Victoria Sandwich Cake

The Victoria Sandwich is possibly the only time where I will promote putting jam on first and then cream. If one is using a buttercream filling, the jam goes on second but when using double cream, as you should for a traditional Victoria Sandwich, the filling is so soft that putting the jam on top of the cream would mean ending up with an awful mess.

The cake, as you may have guessed, is named after Queen Victoria and was created during her reign to celebrate the invention of baking powder. It differed from the pound cake, which was the standard cake at the time, because the Victoria Sandwich was a much lighter cake owing to the addition of a raising agent. A Victoria Sandwich should have cream, raspberry jam and be dusted with icing sugar. In the recipe below, like the recipe from the Women’s Institute, I use a little caster sugar instead.

The cake itself is created using equal quantities of flour, butter, sugar and eggs. It is a very quick and easy cake to bake and, if you are in a hurry, all the ingredients can be placed in a food processor and mixed until a homogenous batter is formed. The only problem with this type of sponge is how sensitive it is to oven times and temperatures. Their sensitivity is so high that they are often used to check ovens and every day before filming the Great British Bake Off, a Victoria sponge would be cooked in each oven to ensure the oven was working properly.

Owing to its simplicity, the Victoria sponge is a fantastic base for many other cakes. It is incredibly easy to adjust to create other cakes – replacement of the vanilla extract with espresso or lemon and orange zest leads to very different but no less delicious sponges. As it is very pale, colouring the batter is simple making Victoria sponge a classic base for rainbow cakes. If you are like me and don’t particularly like chocolate cake, Victoria sponge can be a great way to get your chocolate fix if you replace the traditional cream and jam with chocolate ganache. The cake is sturdy enough to withstand stacking and decorations can be placed on top to make themed cakes, I recently created a Harry Potter Cake!

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As it turns out, fondant wings are quite brittle and don’t always hold up under their own weight! The layers were each coloured with the house colours for Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin

It may be basic but the Victoria Sandwich cake is a classic for a reason.

 

 

Victoria Sandwich

Ingredients:

For a medium sized cake:

170g (6 oz.) butter

170g (6 oz.) oz sugar

170g (6 oz.) oz self-raising flour or plain flour with 1 ½ tsp baking powder added

3 eggs

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

 

For a large cake:

225g (8 oz.) butter

225g (8 oz.) sugar

225g (8 oz.) self-raising flour or plain flour with 2 tsp baking powder added

4 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

 

To fill:

150 ml double cream

Raspberry jam

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3 (160oC).

Butter two eight-inch tins and line the bases with parchment paper. Flour the sides.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.

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Add the vanilla extract and beat again.

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Add the eggs one at a time followed by a tablespoon of flour to prevent the mixture curdling.

Mix in the rest of the flour slowly until the mixture is fully combined.

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Divide between the two tins.

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For small cakes, bake for around 25 minutes.

For large cakes, bake for around 35 minutes until a skewer inserted in comes out cleanly and the cakes are beginning to pull away from the side of the pan.

Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool in the tine for five to ten minutes.

Take the cakes out of the tins and leave to cool on a wire rack.

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Once the cakes have cooled, whip the cream to soft peaks.

Remove the parchment paper from the base of the less domed cake and place it on the serving plate. If it is very domed on top, use a bread knife to level it.

Spread the jam over the top of the cake and then pipe the cream onto that. If you don’t have a piping bag, remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the top cake, spread the cream onto that and sandwich the two halves together.

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Sprinkle a little caster sugar over the top and serve.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe and if the sound of coffee or orange cake tickles your fancy, have a look at my Coffee & Walnut and Chocolate Orange cake recipes! If you are a fan of sweet food, check out my fool proof recipe for meringues of if you are looking for something more on the savoury side, why not make yourself some delicious salmon? Its pan-seared, crispy skin and served with a light and fresh lemon couscous.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with another classic batch cooked meal.

H

Choux Pastry

A common misconception in baking is that it is difficult to make profiteroles or éclairs. This stems from the use of choux pastry as the base of these delicious goodies. Choux is famously finickity and problematic to bake but this is just not true. As long as you follow the recipe, it should work every time!

Unlike most other baked goods, no specific raising agent is used in choux pastry, rather the high moisture content results in a lot of steam being created in the oven which inflates the pastry as it cooks. The reason the flour is added to boiling water when creating the paste is that it starts to cook and the bursting of the starch granules traps even more water which helps the paste to rise in the oven. This leads to a very light shell which is hollow inside and ready to be filled with all the yummy things that we love to eat – cream, chocolate, caramel.

