g butter
150g dark brown soft sugar
397g can Carnation condensed milk
200g dark chocolate

Beat the butter until creamy. I use my food processor for this.
Stir in  the caster sugar and then sift in the plain flour. Process until a dough is formed.  The dough is pressed in the 20cm square baking tin and baked at 150C for half an hour until firm and slightly coloured. Leave in the tin until cold.

Whilst the shortbread is cooling make the caramel. Heat the sugar and  butter in a non-stick pan, gently stirring until melted. Add the Carnation condensed milk and bring to a rapid boil, stirring continuously. Cook for a minute or so or until the filling has thickened.
Pour the caramel over the shortbread base. Cool, then chill until set.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Pour the dark chocolate over the caramel and return to fridge until chocolate is set. Cut into squares and enjoy!

For those of you who are looking for Christmas cake and pudding recipes you can access my recipes for these here:

Once I have decorated my christmas cakes I will post this years designs. I hope they will be a bit more exciting than usual too make use of my new fondant skills!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Thank goodness for Nigella

All that was left of batch number 3!

Last 'bonfire night' my cinder toffee was a disaster and ended up unceremoniously dumped in the bin. This year I decided to get practicing early to hone my skills and produce cinder toffee that my mum would be proud of!  Over half term, with the weather cold and miserable and Master Vander-Cave at a loose end we decided to try out Nigella Lawson's recipe for Hokey Pokey (which is the Cornish name for cinder toffee apparently). I am so glad we tried this recipe first as out of the hundreds of recipes available on the internet it produced perfect toffee first time. Master V-C loved the bubbling up of the hot molten sugary mix when the bicarbonate of soda was added, pronouncing it "cool". This is a rare compliment from him in these days of the pre-teen condescension that he has mastered scarily quickly.

To add extra excitement to our toffee we dipped it in melted milk chocolate to produce home made 'Crunchies'. Interestingly, the chocolate covered offerings disappeared quickest at the village bonfire party, probably because Master V-C was telling all the children how good the home made Crunchies were. He was over heard saying to one of the junior villagers "do you want that one, it has no chocolate on it?". By the time the adults got a look in all the chocolate ones were gone. I ended up making another batch the next day for the farmer who missed out on the chocolate covered pieces on the night and has a healthy appetite for sweet treats. Also, as provider of the fireworks and farmland, deserved to be suitably rewarded!
Nigella's recipe doesn't make a lot so I made double the recipe for the party.

Cinder toffee

200 grams caster sugar
8 tablespoons golden syrup
3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

Put the sugar and syrup into a saucepan and stir together to mix. You mustn't stir once the pan's on the heat, though.

Place the pan on the heat and let the mixture first melt, then turn to goo and then to a bubbling mass the colour of maple syrup - this will take 3 minutes or so.

Take the pan off the heat, whisk in the bicarbonate of soda and watch the syrup turn into a whooshing cloud of aerated pale gold.

Turn this immediately onto a piece of reusable baking parchment or greased foil (perhaps in a tray). I use my silicone baking tray.

Leave until set and then gently bash at it, so that it splinters into many glinting pieces. Once broken up one can dip the pieces in melted chocolate and leave to set again.

Note; if the toffee struggles to set, pop it in the fridge to finish it off!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Fun with Fondant

Fondant roses, Mich Turner method

2013 is set to be a big year for the extended Vander-Cave family. I will hit the big 40 (shush, don't tell anyone!) and we have two family weddings and a baby due (sounds like the title of a film!), all of which we are very excited about. Not so excited about being 40, that is more a grin and bear it event!

I was asked by my niece if I would make her a wedding cake. To begin with I was blinded by panic as I am not a cake decorator and I do not have an artistic bone in my body. My Christmas cakes are very simply decorated to cover up for my lack of artistic flair. After a little time to get my head around it I started to get excited about the idea of cracking fondant work and royal icing piping. I even found myself offering to make the cake for my nephew and his beautiful bride to be.

So last week it was my great niece's 3rd birthday and we were invited to her birthday tea at my sisters house. I offered to make some cupcakes so I could start to practice my fondant flowers and butteflies. After an expensive shopping session at Amazon I now own most bits needed to make fondant flowers and other frivolities (and probably a few bits that are totally superfluous) but I couldn't resist! Next I spent some time on Youtube watching videos of different ways of working with fondant,  by which time I was raring to go. Well, fondant play work is such fun and totally cathartic.  Playdough you can eat, amazing! I made a few mistakes, like fiddling with my butterflies before they had hardened so they broke (I am so bad at waiting for things to be ready!) and trying to pick flowers up by their petals (they are fragile). I had such good fun making the cutest girly flower meadow cupcakes and fairytale toadstool cupcakes and every one said they looked good so I wasn't totally biased!

As well as trying out fondant on cucpakes I also had to find a new cupcake recipe. Fondant is heavier that buttercream which means a light sponge will sink so I needed a firmer cake which was weirdly lacking from all the internet search engines I tried. In the end I went for a vanilla version of my chocolate butter cake which worked well, topped with vanilla buttercream to level the cake out, then topped with a circle of fondant.

To practice my royal icing piping work I used 'Just Add Water' royal icing mix from Silver Spoon which was. It very easy to mix and no raw egg whites. I made some butter cookies and piped different patterns and words using a PME 1.5 plain piping nozzle in a disposable piping bag. It's a bit  like doing handwriting practice when I was at school. My first attempts were not too bad and the words were definitely legible which was a bonus! I have along way to go and as the first wedding is in February I need to get my skates on!

Things I have learnt about working with fondant.

