Tiramisu Swiss Roll

As I have said several times in the past, there is a bizarre mystique that surrounds many baked goods causing people to believe that they are too difficult to make at home. The swiss roll is one item which has been given this reputation by nefarious rumours but is far simpler than you may imagine. They are surprisingly sturdy and once rolled, can be wrapped up in clingfilm or parchment paper and moved easily from one place to another without having to worry about them losing their shape.

The Great British Bake Off has helped bring swiss rolls back into fashion like so many other baked goods. The classic questions which arise when making a swiss roll are: how to prevent it from cracking? How to get a tight roll? I will address these one at a time but the answers are intrinsically linked as what both boil down to is how the cake batter is mixed.

When it comes to preventing a swiss roll from cracking, each backer has their own method which they swear by. I have tried a couple of different methods and will give you my opinion on them, but please remember that everyone has their own way and I can only judge the techniques from the results that I have had. There first of three main methods that I have encountered regarding the prevention of cracking is the pre-roll. This involves rolling up the cake while it is still hot and very soft. You let the cake cool in the rolled position before unrolling it, applying the filling and then rerolling the cake. This is meant to cause the cake to ‘remember’ the rolled-up shape so when the filling has been added, it is easier to roll up again. I do not like this method and, truthfully, I have had the most disasters while using it. Why would you handle a fragile cake more than you need to? You are rolling/unrolling this cake three times more than if you wait for it to cool before filling and rolling. The second method involves cooling the cake flat, still in its tin, under a damp tea towel. The tea towel prevents too much of the steam from escaping but also stops it condensing and being reabsorbed into the cake leading to a soggy mess, as would happen if the cake were covered with a hard object. This method seems to work, but you may have to remoisten the tea towel if it dries out from the heat as you want to keep the cake in a humid environment.  The final method involves adding a little water to the recipe or simple syrup to the finished cake. The additional moisture in the cake gives it more flexibility allowing for a tighter roll as the cake can bend more without breaking.

If you want to get a tight roll, the easiest way to learn is by practice. Trying to avoid too much filling at the end of the cake where you start rolling is imperative, as if there is too much cream it will prevent the cake from folding over into a super tight swirl and you will end up with a cake more reminiscent of an arctic roll. The other thing to do is to make sure that you don’t underfold the mixture when you are adding the flour, if there is too much air left the cake will overinflate in the oven and will be too thick to roll properly – of course you must be careful not to overmix the batter and knock all the air out but, like I said before, practice is key.

Once you have mastered the swiss roll, you will see that it is a great last-minute cake as you can make the entire thing from start to finish in under an hour (assuming you aren’t trying anything ultra creative). The one given in the recipe is slightly more technically challenging because of the addition of the chocolate stripes but if you don’t feel like attempting them, you could always chop up some chocolate and sprinkle it over the filling before rolling to keep the chocolate flavour but avoid the faff of a second batter.

 

 

 

Tiramisu Swiss Roll

Time: around 2 hours

 

For the chocolate stripes:

50g butter

50g icing sugar

30g flour

20g cocoa

2 egg whites

 

For the coffee cake:

3 eggs

125g caster sugar

120g plain flour

2 tbsp instant coffee powder

1 tbsp tepid water

Pinch of salt

 

For the syrup:

100ml water

100g granulated sugar

½ tsp instant coffee

2 tbsp kahlua/tia maria/rum (optional)

 

For the Filling:

250g mascarpone

100ml double cream

50g icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

 

 

 

Make the stripes:

Cream the butter and icing sugar in a bowl.

Mix in the egg whites until completely incorporated.

Mix through the flour and cocoa.

The mixture should be a spreadable paste. If it is very thick, add water ½ tsp at a time until the paste is a little thinner.

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Cut a piece of baking parchment the same size as the base of your swiss roll tin.

To decorate the outside of the cake you have a few options: you can pipe swirls etc across the sheet of parchment, you can cover the whole thing and use an icing scraper to scrape away sections to give perfect stripes or you can use Sellotape to cover areas of the paper to give you completely straight edges on your stripes when you have spread the chocolate mix over the gaps and then removed it.