Once cooked, choux buns are surprisingly sturdy and can be stacked up leading to desserts like the stunning croquembouche. These are giant towers of choux filled with crème anglaise or Chantilly cream and held together by melted sugar. They are adorned with webs of spun sugar, glazed almonds and edible flowers and are really something to behold. Much as they are fun to make, I would recommend becoming more familiar with baking choux before you attempt one!

Although associated with French cuisine, the man who allegedly invented choux pastry came from Florence. He worked for Catherine de Medici and left Florence with her when she travelled to France to marry the Duke of Orleans (who later became King Henry II of France). Originally called pâte à Panterelli after its creator, the pastry had several incarnations before arriving at the pâte à Choux we know today. It is called this because of the resemblance of the cooked buns to cabbages (and choux is the French word for cabbage).

I am a massive fan of choux pastry. I first made it a seven or eight years ago and in 2011 (when I was fifteen) made my first croquembouche. Looking back, it was quite an achievement that I came out of that with only a minor burn from the melted sugar so if you do try this yourself, please be very, very careful. Having said that, I made one three years ago in a house where the power failed and I was assembling it by torch light as the sun set because I’m stubborn and don’t learn from my mistakes. Luckily I survived that one unscathed but hopefully when you try making choux pastry, it will be a little less eventful!

 

 

Choux Pastry

 

Ingredients:

100g strong white flour

75g butter

3 eggs

1 tbsp sugar

Pinch of salt

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 7 (2100C).

 

Line two large baking trays with parchment paper.

Sift the flour onto a piece of baking parchment.

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Heat 150ml water in a pan with the butter, sugar and salt until the butter is melted and the mixture is boiling.

Once the mix comes to the boil, pour in the flour and beat the mixture over the heat until it starts to form a ball and come away from the sides of the pan – it will look very lumpy and curdled at the start but I promise it will come together.

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Once the paste starts to come away from the sides of the pan, continue to cook it – still beating it – for another minute.

Pour the mix into the flour bowl from earlier (so fewer things are made dirty) and leave the ball to cool for five or ten minutes. You can speed this up by spreading it up the sides of the bowl.

Although you can do the next stage by hand, its far faster to use an electric beater. Add the eggs one at a time – it is fine if the flour mix is still a little warm at this point.

After you have added the eggs, you should have a smooth, glossy, sticky paste.

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Choux paste before the addition of eggs (top left) and after each of the eggs has been added

 

For profiteroles, pipe into circles an inch and a half across (or just dollop it onto the tray if you can’t be bothered with all the posh stuff. If any of the profiteroles have a tip on top from the piping bag, use a damp finger to flatten it out to prevent the tips from burning.

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For éclairs, pipe lines of paste four inches long onto the paper. Remember that they will expand a lot in the oven so space them out by an inch or so!

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For gougères, add some grated cheese to the mix and then treat as you would for profiteroles.

 

Sprinkle the tray with water (not the pastry) and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Try not to open the oven until this time as it will result in the choux deflating before it is finished cooking.

Check that the choux has puffed up, is golden and hard when you take them out of the oven. If not all the puffs are cooked, rotate the tray and give them another few minutes.

Once you remove the pastry from the oven, use a sharp knife to make a small hole in the bottom of each one and place them upside down to let the steam escape.

You can also place them hole side up in the oven for another minute to help dry them out (this is particularly useful when making a croquembouche as the choux buns have to be sturdy.)

 

Gougères are served plain or can be filled with mushroom duxelle (see my beef wellington recipe), or meats like beef, ham or pate.

 

For éclairs and profiteroles,

Filling:

400ml double cream

4 tbsp icing sugar

Vanilla (½ tsp vanilla paste or 1 tbsp vanilla extract)

 

For the ganache:

200ml double cream

250g dark chocolate (chopped)

 

For the filling, whip up the double cream with the sugar and vanilla to just lest than stiff peaks.

Pipe a generous amount through the hole in the bottom of each profiterole/éclair until they feel heavier and start to bulge.

 

For the ganache, heat the rest of the cream until just before boiling and pour it over the chocolate.

Leave for two minutes and then stir until the chocolate has melted and combines to make a glossy ganache.

Dip the top of each profiterole or éclair into the ganache and place onto a tray to set.

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I hope you enjoy the recipe. If you fancy a nice comforting main, check out my recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne or for another chocolatey dessert, why not make yourself some melt in the middle chocolate fondants?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious stir fry recipe.

