Halloween Brain Cake

As we approach Halloween, it is time to start thinking about horror cakes for parties. I have never been trick or treating but I love the opportunity to use face paint (which I may overdo ever so slightly) and the inspiration that Halloween gives to cooks is truly remarkable. From cute spiderweb biscuits to witches’ hat cupcakes, the wealth of Halloween themed food out there is incredibly vast. The cake which inspired this recipe was created by Yolanda at How To Cake It and I have been saying for about three years that I would recreate it for. Finally, I have.

Hidden beneath the terrifying exterior is a delicious red velvet cake which can, of course, be baked and eaten without any of the extra work required to scare it up. Although most red velvet cakes are now coloured with red food colouring, the original colour was completely natural. The cocoa powder most of us use has undergone the Dutch process which increases the pH of the cocoa (making it less acidic), darkens it, and rounds out the flavour. The raw cocoa is very high in an indicator known as anthocyanin (check out more about that in my purple sweet potato soup recipe) which turns red when exposed to acid – such as the vinegar added to a red velvet cake. This natural indicator was the original dye used to colour these cakes. The addition of buttermilk and replacement of butter with oil ensures that the cake is super moist although the softer crumb can often be harder to work with than a standard sponge cake.

The title of velvet was introduced when the cake was created to tell customers that the cake was softer that the cakes they were used to. It was created during the Victorian era and was iced not with cream cheese frosting but with ermine icing. This involved making a roux as the base for the icing which helped to stabilise it – especially in warm temperatures as the icing won’t melt as fast as either cream cheese or standard buttercream in the summer sun. Boiled beetroot juice was added during the second world war as this gave a far more intense red colour to the cake and beetroots grew well in England so were in good supply.

Somewhere during the decoration of a brain cake, there is a point at which the cake starts becoming horrifying to look at. It is a bizarre experience as you know that it is still a cake but for most of us (who haven’t seen a brain) the realism of this cake is decidedly unnerving. It would make a great food to bring to a Halloween party – or a viewing of The Silence of the Lambs. You could also use it to teach people about different areas of the brain if you are that way inclined. Whatever you do with it, you are sure to be remembered by all those who eat this cake. I had the misfortune of taking this cake on the train and I received (understandably) many weird looks from people who were standing around me.

I hope you enjoy making this as much as I did and that any Halloween party you take this to will remember you forever.

Red Velvet Brain Cake

Serves: 20

Prep time: 30 minutes (only about 15 minutes if you are making the classic red velvet cake, not the brain)

Cook time: 20-30 minutes

Decoration time: 1 hour (for the brain cake)

Cooling and resting time: 1 hour

500g plain flour

2 tbsp cocoa powder

4 tsp baking powder

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

550g light brown sugar

1 tsp salt

4 eggs

300ml vegetable oil

1 tbsp vanilla extract

2 tsp white vinegar

200ml plain yoghurt

200ml water

Concentrated red food gel (you must use the gel as liquid colour isn’t enough. I used around 20g for this cake)

Cream Cheese icing:

125g butter

180g (one tub) soft cream cheese

400g sifted icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 pinch salt

Decoration

500g marshmallows

900g sifted icing sugar

2 tbsp water

Yellow and red food colouring

1 jar of seedless raspberry jam (you can use normal jam and force it through a sieve)

4 tbsp water

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4

Line two large swiss roll tins with baking parchment – or if you are doing a traditional red velvet cake, four eight-inch round tins.

Sift together the flour and cocoa into a large bowl.

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Stir through the rest of the dry ingredients

Mix together the wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

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Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and beat the cake mix until it is smooth.

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Divide the cake mixture between the tins and bake for around 20 minutes for the large flat cakes or around 25-30 minutes for the circular ones – or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

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Once the cakes are cooked, let them cool for about 10 minutes before removing from the tins (leaving the baking parchment on the base of the cakes) and leaving to cool completely.

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To make the icing:

Beat the butter until it is fluffy.

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Add half of the icing sugar and beat on slow until the icing sugar has mostly been absorbed before increasing the speed of the mixer. The icing will be quite stiff at this point.

Tip in the rest of the icing sugar along with both the vanilla and the cream cheese. Again, mix on slow to mash the sugar into the rest of the ingredients before beating on a high speed until the icing is fully combined.

For the fondant:

Place the marshmallows into a bowl along with two tablespoons of water.

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Microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring between each one, until the marshmallows have melted.

Add a small amount of red and yellow food dyes to make the marshmallow a pale peach colour (like the colour of a brain – I refused to look up a photo of a real brain online).

Tip in around 2/3 of the icing sugar and used a spoon to mix together until the mixture looks lumpy.

Pour it out onto a work surface knead the fondant together. Add the remaining sugar as the fondant becomes sticky. The fondant is ready when a small amount pinched between your fingers can be pulled about an inch away from the main blob of fondant without breaking off. Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge.

