Coffee Kahlua Crown Cake

The very wonderful Mary Berry has filmed a new series ‘Mary Berry Cooks’ which aired this week (Mondays 8.30pm, BBC2), and this week’s subject matter was Afternoon Tea.

This is a type of meal which is fairly close to my heart for obvious reasons and also a treat I like to indulge in, in celebration of life events. The idea that on a regular basis anyone needs 4 ‘meals’ a day is fairly ridiculous, but like the feasting we enjoy at Christmas, weddings and other high days and holidays, Afternoon Tea, preferably at a posh hotel and accompanied by a glass of Champagne to go with the tea and goodies really must sum up what we Brits do best to make you feel special. I had Tea at the Ritz as part of my Hen Party (a million years ago), and I had no problem convincing a whole bunch of female friends and relatives to munch through fabulous sandwiches, scones and cakes for an hour or two, despite the usually obsequious diets most of them generally adhered to.

Anyway, coming up with cake recipes and ideas these days is much like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, there’s not much left that hasn’t been tried already, however, reminding others of, perhaps forgotten, treats is the name of the game here.

IMG_1192This is, as the title of the post suggests, Coffee Kahlua Crown cake. Meringue on top of cakes is a bit of a favourite of mine from the aesthetic point of view and although I have offered up something similar before it was a bit of a half-baked (!) affair, this is far more sophisticated both in looks and flavour.

So essentially we have a coffee walnut sponge cake, 6 smallish meringues, butter icing and glace icing to decorate. Where to start; making the meringues perhaps.

Very straight forward really, the day before you plan on making the cake, you will need 3 medium egg whites and 150g caster sugar, you can add pinches of salt and vinegar and vanilla extract, but it’s not necessary, egg whites and sugar is enough!

So whisk the egg whites so that they form stiff peaks but the mixture hasn’t gone over and become ‘dry’. This is clear when you see it so whisk more circumspectly as you reach the stiff peak stage to see off this point. Then, turn the motor on the whisk down a bit and start adding dessert spoonfuls of sugar gradually allowing each spoonful to be fully incorporated before adding the next one. You are aiming for a stiff, glossy white state. It must hold it’s shape. You can colour the meringue if you wish at this point using colour pastes ideally, or not as the case may be.

Preheat the oven to 120°C/Fan 100°C and cover a couple of baking sheets with greaseproof paper. You can then either pipe the meringue using a nozzle like this → IMG_0756

or just use 2 teaspoons to create blobs, a bit bigger than a golf ball, spacing them with room to expand a little on the baking sheets. this amount of mixture will probably make about 12.

Bake for 1 – 1.5 hours until hard to touch and slightly browned. Leave the door of the oven ajar to let them cool.

They will store for a couple of weeks in an airtight tin.

Next the cake: a Mary Berry recipe if the truth be told (and she must be credited) with a minor tweak.

So you will need: the oven on to 180°C/Fan 160°C, grease and line the bases  of two 8″ sandwich tins.

The ingredients are as follows: 4 large eggs, 2 heaped teaspoons of instant coffee powder (use the fancier instant espresso as it’s more of a powder and less granular), 225g soft butter, 225g caster sugar, 225g self-raising flour, 2 level teaspoons of baking powder, 50g chopped walnuts.

It couldn’t be easier, crack the eggs into a jug and add the coffee powder and whisk together (yes really), weigh out all the other ingredients into a bowl and then add the egg/coffee mixture. Beat together until smooth. Divide between the two sandwich tins and level with a spoon. Bake for 25 minutes or so until a small sharp knife blade comes out clean and the cake is starting to come away from the edges. Leave to cool in the tins initially and them remove to a wire rack until cold.

To assemble: for the buttercream you will need 75g softened butter and 210g icing sugar, 1.5 tablespoon of milk and 1 tablespoon of Kalhua. Begin by beating the butter and sugar together, slowly initially to incorporate the sugar into the butter otherwise there will large sugar clouds everywhere. Then add the milk and Kahlua and turn up the mixer to beat quickly for 5 minutes. Stop half way through and scrape the sides down to ensure everything is mixed evenly.