H

White Chocolate and Raspberry Tart

One of the essentials in the home baker’s arsenal is shortcrust pastry. This crumbly pastry is quick and easy to make and is so versatile that it can be used in almost any situation. From quiches to pies to tartlets and petite fours, shortcrust pervades the baking world.

Like most things in baking, shortcrust pastry is all about the ratios. Made with twice as much flour as fat, the basic recipe has barely changed in about three centuries. Butter, lard, shortening or full fat margarine are rubbed into flour and then bound with a small amount of cold water. The butter is rubbed in as opposed to being blended which prevents it actually mixing with the flour. The breadcrumb like result is actually tiny bits of flour surrounded by butter which helps prevent the build-up of gluten. This is also why the pastry is kneaded only enough to come together in a ball. If it were kneaded anymore, gluten would build up making the pasty case incredibly tough and unpleasant to eat. The technique also gives rise to tiny bubbles of butter which melt in the oven leaving lots of tiny holes causing the flaky nature of the pastry.

Many variants on shortcrust pastry exist and tend to be used for specific recipes. Sweetcrust is the most common, where a small amount of sugar is added after the flour and butter are combined and the mixture is bound by an egg yolk. This is used in a lot of fruit tarts, tartes au citron and other sweet treats. Chocolate shortcrust is also very popular for, unsurprisingly, chocolate tarts although sometimes, the pastry is used when the filling isn’t chocolatey and all the chocolate flavour comes from the cocoa in the crust.

For my recipe below, the pastry is baked blind before being filled. This is because the fillings are both set in the fridge as opposed to being cooked in the oven. Blind baking requires weighing the pastry down before it is partially cooked to prevent it bubbling up in the oven. The weight is then removed before the pastry finishes cooking so the base can gain a nice golden colour. Other recipes like Bakewell tarts, where the frangipane is baked after it is added to the tart, still require the initial partial bake as this helps prevent liquid from the filling being absorbed by the pastry and causing a soggy bottom.

The white chocolate mousse that I use is very light. It isn’t too strongly flavoured as white chocolate is exceedingly sweet and although it is paired with raspberries which are relatively tart, the main raspberry flavour comes from the raspberry caramel which is also very sweet. To avoid the tart being too sugary to eat, the white chocolate mouse is mild and the texture is light and fluffy which counters the cloying sweetness from below. Decorating the tart with fresh raspberries also helps balance out the flavours.

This tart is stunning to look at – as well as eat – and is sure to make an impact on anyone you serve it to!

Raspberry and White Chocolate Tart

Prep time: 1 hour

Cooking time: 30 mins

Resting time: 2 hours 30 mins

Total time: 4 hours

For the pastry:

225g flour

120g butter

1 tbsp caster sugar

2 tbsp water

Pinch of Salt

For the raspberry caramel:

200g raspberries (fresh or frozen and defrosted)

80ml double cream

280g sugar

2 tbsp glucose syrup (or another 20g sugar)

25g butter

For the white chocolate mousse:

200g white chocolate

300ml double cream (split into 100ml and 200ml portions)

Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

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Stir through the sugar and a pinch of salt.

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Make a well in the middle and add the water.

Mix together with a butter knife as much as you can and then pour the dough onto a cold surface and knead/squeeze it until all the little bits come together to form a homogenous ball.

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Refrigerate for half an hour – you can reduce this to 15 minutes if you flatten the dough out so it has a larger surface area or put it in the freezer.

Roll out the dough to the thickness of a pound coin.

If you are using a traditional fluted tart tin (as I do in my chocolate and salted caramel tart), place the rolled out dough into the tin and make sure it is smoothed out properly.

If you would prefer to have vertical sides (which I would recommend for this recipe) so the tart is a bit deeper, cut around a 9 inch tin and place the resulting circle in the base of the tin.

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Roll out the remaining dough again into a very long oblong and cut into either one strip an inch and a half in height and long enough to stretch around the inside of the tin or two strips which you can combine to make the sides of the pastry case.

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Wrap the long sheet of pastry around the inside of the tin and use a little water to seal it to the base.

Prick the bottom of the pastry case several times with a fork to prevent it from bubbling up while cooking and then place the pastry back in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 (1900C).

Remove the pastry from the fridge. Place a layer of foil over the case and fill it with baking beads – if you don’t have these then you can use rice/beans/lentils or any other heavy dried food. Just remember if you use food instead of baking beads, the food will have to be thrown out.

Place in the oven for 15 minutes.

Remove the case from the oven and take the baking beads out of it before returning the case to the oven for a further 15 minutes so it fully cooked.