Once you have decorated the paper, place it on a flat tray in the freezer for fifteen minutes to half an hour.

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While the design is hardening up in the freezer, butter the edge of your swiss roll tin, this will help you remove the cake later as they can stick rather spectacularly.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200°C).

Sift the flour and coffee powder into a bowl and set aside.

Place the sugar and eggs into the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment fitted.

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Whisk until the mixture has turned light, foamy and thick – around seven minutes. It will not reach the same stability as pure egg whites, the mixture will still flow but will be absolutely full of air.

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Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in half of the flour mixture along with salt.

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When the first batch is mostly incorporated, add the remaining flour and fold it in.

Pour the water around the edge of the mixture in the bowl – if you pour it into the middle, it can deflate the mixture.

Fold the water through. This additional liquid will help give an even textured cake and prevent it from cracking when you roll the cake up.

Remove the parchment paper from the freezer and place it into the bottom of the swiss roll tin.

Pour the batter on top and gently spread it out. Be careful not to be too aggressive when spreading as you don’t want to disrupt the pattern on the base of the tin.

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Bake for 10-12 minutes until the cake is just golden on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

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While the cake is baking, make the syrup.

Combine the water and sugar in a pan.

Bring to the boil and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Add the coffee and stir again.

Pour the syrup into jug and set aside to cool.

After it has cooled for ten minutes or so, add the alcohol of your choice.

The syrup should be no more than slightly warm to the touch when you use it.

 

Remove the cake from the oven.

Lay out a sheet of baking parchment, which is bigger than the cake, on a flat surface.

Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar, loosen the edges from the side of the tin.

Flip the cake out onto the baking parchment so the base with the design is now on top.

Gently peel off the parchment which is on the designed side of the cake.

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Cover the cake with a damp (but not wet) tea towel and leave to cool.

 

To prepare the filling, beat the mascarpone, vanilla and icing sugar until the mascarpone has softened.

Add the cream and mix again. The mixture will go very runny and then as the cream is beaten, it will thicken up again. Stop when the filling reaches a thick but spreadable consistency as you don’t want it to rip the cake apart when you add it.

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To assemble the cake:

Gently flip the cake onto a new piece of baking parchment so the patterned side is down.

Lightly brush the top of the cake with syrup. This will help prevent cracking.

Spread the filling across the top of the cake leaving a centimetre strip filling free along both short ends of the cake.

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Starting at one of the short sides, use the parchment to help fold the end of the cake up and over before rolling the cake up down its length. Make sure the seam is underneath the cake as the weight on top will prevent the cake unrolling.

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Trim the edges to neaten them up and transfer the cake onto a serving platter.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of swiss roll style cakes, why not try your hand at a chocolate log (they aren’t just for yule) or if you would like a slightly simpler tiramisu, check out my recipe here.

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a spicy beef dish which is great for dinner and as a cold lunch the next day too.

H

Pastéis de Natas

I thought that I didn’t like custard tarts. It turns out that I was just unfortunate enough to have never tried these absolutely divine creations. A rich, cinnamon and vanilla egg custard encased in shatteringly crisp, flaky pastry turns out to be just thing to make you feel better after a stressful day… or anytime to be honest.

Pastéis de nata were born of convenience. Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery used egg whites to starch clothes and, as you may imagine, they got through a lot of them. To avoid wasting the yolks, the monks baked them into cakes and pastries. In an attempt to earn some money to prevent their monastery being closed the monks joined with the local sugar refinery to sell small custard tarts. The monastery still closed (in 1843) and the recipe was sold to the owner of the sugar refinery who opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém in 1837. Their descendants still own the patisserie to this day which is where the Pastéis de Belém, an alternative name for the pastries (but only when sold from this specific shop), can be bought.