  1. It is worth investing in a non stick rolling pin for fondant.
  2. Rolling fondant out on a sheet of parchment paper will stop the fondant sticking and reduce the need to use icing sugar which can streak coloured fondant.
  3. Cover any fondant you are not using in cling film as it sets quickly.
  4. Leave fondant figures over night to dry. Do not fiddle until they have been left over night and, once hardened, fondant figures/flowers etc are very fragile. Pick them up using a palette knife, not by their wings/leaves.
  5. Flower paste is a pain in the bum to work with but does give delicate leaves for flowers. 
  6. When topping a cupcake with fondant, cut the disc slightly larger than the cake to allow for doming over the cake.
  7. Store fondant flowers and figures in a cardboard box. Fondant needs to breathe and if put in an airtight contain it will become sticky.

Vanilla butter sponge cake makes 12 cupcakes.

Pre heat oven 170c. Line a 12 hole cupcake tin with cupcake cases.

4 oz butter (softened)
1tsp vanilla extract
5 1/2 oz caster sugar
2 eggs
6 oz plain flour (sifted)
1.5tsp baking powder
4 fl oz milk

Place the butter and vanilla in a bowl and beat in the electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar, beating well until creamy.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and then add a tbsp of the flour if the mixture looks like it will curdle..

Sift together flour and baking powder. Alternately fold the flour mixture and the milk into the butter mixture.

Spoon the mixture into prepared tins and bake for 18 minutes until well risen and a cake testing skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool then top with buttercream to even out the surface. Top with a disc of fondant and decorate to your hearts content.

The recipe for buttercream and butter biscuits are detailed in previous blog posts.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

One for mum.

Last week, during a conversation with my mum, she mentioned how much she missed raspberry buns, which she used to make all the time when I was young. I have to admit I had completely forgotten about this particular delicacy from my childhood until mum mentioned them. She said quite wistfully she never got them any more because Dad didn't bake that sort of thing, and of course with mum's disability she cant bake any more. She wasn't sure of the recipe but 'thought she had it written down somewhere', but didn't know where! Trusty Google to the rescue and within 2 minutes I had a recipe from a fellow bloggers page which she had got from a 1970's magazine clipping. I called mum back and she confirmed that this sounded right. I promised to make the buns and send them with Mr Vander-Cave when he was next down in the south. Mum said that they are best eaten fresh from the oven and admitted that she could happily polish off half a batch instantly when she used to make the buns!
I have to say I found containing the jam within the bun a bit tricky and ended up flattening the dough out then pulling the edges up and over the jam which worked better. Mum was right as they were particularly scrummy when fresh from the oven, so I hope she enjoys the remainder when they get delivered to her today! 

Raspberry Buns
Makes 10
8oz self-raising flour
pinch of salt
3oz margarine (I used butter, I didn't have any marg)
3oz caster sugar
1 egg
1 to 2 tablespoonfuls of milk
raspberry jam
a little milk and caster sugar for the glaze
a little cooking oil or melted fat
2 baking trays

Brush the baking trays with a little oil of melted fat. Heat the oven to gas mark 6 or 400 degrees (that would be Fahrenheit, so 200C), to be ready for the buns.

Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add margarine and cut it into small pieces with a knife. Lift up the flour and margarine in your fingers and rub it as it falls back into the bowl; lifting it above the bowl keeps the mixture cool (I used my Kenwood with the k beater). When the mixture is of an even texture and all the little pieces of margarine have disappeared, stir in the caster sugar.

Beat the egg in a small bowl. Add it to the mixture with just enough milk to make a stiff dough; this may only be a tablespoonful and it depends on the size of the egg.

Divide the mixture into 10 even sized pieces and , with your hands lightly floured, roll each one into a little ball. Put the buns on to a greased baking tray with rough space between to allow them to spread. With your fingers, form a hollow in the centre of each bun to hold the jam.

Put a small spoonful of jam into the hollowed centre of each bun. Pinch the mixture together over the jam, so that the jam is hidden. Brush the tops of the buns with a little milk and sprinkle them with caster sugar.

Cook the buns just above the centre of the fairly hot oven for about 15 minutes, until they are risen and nicely browned. The jam should burst through the surface. Using a palette knife, slip the buns on to a wire tray to cool.

Update; Mum reports that they were "Very Nice" which to anyone who knows my mum will attest that is high praise!

A change is as good as a rest.

Picture the scene. The cake tin is empty, the skies are grey and the cake fiend (aka the young master Vander-Cave) is due home soon and my energy levels are low. I definitely need something to lift my spirits and give me the energy boost to get through the rest of the day. Looking in the baking ingredients cupboard I decided on brownies and turned to my favourite brownie recipe by Nigel Slater from his kitchen diary. As a regular brownie baker I have tried many recipes over years before finally settling on the Nigel Slater recipe as my favourite brownie. Rich dense chocolate brownie with hunks of 70% dark chocolate, it is a chocolate lovers dream. Sadly, on this particular day, I only had 200gms of chocolate which was not enough for Nigel's recipe. I didn't have the energy to go to the shop for more (remember we live 15mins from the nearest supermarket). Not to be thwarted I pulled out my now well thumbed Hummingbird bakery cookbook to discover their brownie recipe only needed 200gms of dark chocolate. Result! Particularly as the recipe is a mix it all together type recipe which fitted perfectly with my low energy levels. I was very pleased with this low effort version of brownies and although not quite as deep as Nigel's offering, it was a very good alternative with a nice crust on top and a slightly gooey, soft, 'fudgy' centre. One I am sure I will  use again. I think  this recipe would convert well to a gluten free version, although Gem will say she already has the perfect gluten free brownie recipe (which I promise I will wrestle from her sometime soon and blog for all the gluten free peeps who read this!)