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Remove the pastry from the oven and leave it in the tin!

To make the raspberry caramel, blend the raspberries with the cream – if you don’t have a blender, you can use a potato masher.

Strain through a mesh sieve and use a spoon to push as much of the cream through the sieve as possible leaving only a little raspberry pulp behind which can be discarded – you should have just under a cup of raspberry cream.

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The strained raspberry cream is super smooth and yummy.

Place the sugar, glucose syrup and a quarter of a cup of water into a pan.

Place this on a high heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Allow the sugar to boil unstirred until it reaches a dark golden colour.

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The bubbles get larger as the sugar syrup becomes thicker and thicker. In the bottom right image, the caramel has started to turn golden.

Pour the raspberry cream into the sugar. BE CAREFUL as this will boil rapidly, steam a lot and possibly splatter a little.

Stir the cream through and add the butter.

Boil this for another three or four minutes to make sure the caramel will set properly.

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Pour the caramel into the pastry until it comes half way up the case. You can reserve a couple of tablespoons of this for decoration if you wish.

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Place this in the fridge for at least an hour or two before you make the white chocolate mousse.

To make the white chocolate mousse, break the white chocolate into a heatproof bowl with 100ml of cream.

Place this in a microwave to melt the chocolate stirring at 30 second intervals. Stop when there is still a little solid chocolate left as you do not want this mix to become too hot and the latent heat in the melted chocolate will be enough to ensure the rest of it melts.

Whip the remaining double cream and fold this into the white chocolate mix.

Pour this into the tart until it fills the pastry case and place in the fridge for at least two hours to set.

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Using the reserved caramel from earlier, pipe lines across the surface of the tart and decorate with fresh raspberries for a professional finish.

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This tart is delicious and the perfect way to round off a meal.

I hope you

Yule Log

To those of you who celebrate, have a very merry Christmas and to those of you who are not Christian, happy holidays! Whether you celebrate or not, one thing that you have probably taken advantage of is the myriad of festive foods which are available at this time of year. Whilst things like Christmas cake and Christmas pudding tend to divide people into the group that likes them and the group which thinks they were created by the devil in the eighth circle of hell, one thing that I feel almost everyone likes is the Yule Log.

The original Yule Logs were not cake. They were, in fact, a carefully selected piece of wood which was burnt around Christmas time. This started around 800 years ago in Europe. It was a huge lump of wood meant to last the entirety of the twelve days of Christmas; the stump left at the end would be used to kindle the log the following year. The stump would be kept in the house and was believed to ward off bad luck and illness.

The modern cake version of the log is a swiss roll masquerading as a tree stump by scratching the icing and often using leaves and berries as decoration. Whilst originally a plain Genoese sponge with a chocolate filling, nowadays you tend to find the reverse; a chocolate sponge with whipped cream inside. This is then slathered in chocolate ganache, buttercream or truffle mixture which is textured to look like bark. It is not uncommon to take a large slice and rest it on top of the log to resemble a branch.

I really like swiss rolls as they are incredibly simple to make. They can be created in 90 minutes and are certain to impress anyone you serve them too. As it uses a whisked sponge, the cake is very light and bakes in a short space of time. Whilst people always make a big deal about how to prevent the roll cracking, the answer is simple: don’t let it dry out! Avoid overcooking the sponge and make sure to place the damp towel over it while it cools. That’s all you need to do!

Although it is traditionally a Christmas dish, this cake is still perfect at any occasion during the year and owing to the speed at which it can be made and assembled, is a very good one to have in your baking inventory.

 

Yule Log

4 eggs

100g caster sugar

60g self raising flour

50g cocoa

 

For the filling:

300ml double cream

¼ cup caster sugar

¼ cup water

2 tbsp Bacardi or other white rum

 

For the ganache:

300ml double cream

300g dark chocolate

50g butter

20g dark brown sugar

1tsp vanilla extract

 

 

Line a swiss roll tin with baking parchment and preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (2000C).

Place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until its thick and creamy (about eight minutes).

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5 vs 8 minutes – the extra few minutes makes all the difference in the thickness of the mix

Sift the cocoa and flour into the beaten egg and sugar and fold together taking care not to lose too much air.

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Before, during and after folding 

Pour into the tin and spread out evenly.

Bake for 8-10 minutes.

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Before and after baking

 

While the cake is in the oven, make the syrup.

Heat the sugar and water until the sugar is completely dissolved and place into the fridge to cool.

Lay out a piece of baking parchment larger than the swiss roll tin.

Remove the cake from the oven and flip out onto the parchment and remove the paper covering the base.