To assemble a standard red velvet cake:

remove the baking parchment and stack the layers with a quarter of the icing between each one before spreading the remaining icing on the top of the cake.

To make a horrifying brain cake:

Cut the slabs of cake in half width wise.

Stack them on a board with a quarter of the icing between each one.

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Carve the cake into the rough shape of a brain with a thin cleft down the middle. I googled cartoon pictures of brains to get a good idea of the shape without making myself feel sick.

Spread the remaining icing around the outside of the cake to create a crumb coat.

Place in the fridge for half an hour to set.

Once the cake has set, it is time to turn it into a brain.

Divide the fondant icing into quarters and roll one of them out into a snake about 1cm thick.

Cut the snake in half and then arrange each piece in symmetrical looping designs at the front of each hemisphere of the brain. It is easiest to start at the base of the brain to give the fondant some support from beneath, so it won’t fall off. Make sure that you leave a small gap down the centre of the brain to show the divide between the two hemispheres.

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Use two more of the quarters to repeat the above process to cover the outside of the brain.

Take the last quarter and cut it in half. Roll each half into a short, thick sausage and flatten half of each one. These will make up the cerebellum which is a different shape to the rest of the brain. Indent lines along the outside of each of the sections of the cerebellum.

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Place the cerebellum onto the serving plate and place the rest of the cake on top (ensuring the cerebellum is at the back).

Mix the jam with the remaining four tablespoons of water to thin it down.

Use a pastry brush to paint the entire outside of the cake with jam to make the brain look moist and fresh. If there are any sections with gaps in the fondant, add a little jam into the gap to make it look like the brain is oozing blood.

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This brain cake is truly horrifying to look at and you don’t even need to clean down the serving plate as a little extra ‘blood’ just adds to the effect. The cake is moist and has a light chocolate flavour which works wonderfully well with the tangy cream cheese icing. It is sure to a lot of attention when you bring it into a room or even just have it sitting in the centre of a table when people arrive. The best way to serve it is to cut down the centre of the brain and then serve slices from each side.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you love cake but would rather make one that is a little less terror inspiring, why not treat yourself to a beautiful unicorn cake? It’s ombre on the inside too! Of course, if you are more of a savoury person than sweet, you could always make yourself a big bowl of Laksa. It’s perfect to keep you warm as winter approaches.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a flavour packed rice dish.

Ombre Unicorn Cake

Who doesn’t enjoy a good birthday? The only thing I struggle with is what to get my friends as presents. I always want to get something meaningful that is not single. Sometimes people drop hints, which is fantastically useful, but other times I am stumped. My solution in this scenario is cake. A good cake shows that you have put effort in, you have thought about what they would like flavour wise and can also be made to look beautiful. A good cake will be remembered.

While I was at university I made many birthday cakes. They are great gifts when you are on a budget, as a basic cake can be made for around £10 and will be far better than most things you can buy for that amount in a shop. Birthdays are fun, but birthdays with a homemade cake are just a little bit better. Everyone will enjoy the food more and the overall atmosphere will be just a little bit happier – of course, if you don’t have time to bake something, a bought cake is not going to ruin the day. My view is that if someone provides me with cake, I am going to eat it!

Of course the most important part of a birthday is not the cake, it’s the people. If you are busy with university or work, it can often be hard to find time to meet up with friends but birthdays are a perfect time to come together and celebrate throughout the year. It can be a nice break from the stress of day to day life and regular catch-ups with friends are always good fun.

This week’s cake recipe can obviously be made without the added unicorn features to create a standard ombre cake or, vice versa, you can use the unicorn instructions to turn a normal sponge cake into a beautiful masterpiece. I made this for one of my best friends. She loves rose gold and pink so I went with an internal pink ombre and decorated with a gold horn and pink and purple swirls. You can obviously customise the colour to whatever you fancy – you could even do a rainbow inside!

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Photo creds to A Whimsical Rose for whom this cake was made. You should definitely check out her blog as she makes some great content!

I hope you enjoy making this cake as much as I did. It was definitely a labour of love (I mean come on, I lined eight tins for this – if that doesn’t show that I was willing to do whatever it took to make this cake amazing, I don’t know what will). Either way, I think a multi-layered, colourful cake is something that everyone should try at some point, even if it is only to say that you have done one, and if you are putting all that effort in then you can easily elevate it to unicorn status with very little extra effort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ombre Unicorn Cake

10 oz. unsalted butter

10 oz. sugar

10 oz. self-raising flour or plain flour mixed with 2 ½ tsp baking powder

5 eggs

60ml milk

1 tbsp vanilla extract

 

For the syrup (optional but prevents the cake from being to dry):

3 tbsp sugar

3 tbsp water

25ml liqueur (optional) – I like to use raspberry

 

For the Icing:

400g salted butter at room temperature – I find that salted butter gives a much better tasting buttercream as it prevents the icing from being too sickly sweet.

