Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Divine Chocolate Fudge Cake
So my last post was for the vanilla polka dot middle layer of a 3 tiered birthday extravaganza, today it's the chocolate fudge cake layer - it looked like this:
The original recipe came from Martha Stewart and you can find it here but I have modified it a bit (to make it more user-friendly with the ingredients) and altered the method slightly. Now, I didn't take photos of the various stages of making the cake because...well...there's only one stage really!  Please note that the original recipe makes 2 x 23cm (9") layers whereas I made one big cake in a 28cm (11") spring form tin. One of the most brilliant things about this cake is that it is SO moist and fudgy that the left-overs from the birthday party have lasted in a tin for about 10 days here.  I know...who wants to eat 10 day old cake - but trust me, it is still perfectly wonderful as it is and if you nuke a slice for a few seconds you have the most outrageous chocolate fudge pudding type dessert.  And why would there be any left-overs in the first place?  Well, because this cake will EASILY feed 20 people.  I didn't realise that when I made it, my bad, but I'm not overly disappointed either!!

For the cake:
1 3/4 cups good quality cocoa (not drinking chocolate)
3 3/4 cups self raising flour (or all purpose flour and add 2 tsps baking powder)
3 3/4 cups caster or superfine sugar
2 tsps kosher salt (or 1 tsp table salt)
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups warm water (it should feel neither cold nor hot on your skin)
2 cups whole milk
2 tsps lemon juice or white vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil (sunflower or canola are probably best)
2 tsps good vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C / 325 F. Grease and line a 28cm (11") spring form tin. I like to use baking strips with sponge cakes, if you do too, soak them in water and pin around the outside of the cake tin.
  2. Add the lemon juice or vinegar to the milk and leave it to stand - it will curdle and thicken slightly and behave like buttermilk in the recipe.
  3. Sift the cocoa, flour, sugar, and salt together into a large mixing bowl.  
  4. If you have a free standing mixer: place the eggs, water, soured milk, oil and vanilla in the bowl of the mixer and beat on low for a minute or so until everything is well combined.  If you're using a hand held mixer: place all the 'wet' ingredients in a large bowl and beat for a couple of minutes.
  5. With the mixer still running, add the combined dry ingredients in 3 batches making sure the mixture is well combined before adding the next batch.  (The original recipe just places everything in one bowl then beats on medium - I found that I had little lumps of flour that would NOT be mixed in however hard I tried, they floated on the surface of the finished mixture and I had to scoop them out to avoid an unpleasant crust on the finished cake). 
  6. Pour into your prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 40 minutes. Carefully cover the top of the tin with a piece of foil and bake for a further 60 minutes or until the cake passes the clean skewer test. 
  7. Place the cooked cake on a cooking rack, remove the foil and leave to cool 30 minutes before removing the outer ring of the tin.  Leave to cool completely.
For the icing:
200g / 8oz or 2 sticks of unsalted butter - soft but not melting
400g / 14oz icing or confectioners sugar - sifted
100g / 4oz good quality cocoa
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tblspn espresso coffee (this can be replaced with milk if you prefer)
  1. Place all the ingredients in a bowl and beat slowly until everything is combined, then on medium for a couple of minutes until you have the consistency you require.
  2. Spread on the top and sides of the cooled cake.  If you prefer: you could slice the cake in half and place the icing in the middle and on the top of the cake only for a more traditional tea-time look.
When you cut the cake it is dense, moist and intensely chocolatey - apologies for the horrible lighting in the photo below, somehow I made the cake look purple!  Enjoy this with a crowd of people...or on your own, in the bath, with a good book!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Bob The Builder, Cake Pops, and a Polka Dot Cake!