There are two things which stand out to me about the Pastéis de nata separating it from the level of mediocraty that most custard tarts inhabit and both of them are to do with the pastry. Firstly, the pastry is a soft lamination. That is to say, the butter is not kept super cold like in classic puff pastry but is instead so soft that you can easily spread it on a very fragile dough. Secondly the lamination in the final product is vertical.

By using soft butter in the pastry, the lamination is far less pronounced than it would be for a classic puff pastry. The definition between the layers isn’t as strong because some of the softer butter is absorbed into the pastry while it is being rolled. This creates a texture which is somewhere between standard puff pastry and Danish pastry dough. The ultra-high oven temperature causes the pastry to cook very quickly resulting in a super crisp exterior and ensuring that the pastry is fully cooked despite no blind baking and only a short baking time. This also prevents the butter melting into the pastry in the oven as the flour begins to cook before it can absorb any more of the fat.

The direction of the lamination has a distinct effect on the final product. Where normal puff pastry has horizontal layers, the Pastéis de nata dough has vertical ones. This means that it expands horizontally in the oven, outwards and not upwards, which prevents it forcing the filling out and spilling. It also gives a far more beautiful final result as the lamination in the pastry walls of the tart is far more prominent than if a standard puff pastry had been used.

I know they are a bit of a faff to make but I guarantee that these pastries are 100% worth it. Let me know how they go for you!

Pastéis de Natas

Makes 24

Cook time: 15-20 minutes

Prep time: 45 minutes

Rest time: at least 4 hours

Ingredients:

270g flour

200ml water

Pinch salt

250g very soft butter

6 egg yolks

250ml + 60ml milk (the creamier the better, but don’t use actual cream!)

3 tbsp flour

265g sugar

150ml water

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp vanilla extract

To make the pastry:

In a stand mixer:

Put the flour, water and salt into the bowl of a mixer with the dough hook attachment.

Mix and knead with the stand mixer until the dough forms a very soft bowl and starts to come away from the sides of the mixing bowl.

Heavily flour a surface, tip the dough onto it and coat in flour.

Wrap in cling film and leave for at least fifteen minutes.

By hand:

Stir the salt into the flour and pour in the water.

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Using a wooden spoon, mix the ingredients until they are combined and form a very soft dough.

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Tip onto a surface and use a pastry scraper to help stretch and knead the dough. DO NOT ADD MORE FLOUR.

Once the dough begins to get more elastic and less sticky (around ten minutes), coat it in flour, wrap in plastic and leave to rest for at least a quarter of an hour.

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If your butter is not super soft, heat it gently in the microwave, for ten seconds at a time until it begins to soften. Make sure to stir between each heating to ensure that it doesn’t fully melt anywhere. Make sure the butter is very soft before setting aside.

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This butter has been heated too much. If your butter also melts, allow it to cool in the fridge and stir it vigorously every five minutes to ensure it doesn’t set at the edges whilst remaining liquid in the centre. Continue this until the butter is a thick pastey consistency.

Generously flour a surface and turn out the dough.

Roll it into a rectangle about 18”x12”.

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Take one-third of the softened butter and spread it down two-thirds of the length of the dough. Do not spread it all the way to the edges.

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Fold the unbuttered third of the dough across and then fold the opposite side on top to create three layers. Gently press the edges to seal.

Rotate the pastry through a quarter turn and reflour the surface if necessary. The pastry is super soft and sticky so don’t be afraid to use a lot of flour at this stage.

Roll it out again into a rectangle and repeat the folding instructions with another third of the butter (half of what is left).

Rotate, roll and old again using the remaining butter.

Roll out the dough into an 20”x18” rectangle.

Roll it up into a tight log starting at the closer side to create a spiral of lamination.

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Wrap the dough up and refrigerate for at least four hours and preferably overnight.

To make the filling, whisk the 60ml portion of milk into the flour in a large bowl.

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In a heavy based pan, add the sugar, water and cinnamon stick. Heat to dissolve the sugar and bring to the boil without stirring. Leave for one minute.

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While the sugar is dissolving, scald the remaining milk. This is done by bringing it to the boil in a separate pan.