600-650g sifted icing sugar

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Gel food colouring

 

Extras:

A small block of fondant icing

Black food dye

Paint brush

Gold lustre dust

A small amount of rosewater or vodka

One wooden dowel (for the centre of the horn)

Two cocktail sticks.

 

 

 

Cream the butter with the sugar and beat until light and fluffy.

Add the vanilla extract and beat again.

Mix in the eggs one at a time followed by a tablespoon of flour.

Once the eggs have been mixed into the rest of the batter, tip in the remaining flour and beat until completely combined.

Finally, add the milk and beat one last time.

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Preheat the oven to gas mark 3 (160°C)

Split the cake mix into eight parts and add a small amount of food dye to each one increasing the quantity of dye each time.

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Butter and line as many 6 inch baking tins as you have and bake for 18-20 minutes.

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While the cakes are baking, place the sugar and water for the syrup into a pan.

Heat and stir until all the sugar has dissolved.

Remove from the heat and stir  the liqueur.

 

To prepare the icing, place the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Using the whisk instead of the K-beater allows for a much lighter, softer buttercream.

Whisk the butter until it is soft and the colour begins to pale.

Turn the mixer down to its minimum speed and add half of the icing sugar. The slow speed prevents you from covering the entire kitchen in a cloud of sticky sugar.

Once the first batch of icing sugar has been beaten in, add the vanilla extract and turn the mixer to high and whip the icing for another minute to soften it up again.

Turn the mixer back to a slow speed and pour in the rest of the icing sugar.

Slowly beat it in and then return the mixer to a high speed before beating it for five minutes to give an incredibly pale, soft icing. If the icing seems a little stiff, you can always add a tablespoon of milk.

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Remove a third of the icing and set it aside for decoration later.

 

 

To assemble the cake:

Take the darkest layer of cake, level it and stick it to the cake board with a small amount of icing.

 

Use a pastry brush (or a teaspoon if you don’t have one) and brush the top of the cake with syrup.

Spread a thin layer of the icing over the cake and repeat with the next darkest layer.

Continue adding layers to the cake until you have the white layer left for the top.

When you place the final layer, place it upside down so that its base becomes the top of the cake providing a flat surface to work on later.

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The levelled tops of each cake displaying the colour gradient inside

Use the remaining icing that was not set aside to cover the entire cake in a layer of frosting. If you have time, use a small portion to make a crumb coat but otherwise, you can get a smooth, clean layer of icing by being careful.

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The crumb coat

 

Take the fondant and remove two balls about an inch across.

Flatten these out and mould them into ear shapes about an inch across and an inch and a half high. Insert the cocktail sticks into the base of each ear.

Roll the remaining fondant out into a long snake making one end thicker than the other.

Starting with the thin end, coil the fondant around the wooden dowel making sure to cover the tip. Leave a good two inches at the base of the dowel for it to stick into the cake to support the horn. Place the horn and the ears onto a tray and set aside to dry for half an hour.

 

Divide the remaining icing into thirds and colour each of them to your desired colour. I like having a dark version and a light version of the same colour along with a different colour for contrast.

Load the icing into piping bags fitted with star nozzles and pipe rosettes and kisses all over the top of the cake. Decide where you wish the front of the cake to be and pipe a rosette over the edge at the centre of the face.

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Use the black food dye and a brush to paint eyes onto the face of the unicorn. I like them to be about two thirds of the way up the cake. It looks very good just to paint on winged eyeliner for the eyes as it shows where they are without being super fiddly to do which can mess up the cake (you only get one chance to do these).

Use the remaining icing to pipe a mane of rosettes and kisses down the side of the cake as if they are hair which is overflowing off the top.

 

To finish the horn and ears, place a small spoon of the lustre dust into a bowl and add a tiny amount of either vodka or rosewater. Mix this together to make a thick gold paint. It should have the consistency of single cream.

Brush the centre of each ear and the entirety of the horn with this gold paint.

Using a pair of scissors to support the base of the horn (these help with grip as well as preventing the horn sliding down the dowel), place it slightly to the front of the centre of the cake.

Stick the ears into the cake just next to the base of the horn.

Repaint any sections which may have been smudged during transition and voila, you have just finished your ombre unicorn cake!

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This cake is a real showstopper and is sure to draw in lots of attention. As the icing prevents you seeing any of the layers inside, no one will expect the colourful interior and you are guaranteed to be remembered by anyone who has the privilege of eating this.

If you love cake, be sure to check out my chocolate and orange drip cake or, one of my personal favourites to both bake and eat, my coffee and walnut cake. If you are looking for something a little bit more on the savoury side, why not treat yourself to some delicious soup? My coconut and sweet potato soup tastes great and is also incredibly vibrant – it’s sure to bring a smile to your face.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a fantastic curry with homemade curry paste. It is so much easier than you think.

H

Basic Bagels

If I were to have to choose a last meal, fresh bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese would definitely be in the final shortlist. There is something about fresh bagels that no other bread comes close to matching; they are simply divine. A tiny bit of crunch on the outside and a chewy, satisfying filling make bagels some of the most delicious baked goods you can get.

