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.

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Using Up Stuff Spaghetti

So we are finally off on holiday at the end of the week and the ‘using up stuff’ campaign is in full swing. Ridiculously enough at any given moment I seem to have enough food to last all four of us about a week (excluding bread and milk). I suppose if we were ever besieged or stranded in some way this is reassuring.

I’m going with a spaghetti dish as this is always the last carbohydrate item I am prepared to be without and everyone adores it. I have only relatively recently worked out how to make delicious creamy sauces to go with. I have no idea why, perhaps in my middle age I am more prepared to eat them so more motivated to get it right.

So here we go; this is a cream and blue cheese sauce base and I wouldn’t mind betting with the soft fruit season in full swing, odd half cartons of cream are lying around in most fridges right now!

Serves 2 so scale up for more, you will need: 250g Spaghetti, a handful of toasted Pine Nuts, some French Beans, topped and tailed, 6 tbsp Double Cream and 6 tbsp Milk, or 12 tbsp of Single Cream, 30g Blue Cheese (Dolcelatte, Danish Blue, Stilton), a rasher or 2 of Bacon, diced, 1 tbsp Garlic Oil, Black Pepper, Parmesan (optional).

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add a dash of any oil. Once boiling add the spaghetti and the french beans and cook for the stated time and not a second more. (Spaghetti is cooked once a strand has just lost the ‘white’ uncooked center so test strands as you approach the end of the cooking time. If it is overcooked the spaghetti becomes spongy and soaks up the sauce too readily and it disappears. This is then problematic as the spaghetti then clumps and sticks together).

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the cream, milk and blue chesse by mashing the cheese into the liquid, add some black pepper. Dry fry the pine nuts in a small frying pan over a moderate heat until toasted and remove to a plate, then cook the bacon in the garlic oil and remove to the plate with the  toasted pine nuts once cooked though.

Once the spaghetti and beans are cooked, drain and return to the saucepan, add the cream-cheese mixture and stir over a very low heat until the cream is heated through (probably less than a minute), add the bacon and pine nuts and toss with the spaghetti. Dollop out onto bowls and serve with grated parmesan and a little more black pepper if you wish.

I might get a chance to blog whilst I am away but I’m not sure, so if not, see you in a couple of weeks! Bon vacances tout les monde!!

Strawberry Glut Rain Delay Trifle

Ok, I promise this is the last of the strawberries and cream for a little while, but in my defense, Child 2’s strawberry patch has been extremely prolific despite the weather and we are ankle-deep in them. This doesn’t excuse the relentless presence of cream I know, but don’t be alarmed, I shall balance all this decadence out with some low-fat, low carb ideas very soon!

So whilst we were watching the tennis excitement on Sunday a rain delay struck, very helpfully, at the point where my better half and I felt we should really make a few dinner plans and have a cup of tea. The following dessert had vaguely been discussed over the weekend as Saturday morning’s charity bakeathon had left us with an orange sponge traybake to use up. My better half thought he might fancy his hand at a trifle recipe using the said sponge and the endless heaps of strawberries and so with a small amount of guidance from me produced this:

The kids, who are always reluctant to eat too much fruit, were charmed by this after a nervous start as there is no sherry involved and the strawberries seemed to maintain a low profile compared to the other components.

This is a fantastic way to use up left over cake. Quantities of cake, fruit, custard and cream are not critical at all and will depend on the number of mouths you have to feed or possibly how much left over cake you have.

You will need: some plain-ish Sponge Cake, Jam, Strawberries, Pimms, Lemonade, Custard either bought or homemade and Whipped Cream.

  • Begin by making up the Pimms, 1:2 Pimms to Lemonade so stronger than normal. 2 shots Pimms and 4 shots Lemonade should be enough for a regular quantity of trifle (4-6 servings). Pour the Pimms and Lemonade into a saucepan and heat until boiling and then simmer for a minute or two to boil off the alcohol. Allow to cool a little.
  • If your cake doesn’t already have jam in it, then make jam ‘sandwiches’ with it and then cut the sandwiches into fingers and arrange a generous layer in the bottom of your bowl, we used morello cherry jam but raspberry or strawberry would be fine too.
  • Pour the cooling Pimms mixture over the sponge and let that soak in whilst you wash and slice up some strawberries (around 200g). Add them as a layer over the cake.
  • Spoon on about 300-400ml of ready-made vanilla custard, for the size above, or make up some however you usually do having let it cool down to some degree before you spoon onto the strawberries. Cover with clingfilm at this point, to stop a skin forming if the custard is warm, and allow it reach room temperature then chill in the fridge.
  • Just before serving whip up about 300ml of whipping cream and spread over.
  • Decorate with whole strawberries or slices if you wish.
  • Yummy

For anyone who is wondering how the Turkish Delight turned out it is on my Facebook page. Click on the link on the side bar to have a look.