IMG_1191Lay the bottom half of the cake on a plate or cake stand, level the top of this layer with a long sharp serrated knife if necessary and then, coat with 2/3rds of the buttercream. Layer the top half of the cake on top and check whether it appears level. Spread the remainder of the buttercream thinly over the top of the cake and place the meringues (probably around 6) on top of the buttercream.

As a final flourish pop two spoonfuls of icing sugar in a small bowl and add just enough Kahlua to give a thick runny consistency so you can drizzle. Using a teaspoon go ahead and drizzle this icing over the meringue and cake. Dust with a little cocoa powder if you like.

The crowning glory of an Afternoon tea.

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Salted Caramel and Sour Cherry Zillionaire’s Shortbread

BIG, big apologies for my absence from the blogiverse. We are having some building work done here at Cutest Cakes HQ so a combination of project managing, tea making, working, dog walking and everything that goes with organising two children has forced blogging so far down the list of priorities it has largely disappeared out of sight.

However that does not mean the recipes have dried up! This is a fantastic, post Lenten, splurge and for someone who isn’t into sickly sweet stuff, just the ticket.

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Making Million or Zillionaire’s shortbread is quite a lengthy and messy business. I make no apology for this, there is no getting away from making an effort sometimes, but if you can get hold of ready-made salted caramel, or ideally make it on a separate occasion and store it in the fridge to keep it more solid, this will reduce the faff factor.

You will need:

A jar of Salted Caramel such as Hawkshead Relish Salted Caramel Sauce.

This is a 320g jar which should be more than enough, stored in the fridge before using to keep it as solid as possible.

Alternatively I give a recipe for making Salted Caramel, this time use:

250g Caster Sugar, 4 tbsp water, 160ml Double Cream, 50g Salted Butter, ½ tsp Coarse Sea Salt.

If you haven’t made caramel before it is a bit of a scary process but you’ll be fine.

Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat gently over a moderate to low heat to dissolve the sugar. Do not stir at all at any stage. Swirl the mixture around from time to time off the heat, but once dissolved allow the sugar syrup to come up to the boil and boil for around 5-8 minutes. During this time the syrup will become a dark ‘caramel’ colour and thicken. Swirl occasionally but that’s all. Once the desired colour has been reached, remove from the heat and very gently and slowly pour in the cream. At this point it will look like it has all gone wrong, don’t panic, add the butter and sea salt too, find a whisk appropriate for your saucepan, and whisk gently until a smooth sauce-like consistency is reached and all the butter has melted. A crusty shelf of sugar will have formed about 2cms above the bottom of the pan, just work round that, don’t try to dislodge it as you pour the sauce into a jug. Leave to cool. The odd stir as it cools might help to stop a crust forming.

After about 2-3 hours you will have a supercooled liquid (for the scientists amongst you), fridge until required, ideally overnight at least. You can transfer this sauce to a thoroughly clean, preferably sterile jam jar with a lid where it will keep for weeks!

So once you have resolved the caramel issue, you can move onto construction of this delicious confection.

You will need for the Shortbread: a 6″ square, ideally loose-bottomed, cake tin, greased on the bottom and very slightly up the sides, 125g Plain Flour, 40g Caster Sugar, 80g Butter, softened

and finally for the topping you will need: 50g Milk Chocolate, 80g Plain Chocolate and 50g Dried Sour Cherries.

So to make the shortbread, pre-heat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C, then mix the flour and caster sugar in a large bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Knead the mixture until it forms a dough and then press into the base of the cake tin to give an even layer. Prick with a fork and then bake for 15-20 minutes until firm to the touch and very lightly browned.

Allow to cool completely, then spread with the chilled caramel sauce (as much or as little as you want) and return to the fridge whilst you melt the chocolate, separately in Pyrex bowls, either over a couple of pans of simmering water or in the microwave until you have two bowls of smooth molten chocolate. Remove the caramel biscuit base from the fridge and dollop spoonfuls of first the milk and then the plain chocolate over the caramel, you can smooth it all over or not as the case may be and then dot with the Sour Cherries. Return to the fridge to allow the chocolate to set, once cooled, which won’t take long.

