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.

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.

One of the Greatest Love Stories Ever Told

Romeo and Juliet would be another good cake idea, but here is Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy on this occasion. An 8″ square chocolate swirl cake, trimmed to create a book shape and covered in sugarpaste accordingly.

The figures are made in advance to allow for drying time.

The tricky thing here is to resist embellishing the scene with additional props. As the great designer Laura Ashley used to say,’ stop before you think you are finished!’

Happy Birthday G. X

Chocolate Ganache Icing for 4th of July Fun

So just a quick post today as I promised a chocolate icing recipe on The Cutest Cakes Facebook page about a week ago and the cupcakes above rather aptly seem to cover that base.

Dark chocolate buttercream is a curious thing, often becoming dry and difficult to pipe or spread; Ganache icing, on the other hand, is easier to work with if you bear in mind a few simple points.

The basic recipe is very simple: For 12 cupcakes, for the sake of argument, and using either dark or white chocolate you need anywhere between equal to twice as much chocolate to double cream. So 100g-200g of chocolate and 100ml of double cream. This will give enough ganache to spread onto the cakes. If you want to pipe on: 250-500g of chocolate to 250ml double cream.

The dark chocolate ganache will definitely hold it’s shape with equal quantities of both, the white chocolate ganache I would use more chocolate than cream to be on the safe side.

Break the chocolate into a bowl and add the cream. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and heat gently until all the chocolate is thoroughly melted and combined with the cream to give a thick, glossy mixture. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, whisking from time to time with a balloon whisk.

As with the chocolate fudge icing given here, you want a spreading consistency and depending on the amount you have made this can take anywhere between 1 and 3 hours to achieve. I know this seems like a long time but it is worth the wait!

Once the ganache is at that point, i.e. it more or less holds it’s shape and when you swirl it with a balloon whisk the mixture sticks to the whisk rather than trickles back into the bowl and requires you to tap the whisk on the side of the bowl in order to dislodge it, it is ready to use. Spread thickly onto cupcakes or pipe extravagantly and add toppings of your choice. It goes without saying that this icing can be used to coat a large cake too…..

Fridge any left overs and bear in mind this icing is heavily laced with cream so try to ice your cake/cakes fairly last minute.

From Alaska to The Black Forest via SW19

So my fascination with meringues continues and as I promised an easy chocolate cake recipe I have decided to combine the two. I know this looks a bit extreme, very ‘over the top’ but as you breakdown the components, just think gateaux not cake.

I saw the idea for combining cake and meringues in Annie Bell’s book Gorgeous Cakes, and admittedly, she had much smaller morsels of meringue adorning her’s so if you are deliberately making a batch to top a cake you might like to scale accordingly. Also the meringues can be used as art, so the above cake (more of an unfinished experiment) has the currently ubiquitous Union Jack/ Wimbledon theme echoing through it, whereas meringues which are a deeper pink and purple might make this cake seem more like a crown or feed into the Black Forest gateaux idea. Another scenerio might be to colour the meringues with caramel, either actual or food paste, and then drizzle chocolate over the top to give a more sophisticated look. The possibilities are endless!

I think this one would be called Death by Strawberries and Cream as the strawberry sauce drizzled across it gives a delightful grizzly sense of that….

So we have meringues as described in the previous post which you can find here and then:

You will need: 225ml of double cream, some strawberries (or fruit of your choice or not as the case may be), strawberry sauce (optional), reduced sugar Morello Cherry Jam and a Chocolate Cake.

The Easiest Chocolate Cake

This is my Mother’s recipe and is the cake that was baked typically for birthday parties when I was a child. I’m going to give the quantities in imperial as that is how the recipe comes, with an approximation of the grams etc.

6½ oz (187g) Self Raising Flour

1 tsp Baking Powder

2 heaped tbsp Cocoa Powder (sifted)

2 large Eggs

5 oz (150g) Caster Sugar

¼ pint Milk (150ml)

2 tbsp Golden Syrup

5 oz (150g) Butter or Margarine, melted and allowed to cool a little

Preheat the oven to 300 °F/Gas 2/ 150°C/Fan 130°C. Grease sides and bases and then line the bases of 2 7″ sandwich pans, the non-loose bottomed, old fashioned type, and add about a tsp of flour to the bases. Turn the pans on their sides and tap the flour round the sides of the tins to coat, tip out any loose flour.

Combine all the ingredients and whisk to form a smooth batter with a balloon whisk or using a paddle attachment with a mixer.

