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!!