Now, this particular recipe does not result in neat solid squares of chocolate caramel shortbreadIMG_0790, as you can see. This is a decadent, stuff it in, finger licking, lip smacking, Nigella style delight, and having eating way too much of this over Easter has resulted in a bit of diet action at this end.

So find a REALLY sharp large knife. Remove the tin from fridge, loosen the contents round the sides of the tin with a palette knife and then push the loose bottom of the tin upwards to release the shortbread the transfer, minus the bottom of the tin, to a large plate, the caramel will start to ooze as you can see. Ignoring this, cut into squares and the dish up as required. Return any uneaten squares to the fridge where it will keep for days, if you can stand to leave it alone.

Yummy.

Moroccan Rose Cupcakes

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This is an extravagant name perhaps but these have a wonderful aromatic sweet scent conjuring the exotic, heat, spices…..

I have had a thing about Morocco for a number of years. I’m desperate to experience the souks, food, weather, countryside, camels, architecture, sunsets so in other words, every facet of Moroccan life. We nearly booked a holiday there a couple of years ago and then the Arab Spring sprang and we acquired cold feet. The closest I have come so far therefore is a holiday as a child to southern Spain where, for a couple of days, the warm Saharan winds blew across from Morocco via the Gibraltar straits. So near and yet so far.

IMG_9287In theory these should be called something Turkish as rose-water is the main flavouring in Turkish Delight, something I had a go at last summer, but the interior of the cupcakes is what makes them special and the swirly rose-sunset colours makes me think I can get away with the Moroccan connection.

I was actually experimenting with the idea of an ombre cupcake. This a fashionable idea where you make a cake in several layers where each layer is a slightly different shade of a particular colour starting with the deepest shade at the bottom and graduating to the palest shade at the top. Most cakes contain about 4 layers. This sounds like quite a faff and you need to be making quite a big cake. I thought I might try the theory in a single cup cake and this is the result. The rise in the batter creates an uneven pattern, but with a little bit of tweaking, such as greater variation in the colouring of the batter, I think one can achieve a more pronounced effect.

So the recipe I used was more or less the basic Hummingbird Bakery cupcake batter one as follows:

For 12 – 16 cupcakes: 80g softened Butter, 280g Caster Sugar, 240g Plain Flour, ¼ tsp Salt, 1 tbsp Baking Powder, 2 large Eggs, 240g Whole Milk, 2 tsp Rose Water.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/ Fan 170°C and fill a 12 hole muffin tin with paper muffin cases.

In a bowl combine the butter, sugar, flour, salt and baking powder and the beat together until to achieve fine breadcrumbs in consistency. In a jug combine the milk, eggs and rose-water and whisk together with a fork. Add ¾ of the liquid to the breadcrumb-like mixture a beat slowly until all combined. Add the rest of the liquid, beat again slowly until mixed in and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until you have a smooth batter. The day I tried this was freezing and the butter was not quite soft enough which left the batter a little grainy. This really doesn’t seem to make any difference to the cooked cake and as you can see it still rose plenty!

IMG_0641Anyway once you have the finished batter, divide the batter between 3 bowls by weighing the mixture as you go. Then add food colouring paste carefully with a cocktail stick and blend into the batter with a spoon until you achieve the desired shade of a particular colour, in this case pink.

Add equal quantities, using a single tablespoon measure, of the first shade to each muffin case, then add a tablespoon measure of the next shade and then repeat for the third shade. Humming Bird batter can be quite runny like golden syrup or honey so the second and third layers of batter can be poured over the previous layer, keeping the spoon moving as you go so that you have an evenish layer. If the mixture is thicker and won’t pour then tease out the batter to cover the previous layer with the tip of a knife or teaspoon. I appreciate this is a bit of a faff, but it is an attractive and unusual effect.

Bake for 19-20 minutes or so and leave in the tin for 5 – 10 minutes before turning out to cool on a wire rack.

To make the butter icing is the usual recipe, so for 12-16 cupcakes: 160g soften Butter, 450g Icing Sugar, sieved, 50ml of Milk and a few drops of Rose Water. As described before, beat the butter and the icing sugar over a low speed until there is a sandy consistency, then add the milk and turn up the speed to medium and beat for 5 minutes until you have a light fluffy icing. You can then stir in a few drops of rose-water and also streak through the icing a tiny amount of pink food colour to give a pale pink ripple-y effect. Spread or pipe the icing on as you wish and decorate with rose petal crystals, cut out rose petals if you have the cutters and paste, actual rose petals or best of all a sprinkling of chopped pistachios. Yummy.