Pour into the prepared tins.

Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes in the tins before turning out onto a wire rack.

That is it! There is nothing to it. I love this recipe as it takes us back to an era, essentially post WW2, when eeking out ‘fancy’ ingredients was a necessity: 2 eggs, 2 tbsp of cocoa powder. This is not a rich chocolate-y cake but something of it’s time. My Mother’s generation can still seem nervous to bake a cake with four eggs in it. Sponge cakes, in particular, I’m often asked how I get to ‘look like that’,

‘Well for starters it’s got four eggs in it.’ The decadence of it!

‘Really, four eggs in this cake!’

Yet the Baby Boomers are the wealthiest sector of the population by far, own their own houses, foreign holidays all the time, pay the grandchildren’s school fees etc., but the post war rationing they grew up with still colours their baking view.

Anyway, once you have made the cake and meringues, it is an assembly job.

Reduce Sugar Morello Cherry Jam: great stuff, more like cherries set in jelly, not runny and not too sweet, a bit of a must with everything else that is going on. Widely available in supermarkets. If you need to, level the base layer of the cake just a touch using a large sharp knife, and use about ½ the jar of jam as filling. Then sit on the top layer. Whisk the double cream until stiff. You could use half cream half 0% fat greek yoghurt instead, or whipping cream, and spread over the top of the cake. Arrange your strawberries and meringues as you wish. Drizzle with strawberry sauce. This can be bought, or made using misshapen strawberries, a dessert spoon of sugar and the same of water. Heat in a saucepan over a moderate heat until you have a jammy mush, press through a sieve into a bowl to remove the seeds and heat again until thick and treacly. Allow to cool and drizzle with a spoon or if you can make a greaseproof piping bag, go that route.

Epic.

The fact that the cake itself is not too rich does help here, but this really is for those with a sweet tooth. Fridge any left overs due to the cream. It is still good with coffee the next day.

If you want just a basic chocolate cake use the chocolate fudge icing, method given here to fill and coat the top with the following quantities: 3 oz (75g) Icing Sugar sifted, 1 oz (25g) Cocoa Powder, sifted, 1½ oz (40g) Stork Margarine or Butter, 2 tbsp Water, 2 oz (50g) Caster Sugar.

N.B. Strawberries were courtesy of Child 2’s strawberry patch, thanks muchly gorgeous creature (despite the lack of front teeth) ♥.

Simple Soft Fruits

So we are deep into the soft fruits season and given the expense and uneven ripening of some (peaches, apricots, nectarines) at the point of purchase it can be very tricky to have enough of any one thing to convert into a delicious dessert. I also feel that for many of the summer fruits, red and blackcurrants aside, the least fuss the better. Washed and used as an accompaniment to other things seems the best way forward.

A couple of ideas: pancake pouches with soft fruits, and the old favourite, a vintage sponge. Of course, the ever-present strawberries and raspberries below can be replaced with sliced peaches, nectarines and whole cherries if you have them.

Pancake pouches

I first saw these on Pinterest just as an image and the pouches looked perfect. I can’t imagine how the author/baker managed to get the batter to form little cauldrons into which the fruits can be spooned, but the version we ended up with went down a storm with the kids and can definitely be served up at breakfast as a low faff option or as a pudding with ice-cream as well as fruit. The origins appear to be mini German or Dutch Pancakes.

1 cup or 250ml milk
6 eggs
1 cup or 130g flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. orange zest (optional)
1/4 cup or 60g butter, melted

Sifted Icing Sugar for dusting

  1. Pouches with ice-cream and fruit

    Preheat oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C. Blend first six ingredients (milk to orange zest) in a blender.  Be careful to see that any flour clumps get well-blended.

  2. Blend in butter a little at a time in order to temper the eggs.
  3. Grease muffin tins very well with butter and distribute batter evenly between 18 holes, slightly less than half-full per hole.  Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until puffy and golden on top.
  4. Remove carefully from the oven and allow to fall back and cool down for a few minutes before carefully teasing away from the hole with a small palette knife or similar, arrange individually or together on a plate and dust liberally with icing sugar.

Borrowed from realmomkitchen.com. Bless them, although the recipe appears to be a traditional one.

These are really gorgeous in taste and this method allows one to make pancakes of a morning without the batch cooking. They basically behaved like Yorkshire puddings, for those Brits reading this, but do not cook long enough to set in the puffed up state have a lovely gooey texture too. Yummy. You might need to trial this a couple of times to get the pouch effect and just less than half full as opposed to just over half full in the bun holes seems to work better.