Following on from the cake pop frenzy there's a Polka Dot Cake which has been doing the rounds on the web - you an see the original here, but please know that it makes a 15cm or 6" diameter cake which is neither use nor ornament at a children's party!  Plus, the ingredients and instructions didn't work at all with my baking equipment. Essentially, you make a whole bunch of cake pop balls (the bake it yourself method, not the mixing slab cake with icing method...you'll see below) and bury them in cake batter so that when you cut the cake it's full of brightly coloured polka dots. Now, I like to flatter myself that I can bake reasonably well, but those little cake pop balls have been my nemesis for months now.  I should just explain that most of the cake pop recipes on the web use metal baking pans...and mine are silicone.  Most of the recipes use cake mix from a box...and in the normal course of events I'd rather get my fingers caught in the mixer than use those things. So I have been trying (off and on) for about 6 months to get this cake done. Well, with a LOT of compromise on my part and a great deal of trial and error, I finally did it...just in time for my youngest's 2nd birthday party - no pressure or anything!  The polka dot cake is the middle layer of the extravaganza pictured above, I'll be posting the bottom layer (chocolate fudge) in a week or so.

So let's get started: first you will need your cake pop balls. I used 2 sets of silicone moulds each making 20 cake pops. The first thing you have to do is ignore or substantially modify the cake mix instructions.  You need to make a batter that will produce really firm but moist cake (because it's going to be baked twice) and home made sponge cake gives you a texture that is either too airy to hold together, or too coarse a crumb for the finished effect when you cut the cake. I had to use a mix people...embarassing, but there you are.  And the final indignity...in one of my attempts to improve the texture of the finished cake I discovered that the gelatin in instant pudding is the answer (it's a long story how I arrived at that conclusion, I won't bore you with it).
For the cake pops:
1 x 250g or 9oz box vanilla cake mix
60ml or 1/4 cup vegetable oil (the packet said 60g or 2oz butter)
3 eggs (the packet said 2 eggs)
125ml  or 1/2 cup milk (the packet said 1/2 cup water)
1 packet of instant vanilla pudding (like Angel Delight or equivalent)
3 or 4 gel colourings to suit you or the theme of your party
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C or 325 F.  Brush or spray your silicone cake pop moulds with oil then dust them liberally with all purpose flour.  Knock out the excess flour over the sink.  Place all the ingredients except the colourings in a bowl and beat on medium for 2 minutes in a free standing mixer, or 3 minutes with a hand held mixer.  
  2. Divide the mixture equally between separate bowls and add the gel colouring one drop at a time (mixing well each time) until you have the shade you require.
  3. Place the bottom half of the moulds (the half without the little holes in) side by side on a baking sheet. Spoon the mixture into the bottom half of the moulds until each depression is just full (but not heaped or over full). Clip on the top half of the mould making sure it is properly and securely closed.  Place the baking sheet on the centre shelf in the oven for 15 minutes.  
  4. After 15 minutes check the moulds and if you can see a small amount of the batter on top of the mould or visible in the little hole then you're fine.  If not, give them another couple of minutes baking time. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and leave the whole lot alone for a good 30 minutes.  Resist the urge to have a peek...I know how difficult that is...because you risk tearing the cake in half if you lift the lid too early.
  5. After the 30 minutes, carefully lift one corner of the mould and gently peel it back to reveal the cooked cake pops.  If the mould looks like it might be sticking to any of them, gently pinch the offending part of the mould and the cake pop should be released. Don't worry that some of the cake pops seem to have joined hands in the middle of the mould...we'll be trimming them later. Leave them for a further 5 minutes then gently squeeze and roll the lower half of the cake pop out of the mould.  You'll probably have a bunch of nearly spherical cake balls like this:
You'll note the smattering of flour on the surface of this one.  That's a good thing, it means the DIY non-stick lining (oil + flour) I applied to the mould actually did its job.  You should have seen the carnage when I didn't non-stick-ify the mould!  To turn this into a more lovely ball shape, just trim around its equator with a pair of scissors like this:
and when you've trimmed all of them, you'll have a collection like this:
The next step is to turn them into a layer cake.  Assuming the cake pops are completely cool by now, you can carry straight on (well the oven is already hot after all!), but if you'd rather do the next stage another time these will stay moist and yummy in an airtight tin for 2 days and they freeze beautifully - just be sure to thaw them and bring them to room temperature before using them in a layer cake or the batter won't stick to them...I mentioned I'd been at this recipe for about 6 months didn't I ?!?