1st Blogiversary: Cake Pops top the Menu

It’s a bit of a cliché but I can’t believe it’s been a whole year. At the start, blogging more or less filled any spare time I had. January is usually a quiet month for cakes as everyone tightens their belts, financially and physically, so it seemed like the perfect moment to be pouring over the ins and outs of WordPress, picking themes and figuring out the widgets. There seemed to be a lot of explaining to do too, the posts were lengthy and full of my take on this, that and the other. As the year has worn on I seem to have got that out of my system and during busy and less busy times, the blogging frequency is adjusted accordingly and the speed it takes to write a post has dropped dramatically making for a fantastic equilibrium: part diary, part publicity, part community with followers and fellow bloggers becoming part of my social make up as I predicted it would. I love it.

The cake pops post is STILL the most popular, the original post is here. I should probably reblog or rehash it in some way, but Bakerella gives such a good tutorial on her You Tube clip that it barely seems worth repeating it. I make them regularly, but almost never as a commercial product. I haven’t particularly got into decorating them as kittens or snowmen, the standard pop sprinkled with Hundreds and Thousands seems to be attractive enough for school events or kids parties. I have gone off piste a couple of times though and these are the results:

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Cake Pops made to look like truffles, but this cake needed to be ALL cake so even the truffles were cake too. In fact the popless cake pop works well as a little something to have with a cup of coffee!

At Christmas time I adapted again, for child 2’s school Christmas fair, and came up with these:

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The reason the tops are pink is that you can now buy strawberry flavoured white chocolate buttons which melt beautifully. They can be used to coat the pops instead of candy melts which are a pain to work with. I think you can get orange flavour too……

The other popular posts are the unloved vegetables. I’m amazed at the reception they receive. The most popular was one about kale; of all things! It just goes to show that searching for cake ideas and what to do with left over greens are exactly what makes the internet so valuable, but anyone reading this hardly needs me to tell them that.

Sour Cherry and Velvety Chocolate Loaf Cake

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Light as a feather and velvety smooth with a delicious tang in the aftertaste, this is wonderful.

I have made it my New Year’s resolution to think up more cake recipes. I have found in the past that I have shied away from actually developing my cake ideas as the precise nature of baking demands skills in construction I felt I was lacking in.

Are there rules with these things?

Once you get past a basic sponge (a foolproof method is supplied here), it does seem from recipe books that there are no hard and fast rules for success. Unpicking the secrets however seems easier with American style recipes so I have started with an offering borrowing some ideas and ingredients from across the pond.

I had an urge to buy buttermilk and a packet of sour cherries this week, now that the supermarket shelves are clear of the festive staples, without any real plans. Consequently the kids ended up with blueberry buttermilk pancakes this morning, and once the buttermilk pot was open this cake idea followed swiftly on behind. It has gone down very well. It tastes great, warm or cold and all the cherries have not sunk to the bottom!

You will need: one large loaf tin the base of which should measure around 19/20cm x 8/9cm and around 6cm deep.

Ingredients: 190g Unsalted Butter, softened, 190g Caster Sugar, 3 large Eggs, 150g Plain Flour, 50g Cocoa Powder, 1 tsp Baking Powder, pinch of Salt, 125ml Buttermilk, 75g (1 packet) Sour Cherries (dried), 1 tbsp Kahlua (optional)

  • Preheat the oven to 170°C/Fan 150°C, grease and line the loaf tin with greaseproof paper. Just screw it up into a ball and smooth it out again and then line the tin with it, nothing too precise.
  • Pop the sour cherries in a bowl and steep in the Kahlua, if using, otherwise cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy using something like a kitchen aid or hand-held mixer.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, slowly, and beating well between each addition.
  • In a separate bowl combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt and then sift gradually into the egg mixture folding carefully as you go. The mixture might seem a little dry but never fear as you are about to fold in the buttermilk followed by the sour cherries and their residual liquor if using.
  • Dollop carefully into the loaf tin and push gently into the corners then bake in the oven for about an hour. Check after 50 minutes or so and you can turn the oven up 10°C if you wish at that point. Anyway a cake tester should come out clean.
  • Leave to cool in the tin initially on a cooling rack and remove from the tin and greaseproof paper once just slightly warm.