Hummingbird Bakery Brownies

33 x 23 x 5-cm baking tray, lined with greaseproof paper. I used my square 23x23cm silicone cake tin and didn't line it.
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
175g unsalted butter
325g caster sugar
130g plain flour
3 eggs
icing sugar, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3.
Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not let the base of the bowl touch the water). Leave until melted and smooth.

Remove from the heat. Add the sugar and stir until well incorporated.

Add the flour and stir until well incorporated. Finally, stir in the eggs and mix until thick and smooth.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until flaky on the top but still soft in the centre. Be careful not to overcook otherwise the edges will become hard and crunchy.

Leave to cool completely before dusting with icing sugar.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Home made is always better!

As previously mentioned Mr Vander-Cave has been away for a couple of days at a trade show where he gets a 'lunch box' provided each day, the inverted commas are there because the boxes are huge and covered in advertising for the show. Inside the boxes are all sorts of cakes and treats that generally don't set foot inside my back of beyond barn as I prefer to make all our cakes because they taste nicer. Having said that I do have one exception, M&S Eccles cakes. Oh my how I love these butter laden cakes with the gooey filling oozing out from the flaky sugar coated pastry (salivating already!). Any way back to the trade show lunch boxes. Mr V-C often brings back leftover singular packaged cakes for Master Vander-Cave as a treat. This time he came in brandishing an Eccles cake saying "I know how much you like these!" The next morning I sat down with my mid morning latte and the aforementioned cake. Disappointed doesn't even begin to cover my feelings. This puff pastry catastrophe tasted like cardboard and the fruity centre was extremely lacking in fruit. In fact I think this cake could have been contravening the trades description act it was so far removed from my usual Eccles cake. Since the onset of my CFS the M&S Eccles cake has become a rare treat because I so rarely get to shop there and I was so desperate that I found a recipe and set about making my own.

At this point I must say this is one of those recipes for those days when you have nothing else to do. All the rolling, folding and chilling of the flaky pastry is very time consuming and took up a lot of my day. I didn't quite stick to the recipe because I only had a quarter of the currants needed so topped up the fruit with raisins and I also didn't have any dark brown sugar so used light brown sugar. I don't think either substitution has lessened the scrumptiousness of the finished cakes (If I do say so myself!)

The layers needed to create a flaky pastry by rolling and folding
Eccles Cakes
400g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
25g caster sugar
225g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 medium egg, separated
100ml cold water
75ml cold milk
For the filling:
500g currants
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons (or the best-quality lemon extract)
50g dark soft brown sugar
100g unsalted butter
Demerara sugar

Put the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl and add the butter. 

Whisk the egg yolk with the water and milk, and mix with the flour to a firm dough.

Wrap, chill for 30-60 minutes, then, with a little flour, roll into a 2cm-thick rectangle. Fold in by thirds, then re-roll to the same size and fold again. Wrap and chill for 30-60 minutes. Repeat the double roll, fold and chill twice more.(As it was warm on the day I made mine I chilled the pastry for 60mins each time).

Put the currants in a bowl, pour on 500ml boiling water and leave for five minutes. Drain thoroughly, then mix with the lemon, sugar, butter and chill for 15minutes.

Roll the pastry to 2cm thick, cut in two and keep one piece chilled while you roll the other into a 0.25cm-thick rectangle and cut into six squares.

Place a 50-60g ball of currants in the centre of each one, dampen the edges and bring together to seal. 
Flip it over, round the shape with your fingers, roll out slightly to flatten and place seam down on a baking tray lined with nonstick paper. Repeat with the other pastry and filling.

Brush with beaten egg white, sprinkle with sugar, slash the tops and bake at 200C (180C fan-assisted)/390F/gas mark 6 for about 30 minutes until golden .

Monday, 10 September 2012

An anniversary treat

For the first time in 17 years I am spending my wedding anniversary 'sans' husband! Mr Vander-Cave is away on business so I am home alone and in need of a sweet treat. After watching The Great British Bake Off last week and salivating over Mary Berry's treacle tart I decided to dust down my own treacle tart recipe for my post dinner dessert. As I need to get back on the diet train asap I went for small individual treacle tarts making just two, one for me and one for Master Vander-Cave (who shares my love of these sweet treats).
To counteract the sweetness of the syruppy filling we ate our tarts with some of the few strawberries our bushes have given us this year and a generous helping of double cream

This recipe uses an old fashioned pie plate measuring 18cm for 2 individual sized tarts. I used 1/3 of the ingredients. I blind baked the tartlet shells for the same amount of time but cut the final cooking time to 25 minutes.

Treacle Tart
180g plain flour
45g butter
45g Trex
2 tsp cold water

for the filling:

225g fresh white bread
600g (8 heaped tbsp) golden syrup
juice of half a lemon

Put the flour and the cubed butter into a food processor and whizz till you have what looks like fine breadcrumbs (do it by hand if you prefer, rubbing the butter into the flour with your fingers and thumbs).

Pour in the water and mix again for a few seconds until the dough comes together.

Tip the dough out on to a lightly floured board, squeezing the dough to make a large ball. Roll it out to fit the tart tin, pressing it into the edges.

 Prick the pastry lightly all over with a fork then leave to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6.Take the tart case from the fridge, cover with foil and baking beans to stop the pastry from puffing up, and bake for 10 minutes.

Remove the paper and beans and return the pastry case to the oven for 5 minutes until the pastry feels dry. Remove and set aside.