Place a damp tea towel over the cake to make sure it doesn’t dry out!

 

While the cake is cooling, make the ganache.

Heat the cream, vanilla and sugar until the cream is just about to boil.

Pour the cream over the chocolate and butter and leave for three minutes.

Whisk the ganache until everything comes together.

Set aside to cool.

 

Whip the cream to soft peaks – you do not need to add sugar as there is enough in the syrup and cake already.

Add the Bacardi to the syrup.

Remove the tea towel from the top of the cake .

Use a pastry brush to brush a layer of syrup onto the cake – this will help keep it moist and roll properly. You don’t need to saturate it, just give a nice coverage.

Spread the cream onto the cake going up to both long edges and one of the short edges – make sure to leave an inch along one of the short edges to start

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Use the baking parchment to start to roll the cake up. Lift from the short edge (with no cream) and fold the edge over, try not to crack the roll (but its fine if it does start to crack).

Continue to roll up the cake – try to get a nice tight roll.

End with the outside edge on the base so it doesn’t unroll!

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Once the ganache has started to set but isn’t hard – it should hold its shape when a spoon is dragged through it – cover the cake including the ends. The easiest way to do this is by placing lots of small blobs over the cake and then spreading them  out.

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Before and after adding texture to the ganache

Use a fork to make circles on the ends and run it up and down the length of the cake to make it look like a tree.

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This makes a perfect end to a Christmas dinner for those who don’t like Christmas pudding (or have both).

It is an ideal dessert if something goes wrong with your planned pudding as you can make the whole cake from start to finish in 2 hours.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. Let me know in the comments if you try it at home or drop me a tag on Instagram @thatcookingthing. If you like this and want to keep with the Christmas spirit, check out my gingerbread house recipe. It tastes amazing and looks incredible. It’s a showstopper at any occasion! Alternatively, for a slightly more savoury meal, why not try your hand at making miniature beef wellingtons – a delicious dinner and surprisingly easy to make.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a healthy soup – ideal for a quick lunch and that new year health kick to make up for the Christmas guilt.

H

 

Gingerbread House

Last week I promised I would return with a Christmassy treat. I hope that with this recipe I will have delivered!

Gingerbread has been eaten for centuries and has wormed its way into the traditions of many countries. In England we have gingerbread men and houses, in Germany, they eat Lebkuchen and in Sweden gingerbread has been used to help with indigestion since the 1400s.

Gingerbread is thought to have originated just before 1000CE however it wasn’t recorded in trade until some time in the 17th century as production had been controlled by the Gingerbread Guild for the previous 200 years. The biscuits would be served in monasteries and sold in apothecaries and were popular owing to the belief that the ginger had health giving properties. Since then, it has been proven that ginger is good at soothing the stomach and reducing nausea as well as having anti-inflammatory properties.

The first documented case of gingerbread men was from Tudor England when Elizabeth I would present her guests with a likeness of themselves made out of gingerbread. About 250 years later, gingerbread houses started appearing in Germany after the publication of Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm. These were made out of something closer to a ginger biscuit or gingernut than the traditional Lebkuchen as it was too soft to hold the weight – though the decorated gingerbreads are still called Lebkuchen to this day. The gingerbread houses are sometimes made with pepper instead of ginger to create Pfefferkuchenhaus.

Gingerbread houses can take any form from a traditional cottage to a castle. They are normally stuck together with royal icing or caramel though in some cases you can use chocolate. However this is risky as chocolate is very temperature limited and will soften and melt if it gets too hot. Royal icing is very similar to a meringue as it is primarily made from egg whites and sugar however instead of being baked in the oven, it dries in the open air to form a hard surface that can then be decorated upon. Combined with the hard biscuit forming the walls and ceiling, gingerbread houses can be very, very sturdy constructions.

My recipe for a gingerbread house gives enough dough so that the offcuts can be kneaded together and rolled out into other shapes. I had a go at making myself some gingerbread Christmas trees and also iced the cut-outs from the windows so none of it would go to waste. If you are using royal icing, I recommend decorating the sides of the house before you stick it together and let them dry for an hour so you can touch them without smudging the decoration. This is simply because if you decorate them when flat, you don’t have to fight against gravity!

Decorating the house can be a great thing to do with friends and family and the outcome is delicious! You can even use chocolate and sweeties on the outside for added effect. The house makes a stunning centre piece to a table and is a complete showstopper.