Originating in Krakow, Poland, bagels have been around for just over 400 years. The name was derived from the Yiddish word beygal from the original German word beugel meaning bracelet, reflecting the shape of the bread. The ring shape not only helped with an even bake but also provided bakers with a way to promote their goods as the bagels could be threaded onto string or dowels for display in shop windows. Bagels were bought to England by Jewish immigrants and the Brick Lane district in London has been known for its fantastic bagel shops since the middle of the 19th century. In the early 20th century, bagels made their way to America. Introduced by Polish Jews leaving Europe, bagels didn’t really become popular until towards the end of the 20th century when the Bagel Bakers Local 338 (a local trade union which controlled the making of bagels) came to an end after the invention of the Thompson Bagel Machine which could make bagels far faster than humans.

Ignoring all the differences in toppings and flours, there are two distinct types of bagel which are separated by their method of cooking: the boiled bagel and the steamed bagel. Bagels are traditionally boiled which is what gives them their classic appearance, texture and taste but for mass production, the steam bagel was far easier. By removing the need to boil the dough, the speed of production was massively increased allowing steam bagels to be created in numbers much greater than bagels produced the traditional way. The injection of steam into the oven creates the smooth, glossy finish that most readily available bagels have and gives them a far lighter, fluffier texture.

The recipe below is for boiled bagels. They are definitely a little bit more work than steamed ones but really, they don’t take very much longer than plaiting a loaf of bread or even super artistic scoring. I hope you enjoy making them as they are great to break out for guests or even if you just want to treat yourself a little.

Bagels

Prep time: 30 mins

Rising time: 90 minutes

Cook time: 20-25 minutes

Total time: around 2 hours 30 minutes

500g strong white flour

350ml water

1 sachet (7g) instant yeast

1 tbsp sugar plus 3tbsp for the boiling later

2tsp salt

Place the flour, salt, yeast and one tablespoon of sugar into a bowl.

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Add the water and stir until everything starts coming together.

Turn out onto a surface an knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic – around 10 minutes.

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Place the dough back into the bowl and leave to rise for 90 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 7 (210°C).

Heat a large pan of water and add the remaining three tablespoons of sugar to it.

Split the dough into eight pieces and roll them into balls.

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Using the end of a wooden spoon or one of your fingers, poke a hole in the centre of each dough ball.

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Stretch the dough until the hole is around three centimetres across. A common way of doing this is by spinning the dough around the handle of a wooden spoon.

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Once the water is boiling, add the bagels a few at a time (no more than three or four) and boil with the lid on for 90 seconds or until a skin has formed.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the bagels and place them onto a lined baking tray before repeating this with the rest of the bagels.

Bake the bagels for 22 minutes until golden brown and the base sounds hollow when tapped.

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Let the bagels cool before cutting as they retain heat incredibly well and whilst delicious, they are not worth burning yourself for!

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you love making bread, why not try out some vibrant, artisanal, vegetable bread or if you are looking for something a little bit more savoury, why not treat yourself to a butternut squash and sweet potato crumble? It’s easy to make, vegetarian and packed full of flavour.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a soup recipe which will keep you warm as winter approaches.

H

Honey Cake

One of the coolest things about honey is that it doesn’t go off. It is so sweet that microbes cannot grow in it and while the sugars can crystallise over time, the honey itself will remain unspoiled in a sealed container for years and years.

Honey is one of – if not the – oldest ingredients used in cookery. Unlike flour, fruits and processed sugar, honey hasn’t really changed since we started harvesting it almost eight millennia ago. There are cave paintings from the Mesolithic era which are found in Valencia, Spain which depict hunters gathering honey. The cave painting is surprisingly unambiguous. You can clearly see a human, surrounded by little bugs, reaching into a hive with one hand and holding a basket in the other. There is also physical evidence of honey from around 5000 years ago, when honey was found on the inside walls of clay pots in Georgia. The fact that the honey was sill recognisable is a true testament to how well it keeps.

This post has come about because it is approaching Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year – which falls this weekend). Honey is used as a symbolic way of wishing people a sweet new year and as a result, is added to many different foods. Honey cake is the obvious one, but we also use honey to sweeten bread and during the Rosh Hashanah meal, slices of apple dipped in honey are eaten. It also appears in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism along with the Ancient Greek pantheon of gods. It is normally seen as a food of immortality and food of the gods as well as possessing great healing properties.

Outside of cooking, honey has been used as a medicine for a long time. It was used to help bind herbs in salves and pastes since the Romans and was particularly prominent in Celtic medicine and druidic rituals. This use most likely stems from the fact that honey is incredibly sticky so would hold the salves in place whilst also creating a seal to keep out infection. Nowadays, there is very little evidence that honey actually helps with treating any medical condition although it is very good for soothing a sore throat – just mix a spoon of honey into a cup of hot water with a few slices of lemon and drink it.