The moment the milk boils, take it off the heat and pour it into the flour and milk mix whisking constantly.

Once the sugar syrup has boiled for a minute, take it off the heat. Remove the cinnamon stick and like the milk, pour it in a thin stream into the flour mixture, whisking constantly.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks to break them up.

While continuing to mix, pour in the milk and sugar syrup mix in a thin stream. This is very hot and you want to avoid cooking the eggs and causing them to scramble.

Once the eggs are incorporated, stir in the vanilla extract.

Strain the filling mixture into a jug, cover and leave to cool.

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To assemble the tarts:
Preheat your oven to 260°C (500°F) or the highest setting (this tends to be around gas mark nine which is 230/240°C).

Lightly butter a 12 pan cupcake tin.

Remove the pastry from the fridge, cut in half lengthwise and place half of it back into the fridge.

If the ends aren’t straight, you may have to trim them.

Cut the log into twelve rounds and place them into the tins with the spiral of lamination facing upwards.

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Leave for fifteen minutes to soften.

Fill a small ramekin with water as you will need wet fingers for the next bit.

Using wet thumbs, gently flatten the centre of each piece of dough – do not flatten the edge, you want a sort of well shape.

Moving outwards, gently squash the dough into the shape of the tin coming about three quarters of the way up the side (there are plenty of videos online which will show you how to do this properly).

Use half of the filling mixture to fill the cases about 75-80% full.

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Bake for fifteen to twenty minutes, turning at ten minutes, until the top of the tarts has blistered to dark brown is several places. You don’t want them to be fully dark brown all over but you also want a bit of colour.

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The tarts will come out of the oven puffed up. The filling will collapse as they cool.

Take the tarts from the oven and let cool for five minutes before removing from the tin.

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These are best served still warm from the oven (but not boiling hot) and sprinkled with a little bit of icing sugar and cinnamon. The filling is delicious and the pastry is stunningly crisp. The pastry will stay crisp for about 48 hours but soften over time.

Store in the fridge where possible!

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of flaky and puff pastry, be sure to check out my recipe for it – I promise that it isn’t as hard as it seems. You could even use your puff pastry to make salmon en croute or Beef Wellington.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious roast dinner with an obscene amount of garlic. It’s wonderful.

H

Almond Cake Petit Gateaux

Petits fours are some of my favourite things to bake. Meringues, macarons and petits gateaux; there is just something about miniature baked items that is ultra satisfying. They are often layered or glazed and look so appetising that it’s lucky that they are traditionally served at the end of a meal when you are full, as if I wasn’t stuffed I could eat a whole plate of them myself.

The recipe for these cakes does not include any sort of raising agent. Instead, the butter, sugar and marzipan are vigorously beaten which incorporates tiny air bubbles into the mixture. The expansion of this air in the heat of the oven is what gives the cakes their rise. This is very similar to how pound cakes were made when the butter was beaten until it was soft and had increased massively in volume because air had been mixed into it. The natural rise means that, whilst light in texture, the cakes remain very moist and dense helping them cut cleanly and hold together when decorated.

What makes this recipe different from a standard sponge cake is the addition of marzipan. Marzipan is made of almonds, sugar and often egg whites. This is why the recipe doesn’t have the classic ratio of ingredients for a sponge cake but rather the flour, sugar and butter have been cut as they have been replaced by the ingredients in the marzipan. Ground almonds are a classic way of giving a cake a moist crumb so by adding not only those but also the egg white in the marzipan you can guarantee that the final product will have an amazing texture. The marzipan also helps weigh down the cake, fighting against the expanding air in the oven so the cake doesn’t rise too much.

The miniature cakes made from this recipe are the perfect end to a meal. They are not too heavy to eat and everyone gets their own individual cake. They would also sit beautifully on the final layer of an afternoon tea as, owing to their size, they can be eaten along with lots of other little things.

Let me know what you think of the recipe as it is a massive hit in my house.