 

 

Gingerbread House

Prep time: 30 minutes              Cook time: 25 minutes

Decoration time: Anything from 20 minutes upwards

 

Gingerbread:

900g flour

3 tbsp ground ginger – this is quite a fiery recipe, for a slightly less intense hit, use 2 tbsp

1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda

300g dark brown sugar (muscovado)

325g Unsalted butter

¾ cup golden syrup

 

Royal Icing

3 egg whites

450g icing sugar (sifted)

1 tsp lemon juice

¼ tsp glycerine

 

Make your templates. The ones I used for this were: 8×5 inches for the sides, 8×4 inches for the roof and the front and back were a 5×6 rectangle with a triangle on top 5 inches long and 2 inches tall. You can either make your own or cut out the ones from my template below.

Gingerbread house template

Preheat your oven to gas mark 6 (2000C).

Mix the flour, ginger and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl – make sure the bowl is big enough to hold the other ingredients too as they will be added later.

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Put the butter, syrup and sugar into a heavy based saucepan and melt it together.

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Once the butter mixture has all come together (the sugar doesn’t need to have completely dissolved), pour it into a well in the centre of the flour mix and stir until it starts coming together.

Once the dough has mostly come together in the bowl, use your hands to knead it into a ball and mix in the last bits of flour round the outside.

Divide the mix into thirds and roll out to about 6/7mm thick.

Cut out two shapes of each template but do not remove the outside gingerbread. This means that the edges of the biscuit will burn but this is then removed leaving the gingerbread for the house perfectly cooked! You can remove any dough which is more than a centimetre from the edge of the house.

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Make sure to leave a centimetre or so around the edge of the house to prevent it from burning.

Cut out windows and doors as you see fit – again, leave them in, just cut the shape into the house.

Bake each one for 11-12 minutes until golden (its fine if the edges start to catch as these will be removed)! I would offset the baking of each tray by six minutes. As explained in the next  step.

Once the gingerbread is removed from the oven, it will be very soft. Remove the baking sheet from the tray it is on and lie it on a table. The gingerbread will have spread a little in the oven and filled in all the cuts however they will still be visible.

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The gingerbread has spread however the lines for the windows and edges are still visible.

Working quickly before the gingerbread hardens, cut along the lines with a sharp knife and separate the different pieces. Recut out the windows and door and remove these pieces.

Once it has hardened a little more on the sheet, transfer the gingerbread to a cooling tray to completely harden and cool down – this will take about an hour to make sure it is ready to be used in the house.

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Remember to hold back the pieces that made the doors as you want to put them back on the house once it is decorated.

 

For the icing, place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk with electric beaters for around 8 minutes until the icing is thick and glossy and holds its shape when the beaters are removed – it can sag a little bit but shouldn’t return to a flat layer, you should still be able to see detail.

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The bowl on the right has been beaten for an extra minute which makes all the difference.

Use your pieces of gingerbread to make sure your house will fit together properly and work out which pieces overlap with each other.

Once you know where everything is going, pip a thick line of royal icing down the edges of one of the walls. Use this to stick it together with the two pieces it touches. Hold them in place for 30 seconds of so and if you can, place something up against the wall to keep it in place. Wipe off the excess icing on the outside

Pipe lines of icing down the remaining wall and stick it to the rest of the house. Wipe of the excess and add another line on the inside the strengthen the connections

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Let the house sit for five minutes to give the icing a chance to dry a little before you add the roof.

Use a thick line of icing around the top of the house and add one of the roof pieces.

Pipe along the last exposed edge before you add the final piece of gingerbread (its ok if they overlap a little, we can cover this with icing)!

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Don’t worry if it looks a little scruffy, a good layer of icing will cover a multitude of sins!

Pipe designs on the sides and the roof and let set for at least an hour if not more before serving. I left mine overnight as it lets the icing harden and the gingerbread soften just a little.

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You can even use an electric light to illuminate it from the inside to make the house glow.

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I hope you enjoyed this recipe! If you fancy some more Christmassy flavours, check out my Chocolate and Orange Bread and Butter Pudding or for a lovely main course, have a go at making some Sticky Salmon!

Have a great week and I will be back next Monday with a simple take on a beef wellington!

H

Boozy Tiramisu

Let’s take a minute to talk about booze. Specifically, let’s talk about booze in food. From red wine in bolognaise to rum in a ganache to sherry in soups, alcohol gets used a lot in cookery. It helps to enhance the flavour of the dish and whilst the alcohol itself is often cooked off, the depth it adds to the taste remains and while I hate that I am about to use such a cliché phrase, it really does take the dish to another level.