The cakes below are amazing fresh out of the oven but are even better if you let them cool, wrap them up in foil, and allow them to sit for a week in a pantry or on the side in your kitchen. The time allows the flavours to mature creating a far more complex taste. Cinnamon, ginger, orange and mixed spice all help give these cakes their distinctive flavour which must be tried to understand how amazing it is. This recipe is from Evelyn Rose and to be honest, I wouldn’t want to change a single thing about it. As an added bonus, these cakes are dairy free.

 

 

Honey Cakes

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 50 minutes

Makes two cakes

 

12 oz. (335g) plain flour

6 oz. (170g) caster sugar

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp ground mixed spice

16 oz. (450g) honey – I just used a whole jar

½ cup (125ml) vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Zest of two oranges

250 ml orange juice

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (180°C).

Line two 9×9 inching tins with baking parchment.

Fill a jug with hot water and place the jar of honey (still closed) into it. The heat will slacken the honey up making it far easier to use later on.

Mix the flour, sugar and spices in a bowl and make a well in the centre.

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Pour in the honey, eggs, orange zest and oil before beating together – you can do this by hand but it’s a lot easier if you use an electric mixer.

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In a jug, whisk the bicarbonate of soda into the orange juice and after it has foamed up, pour it into the cake mix and beat it all together.

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Pour the cake batter into the two tins and bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes, or until the cakes are fully cooked.

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Move the cakes onto a cooling rack but don’t remove the baking parchment from them.

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Once the cakes have cooled, wrap them up in foil making sure to seal around the edge before leaving them for a week of two for the flavours to mature.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. The cakes are delicious but very sweet – we don’t tend to eat them very fast at home because you only have a small piece at a time. It is fantastic to eat alongside a cup of tea. If you love baking but are looking for something a little bit less sugary, check out how to make some delicious shortbread or if you want something more on the savoury side, why not make yourself some delicious ginger tofu. It’s fab both hot and cold.

 

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a rich, flavourful, savoury crumble.

H

Shortbread

January is an odd month. Many people spend it trying to be extra healthy after the indulgence of Christmas and New Year. Dry January and Veganuary are becoming increasingly popular as people try to cut back on unhealthy foods so it is a little sad that the National Shortbread Day is on the 6th of January when lots of people won’t appreciate it.

The first recipes for shortbread date from the 12th century; however the version which we eat today was actually invented in the 16th century and is accredited to Mary Queen of Scots Before her, shortbread was real bread which was covered in spices and sugar before being twice baked – Queen Mary replaced the yeast with butter which stopped the bread from leavening and turned it into a biscuit. The original flavouring in shortbread was caraway seeds – I am incredibly thankful that this is no longer the case – however now you can find vanilla, chocolate, orange and ginger shortbreads amongst many others.

One of the most distinctive things about shortbread is its texture. It is super crumbly as a result of minimal kneading. As the dough isn’t worked very much, gluten can’t build up so the shortbread stays very fragile. The addition of semolina or rice flour helps increase the crumbliness whereas cornstarch makes the biscuits denser and therefore harder. Adding semolina also a good way to prevent yourself from picking at the uncooked dough as it gives it a gritty texture which disappears during cooking but, whilst raw, is really quite unpleasant.

There are several classic shapes of shortbread: the classic shortbread finger (as given below), individual round biscuits (these are rolled to about half an inch thick and then cut) and the classic wedge. These are the easiest to make without any sort of tin as it involves pressing the shortbread into a large circle, baking it and then cutting the biscuits when they are removed from the oven but are still soft. The recipe below gives enough dough to make two large circles eight inches in diameter. The high butter content causes shortbread to spread in the oven which is fine if you are making circular biscuits – just make sure you leave enough room between them – but if you are making fingers, this can be very detrimental to the shape. The best way to get perfect shortbread fingers is to cut the dough but leave it as a block, do not separate the pieces. This prevents them spreading and when you remove the shortbread from the oven, you can just recut along the lines left over and neaten out the edges.

Although it started in Scotland, shortbread has spread around the world and for good reason – it is delicious! I hope you enjoy making it as much as I did and that it becomes favourite for you to bake and eat.

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Shortbread

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Makes about 20 fingers

 

225g (8oz.) unsalted butter

112g (4oz.) caster sugar

225g (8oz.) plain flour

112g (4oz.) semolina (or fine rice flour)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C (gas mark 4).

Cream the butter in a bowl.

Add the sugar and the vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.

Pour in half of the flour and half of the semolina and mix on low until they start to combine.

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The mixture of flour and semolina gives a fantastic texture.

Add the rest of the flour and semolina and slowly beat until all of the ingredients are just combined. You do not want to overwork the shortbread.

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Pour the dough onto a sheet of baking parchment and press out with your hands into a rectangle measuring 11”x6” (25x 15 cm).