Lower the oven heat to 180C/gas mark 4. Whiz the bread in the food processor till you have fine, soft, white crumbs.

 Mix them with the golden syrup, stirring until the crumbs are fully coated in syrup, then stir in the lemon juice.

Pour the crumbs into the warm pastry case, cover with lattice pastry strips if you are so inclined and brush the pastry lattice with milk.  Otherwise forget the lattice and just put the tart in the oven unadorned for 25-35 minutes. Leave the tart to cool for 10 minutes or so before cutting. Serve with cream.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Crazy for Cookies

As I alluded to in my previous post, I am currently struggling to keep up with the demand for home baked goodies for Master Vander-Cave. For the past couple of weeks he has been enrolled in a cricket coaching clinic which he has thoroughly enjoyed but comes home absolutely exhausted and ravenous. He is requesting snack upon snack until dinner is ready which he also wolfs down at lightening speed, which is a pleasant change from his early years when eating was an exceedingly time consuming exercise which frustrated all who had to bear witness to it!

Some how my baking has veered away from cupcakes, towards cookies and biscuits instead, probably because they are quicker to produce than cakes. They are almost more yummy whilst still warm, meaning Master V-C doesn't have to wait as long for another home baked hit! Although the double chocolate cookie recipe has had several outings recently as steadfast favourite with both the boys in my home, I have branched out a bit and road tested a jammy dodger recipe from The River Cottage Handbook using my cookie cutters bought in the Hyper Asia shop in Spain. (everything you could need for just a few euro's, just don't look for longevity!) My other new recipe trial was The Hummingbird Bakery's version of raisin and oatmeal cookies, an  American classic and one of my favourites.
Both recipes  turned out well although the jammy dodger dough needed quick handling with constantly floured hands and surfaces! Also note when cutting out the shapes for jammy dodgers make sure you bake the tops and bottoms on the same tray otherwise you may not be able to sandwich them together and put them back in the oven if the tops or bottoms are still in the oven (something I almost did!)

Jammy Dodgers
175g plain flour
Pinch of sea salt
75g unrefined icing sugar
125g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g raspberry jam (or whatever flavour you like)

2 large baking sheets, lined with baking parchment
6–7cm biscuit cutter, crinkle-edged or plain
2cm heart, square, round or animal biscuit cutter, crinkle-edged or plain

Sift the flour, salt and icing sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and lightly rub into the flour mix, using your fingertips, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk and vanilla extract together. Make a well in the centre of the flour mix. Add the egg and vanilla mix and work together to form a soft, smooth dough. Alternatively, you can  do what I did and place everything in a food processor and bring to this stage.

Seal the dough in a polythene bag and chill in the fridge for 25–30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170C / gas mark 3.
Divide the dough into two equal portions. Place one portion between two pieces of lightly floured greaseproof paper and, using a rolling pin, roll the dough to approximately 4mm thickness.
Repeat with the second piece of dough. Remove the top paper. Note: I would be a little more heavy handed with the flour as the mixture is very likely to stick!

With the larger biscuit cutter, cut the dough into discs (make sure you have an even number). Using the smaller cutter, cut out and remove the centre of half the biscuit discs; the cut-out pieces can either be kneaded back into the remaining dough or baked just as they are.

Place all the discs on the baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes until just firm and barely coloured.

Remove from the oven and place a teaspoonful of jam in the centre of each whole biscuit round. Spread to 1.5cm from the edge. Place the cut-out rounds on top. Return to the oven and cook for a further 5–6 minutes by which time the biscuits will be evenly cooked and the jam sufficiently hot to stick the biscuits together.

Leave the biscuits to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack.

Raisin and Oat cookies

270g unsalted butter, at room temperature
160g caster sugar
160g soft dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
380g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
110g rolled oats
220g raisins

Preheat the oven to 170C .

Put the butter and sugars in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment and cream until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. Turn the mixer down to slow speed and beat in the vanilla extract.

Sift together the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon in a separate bowl, add the oats and mix well. Add to the butter mixture and beat until well mixed. Stir in the raisins with a wooden spoon until evenly dispersed.

Arrange equal amounts of cookie dough on the prepared baking trays. Make sure that the cookies are spaced apart to allow for spreading while cooking. Bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes, or until golden brown and firm. Check them regularly to make sure they are not burning. When you are happy tat they are cooked through, remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly on the trays before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Makes about 20.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Bringing a bit of sunshine to the back of beyond

Sunshine seems to be a rare commodity here in the back of beyond. It is August and still we have no consistent weather. This has hit us harder after our beautifully sunny holiday and I am feeling a bit of PHB (post holiday blues!). To try and counteract this I found a lovely sunny sounding recipe to try out on my gloriously sunny natured girlfriends when an opportunity for a lightening visit to the big city arose. Pineapple and coconut cupcakes from the perennially fairweather peeps at the Hummingbird Bakery. I converted their recipe to gluten free as gorgeous Gem would be one of my taste testers along with  my darling Sophie and her fabulous mummy. The cup cakes were welcomed by all the grown ups and deemed a delicious delight, with Sophie's mum taking the one remaining cake home for later and Gem pronouncing that I could make these again for her! (The children were slightly less impressed, I think the flavours are slightly more adult orientated.)
I have been asked to get this recipe up on the blog because Sophie's mum needs this recipe in her life ASAP! So for you Barbara here it is:

Pineapple and Coconut Cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery gluten free version
To Make a regular version exchange gluten free flour for standard flour, only use 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder and omit the Xantham gum.