This week, I was lucky enough to receive a commission for a tiramisu for a friend at university who did her year abroad in Italy. I did a little digging on the history of tiramisu and discovered a couple of interesting things including that alcohol is a relatively recent addition to the standard recipe (or at least as relative as it can be for a dish that was only invented in the 1960s)! Normally you would use Madeira, dark rum, brandy and some sort of coffee liqueur however people have also been known to add Malibu (coconut rum) and Disaronno (almond liqueur). The recipe that I use is an egg free recipe however people are also known to add egg yolks to the filling as it makes the dessert far richer. While I don’t do this myself, if you wish, you can beat egg yolks and sugar over a pan of simmering water until the mixture is thick and creamy – this also helps cook the egg so you don’t have to worry about food poisoning. This mixture would then be folded into the mascarpone mix before the tiramisu is assembled.

Owing to the shape of ladyfingers, tiramisu is often made in a square dish as they will tessellate to cover the entire surface whereas if you use a round dish, you will end up having to cut several of them to size to cover the base. The other benefit of this is that it makes serving the tiramisu easier, especially in restaurants as they can give everyone an identical portion with none left over. It is also common to serve tiramisu in martini glasses so everyone gets a portion to themselves. I tend to prefer making tiramisu in a large cake tin and lining the sides with ladyfingers as you get a stunning finish to the dessert and also everyone gets a little bit more coffee!

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The layering on a square tiramisu looks amazing

The recipe can be amended for people who don’t like coffee too. A couple of months ago, I received a commission for a birthday party which included a fresh fruit tiramisu. In this case, I replaced the coffee and such with a mixture of fruity beverages including Chambord (raspberry liqueur) and a raspberry vodka. Instead of chocolate in the layers and on the top, I filled the middle with diced up fresh berries and the spent far longer than necessary arranging the berries on top to look beautiful including fanned strawberries!

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Boozy Tiramisu

Prep time – 30 minutes, Chilling time – 4+ hours

Ingredients:

3 packets ladyfingers

350ml cold coffee

250ml coffee liqueur

100ml white rum

750g mascarpone

300ml double cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

100g icing sugar

400g dark chocolate

 

Chop up the chocolate into medium to small chunks and set aside

 

Place the mascarpone in a bowl and beat it until soft.

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Add 50g of sifted icing sugar and the vanilla and beat again.

Add the cream and slowly beat until a smooth thick mixture is formed. Be careful not to overwhip as the mix can become stiff and grainy.

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Mix the coffee, rum and liqueur together

 

Place the ring from a nine or 10 inch springform tin onto your serving plate to use as a mould.

Take the ladyfingers and dunk each one into the coffee mixture for a few seconds and then place them vertically against the edge of the tin with the sugared side facing inwards. Repeat this with more of the fingers until you have gone around the entire ring. If you are using ones which have writing on them, try and make sure the writing goes the same way on each of he fingers for a more professional finish!

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Line the bottom of the tin with a single layer or ladyfingers dunked in coffee – you don’t need to fill in all the gaps as they will continue to expand as the coffee soaks through them.

Spread a layer of the mascarpone mix onto the ladyfingers. I tend to find this is easiest using a piping bag to pipe on a layer and then spread it out.

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Sprinkle on just under a third of the chocolate.

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Add another layer of dunked ladyfingers, mascarpone and add just under half the remaining chocolate.

Add a final layer of each of the filling ingredients and make sure that the chocolate on the top covers the whole of the cream layer – if you don’t have enough, you can sprinkle some drinking chocolate on first to make sure any gaps don’t stand out!

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Chill in the fridge for at at least 4 hours so the filling can set.

Remove the tin and serve – you can always wrap a ribbon around the outside to jazz it up if you feel like it!

 

You can also make this in a large dish or individual martini glasses where you don’t need to line the outside. If you do this, the desserts only need to be chilled until they are cold as they don’t need to set or alternatively, you can serve them immediately!

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This keeps for a few days in the fridge – just make sure it is covered!

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Let me know if you try this at home! Give me a tag on Instagram if you have a go as I love seeing what people have made! If you enjoyed baking this and are looking for a bit more of a challenge, why not try out my Battenberg cake or check out last week’s recipe for butternut squash soup to help get you through this winter – this morning was the first day where the grass outside was frozen.

Have a good one and I will see you next week with an amazing recipe for lasagne!