You can eat this warm or cold, with or without cream, yoghurt, custard etc. The moist interior means it works just fine on its own. However a little piece of luxurious eating at this abstemious time.

The American influence would be the buttermilk and dried fruit in a sponge recipe, a combination I adore, but hasn’t really caught on here …… yet.

Easy Peasy Decoration for a Christmas Cake

Easy Peasy Decoration for a Christmas Cake

So easy it’s unbelievable. All you need are a couple of different sizes of star cutter and a bit of glitter. Cut out stars, let them dry out, stack, holding them together using a little egg white. Sprinkle glitter over the top and finish off the cake either with ribbon or thinly rolled out sugarpaste stars.

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Mini Mincemeat Tarts

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Just before we get into mincemeat tarts, here is the result of the Decorate your own Christmas cake Workshop held last Friday. I had an intermediate group, so that’s students with some prior modelling/decorating experience. A Christmas wreath with sparkle -y roses and a festive robin.

Here are some of the gorgeous cakes produced by the students and the demonstration in progress…. As you can see there is always a unique element to each cake even if we are essentially producing the same thing.

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This design is fairly easy to achieve, sugarpaste can be bought from specialist cake shops in a variety of colours or purchased online and with the addition of a little Tylo powder, a food thickener, modelling paste can be produced. This is much easier to use when cutting out foliage such as holly and ivy as the paste is stiffer. Foliage plunge cutters are widely available.

Robins are very easy to produce: again using modelling paste form an egg shape and fashion a head and a tail. Add a red breast from a disc of red paste, eyes and  a beak and wings. Claws from black or brown complete the design. A robin would also look very good on a chocolate log.

IMG_0518So on with the mincemeat tarts. I am including a recipe for this as they are a Christmas staple, unfortunately widely overlooked as a culinary delight and easily relegated to shop bought status. However with a little bit of forethought, care and attention can provide a delicious dessert all on their own with a little cream or ice-cream and easy peasy to produce at a stressful time.

Firstly acquire some really good mincemeat (making your own is a bridge too far). Farm shops are very good for this or the best quality you can afford in the supermarket. The second trick is to have a go at making your own pastry. I know I know, the perceived wisdom is that making your own pastry is a waste of time but trust me, if you have food processor it takes seconds, and you get a MUCH better result. It also behaves itself a lot better too (much less shrinkage).

So the sweet shortcrust recipe: the one I use is Rachel Allen’s, but as these things are really a bit of a standard thing I’ll include the details here.

You will need for 6 tartlets: 110g cold butter, diced, 200g plain flour, 1 tbsp icing sugar, 1 egg yolk plus 1 egg beaten for glazing.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C. Grease your mini tart tins (loose bottomed for preference) with butter, pop the diced butter, sugar and flour in the food processor and whizz until you have coarse bread crumbs, add at least half the egg yolk and whizz again until it has more or less come together, then remove from the bowl to your work top and add a little more yolk if necessary and with a light touch bring together to form a smooth ball. Wrap in cling film and fridge for 30 minutes. Once chilled, roll the pastry between two pieces of cling film to a thickness of 3mm or so and using a large pastry cutter (size will depend on tart tin size) cut out at least 4 discs and press into the tart tins. Repeat the rolling out process with the remainder of the pastry to produce the last two discs giving you six in total. Freeze the pastry lined tins for 15 minutes. Then bake blind for 10-15 minutes, remove from the oven, brush with a little left over beaten egg yolk or beaten egg if necessary and return to the oven for 2 minutes max. From any remaining pastry cut out stars, brush with beaten egg and bake, on a greased baking sheet, for 5-10 minutes with the pastry cases until lightly browned.

These can then be held in this state for as long as you like, or frozen…..