I have a cheeky request for anyone who is feeling charitable today. I need one more FB like for my Cutest Cakes Facebook page to receive stats info, so if you do go and see the Turkish Delight and have an account please could you consider ‘liking’ my account if you haven’t already. Also many thanks and to all the new follows here and the ‘likers’ over on FB that I have already.

I love you all.

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) ♥.

A Fairly Patriotic (Eton) Mess: Meringues for Murray

Update: Murray won. And just for completeness on this sporting day; Italy are currently 2-0 up against Germany. Viva Italia!! Further Update: Victory for Italy – I don’t think anyone was expecting that.

As I was shopping with my BFF recently we wandered past a bakery selling the most amazing looking meringues. This most delicious looking batch of them was piled haphazardly and invitingly in the window. They were vast and in this case pink and so a germ of an idea started to form in my mind….

Wimbledon is in full swing and despite some improved performances from the British women, our main hope is Andy Murray as usual. As he is, in fact, Scottish I have developed the following based partly on Cranachan (an extremely yummy Scottish dessert) and Eton Mess.

For 12 Meringues you will need: 3 medium egg whites, 120g Caster Sugar, Food Colouring Paste or Liquid

Preheat the oven to 140°C/Fan 120°C. Line a baking sheet or two with greaseproof paper.

Into a clean grease free bowl place the egg whites and whisk at a fairly high-speed until the egg whites reach the soft peaked stage (as you drag the whisk out of the foamy whites, peaks form, the tops of which flop over).

Add a tbsp of the caster sugar and whisk that in well, again on a fairly high-speed. Add another tbsp of sugar and whisk well again. Continue until all the sugar is used up. You should have a lovely glossy stiff foam.

Add a small amount of food colouring and fold in until spread evenly throughout the mixture. Obviously colour to your satisfaction.

Spoon heaped teaspoonfuls of mixture onto the baking sheets leaving plenty of space in between each dollop and transfer to the oven. This quantity should provide 12 meringues. Immediately turn the temperature down to 120°C/Fan 100°C. Bake for 1 hour. Then turn the oven off and leave the door ajar until the meringues are cold.

They keep in an airtight tin for a week or two if you can resist them.

The Patriotic Mess: as you can see I decided to make both blue and pink meringues, but as far as the dessert went, I used the blue. Blue food as I have stated before is not very popular, however in this Olympic/Jubilee year there is a lot more blue food around. The blue is there, of course, due to the presence of the Scottish flag in the Union Jack, so this dessert is dedicated to Mr Murray and the match he’s playing this afternoon. I think it goes without saying that you can colour the meringues to your own tastes or not at all.

You will need for 4 servings: 150 ml Double Cream and 150g or ml of 0% Fat Greek Yoghurt, 4 Blue Meringues, 400g Raspberries, washed, 2 tbsp Whisky, 2 tbsp runny Honey, a sprinkling of toasted Porridge Oats or Granola!

In a bowl whip the double cream until stiff (use a balloon whisk). Fold the yoghurt, whisky and honey into the cream. Fold in the raspberries. Dollop single spoonfuls of the raspberry cream mixture into the serving bowls, crumble over the meringue, add another spoonful of the cream mixture and top with the toasted porridge oats or granola.

This really is good!

Meringues Part 2 involves the chocolate cake I promised….

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.

Barbeque or Party Style Five Layer Mexican Dip

It has finally stopped raining. It has been relentless for weeks and this weekend is set to be mild, warming up even, as well as dry. Is the barbeque season finally with us? I think we may well peel the cover off ours and cook a few burgers to celebrate. If you are of a similar mind and looking for a hearty something to go with you might fancy the following….

I had this at a party recently and found it incredibly more-ish. The friend of mine who produced this delicious concoction explained what was involved well into the evening so I’m not sure I’m reproducing entirely what was described, but this went down a storm with my better half when I tried it at home.

I suspect there are a million way to present avocado, tomato and soured cream as a Mexican dish however this multi-layered dip-style version creates a bit of a splash. The quantities below produce the amount in the picture which was enough for 2 to 3 as a starter. But if you need it for a party or full scale barbeque double or treble the recipe. A glass bowl would work well too to display the colourful layers (I don’t have anything appropriate although some sort of earthy terracotta dish might have looked more suitable!)