H

Chicken and Mushroom Pasta Bake

Pasta bakes have been a staple of my lunches since going to university. They are relatively economical, can be made with pretty much anything you have (including leftovers) and are delicious. You can use them to make a small amount of meat go very far which I have found to be a life saver when you are living off a student loan. They tend to freeze well and are also quite sturdy so once cooked, portions can be cut and put either in boxes or just wrapped in Clingfilm before being put in the freezer as the pasta has enough structural integrity to hold its shape when cool. This meant taking a slice of it in my bag to lectures was a simple task and provided me will a filling lunch during the day.

One of the things I find really interesting about this dish in particular (and to be honest, any dish involving mushrooms) is how they cook. As the fruiting bodies of a fungus, mushrooms hide beneath the soil and once ready to produce spores, they absorb liquid – rain in the wild – and sprout. They can appear out of nowhere overnight but this property is also what leads to them being very easy to burn when cooking. When you first add the mushrooms to an oiled pan, they absorb all the oil up too resulting in basically dry frying them. This can cause them to burn if they aren’t stirred constantly which is a faff if you are trying to get on with another part of the meal. To avoid this, small amounts of water can also be added which again, will be absorbed but if you manage your proportions well, can leave just enough liquid in the pan to prevent burning. Once the mushrooms get to a certain temperature, the heat breaks down the cells holding in the liquid resulting in the mushrooms releasing any water, juice and oil which is contained in them also causing them to shrink which is why the reduce down so much in volume whilst cooking.

The other interesting part of this dish (from a science perspective) is the cornflour. When I was younger, I used to be allowed to play with cornflour as a treat if I was well behaved. Whilst this was a messy, messy endeavour for all involved it did have the benefit of being an introduction to quite a complicated bit of science, the non-Newtonian fluid. As a small child, few things were more exciting than this bizarre mixture that ran through my fingers and I could sink my hand into but if I tried to jerk it out again, the mixture would turn solid and shatter with enough force. Even now as a 21 year old, I find it fascinating! In this recipe, you can only have this fun before the cornflour is added to the sauce as the moment it is mixed in, it thickens up massively giving the sauce a smooth texture.

 

 

 

 

Mushroom Chicken Pasta Bake    –     about £1.90 per portion, makes 6 portions

2 Large Onions (or three medium/small)

500g mushrooms roughly chopped

2 chicken breasts – cubed

½ cup of milk (125ml)

Chicken/mushroom stock

4 tbsp of cornflour

Oil

400g pasta shapes – I use spirals normally

Cheese

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Optional

Garlic

Basil/parsley

Salt and pepper

 

Dice up the onions and sautee in a pan with a small amount of oil.

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Once the onions are translucent, add the mushrooms and a small amount of water (I would go for about two tablespoons). This helps prevent the mushrooms from sticking to the pan. Keep stirring until the mushrooms start to release their liquid. (Should you wish to add garlic, one or two cloves either diced or minced should be added at this point)

Add the chicken and stir until it is sealed (that is to say that the outside of all the chicken has gone white.21104359_1686135108084854_1141188406_o

Add the milk and bring to the boil

Add the stock – if powder, just sprinkle it in and if it is a cube, crumble it up into the mix and stir it through

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Mix the cornflour with a small amount of water to create a slurry and add it a bit at a time to the mixture making sure that you stir well after each addition and wait for the sauce to thicken up before you add more. If there is more liquid in the sauce, you will need more of the cornflour but you may not need it all!

Let the sauce simmer for 5-10 minutes until the chicken is just cooked and then remove from the heat.

Season with salt and pepper and add the basil or parsley at this point

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200oC) and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the bag.

Mix the pasta and the sauce and pour it all into an ovenproof dish pushing any exposed pieces of chicken down below the surface

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Add a layer or grated cheese over the top and place in the oven. Personally I use cheddar for this but you could use any cheese that you like (though I would avoid blue cheese in this scenario as I don’t think it would go with the chicken and mushrooms particularly well!)

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Bake for half an hour or until the cheese has melted and the top layer has gone crispy.

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For a vegetarian alternative, use more mushrooms instead of the chicken! It is still delicious and will reduce the price too.

This can be eaten cold and freezes well.

 

Whether batch cooking for yourself or making dinner for friends, this recipe is wonderful for many occations and is super versatile. You can add or take away ingredients or even change up the sauce completely to keep things fresh. Personally, chicken and mushroom is a favourite of mine so I tend to make this one quite a lot!

Let me know in the comments if you try this one yourself and pop a picture in if you can!

See here for the last recipe in the Cooking From Basics series – a delicious bolognaise sauce – or if you fancy trying your hand at some bread making, why not have a look at my recipe for Artisan Bread from last week.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a super chocolatey recipe that you do not want to miss!!!

H