When you are more or less ready to eat them, dollop 4 or 5 heaped tsps of mincemeat in each tart tin, top with a star and bake at the same temperature as before for 10 minutes or so. We are trying to get the suet in the mincemeat melted but not overcook the mincemeat so that it becomes browned and chewy. If they are frozen defrost them before you start.

Once out of the oven remove from the tins and sprinkle copious amounts of icing sugar over. Delicious.

I’m going to give my favourite Christmas dessert recipe in a few days, a warm fruit salad, perfect after a rich meal….see you then

Perfectly Iced Christmas Cakes

It’s getting busy here at Cutest Cakes HQ, funnily enough, not with Christmas Cakes primarily. However today has been individual iced Christmas cakes all the way.

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Some of these are my own designs, well most of them are, actually, but the sleeping polar bear is adapted from a Mich Turner design. Mich runs The Little Venice Cake Company and is a food hero of mine. It was watching her on some TV programme that got me into icing individual cakes in the first place.

Now icing cakes is one of those secrets, a bit like what it’s really like to give birth, that is rarely revealed. The question I am asked the most in this business is how I get the icing on the cake so smooth in the first place. I even run annual courses in this as it seems friends and clients will pay good money to be taught this technique.

As far as royally iced cakes go, find a recipe, Delia or Mary are good here, but add about 1 teaspoon of glycerine (sold by Silverspoon, amongst others, in supermarkets). The glycerine softens the dried royal icing, so that when it is cut into, it doesn’t shatter everywhere. One can achieve a smooth finish with royal icing but unless your name is Eddie Spence (royally iced wedding cakes for Royalty are his speciality) or you were taught this skill in domestic science about 50 years ago, I wouldn’t design a cake with this in mind.

Sugarpaste on the other hand is a total delight to work with and achieving a smooth finish requires 2 or 3 simple steps and some practice. Sugarpaste was in fact developed in Australia as royal icing doesn’t always set in potentially such a hot climate. It wasn’t introduced into the UK until the 1970’s in the modern era although a quick search about would suggest that making sugarpaste was something that might have been going on as far back as the Eighteenth Century.

So the rules:-

1) Always level the top of the cake (i.e. cut off the dome-y top) and then invert the cake so that the bottom becomes the top. Professional cake makers will get out spirit levels and the like to ensure the new top is flat, but this is probably unnecessary unless you are planning to charge for the cake or stack more that one layer.

2) Use plenty of sugarpaste and do not roll out too thinly. The rolled out icing should be 5-6 mm minimum thickness and you will need to allow 1 kg for a 6 ” cake and 1.5 kg for an 8″ cake. Knead the sugar paste so that it is warm and pliable before attempting to roll it out. Left overs will keep for months if not years.

3) Keep the paste moving. As you roll out use plenty of icing sugar, turn the paste very regularly and ensure that the paste does not become stuck to the work surface at any stage. Before attempting to cover the cake check the icing is still loose.

4) To help achieve a professional finish, coat with an undercoat of marzipan, a thinner undercoat layer of sugarpaste or a smooth coating of buttercream. Cakes should be brushed with cooled, boiled sieved apricot jam before under coating with marzipan or sugarpaste.

5) Brush the undercoat with brandy or cooled boiled water before applying the top coat. (For buttercream and sugarpaste coatings you won’t need apricot jam or the brandy, just ensure the buttercream is smoothly applied just before you roll out the sugarpaste. Work fairly quickly or the buttercream dries out and the sugarpaste will not stick)

6) Apply the top coat to the cake by picking it up with hands and forearms to make the transfer NOT draping it over a rolling-pin. Carefully smooth the paste starting with the top of the cake and working down the sides, if folds and pleat start to form, pull the paste out and smooth flat against the cake, if it is thick enough the paste will literally mould to the cake with a little coaxing and pressing. Then:

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These are the secret to success, they cost less than a fiver and just allow you to smooth out any finger marks and other dings and divets, once you have the paste hugging the cake, to achieve that perfect finish.

Angled pallet knives also help with moving the cake about without leaving marks in the icing.

If you can, leave the cake for 24 hours before you decorate it.

Simple huh, it does take a bit of practice, but once you have got the hang of it, you’ll find yourself in a relatively exclusive club.