For the layer cake:
2 x 250g or 9oz boxes of cake mix
Remaining ingredients as per the instructions on the packet.
  1. Preheat the oven to the temperature indicated on the cake mix box. Grease and line 2 x 20cm or 8" cake tins.  Straight sided ones are best, mine aren't and it requires a bit of judicious trimming as you'll see in a moment.
  2. When the batter is ready, spread a small amount in the base of each tin.  I have noticed that the cooked cake balls can 'float' a bit if the layer of raw cake batter is too thick so really just add enough to coat the bottom of the tin and no more.
  3. Place the cooked cake balls in the tin fairly close together to ensure that each slice of the finished cake will contain a contrast colour (i.e. you don't want to be able to slice between them so that you only see white cake) like this:
  4. Try to arrange the colours so that each slice of the finished cake will have different polka dots.  I could probably have squeezed a couple more in there now that I look at it, but use your judgement. 
  5. Cover each cake ball with a tablespoon or so of batter, ensure that each cooked cake ball is completely covered.  Then spoon the remaining batter in between - both tins should look like this when they're finished and ready for the oven:
  6. Now, you might be able to see some air bubbles in the cake batter above.  I recommend popping them with a toothpick or small skewer. Don't rap the pan on the bench top as it can make the batter slide off the cake balls!  
  7. Place the tins on a baking sheet in the centre of the oven and bake as per the instructions on the packet mix (for me this was 25 minutes) until the top of the cake is springy and it passes the clean skewer test - make sure you poke the skewer in between the cake balls to test for done-ness. 
  8. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes then gently turn out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. 
If you need to trim the edge of each cake, wrap it first in greaseproof or parchment paper, then in foil and freeze it for 30 mins or so.  You can then trim the edges without the cake falling apart or becoming unecessarily 'crumby'.
This is the cake after trimming - you can just see one of the blue cake pops at the edge there.  Again, if you're not ready to use the cake right away, it will keep in an airtight tin for a couple of days and it freezes beautifully.
I coated this cake with buttercream and then added fondant brickwork, trees and bushes... so that it looked like something out of Sunflower Valley (I know, what you'll do for your kids!!) but a simple buttercream frosting would work equally well with a berry jam in the middle.
Simple buttercream frosting:
225g or 8oz unsalted butter - very soft but not melting
500g or 1lb 1oz icing/confectioners sugar - sifted
2 tsps vanilla extract
A little milk if necessary
  1. Place all the ingredients except the milk in a bowl, beat slowly to combine (so that clouds of icing sugar don't go everywhere!).
  2. Increase the speed to medium and beat for a good 3-5 minutes until the frosting is light and fluffy. If the mixture seems a little too firm gradually add milk 1 tsp at a time until it is soft enough to spread (or pipe...as you prefer).  Add gel colouring as you wish.
  3. Place one cake upside down on a serving plate (or board), spread berry jam on the top surface. Spread about 1/2 cup of frosting on top of the jam then place the second cake (also upside down) on top. Gently press to ensure the 2 halves are stuck together. 
  4. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake with an offset spatula and decorate as your imagination dictates!
And this is what it looks like when you cut it:
Yes I know, I should have chilled the cake first, and/or used a sharper knife, but you get the picture.  Oh, and for the grass effect, I just placed 4 tblspns shredded coconut in a zip lock bag with a good squirt of liquid green food colouring (the kind you get at the supermarket) and scrunched the bag for a couple of minutes until all the coconut was green!

I hope you give this a go - it sounds fiddly but it really isn't, there are just a few stages to it.  And now that I've made all the mistakes for you (!) you'll get it right first time!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Peanut Cookies - Gluten Free and Slightly Miraculous!
So here's a cookie in the "Free" series I mentioned in my Banana Bread post a few weeks ago.  They're gluten free because they contain no flour...at all...not even GF flour.  I know...how is that possible?  Not only is it possible, I think I prefer them to their 'normal' cousins!  Generally I don't buy biscuits (cookies) because they tend to contain all sorts of ingredients that I just don't recognise.  My rule of thumb is that if the ingredient isn't in my pantry it's probably best avoided...I know, it's a slightly Luddite approach but I really can't spend all day on Google investigating trade names and chemical formulae!

