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.