 

Almond Cake Petit Gateaux

Time: 3 hours

 

300g marzipan

90g cake flour

150g butter

135g sugar

4 eggs

Pinch of salt

 

Filling:

Raspberry/apricot/ginger jam

100g butter

150g icing sugar

¼ tsp almond extract

1 tbsp milk

 

Optional

100g dark chocolate

100ml double cream

1 tbsp glucose syrup

 

Preheat an oven to gas mark 5 (190°C).

Line the base of a swiss roll pan with butter and baking paper.

Break the marzipan into the bowl of a stand mixer.

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Add the butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Do not worry if it feels a little grainy, this is from the marzipan and will melt out in the oven.

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Mix in the salt.

Add the eggs one at a time and mix until fully incorporated after each addition.

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With the mixer running on slow, mix in the flour.

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Spread the mixture evenly across the base of the tin ensuring that it does not dome in the centre.

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Bake for 15 minutes or until it is golden and slightly risen. A skewer or toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean.

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Leave to cool in the tin.

 

In a bowl, beat the butter for the icing until it is light and fluffy. It will go very pale and soft.

Sift in the icing sugar in three batches beating after each addition.

Add the almond extract and the milk and beat again until the buttercream is super soft.

 

Using a small, round biscuit cutter, cut as many circles of cake out of the sheet as possible.

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If you do not wish to include a chocolate ganache:

Spread half of the cakes with buttercream and jam before topping them with another circle to make a mini sandwich cake.

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Dust with icing sugar.

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If you wish to coat with ganache:

Spread either jam or buttercream on half of the cakes and sandwich them in pairs.

Use a mini spatula to spread a thin layer of buttercream around the outside and over the top of the cakes.

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Place them in the freezer for 20 minutes.

While the cakes are setting, roughly chop the chocolate and place it in a bowl.

Heat the cream and glucose in a saucepan until the cream is just about to boil.

Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and leave for two minutes before mixing it together into a smooth ganache.

Leave this to cool down.

 

Before you coat the cakes, make sure that the ganache is not warm to the touch otherwise it will melt the buttercream and slide off the cakes.

Remove the cakes from the freezer and place them onto a wire rack. Place this rack over a tray with raised edges as this will catch the ganache that drips off.

Pour the ganache over the cakes endure that it has flowed down all the edges.

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Place the cakes in the fridge to set for at least half an hour.

You can leave the cakes like this or use any excess buttercream to decorate them.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of petits fours, check out my macaron recipe. I also have one for meringues, both French and swiss style (you may as well try them both – that would be the scientific way to decide which is better).

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious pasta dish.

H

Tricolour Vegetable Bread

A few years ago, I came across a method of plaiting challah which created a circular braid. It was incredibly exciting as this was not a plait that I had ever seen before and the final shape is really something to behold. It’s stunning. Somehow, it looks even better than the bread you can buy in a shop as it is clearly handmade but is precise and beautiful. Fast forward three years and a vegan friend requested that, instead of a birthday cake, I make her a loaf of bread. At the time I was creating my artisan vegetable loaves recipe, which I suggest you try before this one as this recipe is a little fiddly. (That being said, if you want to just go for it- why not? Even if the braid doesn’t work, you’ll still have a really cool loaf of bread.) This recipe is what I came up with for her birthday as I didn’t want to just do a bog-standard loaf of bread.

Challah is an enriched bread eaten by Jews as part of the Shabbat meal. There are many theories about why it is plaited. Traditionally, two loaves are served and each one has six stands. This brings us to the number twelve (the total number of stands) and this is often taken to represent the twelve loaves of bread which would be offered at the Holy Temple. This theory holds water as the number twelve comes up in lots of different shabbat bread traditions. Some families will actually have twelve mini loaves of bread whereas others will have a tear ‘n’ share style loaf with twelve separate sections. I will make an instructional post about how to braid a six-strand loaf of bread at some point in the future.