Vintage Cake with Soft Fruits

Just a reminder really that a simple sponge see Easy Peasy Vintage Sponge Cake with soft fruits and cream can create a wow factor like any beautifully iced cake and is far less fuss. Just one word of caution: don’t be tempted to substitute whipping cream for double, it can’t cope with the weight of the top tier so well.

And just for good measure food marriages with soft fruits include:

  • raspberries folded into whipped cream with a ¼-½ tsp of rose-water,
  • peaches cut in half, sprinkled with a little brown sugar and grilled, top with Greek yoghurt and chopped, toasted pistachios,
  • and strawberries with chocolate.

My Mother’s Easy Peasy chocolate cake recipe coming very soon.

Jubilee Cupcakes for the Late Bakers

The Diamond Jubilee celebrations kick off this weekend and Union Jacks are literally bedecked across every available surface, lamp-post, flag pole, strip of bunting, cake tin, apron, cupcake case etc etc.

There also seems to be much ‘googling’ for jubilee cupcake ideas. The stats pages on this website alone is testament to this. However, if you are anything like me then the fact that some sort of festive treat will be needed is only just appearing on the radar of ‘things to do’ and  of course all the Union Jack cupcake cases and assorted jubilee themed cake toppers are sold out.

How is all that going to work out then!

Do not despair, I have some suggestions requiring cake ingredients for sure, but only of the general type which means there is a solution to the problem.

  • First off choose a basic vanilla cupcake recipe and then replace the butter with Stork Margarine. It keeps the cupcakes fresher for longer and, in my view, makes lighter, fluffier cakes.
  • If you have the time try to order on-line or go to Lakeland Limited or a specialist cake shop and buy red and blue cupcake cases and some regular white ones from the supermarket. If short on time just buy the white ones.
  • Supermarkets are selling red and blue ready to roll icing (sugarpaste). Get a packet of each colour and some white as well (always available). We are going to make our own toppers, don’t worry it won’t take long.
  • Alternatively, you might still find you can get red, white and blue Hundreds and Thousands. If you can find some then get some and a box of Quality Street Matchmakers (any flavour) or chocolate scrolls (expensive and usually come in large quantities).
  • Make sure you have some cocoa powder, butter and icing sugar in the house alongside the cupcake ingredients.

Right then, having assembled all or some of that lot, we can proceed.

Making cake toppers:

  • You need to allow some drying time so try to make these the day before the cakes.
  • If you have kids you probably have a small rolling-pin somewhere. Go and root around or ask around, if not, as this will make life easier. Also have a search around for a flat knife or palette knife, again just to make things easier. Roll out a golf-ball sized piece of sugarpaste into a strip onto an icing sugar sprinkled surface, and then trim to form a rectangle. Check this strip is not stuck to the work surface by sliding the palette knife under it to loosen it if necessary. Cut a couple of 1-1.5 cm wide strips and then cut square shapes from the strips:

  • Repeat this for the other colours to ensure you have the full complement of red, white and blue squares which can be rotated to provide diamond shapes.
  • Repeat again, this time cutting out triangles as in the second image to give bunting.
  • Keep going until you have plenty, you can try different sizes.
  • If you have number cutters you could make ’60’ instead out of red,white and blue!
  • Before they dry out completely, lightly squeeze the sizes of all the shapes to smooth and give you a more pointed diamond shape or more form to your bunting as shown here:
  • Leave to dry overnight on some greaseproof paper on a tray or plate.
  • Wrap any unused paste in cling film and then in pop in an airtight tub, it will keep until the Olympics at least, or donate to the next ‘too late off the mark cupcake maker’.

Making up the Cupcakes:

Make the vanilla cupcakes according to your recipe whatever that might be. I usually use the Hummingbird Bakery vanilla cupcake recipe (make sure the egg is a large one), but each to their own.

Right I am going to give a recipe here for a chocolate icing to coat the vanilla cupcakes. Chocolate is the tried and tested favourite as a topping for cakes however chocolate buttercream is usually too pale and sickly for my liking and chocolate ganache has cream in it which is no good for a warm afternoon. This is a chocolate fudge icing and is fantastic. It won’t go off at all. It also allows all the colours to contrast against it.

You will need, to coat 12 cupcakes: 100g Icing Sugar, 35g Cocoa Powder, 55g Butter, 65g Caster Sugar, 40ml (2 tbsp and 2 tsp) water.