My nearly-5-year-old absolutely LOVES baking so it's an activity we can do together which benefits everyone...win-win-win-win people!  Oh, I nearly forgot to mention: they take 28 minutes to make plus 30 minutes of fridge time.  That's about the limit of a 5 year old's attention span so these get made fairly often round here.  The original recipe can be found here though I have tinkered with it a bit - I just can't help myself!  Now, when you read the ingredients list you might think I've left something out...that this combination can't possibly work.  I really haven't and it really does.  Please trust me!

1 cup crunchy or super crunchy peanut butter at room temperature
1/2 cup caster or superfine sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips (morsels)
  1. Place everything in the bowl of a free standing mixer and switch on for about 2 minutes until everything is mixed well.  I have one of those paddle attachments which scrapes the edges of the bowl but if you don't, scrape down after about a minute then continue.  This mixture is soft enough to mix with a wooden spoon too, I just love using my mixer!
  2. Place the mixture (in the mixing bowl) in the fridge for about 30 minutes until it is firm.
  3. Preheat the oven to 150 C or 325 F and line 2 baking sheets with greaseproof or parchment paper. 
  4. Once the dough is firm, take a small ice cream scoop - one of those with a squeezy handle that releases the contents of the scoop - and pack it with dough by scooping the mixture then dragging it up the inside of the bowl.  The excess should fall back into the bowl and you can release the shaped dough directly onto a lined baking sheet. Space them about 5cm or 2" apart.  They won't spread much as there is no flour or leavening agent.  If you don't have a small enough scoop, just pinch off pieces of the dough and roll them between your hands but you need to work quickly so the warmth of your hands doesn't soften the dough too much.
  5. Apparently, the traditional pattern on a peanut cookie is cross hatch made with a fork.  I just happened to have a little masher (it's been redundant since I stopped making baby food!) in the utensil pot beside me so I used that. Please feel free to use a fork or any other kitchen implement that calls you.
Bake for 20 minutes then leave to cool on the tray for at least 5 minutes.  This is really important as the cookies are a bit fragile when they are first baked.  Finally transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.  They crisp up considerably during the cooling process so if you try a warm one (as I did) please don't worry that it's a bit soft.

This recipe make about 18-20 cookies depending on the size of your scoop...and how much of the dough is pilfered by little fingers before it even reaches the oven!
Enjoy with a cuppa, or a glass of cold milk. It's a mouthful of YUM!!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Cherry Pie - And A Literary Classic:

I'm a big fan of Pinterest (you may have seen the "follow me" button on the right of each post) and an even bigger fan of Pintester.  Now, Pintester (a.k.a. Sonja Foust) takes a couple of popular pins each week and tests them to see if they actually work.  Some do, some don't.  Either way, her blog is a good read, and saves you from wasting time on cooking/craft/health & beauty instructions that just don't work.  I should just add a word of caution - the articles and the ensuing comments can contain some fairly ripe language, so if you're easily offended I recommend you don't read it.  If you're a bit more down to earth, please head on over to Pintester.com and laugh along with the rest of us!

Today we're taking part in a bloggy link-up of slightly epic proportions and here is the link: http://pintester.com/2013/05/the-pintester-movement-craft-all-the-things.

Sonja has organised the Pintester Movement for 31st May where around 150 of us are testing Pinterest pins that we've had in our "Must Try This" file for ages and just haven't quite got around to.  And for me...this means pastry.  I should make a small confession here: pastry is one of the very few things in the world that I find a bit daunting.  I have never had much success with it (hard as concrete, soggy bottoms, tasteless etc etc) and believe me, I have tried.  Over the years (decades) several people of a geriatric nature have told me I'll never be able to make it as my hands are too warm...well pardon me for having good circulation!  So duly encouraged by Sonja to 'step outside your comfort zone' I pulled on my big girl knickers and gave it my best shot...and here's why:

One of my earliest food memories is of cherry pie, eaten while sitting on the bench top in a small commercial kitchen. In fact, I can probably trace my fascination with all things kitchen gadgety back to that moment too.  My early years were spent in rural Warwickshire where everything did double duty - including the staff canteen/restaurant where my Dad worked. So most mornings the place was filled with paint, glue, mini trampolines and squealing kids...and as lunchtime approached everything was stacked away and the place was transformed into an orderly grown-up tables and chairs type cafe. This particular day, the cook had made an extra cherry pie and invited the playgroup staff (which included my Mum) into the kitchen for a slice. It was the yummiest thing I had ever tasted. Obviously...being more than slightly obsessive by nature...I have been in search of the perfect cherry pie ever since. The original pin from which I took the pastry recipe can be found Here, it's actually a recipe for strawberry pie - which looks amazing - but it's winter here in Oz and I would need to sell a kidney or one of the kids to buy a kilo (2lbs) of fresh strawberries...hence the cherries.

For the pie crust:
2 1/2 cups plain/all purpose flour
225g / 8 oz or 2 sticks cold unsalted butter (yes I know, it's a LOT) cut into little cubes
1 tsp salt
1tsp sugar
6-10 tblspns iced water
The original recipe uses a food processor and I don't have one, but I do have a fabulous free standing mixer so I thought that would probably do. Taking into account all the "advice" I've received about warm hands and warm utensils, I measured everything into the mixer bowl, added the paddle attachment and placed the whole lot in the fridge for 30 mins.
Then I mixed it on slow for about 2 minutes.  It didn't work, I think you really need the cutting action of a food processor blade.  So, I ditched the paddle attachment and switched to my trusty old blender: it worked perfectly. 
See those little lumps in the flour?  They're butter, and they're pea-sized, so I'm back on track.  Next, I added 6 tblspns of the iced water and mixed it with a spatula...sawdust people, sawdust.  So I added the other 4 tblspns and mixed again.  This is what it looked like:
Not a whole lot better, but I was testing the pin so I stuck to its instructions precisely.  Do you see a slightly bigger wodge of dough in the bottom left of the photo?  That's the result of my "pinch test". According to the original, you take a small lump of dough and squish it as in the photo below:
If the dough holds together, it's moist enough.  Well, it was holding, so I considered it done.  I tipped the whole lot out on the bench and kneaded a couple of times to bring it all together.  I say "kneaded", but really I just scooped the piles of crumbs into the middle and squished...hard.  I don't think you're supposed to be that rough with pastry, but at least it all came together finally.  I cut the dough into 2 slightly unequal pieces, cling wrapped them both and put them in the fridge.  The original recipe says to chill the dough for at least an hour but up to a couple of days...which suited me fine as I have to do my baking during nap time and that was coming to an end!  So, fast forward about 23 hours:
Switch on the oven to 200 C  or  425 F and place a baking sheet on the middle shelf.  Next, I rolled the larger piece of dough straight from the fridge - no coming to room temperature required. But what is required is plenty of flour on the bench and more on hand to flour the rolling pin often. My pin has those convenient little discs you can slot on the ends to make sure your dough is both even and a pre-determined thickness.  I had the 3mm discs on which I think is 1/8" in imperial.  I also happen to know that the rolling pin is 35cm (14") long so I didn't worry about meauring my 14" round as per the recipe, I just kept rolling until a groove appeared in the edge of the dough - see that horizontal one at the bottom of the photo? You can roll the dough around the pin to lift it into the pie tin, but because it's still cold you can just as easily lift it by hand - as I did.  Now, I have a fabulous pie tin (thank you Mum!) which is in 2 parts.  The inside tin has holes punched in the base and sides, and that sits in an outside tin which is solid all the way round...for the first part of the baking process I used both tins together.
I always manage to put a finger nail through my pie crusts, so with the dough draped over the combined tins I pinched off a bit of the excess and used it to push the rolled out dough against the edges of the tin.  No holes in this one thank you very much...which is really important when you're about to add a liquid filling!  Then I just used kitchen scissors to snip off the excess around the edge.
Next I rolled the smaller piece of dough - again, straight from the fridge - until it was 3mm or 1/4" thick and cut strips with a ravioli wheel.  You can just eyeball the width of each strip, I only used the ruler as a straight edge to cut against. You'll need about 10 strips for a 23cm (9") pie tin.