You will need: a small tin of Refried Beans ( I used Discovery), 1 Avocado, juice of ½ a Lime, 12 Cherry Tomatoes, 1 Spring Onion, 150ml Half-fat Soured Cream or Crème fraîche, 2 tbsp chopped Coriander, 30-50g finely grated Cheddar, Tabasco Sauce, Tortilla Chips.

Start by spreading the refried beans over the bottom of the dish or bowl you are using, peel and slice an avocado and lay the pieces on top of the beans, drizzle the lime juice over. Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters and slice the spring onion. Mix the tomato and onion together and spread over the avocado. Next, evenly dollop on the soured cream and sprinkle with the coriander. Finally distribute the finely grated cheese as the top layer and drizzle over some tabasco sauce. Position tortilla chips around the edge of the bowl and await the cries of delight. It’s a good one.

Thank you Iford Arts Girl.

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.

It’s That Time Again: Easter, Tea and The NT.

The NT for the Brits needs no explanation. The National Trust. We just love it and Easter sees this glorious and beloved organisation throw open it’s stately doors up and down the country. For anyone who is still struggling to comprehend, the National Trust is one of the country’s largest and most successful charitable institutions. I won’t bore you with statistics, as I will only have plagiarised them from the official website, but the basic deal is that quite a number of the country’s stately homes have been and continue to be bequeathed to the NT to be maintained, for a variety of reasons but mainly financial, which are then opened to the paying public, from Easter to October. The said public look around the houses, picnic in the gardens and take tea in the obligatory NT tea shop, run by very capable NT staff, usually located in a recently converted stable block. The Charity is also bequeathed coastal paths, other chunks of beautiful land, gardens, small islands, light houses in fact all manner of historic or picturesque property and I’ll mention it again, the one thing they invariably have in common is a tea shop (car parks and toilets aside). Arguably this IS the major attraction for most people as the catering is fantastic on the whole and something I shall return to very shortly.

We visited one of our favourites, in fact, our overall favourite NT spot over the weekend, The Banks Estate, which takes in Studland Beach. We adore this strip of coastline, hire a beach hut on it every year for a week, BBQ in their designated areas, sign up for nature trails, avert our eyes if we pass through the naturist section (we don’t ‘pass through’ much), play cricket after everyone has gone home, try to keep off the sand dunes, pedal furiously in their hire-out pedalos and dig gigantic holes in the endless golden sand. The weather this time was verging on miserable, but we don’t care. Here are some pics taken at various times including this weekend:

Taken in 2008, one of the beach huts we have rented with sand dunes and Ballard Down Ridge in the distance

off the end of Ballard Down are Old Harry’s Rocks which can be seen in the second to last image. Above, too much sea air it seems?

Seeing as it is Easter, a time for treats, I thought I would treat everyone to a tiny round-up of some of the NT properties we have visited in the ‘West Country’ (Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and probably Wiltshire) since I have owned a digital camera….

Palladian Bridge, Prior Park Grounds, Bath

Montecute House, Somerset, Cute door

Utterly beautiful Stourhead

More from Stourhead

Stunning Great Chalfield Manor

St Michael's Mount, Cornwall

Picnic at Avebury, Wiltshire. Should we be sitting on these 5,000 year old stones?

So back to the tea shops. The NT have in their time published recipe books detailing the range, breath and local variations of cakes and other baked goods sold by them, but I suspect the confection that features without much regional variation throughout the entire country is the Scone. Scones are typically a component of ‘West Country Cream Teas’ (pot of tea, scone, jam and clotted cream) but the Nation has taken them to their hearts and they have wide appeal.

However scones are actually quite tricky to make. I’ve never really had much success despite being the item of choice for me if available. The following recipe seems to have turned all that around. These are so wonderful I cannot find the words, so if you are struggling with the sickly sweet of cake, chocolate, marzipan and the like this Easter, give these a try, they should be warm from the oven and really only require a smear of butter and jam in such circumstances. But you could go the whole clotted creamy hog if you wish….

The Best Scones Ever at bbcgoodfood.com, write this down somewhere, you’ll be heartbroken if it vanishes.

Previous Older Entries

The Cutest Cakes: Classic Cakes

Lilies and Pearls

The Cutest Cakes: Cupcakes

Rosebud Vanilla Cupcake

The Cutest Cakes: Individual Iced Cakes

Miniature Fruit Cake

Details for The Cutest Cakes can be found at www.cutestcakes.co.uk or if you click the image on the side bar you will be transported there.