Sift together the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a bowl. In a non-stick saucepan add the caster sugar, water and butter and heat gently until the butter is melted and sugar dissolved. Stir to combine and then pour into the dry ingredients and mix well to give a thick, rich glossy mixture. A balloon whisk works well here to combine. Unfortunately, you will need to wait for the icing to thicken up at this point, whisking from time to time with the balloon whisk, until it reaches a spreading consistency, this is a variable feast but you really do need to be able to spread like buttercream not pour and hope for the best like Glace icing. It is likely to take 30-40 mins.

So once that consistency is achieved, spread on the icing and decorate as illustrated with the diamonds. Or roll out by hand very thin sausages of white sugarpaste as shown to wind over the cakes and hang the triangles of bunting from. Cover 5 or so cakes and then decorate before covering the next batch of 5. The icing, be it this one or buttercream, has a tendency to dry out and your decorations won’t stick properly. Nestle the shapes into the icing.

Plan B is the Hundreds and Thousands and the Matchmatchers which can be arranged as shown or if you have multi-coloured cases, just go chocolate all the way!

How much red, white and blue do we really need.

N.B. Trex (white vegetable fat) can be used to lubricate the work surface and rolling-pin instead of icing sugar when rolling out sugarpaste to achieve a perfect finish on the cake toppers. See the Baking and What not page for a little more detail.

Probably the Easiest Cheesecake in the World

I’m just back from a run and I have a Mayo and Kermode Film Review Show podcast chattering away in my ears. Currently, the smooth creamy sound of Robert Redford talking at the London Sundance Film and Music Festival is mesmerizing me. What a voice; let alone anything else. I love ‘Barefoot in the Park’ and ‘Out of Africa’, not keen on ‘The Way we Were’ and I think I really should watch ‘All the President’s Men’ very soon.

Talking of smooth and creamy  – Cheesecake is something I associate with Americans. I not really sure why, but I suppose there are a multitude of voluptuous American cheesecake recipes and it is a bit of a US classic along with apple pie. I made one at the weekend as we had an old friend of the family visiting. He lives near Seattle.

However this one is visually perhaps a poor excuse for a cheesecake, a low-key affair, but really delicious none the less. I have a confession to make at this point. I don’t really like desserts/puddings very much. I don’t worry about leaving ‘room’ for one in a restaurant and I never check menus for the list of desserts when making a choice. I suspect it is something to do with not having a sweet tooth. A big help if you are a cake maker and a little taste of something is usually enough, perhaps a mouthful of someone else’s! I actually thought the ‘sweet tooth state’ was a learned behaviour, but Child 1 appears to have my gene. Interesting. Child 2 takes after his father and that side of the family where the sweet tooth gene reigns supreme.

The result of all this is that cakes aside (the day job) I haven’t shared any dessert recipes. Generally I serve up some variation of a cake if such a course is required, or Oranges steeped in Brandy Syrup. I can be moved to make fruity desserts but the crumbles, pies, cheesecakes, steam sponges, upside-down puddings, tarts, profiteroles and all the rest of it rarely feature in my kitchen. Balance is required. I do have a couple of cheesecake recipes up my sleeves, this one, the easiest, and something which appears to be the best dessert in the world. I struggle to see what all the fuss is about but others have arrived at this consensus. Today we will go with the easiest and work up the best ever.

So you will need, 200g of Ginger Nut biscuits, 50g Unsalted Butter, 2 x 250g pots of Mascarpone Cheese, 50g Icing Sugar, 2 Limes and a little bit of plain chocolate. That’s it.

Grease an 8″ cake tin either deep or a sandwich pan or a spring form tin, anything will do. You could use a 6″ one instead if you want smaller but deeper.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and while that is happening blitz the biscuits to a fine crumb in a food processor. You can use a plastic bag and a rolling-pin to bash the biscuits to a crumb instead. Add the biscuit crumbs to the butter and mix with a wooden spoon to combine thoroughly. Then empty into the cake tin and spread and press to evenly line the base of the tin. Pop in the fridge for half an hour to set.

Meanwhile make the topping. Into a large bowl empty the pots of Mascarpone, the icing sugar and the zest and the juice of the limes. Beat to combine with a wooden spoon. Once the base is set, remove the tin from the fridge and spread with the lime-y cheese topping and return to the fridge for a good couple of hours to chill. That’s it.