Pumpkin Cupcakes Every Witch Way

I’ve been promising the recipe for making pumpkin cupcakes for a couple of weeks, but of course, timing is everything so about now seems to be the optimum moment.

You can make the actual little pumpkin shaped cupcakes using either the following pumpkin flavoured recipe or a standard vanilla cupcake cake recipe which you can find here (make sure you use a large egg). The buttercream again can either be a standard recipe, such as given in the vanilla cupcake link substituting vanilla extract for orange essence for a nice twist, or again the recipe given below.

So you will need: 12 cupcakes or however many you wish, enough buttercream for the number of cupcakes you wish to decorate, orange coloured sugarpaste (allow 80g per cupcake so 3 x 250g packets will comfortably decorate 12, probably more) a little brown sugarpaste or Matchmakers or a Cadbury’s flake for the pumpkin stalk. Orange, black and green coloured sugarpaste is currently available in supermarkets.

Equipment needs: small palette knife or flat knife, 10cm pastry cutter or similar, a paintbrush or something to make a small round indent.

1) peel the cake cases away from your cupcakes

2) coat the sides and top of the cupcake in soft buttercream with the palette or flat knife

3) roll out about 80g of orange sugarpaste so that it measures at least 20cm diameter

4) Flop the sugarpaste disc over the buttercreamed cupcake and using the pastry cutter trim the disc to 10cm diameter

5) Tuck all the edges round the bottom of the cupcake

6) Sit the cake upright and using the back of a knife, score the pumpkin ridges

7) Using the end of a paintbrush, make an indent on the top of the cake in the centre, and then insert either a little piece of Matchmaker or Cadbury’s Flake or if you have the ‘where with all’ a small piece of brown sugarpaste fashioned into a stalk.

8) Tah Dah!!! Made by 8, 12 and 42 year old bakers….

9) Alternatively you can buy stencils which can be used to create Halloween-y images, once you have iced your cupcakes in the conventional manner, with cinnamon or cocoa powder.

Pumpkin Flavoured Cupcakes

Tricky to get a good bake and a good flavour it seems. I’ve had trouble with the straight Hummingbird recipe (wouldn’t rise) and the flavour of others can be a bit too spicy. This recipe worked for us though, giving the right amount of spice and a rise on the cakes,

For 12 cupcakes: 140g Plain Flour, 1½ tsp Cinnamon, ¼ tsp Nutmeg, ¼ tsp Ginger, ¼ tsp Salt, 1 ½ tsp Baking Powder, ¼ tsp Bicarbonate of Soda, 55g Butter softened, 100g Caster Sugar, 2 ½ tbsp Soft Brown Sugar, 1 Egg, 80 ml Milk, 125g Pumpkin Puree (you can make it or buy it in Waitrose!)

Preheat the oven to 190°C/Fan 170°C and fill a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.

Into a bowl combine the flour, spices, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate or soda. Stir together and set aside. In another bowl combine the sugars and the butter and beat together ( I would say until light and fluffy but there is so much sugar here I don’t think you will achieve light and fluffy). Add the egg and beat into the butter sugar mixture until smooth, add the milk and the pumpkin puree and beat until combined. At this point it will truly look like a horrible mess, just press on. Stir in the flour mixture lightly until just incorporated and then dollop the batter into the paper cases.

Bake for 25 minutes or so until brown on top and springy to the touch. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out.

Once cold coat with the buttercream.

Buttercream with Maple Syrup

90g Butter, softened, 270g Icing Sugar, 1 tbsp Milk, 3 tbsp Maple Syrup

Pop the butter and icing sugar in a bowl and beat together until combined. Add the milk and maple syrup and beat slowly until incorporated and then turn up the speed on the mixture and beat for 5 minutes or so until light and fluffy. It should be very soft to spread.

Alternatively you can use a classic cream cheese buttercream: 50g Butter, softened, 300g Icing Sugar, 125g Cream Cheese, cold. Beat together the butter and icing sugar until well combined and then add the cold cream cheese and beat on a medium speed until you have a soft fluffy icing, about 2 minutes. Do not beat as ferociously as the standard buttercream or for as long as the cheese cream will render the mixture runny and it won’t pipe or spread well.