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Cut the shortbread into 1”x3” (2.5×4.5 cm) rectangles. The easiest way to do this is one long cut lengthwise down the middle and then measure out one inch blocks along the edge of the dough before cutting. DO NOT SEPARATE THE SHORTBREAD!

Take a fork or a skewer and prick the dough all the way to the base with a pattern of your choosing.

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DO NOT SEPARATE THE SHORTBREAD LIKE I HAVE DONE HERE

Slide the baking paper onto an oven tray and place in the oven and bake for around 20-25 minutes until the shortbread turns a pale golden colour. Do not let it brown any more than this.

Take the shortbread out of the oven and slide the baking paper off the tray onto a cutting board.

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This is why you do not separate the shortbread fingers – they will lose their shape in the oven!

Cut along the lines of the biscuits as they will have sealed up during baking. By cutting the biscuits before you bake them, you will leave a mark in the final product which can then be recut to ensure straight edges and perfect shortbread.

Separate the biscuits and move them onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

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These are delicious by themselves but are a real treat when dunked into a cup of tea. You could also jazz these up by dipping the ends into melted chocolate to make the biscuits really special. They make an excellent gift too. Just take a large sheet of clear plastic and place the biscuits in the middle. Gather up the ends and tie them off with a ribbon to make a beautiful present at Christmas.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you liked this, you should check out how to make macarons. They are a little more technically challenging but if you can master them, there is nothing you can’t do in the kitchen. If you are looking for something a little bit more savoury, why not treat yourself to some delicious onion soup? It’s easy to make and is packed full of flavour.

 

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a fab on the go lunch

H

Macarons

Macarons can be the stuff of nightmares. A single streak of unmixed meringue in the batter can cause the entire batch to crack, unsieved ingredients can make the macarons go lumpy and bad luck can ruin an entire tray for even the most competent baker. That being said, if you can master the art of making macarons, you can succeed at almost anything in the kitchen.

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These orange macarons were some of the best I have made (although the feet are a little more frilly than I would normally want.)

One of the most distinctive elements of a macaron is its foot. Observing the foot of a macaron can give you a good indication of how it was made. Both oven temperature and mixing techniques affect its formation. The foot should be even all the way around, either completely vertical or with a light outwards bulge, and have lots of small pockets of similar sizes. If the foot goes over the top of the shell (giving a cracked appearance), your batter is not mixed evenly; if the feet bulge massively outwards and appear as more of a skirt, you have over mixed your batter. If your macarons are consistently not developing feet, allow them to dry longer before baking as the formation of a skin over the top of the shells will encourage rising from the base of the macaron, helping with the formation of the feet. The lack of feet can also indicate that your oven temperature is too low and a skirt can indicate the temperature is too high so I would encourage investing in an oven thermometer if you wish to make macarons semi-regularly.

Everyone’s oven is different and macarons are a very good way to discover where the hot spots in yours are. If a single batch of macarons has very different results across the tray, this indicates that there isn’t great circulation in your oven. If you don’t have a fan oven, there isn’t much you can do about this but you can adapt in the future by removing macarons in hotspots early and then baking the rest for another few minutes.

The classic image of a macaron is a brightly coloured shell with a smooth filling. The colour of the shells is often indicative of the flavour. When it comes to choosing flavours, the list of things you can choose is almost limitless. I have eaten savoury macarons, I have eaten sweet macarons and there are a particularly interesting set of flavours in the middle where the macarons are sweet but use traditionally savoury flavourings. One that I tried whilst baking for this post was a rosemary and olive oil flavoured macaron and it was delicious!

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Salted caramel and dark chocolate macarons.

Once you have mastered the basic macaron, you can begin to experiment with different fillings and flavours. Why not use them as decoration on cakes or a dessert? They don’t just have to be a delicacy on their own.

I hope you enjoy baking them and that your macarons come our perfectly every time.

 

Macarons:

2 egg whites

140g icing sugar

65g ground almonds (or almond flour)

35g granulated or caster sugar

Pinch of salt

Gel food colouring

Flavourings (these could be extracts like vanilla or orange, rose water, cocoa, green tea etc.)

 

Ganache filling:

Dark chocolate:

150ml double cream

150g dark chocolate

1 tsp sugar

 

White chocolate:

100ml double cream

200g white chocolate

Flavourings

 

 

 

Place the icing sugar and almonds into the bowl of a food processor and blend for a minute.

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Push the mixture through a fine mesh sieve – this step takes time but is important if you want your macarons to have a smooth, glossy top. Once there is only a tablespoon of bigger chunks of almonds left in the sieve, you can discard these and stop. If you would like to make chocolate shells, replace one tablespoon of the mixture with one tablespoon of sifted cocoa. Use the same technique for green tea shells but with two teaspoons of matcha green tea powder instead.

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The sieved ingredients should have no large lumps.
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These large lumps will be ground down as you force them through the sieve. It just takes a little time and elbow grease to do so!

Add the egg whites to the granulated sugar and salt in a separate bowl and whisk with an electric hand beater until a stiff meringue is formed. You should not feel any grains of sugar if you rub a little between your fingers and you should be able to turn the bowl upside down without anything falling out.