For the filling:
2 x 700g jars (49 oz total) pitted sour cherries in their own juice
1/3 cup sugar
2 tblspns cornflour
2 tblspns of the cherry juice
Strain the cherries through a sieve and reserve the juice.  Place them in a mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Stir well to make sure the cornflour is properly mixed with the juice.  Pile the filling into the prepared pie crust.  Now comes the decorative bit!
Brush the edge of the pie crust with either a little milk or some egg wash - I used milk. Next, take 5 of the pastry strips and lay them vertically over the filling so that each end hangs over the edge of the pie. Press the top of each strip gently but firmly so that it adheres to the pie crust underneath.  Now, lift up the second and fourth strips, carefully folding them back on themselves (as in the left hand photo above). Place a strip of pastry horizontally across the pie - it will lay on top of the first, third and fifth vertical strips - press each end of the horizontal strip to secure it...see my hefty great thumb prints in the photos above! Fold the second and fourth strips back down. Then lift the first, third and fifth strips back on themselves, lay another horizontal strip across the pie and press the ends to secure them.  Repeat until you reach the lower edge of the pie. There you go...a woven lattice.
Trim the excess off around the edge of the pie - either with a knife, or I prefer to use kitchen scissors - then press the edge down with a fork all the way round.  This disguises the joins a bit and makes sure the ends are secured.  Brush the pastry top with milk (or egg wash) and bake for 30 minutes, by which time the top will be nice and brown but the bottom will still be soggy.  Cover the pie with a piece of foil being careful to only cover the top - you still want the sides of the tin exposed to the heat. Now, remember my 2 part tin?  Well, the pastry is 'set' at this point, so I lifted the inner tin out and placed it directly back on the baking sheet in the oven.  The heat gets through the holes in the sides and bottom and allows the crust to crisp up.  Bake again for 20 mins.  Place on a cooling rack and remove the foil.
See that?  That's a pie that worked.  I've made a pie that worked!
And you see the edge of the pie in that picture below?
That's a beautifully laminated pie crust.  It means the water in the butter turned to steam and made airy lttle pockets in the dough as it baked.  It's enough to bring a tear to the eye!

Now here's the comparison: mine on the left, the original pin on the right.  It's possible that I'm having a proud parent moment - you know, where all parents think their child is the most beautiful - but I have to say, I think I did a pretty good job here!
The original recipe says to leave the pie to cool for 3 hours.  Yeah.  Like that was ever going to happen.  I cut a slice purely to take a photo for you, so you could see that it's crispy, flaky, and slightly oozy...just like it should be.  And now, I'm about to have a Proustian moment, I have found my "Temps Perdu" and I didn't even need the Linden Tea. This pin definitely worked, I recommend it to you, and I recommend you find something you've been putting off for a while purely because it seems a bit daunting and just DO IT, you'll feel brilliant!
Now...I have a load of cherry juice left over.  What to do...what to do...Cherrytini, Chergarita?

Monday, 20 May 2013

"Free" Banana and Walnut Bread:

Hello...I'm back!  It's been ages since my last post and I do apologise, we've had all sorts of family things going on here and my little blog had to take a back seat for a bit.  But that doesn't mean I haven't been baking, oh by jimminy no...I just haven't been writing it all up.  Now, one of the things I've been experimenting with is what I call "free cooking", by which I mean sugar free, gluten free, fat free, dairy free etc. etc.  Partly to address allergy requirements, partly to address lifestyle choices, but mostly because when it comes to fat and sugar: less is more (providing the finished article is still completely yum!).  Now, hands up if you knew that you can substitute apple sauce for butter or oil...nope me neither.  But you'd be amazed what you can find out when you start looking. Please don't panic there will still be butter and sugar a-plenty in the weeks and months to come...but there will also be "free" recipes sprinkled amongst them.