120g gluten free plain flour  mix
140g caster sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon Xantham gum
a pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
120ml coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
9 tinned pineapple rings, cut into small pieces (I actually only used a small tin of sliced pinapple pieces as I thought 2 small tins plus another ring seemed a lot)
desiccated coconut, to decorate

250g icing sugar
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
25ml coconut milk

Makes 12
Oven 170C/325F/GM3

Put flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter in a freestanding electric mixer with paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat on slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined.

Mix coconut milk and vanilla extract in a separate bowl, the beat into the flour mixture on medium speed until well combined. Add egg and beat well.

Divide chopped pineapple between paper cases. Spoon cupcake mixture on top until two-thirds full and bake in preheated oven for 20-25 mins, or until light golden and sponge bounces back when touched. Leave to cool slightly in tray before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Beat the icing sugar and butter together on medium/slow speed. Turn mixer down to slower speed and pour in coconut milk. Once all milk has been incorporated, turn mixer up to higher speed and continue beating until frosting is very white, light and fluffy (5-10mins).

When cupcakes are cold, spoon frosting on top and finish with a sprinkling of desiccated coconut.

P.s I have also made jammy dodgers and double chocolate praline muffins this week. Blog posts to follow soon (Master Vander-Cave on his school hols is eating treats as quickly as I can bake them!)

Friday, 10 August 2012

A welcome return to the Back of beyond.

We have just returned from our annual pilgrimage in search of those most elusive of things, sunshine and relaxation! Thankfully we found most of both in Spain. We are lucky enough to have a family member with a house in the Costa Blanca region. The area is somewhat Anglicized with golf courses, all you can eat English breakfasts and sports bars showing the Olympics.  For our needs of relaxation, water based fun for Master Vander-Cave and some sunshine for all of us, it is perfect! Very close to our holiday home is Villa Martin Plaza, which is home to every cuisine imaginable, with restaurants to cater for all palates and budgets. We ate out at various establishments which were all enjoyable but none lived up to Indigo Indian restaurant near La Zenia beach. The proprietors speak many languages between them and always have a friendly welcome for everyone. This year they persuaded Master Vander-Cave to try some chicken tikka cooked in the tandoor and served on a bed of sizzling vegetables. Initially reluctant to try it, after a little cajoling from us, he took a bite, declared it was delicious and decided that what was what he would have for his main course! I urge anyone staying in the la Zenia/ Villa Martin area to make a trip to Indigo for wonderful hospitality, reasonable prices, a great house white and really scrummy food!

On our return we were welcomed home with the first batch of Back of Beyond blueberries. These are at least 3 three weeks late in cropping and I was starting to think all the little green berries were never to change to the inky blueness that I so love. I had only just shaken all the sand out of my flipflops when I started gathering blueberries ready for a batch of blueberry muffins. I was shocked to find that I had not already blogged my favourite blueberry muffin recipe so here it is. Enjoy!

Blueberry Muffins
2 cups plain flour
3/4 cup caster sugar
1tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate soda
pinch of salt
1 cup buttermilk at room temperature
1/4 cup unsalted butter melted and cooled
1 large egg at room temperature
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups blueberries 
2 tbsp demerera sugar

Pre heat oven to 190c.  Line a muffin tin with 12 muffin cases.

In a large bowl stir together the flour, caster sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate soda and salt.

In a separate jug stir together buttermilk,butter,egg and vanilla until well blended.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients; add the sour cream mixture and stir to just combine. Stir in the blueberries

Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin cups and sprinkle with the demerara sugar evenly over all muffins.

Bake in the pre heated oven for 20 minutes. They should be well risen and golden and a cake tester inserted into the middle of one muffin should come out clean.

Turn out onto a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before eating (scalding hot blueberries can be painful!)

These muffins freeze well.
displayed in my new cake saver bought in spain, perfect for keeping flies away!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Time to Parrtttaay!

This week I was asked to make a Pavlova for my darling friend Sophie's birthday party. My initial response was "I don't make pavlova, I don't like meringue". Then I started thinking about it........

I developed my hatred of meringue when I was around 10 years old.  My friend and I had a midnight feast of meringues and cream then I spent the next day being sick!  I probably need to clarify that the meringues were little, hard, sickly sweet swirls and the cream was out of a tin! To say I hate meringue is also not quite true because I am partial to lemon meringue pie with the lovely gooey meringue topping. Then I thought about this blog, how I like trying something new and suddenly I found myself texting Sophie saying "for you I will make Pavlova!"

I found Delia's full proof recipe for Pavlova which looks ridiculously easy and (after a discussion with my big sis who uses said recipe all the time) I set off on my mission to make a perfect Pavlova.  With the help of my trusty Kenwood chef making it was simple but what wasn't quite as straightforward was finding a box big enough to protect it on the 140mile nerve wracking car journey to my friends house.  And also, once it was filled with cream, strawberries and raspberries, the equally nerve wracking drive onwards to sophie's party! I am pleased to report that it arrived in one piece, I actually liked the meringue with it's soft marshmallow centre, and it was totally gluten and lacto free so Gemmy was able to partake of the creamy, squishy, berry encrusted triumph!

Summer berry Pavlova
(for a party sized meringue)
5 fresh egg whites
290g golden caster sugar

For the filling:
500ml lacto free cream (or standard double cream)
500g strawberries
500g frozen raspberries

Place the egg whites in a large clean bowl and have the sugar measured and ready. Now whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and you can turn the bowl upside down without them sliding out (it's very important, though, not to over-whisk the egg whites because, if you do, they will start to collapse).