Pumpkin Puree

Cut up the pumpkin flesh into chunks and pop in a roasting tin with some water in the bottom. Cover with foil and bake until tender on 180 – 200°C. Once cooked, drain any remaining water away and blend until smooth.

Happy Halloween

Apricot and Rhubarb Oat Bars

Child 1 is cooking at school again and joy of joys the teacher has introduced the idea of developing their own recipes!

Initiative in baking, and cooking in general, I believe is an essential ingredient (!) in the art of being a confident cook.  Cooking instinct can be acquired with practice as well as be a raw talent but reliance on clear instructions, whilst helpful in the learning process, if always needed will leave cooking in the chore category and not elevate it to carefree hobby status or allow for ‘using up stuff’ a bit of a must for anyone on a budget, which frankly is most of us after all. My better half trained as a chemist and therefore following detailed and extensive recipes backed up with accurate weighing and measuring equipment presents him with no problems. Vague generalisations and scant instructions basically stresses him out particularly as he thinks I will have ‘something to say’ about his finished offering if not perfect. He confuses constructive advice with criticism.

So anyway, Child 1 sees the advantage in this as he can adapt recipes with ingredients he’s not keen on to include those he prefers…….

He brought home a version of the above with chocolate chips instead of apricots and strawberry jam instead of rhubarb. You couldn’t actually cut a slice as such, more heap a couple of spoonfuls into a bowl and eat it with a fork as apparently he was distracted at some crucial point and there was a step skipped with the topping…… Anyway like with a lot of these type of bars: it tasted great!

I was so intrigued with the basic recipe and had apricots and rhubarb lying around so I had a go at the weekend and this is the result; I have to say it is divine and Child 1 (despite the lack of chocolate) announced he liked mine more. I almost spat out my mouthful.

You will need (makes 12 bars):

For the base: 100g Plain Flour, 35g Self-Raising Flour, 100g Butter (at room temperature), 1 Egg Yolk, 110g Caster Sugar,

160g Jam: I made mine as I had rhubarb with 450g Rhubarb, 450g Sugar, 1 tsp Ground Ginger, juice of 1 Lemon, 50 ml Water

Topping: 60g Golden Syrup, 30g Maple Syrup or Honey, 50g Butter, 135g Rolled Oats, 40g Corn flakes or Special K, crunch up a little, 35g desiccated Coconut, 125g Apricots chopped, fresh or dried.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C and grease and line a 23cm (9″) square brownie tin or similar. Lining square tins can be a bit of a faff. Either scrunch up an appropriate sized piece of greaseproof paper into a ball and them smooth out and line the tin or cut a square which again is larger than the tin and then cut in toward the center on the diagonal from each corner for a few centimeters then line the tin overlapping the paper at the corners.

Jam: you can buy rhubarb obviously, or to make it, put a couple of saucers in the freezer for the testing process and make sure to have a couple of sterile jam jars handy for any excess (wash in dishwater at 60°C), then slice the rhubarb and add to a saucepan with all the other ingredients. Allow the sugar to melt over a medium heat and then turn up the heat and boil rapidly for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and test if done but adding a teaspoon to a very cold saucer. Give it a sec and then push the blob up the saucer with your finger. If the skin wrinkles, it’s done. If not boil for a few for minutes and test again. Pour into the sterile jar(s) and allow to cool a little.

To make the base: Cream together the sugar and butter in a mixer and once light and fluffy at the egg yolk and beat for a couple more minutes. Add the flour and fold into the creamed mixture. You will find you to need to finish this off with your hands to achieve a ball of dough.

Press into the base of the tin to give an even layer and bake for 15 minutes. The top should be browned. Remove from the oven.

To make the topping: Melt together the golden syrup, maple syrup/honey and the butter and stir to combine. Put all the other topping ingredients into a separate bowl and pour in the buttery mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon to coat the dry with the wet.

Spread an even layer of jam over the base and then carefully spread over the topping. Pop it back in the oven for another 15 minutes. It should be lightly brown once done. Cut into bars whilst still warm and leave to cool in the tin.

If you have made jam don’t forget the wax covers and a tight-fitting lid. It’s delicious instead of marmalade.

Previous Older Entries

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The Cutest Cakes: Cupcakes

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