And so to the banana bread: now, there are times when the bananas in my fruit bowl look like they have just lost the will to live.  Sometimes I throw them in the freezer for future use in a smoothy (yay, how thrifty of me) but now and again I just send those suckers to the great fruit bowl in the sky (boo, wasteful).  But no more...here comes a recipe that actually NEEDS them to be squishy...even to the point of soupy.  And I'm dedicating it to my Dad, who never met a manky banana he wouldn't eat!  I found this recipe on the web and you can link to the orginal version here.  I added some walnuts because it needed the texture but you could leave those out if "nut free" is a requirement.

2 cups wholemeal/wholewheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt or 1/4 tsp table salt
1/2 cup of good sharp apple sauce (or stewed bramleys, you need that saucy texture)
3/4 cup runny honey
2 eggs
3 bananas...the mankier the better
2/3 cup chopped walnuts**
  1.  Preheat the oven to 350 F / 170 C. Either grease and flour a 9x5 loaf tin, or line it with a paper liner.
  2. In a large bowl mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. I like to use a whisk because it adds air to the mixture.
  3. If it's a cold day place your jar of honey in a bowl of hot water for a couple of minutes just to make it a bit runnier.
  4. In a large jug (or bowl) mash the bananas with the back of a fork then mix together with the apple sauce, honey, and eggs. 
  5. Pour all the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and stir well, but don't over mix it or the bread will be tough.  Stir in the chopped walnuts.
  6. Pour the batter into your prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 60 minutes or until it passes the clean skewer test. 
  7. Allow the bread to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes then turn it out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
** You really don't need to be painfully accurate on this particular measurement.  I just found that 1/2 cup wasn't enough and a full cup was really too much so I compromised.  Please, add the quantity that makes you happy!

Now, much as it pained me, I managed to make this loaf last 4 days (unwrapped) in an airtight tin with no loss of texture or flavour.  And it was in and out of that tin over the course of the 4 days I can tell you!  But in case you were wondering, the bread part of it freezes beautifully well - though the nuts had a bit of an odd texture when they thawed.  If I were to make this for the freezer I would probably add the same volume of raisins and leave the nuts out.  Also, from the photo you'll see that I sliced it and spread it with butter like a tea bread.  I turns out that this was completely delicious...and completely uncesessary.  Seriously, this can be TOTALLY fat free if you want it to be.

Now go and check your fruit bowl...!