When they're ready, start to whisk in the sugar, approximately 1 oz (25 g) at a time, whisking after each addition until all the sugar is in. Now take a metal tablespoon and spoon the meringue mixture on to the prepared baking sheet, forming a circle about 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter.

Then spoon round blobs next to each other so that they join up to form a circle all around the edge. Now, using the tip of a skewer, make little swirls in the meringue all round the edge, lifting the skewer up sharply each time to leave tiny peaks. Now place the baking sheet in the oven, then immediately turn down the heat to gas mark 1, 275°F (140°C) and leave it to cook for 1 hour.

Finally, turn the heat right off but leave the Pavlova inside the oven until it's completely cold. To serve, lift it from the baking sheet, peel off the paper and place it on a serving dish. Just before serving, whip the cream then fold in the defrosted raspberries until you get a nice rippled effect.  Spread the mixture over the meringue and arrange the strawberries over the cream.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Time to say Goodbye!

Red velvet cupcakes
After two very happy years at the local village school, Master Vander-Cave is leaving to start high school. I was pleased that we moved him midway through his primary school career. He was settled in the town school he attended when we moved out to the back of beyond, so we agreed to keep him there for continuity and stability, even though it meant a 36 mile daily round trip!

As the years passed Master Vander-Cave became unsettled in a difficult year group and his progress stagnated. Mr Vander-Cave and I were mindful of Master V-C's busy nature and desire to be outside and felt his talents may not lie in academia.  Being told at parent teacher meetings that "Master Vander-Cave is just Master Vander-Cave" and "what can we do with him?" became a less than satisfactory response to our son's work and attitude. So we did what any sensible parent would do and decided to look at our other options. We found that our catchment school was one of the best schools in the county, with an outstanding ofsted and was one of the feeder schools for the high school we had already picked out for our boy. We could not believe our luck when we asked if there was a vacancy for our son and the response was "yes, we can take him."

Banocolate cucpakes
By the end of the first term we felt like we had made the right choice and our only regret was that we hadn't  moved him sooner. Through this school our son's academic abilities have been encouraged and his learning supported.  His non academic skills have been celebrated and nurtured and his school reports have changed dramatically. Suddenly he has gone from being a "silly boy, who needs to mind his own business" to a "really polite and friendly boy who brightens up the day for those around". His SATS results also bear witness to the change in him and he leaves primary school with age appropriate grades in all areas and an above average in his reading skills.

Last night was the icing on the cake for us when at the school leavers celebration Master Vander-Cave was awarded the Phil Jones Cup for Sporting Endeavours. He was so pleased and Mr Vander-Cave and I were fit to burst with pride for our son.

As leaving gifts for his teacher's I decided to do what I do best and bake cupcakes for them. I sourced some lovely pink spotty cupcake boxes from Morrisons and made half a dozen cupcakes for each teacher. Red Velvet  for Mrs P and Chocolate and Banana for Mrs H. I hope they both enjoy them. I cannot thank these teachers and all the staff at this school for their positivity, inclusive attitude, love and support that they give to all the pupils. These people really care about their pupils, it is not just a job to them and to see Mrs D (headteacher) welling up last night when she awarded the kindness award was extremely moving and sums up everything that is so good about the school.

Below is the Red Velvet cupcake recipe. The chocolate and banana is already given on a previous post.

Hummingbird Bakery Red Velvet cupcakes

60g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g caster sugar
1 egg
10g cocoa powder
20ml red food colouring, I use a food colouring paste which needs about a tsp to provide the depth of colour needed.
½tsp vanilla extract
120ml buttermilk
150g plain flour
½tsp salt
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
1½tsp white wine vinegar

For the cream cheese frosting:

300g icing sugar, sifted
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g cream cheese, cold

Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3. Line a cupcake tin with large cupcake cases.

Put the butter and the sugar in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy and well mixed.

Turn the mixer up to high speed, slowly add the egg and beat until everything is well incorporated.

In a separate bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, red food colouring and vanilla extract to make a thick, dark paste.
Add to the butter mixture and mix thoroughly until evenly combined and coloured (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula).

Turn the mixer down to slow speed and slowly pour in half the buttermilk. Beat until well mixed, then add half the flour, and beat until everything is well incorporated. Repeat this process until all the buttermilk and flour have been added. Scrape down the side of the bowl again. Turn the mixer up to high speed and beat until you have a smooth, even mixture.

Turn the mixer down to low speed and add the salt, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. Beat until well mixed, then turn up the speed again and beat for a couple more minutes.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until two-thirds full and bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 mins, or until the sponge bounces back when touched. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean.

Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile for the cream cheese frosting: Beat the icing sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed.

Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 mins. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.

I like to pipe the frosting on top but you can just spoon the frosting over the cakes.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

A Baking wash-out!

Rain, rain go away, come back another day!

Here in the Back of beyond, like many parts of our green and pleasant isle, it has done nothing but rain for weeks and this is causing havoc with my baking and Master Vander-Cave's sporting fixtures. Both of the Vander-Cave males are heavily involved with the local cricket team which is causing frayed tempers, tearful disappointments and a generally despondent air around the house as match after match has been cancelled due to rain or a water logged wicket.

Last Season!
As disappointing as this is for the boys, for me it is a triple disappointment. Not only do I not get a quiet Sunday morning,  my baking for the cricket tea doesn't disappear from the house (meaning my diet goes to pot for another week) and I have to put up with a grumpy faced boy complaining that he is "never going to get a match at this rate!"
This week it had been a double dose of rain stops play with cricket being cancelled and the school sports day/fete being postponed, equalling lots of baking not leaving my kitchen. For the fete I had made a tray bake lemon drizzle cake, only 20 portions to get through then!