If you want to decorate it: grate on a little plain chocolate, or if you feel your culinary skills have not been flexed sufficiently you could make some chocolate leaves. Now I should add a word of caution. This method uses actual rose leaves as a template. I have no idea from a ‘health and safety’ point of view whether this is acceptable. However if you want to have a go: melt some chocolate in a microwave on low for 30 seconds or so and stir to achieve a smooth molten loveliness. Pick 7 or 8 rose leaves and make sure that they are washed and thoroughly dried. You need to ensure some stalk is still attached to each leaf and hold onto that as you drag the underside of the leaf through the chocolate. Leave to set on a plate for an hour or two. Peel off the actual leaf carefully and use to decorate.

Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes in British Measure

No messing with this post. These are awesome.

If you are fully ‘alerted’ up to what is ‘hot’ in baking it would appear that Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes are sizzling. One or two hip London Bakeries offer these glorious delights but if you ‘live in the sticks’ like I do then they are hard to come by. Just to add to the frustration I couldn’t find a recipe in metric prompting a translation process from cups and sticks and ‘what is heavy cream’  and about a months worth of testing to finally provide a sample.

The following recipe makes quite a few, but the chocolate sponge cake freezes beautifully, so if you don’t need them all go freezer rather than go fewer. The reason I say this is that I have devised a recipe which more or less uses up the pots of yoghurt and cream which I find very satisfactory when baking. However if you are unaffected by these things you can halve all the ingredients.

There are three stages to this: making the salted caramel ideally a good 3 hours before the cakes, making the chocolate cakes and making the buttercream.

Stage 1 – Salted Caramel 

125g Caster Sugar, 2 tbsp water, 80ml Double Cream, 25g Salted Butter, ¼ 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 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 the caramel will have arrived at the consistency of Golden Syrup which is the end point. (Even if you fridge it it still doesn’t set completely and can be stored in the fridge for a few days which is worth bearing in mind. Allow it to warm up to room temperature before using.)

Stage 2 – Chocolate Cupcakes

If you bought a ¼ pint of Double Cream for the Caramel some of the rest is used here.

2 large Eggs, 150ml pot Plain Yoghurt, 15ml Double Cream, 85ml flavourless Oil, ½ tsp Vanilla Extract, 175g Plain Flour, 250g Caster Sugar, 65g Cocoa Powder, 1 tsp Baking Powder, 1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda, ½ tsp Sea Salt, 85ml decaffeinated Coffee, warm.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/Fan 155°C. Line a 12 and a 6 hole muffin tin with muffin cases. Put the eggs, yoghurt, cream, oil and vanilla extract in a bowl and beat to combine, use a hand-held or free-standing mixer. In another bowl combine the flour, caster sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sea salt and stir round to mix, then with the mixer on a low-speed start to add spoonfuls of the dry ingredients to the wet. Once all combined turn up the mixer to medium and beat for a minute to form a smooth batter. By hand fold in the warm coffee. Dollop the mixture into the paper cases and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. (I tend to use 3 tbsps per muffin case which will give you around 16 cakes. You can put a little more mixture into each case which will obviously make fewer overall.) Once cooked the sponge should spring back slightly when pressed, leave in the tins for a few minutes and then cool on a wire rack.

Stage Three – The Buttercream

100g Salted Butter, softened,  300g Icing Sugar, 2 tbsp Milk, ½ the Caramel Sauce

So making Buttercream is described on the ‘Baking: Cake Recipes and What-not’ page, but essentially, place the butter in a bowl and beat for a minute or so, add the icing sugar and slowly beat with the butter to combine, add 2 tbsps of milk and continue beating slowly until incorporated then turn up the speed and beat quickly for 2 minutes. Turn off the mixer add the caramel sauce and continue to beat quickly for another 3-5 minutes until light and fluffy.

Assembly

As you can see from one of the photos above, you are not quite there yet. Remove a plug of cake from the centre of each one with a small sharp knife and drop a small amount of caramel into the hole, then coat with the buttercream however you wish. If you spread it on these quantities will be sufficient, if you want to swirl it on with a nozzle you will need to make more. Piping with buttercream is quite a decadent business and requires anything up to double the quantity needed for spreading!

If you are not completely exhausted by all this and can make a greaseproof paper piping bag, add a couple of teaspoons of caramel to the bag and drizzle it across the top of the buttercream or pipe a puddle of caramel into a small well scooped out of it.

Alternatively chocolate sprinkles or mini fudge chunks, that sort of thing, can be used to decorate.

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