Another suggestion for the braiding is to make the challah instantly recognisable. As it is often baked in the oven with a meat meal, the challah is not kosher to eat with any dairy products; to prevent anyone inadvertently doing so, the challah was given a unique shape. This reasoning is less necessary now as people who buy challah need not worry if the bread is kosher to eat with meat or milk, it is parve (classed as neither milk nor meat and thus allowed to be eaten with both). If you make your own challah, you will have most likely considered the ‘meatiness’ of the bread already if it is something which concerns you.

As you will see in the recipe, different amount of sugar are added to the different vegetable doughs. The spinach dough has one teaspoon added and the carrot, half a teaspoon. This is because the vegetables all have different sugar contents which will affect the rise of the dough. By adjusting the levels manually, we can ensure an even rise when the dough is proving which is important if we want the final loaf to keep its shape.

I hope you find the recipe as fun to bake as I found to create. You can swap the vegetables for any of your choice or even just try out the six braid on normal bread. This loaf is also good to egg wash but be careful not to let the egg pool in the divots as no one wants scrambled egg baked into their bread.

 

Tricolour Vegetable Bread

Prep: 1 hour

Shaping: 30 minutes

Cooking: 40 minutes

 

Ingredients – makes two loaves

900g flour

1 small beetroot

150g spinach

1 medium carrot

3 teaspoons instant yeast

1 ½ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp sugar

 

Peel and roughly chop the beetroot.

Blend it with a few tablespoons of water until a mostly smooth paste is formed – it will still be a little gritty as the beetroot is raw so will not puree as well as a cooked one would. This is fine as the beetroot will cook in the oven and blend into the bread.

Set this paste aside and repeat with the carrot and then the spinach so you have your three colours of vegetable paste.

 

In a bowl, place 300g flour, 1 teaspoon yeast and ½ teaspoon salt.

Make a well in the middle.

Add water to the beetroot mix until you have 200ml and pour it into the well.

Mix with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together. If you need to, add more water.

Once the dough has mostly come together, tip it out onto a surface and knead it for five minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Remember, the beetroot will ensure that it is never fully smooth on top.

Cover and place to one side to rise.

Repeat the above steps with the spinach paste (adding one teaspoon of sugar to this) and the carrot paste (adding half a teaspoon of sugar).

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Leave the doughs until they have at least doubled in size – this can take several hours if it is a cold day.

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To shape: split each dough into four even pieces and place two of each colour off to one side for later.

Roll out the dough into long stands – I normally go for around twelve inches.

Follow the diagram below to set up your basket weave.

basket weave

Once you reach step five where all of the stands are in place, number them starting with the top left one and go clockwise around the loaf.

Place strand 1 over 2, 3 over 4, 5 over 6 etc. until all of them have had their first weave and the loaf looks more like the final image (albeit a little neater).

Renumber the strands.

Place 3 over 2, 5 over 4, 7 over 6 etc. until you get all the way around.

Renumber and repeat from the first weaving step until all the dough has been used up.

Once there are no bits of dough left on the outside, tuck any remaining edges under the loaf to neaten it up and move the loaf onto a baking tray to rise again.

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Repeat with the other loaf

Cover the loaves and leave it until they have doubled in size again – I like to cover them with a tea towel as there are no issues with it sticking which can sometimes arise if you use plastic.

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Risen and egg washed

Once the loaves have doubled in size, turn the oven to gas mark 6 (200°C).

When the oven is up to temperature, uncover the loaves and bake for 20 minutes. Turn them and bake for another 20 minutes.

If the bread is still not quite done after the full 40 minutes, give it another five but otherwise, remove it from the oven and leave on a cooling rack until completely cold. If you want to cut into it as soon as possible, leave it for at least two hours to ensure the interior won’t be doughy.

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If your oven is small, you may have to bake the two loaves separately – this is fine.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. This bread is wonderfully savoury and goes very well with soups or even toasted and smeared with a little bit of pesto. If you enjoy baking bread, why not try making bagels? They look amazing and taste delicious!

Have a good one an I will be back next week with a recipe for a rich Christmas cake – just in time for Christmas eve (although I hope you are planned and ready by then.

H

 

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