The crunchy topping is sublime!
My waist band cannot cope with this amount of cake and as Mr V-C doesn't partake of lemon cakes (they're just not chocolate) I ended up sending half of it to school for the teachers. Always good to be kind to the teachers!

Today I have learnt from this lesson and have produced some very scrummy chocolate cornflake cakes for tomorrows cricket tea. So if plan A doesn't work out I know that plan B definitely will (all the cakes being eaten before I get a look in, they are chocolate after all!)

Mary Berry's Lemon Drizzle Cake
225g butter, softened
225g caster sugar
275g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
4 eggs
4 tbsp milk
2 lemons, grated zest only (preferably unwaxed)

For the crunchy topping;
175g granulated sugar
2 lemons, juice only

Cut a rectangle of non-stick baking parchment to fit the base and sides of a 30 x 23 x 4 cm roasting tin. Grease the tin and line with the paper, pushing it neatly into the corners of the tin. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.

Measure all the ingredients for the tray bake into a large bowl and beat well for about 2 minutes, until well blended.

Turn the mixture into the prepared tin, scraping the sides of the bowl with a plastic spatula to remove all of the mixture.

Level the top gently with the back of the spatula.

Bake in the middle of the oven for about 35-40 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and is beginning to shrink away from the sides of the tin.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin for a few minutes then lift it out of the tin while still in its lining paper.

Carefully remove the paper and put the tray bake onto a wire rack placed over a tray

To make the crunchy topping, mix the lemon juice and granulated sugar in a small bowl to give a runny consistency. Spoon this mixture evenly over the tray bake whilst it is still just warm. Cut into squares when cold and store in an airtight tin.

So simple but delicious!

Chocolate Cornflake cakes
75g butter
6tbsp golden syrup
150g chocolate (use your favourite dark or milk)
120g cornflakes

Gently melt the butter, syrup and chocolate in a small, heavy pan. Stir in the cornflakes. Place spoonfuls of the mixture into cake cases in a fairy cake tray leave to set in the refrigerator.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Fabulous Fridge Cake by Becky

At our recent Jubilee celebrations a tin of the most scrumptious chocolate fridge cake appeared on the Jubilee tea table. It was truly divine, chocolatey, biscuity heaven. Of course I asked around but no one seemed to know who had made this little bit of heaven.  I decided that I needed this recipe in my life so put out an email to the village, after a few non starters the lovely Becky stepped forward and owned up to producing the amazing treat. Thankfully she agreed to share her recipe with me so I could make it and share it here. The recipe originated from Lorraine Pascal's Home cooking made easy. I have no experience of this book, but after making these I may be tempted to add it to my groaning recipe book shelf!

I will admit I tweaked the recipe slightly by adding raisins to the mixture because I like them with chocolate. Be warned this is very rich and not one for dieting!!!

Chocolate Fridge Cake
400g of good quality chocolate, I used 200g each of dark and milk, broken into pieces
125g butter
250g digestives
2 dollops of golden syrup
135g maltesers
50g raisins

Melt the butter over a low heat then add the chocolate and syrup. Stir until all is melted. Take off the heat, add the biscuits and maltesers until evenly mixed. Put into a lined brownie tin, 20cm square, I used a silicone tin which didn't need lining, and place in the fridge for couple of hours or until set.  Remove from the tin and cut into 18 squares.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Jubilee Back of Beyond style

The spit roast

 The organisations for the village celebration of the Jubilee have been going on for some time. We are very lucky to have some wonderfully community minded villagers who come together to create memorable events for the village. Everything was sorted for the Jubilee, an evening party on Sunday night with music from every year of the Queen's reign and a whole lamb roast.  A mini Olympics with Maypole dancing and children's tea party on Monday afternoon.  The only element not arranged was the weather. Thankfully, a contingency plan involving one of the farm barns had been planned  A team of villagers including Mr Vander-Cave gave most of Sunday over to cleaning and decorating the barn whilst the bakers in the village created a range of nibbles and sweet treats to go along with the magnificent whole lamb that was cooked on a spit roast for the event.
After 5hrs cooking!

Chocolate dipped strawberries
My contribution to the evening event was chocolate dipped strawberries and a tangy lemon and lime cheesecake, both of which were very easy to make but tasted divine. Because chocolate dipped strawberries are basically 2 ingredients, chocolate and strawberries, it is important to have really tasty strawberries, none of those horrible El Santa variety that frequent the supermarket chain's shelves. Go for locally produced if possible and really fresh. We are lucky to have a local picking farm with some of the best strawberries I have ever tasted.

On Mr V-C's hand painted tray!
All you need is a large punnet of strawberries and 200g of dark finest chocolate. Wash the strawberries and pat them dry. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Once melted dip the Strawberries into the chocolate covering the strawberry all over quickly place on a baking tray covered with cling film. Refrigerate immediately to stop the chocolate developing a bloom. Once set peel the strawberries off the tray and display on a serving plate.We used an old tray that Mr V-C painted with a union flag to give festive air.

The cheesecake I made is a very old recipe given to me by one of my bosses back when I was nannying.  I think it originated from a Sainsburys cookery book but don't quote me on that!

Tangy Cheesecake
50g butter, melted
200g ginger biscuits, finely crushed
1 can of condensed milk
225g full fat cream cheese
grated rind and juice of one lemon and one lime
150ml double cream

You will also need a 20cm loose based cake tin.

Combine the butter, ginger biscuits and 2 tablespoons of the condensed milk. Press this into the base of the cake tin, making an even, well compressed layer.

Beat the cream cheese in a bowl until softened and smooth.