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If you wish to colour and flavour your macarons, use the tip of a knife to add a small amount of gel colour to the meringue. Do not use liquid food dye as it will make your meringues collapse and will also fade in the oven. If you are using a flavoured extract, add a quarter of a teaspoon to the egg whites and beat it in.

Add half the dry ingredients and fold them in.

Once the first batch of dry ingredients starts to mix in, add the rest and continue to fold. Ensure that you use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl as any unmixed in bits of meringue will cause the macarons to crack.

Macarons are surprising forgiving at this stage. You want to keep as much air in during the folding as you have to knock it out again later to get the mix to the correct consistency and this is easier when you have a lighter mix to start with – it will make sure you don’t over mix the batter.

Once the almonds and icing sugar have been incorporated into the meringue, continue to mix until you reach the right consistency. This is when you can lift some batter on your spoon and as you drop it back into the bowl, you can draw a figure of eight with it without the stream of batter breaking. The batter should be thick but still flow a little, any blobs you make on the surface should slowly ink in over about twenty seconds.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Pour the batter into a piping bag and pipe circles of batter about an inch and a half (about 4cm) wide leaving at least an inch (2.5) between them.

Lift up the baking tray and bang the base of it onto the surface ten times. Rotate the tray round so the other side can be banged too and repeat the ten bangs. This will remove air bubbles from the macarons which you will see popping on the surface. You can sprinkle the centre of your macaron shells with sprinkles or something related to the flavour to give a more exciting finish.

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From the top left going clockwise, these shell are for: Plain vanilla, black sesame and white chocolate, orange and chocolate, chilli chocolate, rosemary and olive oil, salted caramel, rose and finally, green tea. The shells are mostly unflavoured.

Place the macarons in a warmish dry place for half an hour to an hour until a skin has formed over the top of them (you can touch the surface of them without it sticking to you).  Some people say this step is optional and I have made macarons before without letting them dry and they did work but the best way to work out if it works for you is practice. Make a couple of batches, leave some to dry and place other straight into the oven and see how they come out!

Preheat the oven to 150°C (gas mark 2).

Place the macarons one tray at a time on the top shelf of your oven for twenty minutes or until you can lift one off the tray without it sticking. If they stick a little, just give them another two minutes and try again.

Once the shells are cooked, let them cool on the tray until you can touch them without burning yourself. Peel them off the baking sheet and place the shells onto a wire rack to cool.

 

To make a ganache filling, heat the cream until almost boiling and pour it over finely chopped chocolate.

Leave for two minutes for the heat of the cream to melt the chocolate and then stir the two together. You can add flavourings of your choice or sugar to the ganache at this point.

Let the ganache cool until it has thickened up to a thick piping consistency and is no longer warm to the touch.

Match up macaron shells of similar sizes in pairs. On one of each pair, pipe a small dollop of ganache and sandwich the two shells together.

Leave the macarons overnight in the fridge so the ganache can set fully and the flavours can meld between the filling and the shells.

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As you can see, the feet did not appear on either the rose, orange or salted caramel macarons. I am still working out why as I need to get used to my home oven again after university.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. For other sweet treats, check out my list of baked goods – last time was a sophisticated chocolate and hazelnut tart – or if you are looking for something a little bit more on the savoury side, why not make yourself a classic bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for another delicious soup – it’s super easy and an absolute classic.

H

Chocolate and Hazelnut Tart

In the words of RENT, “525,600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year?” One way for me has been this blog. With the 52nd recipe provided in this post, I have reached the end of my first year as a blogger. I will admit that there have been times when I have seriously considered giving up – there are few things more demoralising than realising at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon that I have to cook and write a post before heading out to orchestra rehearsals. However, even with all those struggles, it has been incredibly rewarding.

A couple of times this year, I have been chatting to someone and they will drop into conversation that they read my blog and have tried out a recipe or two – occasionally they even send a photo – and it is very satisfying to know that people are enjoying this. I had been thinking about starting thatcookingthing for a good two years before it became a reality and one of my main concerns was that no one would read it, so knowing that some people are reading the weekly posts and interacting with me is especially exciting. One of my main motivations to start writing was the decision that I want to go into media production. I will be starting a Masters course in Science Media Production in a couple of months and although this clearly isn’t a science blog, you may have noticed my passion for science slipping into the introduction to the recipe every now and then.

I wanted to finish this year with a bit of a showstopper. I know tarts are not very tall but they are definitely some of the most beautiful foods around. They are incredibly versatile – I have only given recipes for sweet tarts on here however I am partial to a caramelised onion and goats cheese tart or even a garlic tart when I don’t want any contact with people for the next week. The chocolate tart recipe below gives a crisp, slightly nutty pastry filled with a smooth, silky chocolate filling and topped with a gorgeous shiny glaze. The glucose in the glaze is what give it the lustre – rather like in a mirror glaze – so is an vital ingredient. This tart is beautiful to look at and tastes absolutely divine!