Monday, 3 September 2012

Olympic Rings Cupcakes
I really meant to post these a couple of weeks ago but the time just got away from me, however, the Paralympics are still in full flow so I may not have completely missed my chance.  This batch ended up with my son's kindergarten to celebrate their own Olympic extravaganza.  Judging by the number of times we've had to re-create an arena, watch races, hand out medals and sing the national anthem in the garden since then...I'd say it made a big impact on him!  Now, since each cupcake has just one ring on the top, it's much better if they're shared with friends so they can put the emblem together.  In any event, these are for my little Olympian...gold medallist at "jumping in the sand pit" (I think that was the long jump) and elite athlete in training!
For the cupcakes:
  1. This uses a 2 egg mix from the cake mix matrix - which can be found here .
  2. This will make 12 full sized cupcakes or 25-30 minis.  Since you need multiples of 5 cakes to make the complete set (as in the picture) you could either: have 2 left over for yourself once the kids have gone to bed, use a 3 egg mix instead, or use smaller cupcake cases.  The choice is yours.  If you decide to make minis, they only need to bake for around 10-12 minutes.
For the icing:
50g / 2oz unsalted butter softened
100g / 4oz icing or confectioners sugar sifted
1 drop vanilla exract
  1. Beat all the ingredients together for about 3 minutes until pale and fluffy.  
  2. Spread a little icing on each cupcake with an offset spatula or palette knife.  You only need to use enough icing to provide a flat surface for the topper.
For the coloured ring toppers:
100g fondant icing
Food colouring pastes **
2 small round cookie cutters - the sizes will depend on the size of cupcake you made
A pair of disposable plastic or latex gloves is recommended but not compulsory!
  1. Divide the ball of fondant into 5 equal pieces.  Add one drop of colouring to the first ball and knead it thoroughly until the colour is evenly distributed.  If you find the fondant gets sticky, dust your hands with a little cornflour then continue kneading.  Cover this piece of fondant with cling wrap then continue with the remaining fondant balls until you have all 5 colours.
  2. ** I must make a confession here: I haven't coloured fondant red or black in years, it is almost impossible to get a good intensity of colour without making the fondant mushy and impossible to use.  I bought the red and black in the photo above pre-coloured from a local cake decorating shop.  Now, if you're not going to need black or red fondant for anything else, I recommend that you leave the rings white then paint them with Wilton No-Taste Red or Americolor Tulip Red...similarly with the black.  However, Christmas is only a few months away and you could wrap any extra red or black fondant tightly in cling wrap (at least 2 layers) and keep it for Santa cookies...just an idea!
  3. Now, dust the benchtop with a little cornflour and roll out each piece of fondant in turn.  Cut the require number of circles from each piece with the larger of your 2 cookie cutters.  Then cut out a disc from the centre of each circle with your smaller cookie cutter...you now have rings! 
  4. Allow the rings to dry for 10-15 minutes before placing them on top of the cupcakes.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Maple and Baileys Cupcakes - Happy Birthday Anna!
Lately I've been developing recipes for cocktail cupcakes: some of them based on well known and loved mixes and some new ones. The first fabulous child of those endeavours is a cupcake that is highly addictive!  I made them for my sister in law as part of her birthday banquet...but she won't mind me sharing them here!  So, the cake itself has a resinous slightly smoked depth of flavour with the addition of some good quality maple syrup (please don't even think about substituting anything "maple flavoured"), while the icing is laced with Bourbon Vanilla and Irish Cream Liqueur.  Now, my preferred flavours are always on the bitter or sour side of the spectrum...and I love a good gin and tonic, but even I have fallen in love with these, I urge you to try them!

For the Cupcakes: 
150g / 6oz unsalted butter softened
150g / 6oz caster or superfine sugar
3 large eggs
195g / 8oz plain or all purpose flour sifted
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
60mls / 4 tblspns good quality (organic preferably) maple syrup
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C / 350 F and line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake cases. 
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together for about 3 minutes until very light and fluffy. If you're using a free standing mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat again briefly. 
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. If necessary scrape down the bowl and beat again. 
  4. Reduce the speed to low and add the sieved flour and baking powder. Once they are incorporated, increase the speed to medium and beat for a minute or two, the mixture will become slightly paler. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the maple syrup, beat only until it's thoroughly mixed. 
  5. Spoon the batter into the cupcake cases and level the surface with the back of a spoon. Bake for 12-15 minutes depending on your oven, the tops should feel slightly springy to the touch. Allow to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes then move them to a cooling rack to cool completely. 
For the Icing:
200g / 8oz unsalted butter softened
400g / 1 lb icing or confectioners sugar sifted
60mls / 4 tblspns Bailieys (or other) Irish Cream liqueur
1 tsp vanilla extract (Bourbon preferably)
  1. Cream together the butter and sieved icing sugar, pulse the mixture to begin with so you don't cover yourself in the sugar! Once the mixture is combined, increase the speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes until very light and fluffy. 
  2. Reduce the speed to slow and add both the liqueur and vanilla extract. Beat well to combine. 
  3. Spoon the icing into an icing bag fitted with a medium round tip. Either start at the centre and pipe outwards, or pipe from side to side...just ├žos it makes a change from a swirly frosting!  Garnish with a few chocolate sprinkles and a piece of drinking straw so that your guests know which of the cupcakes are child friendly and which are strictly adults only. I challenge you to have just one!
Now, you'll see from the photo that I also added hearts as decoration.  These were made from some scarlet fondant I had left over from another project.  I simply rolled it out to about 2 or 3mm thickness, cut out the shapes with a mini cookie cutter and left them to dry on kitchen paper for about a week.  They store quite happily in an airtight box.  For more ideas on combining types of icing please click here .