Gradually beat in the remaining condensed milk, lime and lemon juices and rind. Beat until well combined and starting to thicken.

Beat the double cream until thick (do not over beat, the mixture should leave a whisk trail but not be grainy looking)

Fold the cream into the cheese mixture then pour over the biscuit base. Smooth out if necessary. Place in the fridge until set, usually around 4hrs.

Remove from the tin and serve.

By the time I got a photo it was almost half gone!

On Monday it was all about the children so it had to be cupcakes with Jubilee decorations. I used the Hummingbird bakery vanilla cupcake recipe (which is given on an earlier post) and got creative with the decorations. I bought on Ebay a selection of Jubilee decorations, edible jubilee butterflies and red, white and blue sprinkles. I then used some red food paste painted down one side of  the inside of a disposable icing bag to make the red swirled effect buttercream.
The Maypole

Jubilee cupcakes
After the Maypole dancing, kids versus adults football match, an array of sports day style races and a whole village photo to mark the occasion, the Jubilee tea and refreshments were just what was required by all.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Herman the Bloomin German cake!

I have always prided myself on avoiding the German friendship cake malarkey. It always felt like a game of tag where the person tagged gets the booby prize of some smelly goo in a bowl that has to be given house room for 10days. I have laughed at my friends who have become lumbered with these bowls of foaming goo with strict instructions on feeding it and stirring it  and then passing a small amount of the goo onto their nearest and dearest to continue ensuring Herman's demands are met and he is kept healthy.

I'm sure you can all tell where this is headed.......

Last week my darling Son (said through gritted teeth) brought  home a box of Herman gifted to him by his current girlfriend. She won't last long after this stunt, not the way to impress the possible future mother in law. Bless him, he was so excited until he saw my face. I clearly still need to work on my poker face! Anyway, after a few (quiet)expletives I decided that I would carry out the ridiculous process as an experiment and so that at least I could say I had done it and taste the results.

The first bit of the instructions was easy, just put it in a plastic bowl, give the mixture a stir with a plastic spoon and cover with a loose tea towel. Now I admit I did forget about Herman on day 2 but remembered him on day 3 and he hadn't died. He was still bubbling (apparently if the mixture stops bubbling Herman is dead) so I stirred the goo and re-covered it. By day 4, when Herman needed feeding, the mixture smelled really yeasty and so strong this aroma seemed to attract the little fruit flies that frequent our house during warm weather and provide hours of fun to Mr Vander-Cave who zaps them with our electric fly bat. Each day I now had to zap the flies before I could lift the tea towel to stir or feed the mixture. This process was becoming a real debarcle!

Finally on day 10 came the dividing and baking of the cake. I hesitated at the dividing of the mixture.  Did I really want to foist this activity onto my friends and neighbours? In the end it was Master Vander-Cave who said that he wanted to give it to his friends in our village and the final batch went to a fellow baker who I thought might enjoy the experiment (sorry, if you are reading this!).

I got Master Vander-Cave to help me make the final mixture and we baked it. When it can out of the oven I have to say it smelt nice, although it was with some trepidation that I bit into my piece of cake with all those fermenting 10 day old ingredients in it. Amazingly it tasted really really good!
Fresh from the oven and smelling Good!

Now obviously to make your own Herman the German friendship cake you need some starter mixture, which you may or may not get gifted with at some point in your life, so I have given the recipe for the starter mixture and then the instructions for looking after and baking of your Herman.

Starter mixture
Which makes enough for 4 mixtures. One to keep and do the 10days with and three to give away as in the instructions

5oz plain flour
8oz castor sugar
1 packet of active dry yeast
Half a pint of warm milk
2 fl oz. of warm water

Dissolve the yeast in warm water for 10 minutes then stir.
Add the flour and sugar then mix thoroughly.
Slowly stir in the warm milk.
Cover the bowl in a clean cloth.
Leave in a cool dry place for 24 hours
Now proceed from day one of the 10 day cycle

Herman The German Friendship Cake

Hello, my name is Herman.
I am a sourdough cake. I’m supposed to sit on your worktop for 10 days without a lid on.
You CANNOT put me in the fridge or I will die. If I stop bubbling, I am dead.

Day1: Put me in a large mixing bowl and cover loosely with a tea towel.
Day 2: Stir well
Day 3: Stir well
Day 4: Herman is hungry. Add 1 cup each of plain flour, sugar and milk. Stir well.
Day 5: Stir well
Day 6: Stir well
Day 7: Stir well
Day 8: Stir well
Day 9: Add the same as day 4 and stir well. Divide into 4 equal portions and give away to friends with a copy of these instructions. Keep the fourth portion.
Day 10: Now you are ready to make the cake. Stir well and add the following:

1 cup of sugar (8oz or 225g)
2 cups plain flour (10oz or 300g)
half tsp (teaspoon) salt
2/3 (two thirds) cup of cooking oil (5.3oz or 160ml)
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence
2 cooking apples cut into chunks (I used eating apples only because I didn't have any cooking ones)
1 cup raisins (7oz or 200g)
2 heaped tsp cinnamon
2 heaped tsp baking powder

Mix everything together and put into a large greased baking tin. I used a square silicone brownie pan (no greasing required)

Sprinkle with a quarter of a cup of brown sugar and a quarter of a cup of melted butter.

Bake for 45 minutes at 170-180C.

You may need to cover in tin foil and bake for a further 20 minutes to make sure your Herman is done in the middle.

When cold, cut into finger pieces. The cake freezes well and is also delicious warm with cream or ice cream.

P.S TAG, YOU'RE IT!!!!!!