 

Hazelnut and Chocolate Tart

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Serves: 12

 

For the pastry:

100g hazelnuts (75g for the pastry and 25g for decoration)

200g flour

100g butter

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 egg yolk

2 tbsp iced water

1 tsp vanilla extract

 

For the filling:

170g dark chocolate

85g sugar

115g butter

80ml water (1/3 cup)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

3 eggs

 

 

For the glaze (optional):

2 tbsp glucose syrup

50g chocolate

25g butter

50ml boiling water

 

To prepare the hazelnuts:

Preheat the oven to 180°C (gas mark 4).

Place the hazelnuts onto a baking sheet in a single layer and toast for fifteen minutes, stirring every five.

Remove the hazelnuts from the oven. If they were already blanched and have had their skin removed, leave them to cool and skip to the pastry making step.

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If the hazelnuts still have their skins on, pour them onto a tea towel and wrap them up in it – it is easiest to do this by lining a bowl with the towel and then pouring the hazelnuts into the bowl.

Let them steam for a minute  and then massage the tea towel with the hazelnuts still inside. The steamy environment created by wrapping up the nuts will loosen the skins and rubbing them together will cause the skins to flake off.

Once the majority of the skins have come off, remove the nuts from the towel and leave them to cool.

 

To make the pastry:

Once your hazelnuts are cool, place them into a food processor and coarsely grind them. Measure out 75g and place it back into the food processor whilst keeping the last 25g for later.

Add the flour to the food processor and blitz it for around 30 seconds to grind up the last bits of the nuts to make sure the pastry is smooth.

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Cube the butter and add it to the processor. Pulse this until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Add the sugar and pulse to combine.

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Place the egg, water and vanilla into the processor and mix until the dough starts to come together.

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When the dough becomes sticky, pour it out onto a surface and squeeze it together with your hands to form a ball. Wrap this in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.

 

Roll out the pastry to a couple of millimetres and drape it into a nine to ten inch flan tin.

Press it into the edges of the tin and trim off the excess pastry.

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If you have excess pastry, just make some mini tarts too!

Prick the base all over with a fork and place the tin back into the fridge for around ten minutes. This will help prevent the pastry shrinking too much in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (gas mark 5) while the tart case is resting.

Line the inside of the tart tin with baking parchment or foil and pour in baking beads to weigh down the pastry in the oven. If you don’t have baking beads, rice or lentils also work but you cannot use them for normal cooking after this.

Bake the tart for fifteen minutes.

Remove the baking beads and bake for a further 5 minutes to help dry the inside.

After five minutes, reduce the oven to 150°C (gas mark 2).

 

 

Once you have removed the baking beads, start to make the filling.

Heat the water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan until it is boiling.

Break the chocolate into a bowl and pour the water and butter mix over it.

Leave the mix for two or three minutes for the chocolate to melt, add the vanilla and stir together to create a smooth water ganache.

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Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl to break down their structure and then whisk them into the chocolate mix. It may thicken up and go a little gelatinous but keep beating it and it will smooth out again.

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Remove the tart tin from the oven and pour in the filling. Make sure there is enough room on top of the tart to add the glaze later.

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Bake for 15-20 minutes (at the lower temperature) until the tart is set about three inches from the edge but the centre is still a little wobbly. This is good as the residual heat will cook the centre of the tart.

Remove the tart from the oven and leave to cool.

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If you wish to add a glaze, place the tart in the fridge for at least an hour so it is fully set.

Heat the glucose, butter and water in a pan until it is boiling.

Chop the chocolate into smallish chunks and place into a bowl. This is because you are only making a little glaze so it will lose heat quickly and you want to melt the chocolate with the hot water.

Pour the liquid over the chocolate and leave for two minutes for the chocolate to melt.

Whisk the glaze together. If it is very thick, add a tablespoon of boiling water to help thin it down again. The glaze should be able to flow so it can be spread over the top of the tart.

Remove the tart from the fridge and pour the glaze onto it through a fine mesh sieve. This will remove any air bubble from the glaze giving the tart a completely flat top.

Tilt the tart to ensure the glaze fully covers the top and then leave it on a flat surface to set.

Use the hazelnuts set aside earlier to decorate the tart. You can also use raspberries, strawberries or any fruit of your choice!

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You can serve this with cream to cut through the chocolate but I like it just as a slice of tart on a plate.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe! Let me know if you have a go making it yourself – obviously you can just use normal shortcrust if you don’t like nuts and the glaze is another optional extra but I love to know how my recipes turn out for you guys! If you like this, then you are sure to love my quadruple chocolate and salted caramel tart too. If you are looking for something a little bit more on the savoury side, you should check out my recipe for a delicious salmon curry. It’s packed full of flavour and is incredibly fast and easy to make.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a meatball recipe which not only tastes great but keeps really well and can be batch cooked and frozen.

H