I have mentioned several times on this blog about how pasta is my ultimate comfort food however I had clearly overlooked one thing – hummus. Don’t get me wrong, I adore pasta and when I am feeling down it is just what I want but there is something about hummus which makes it a perfect accompaniment to almost every meal. I am not kidding with that last sentence – last time I was in Israel I ate chicken dipped in hummus and one of my housemates at university would put sweet chilli hummus on pasta whenever she was feeling down.
Another thing about hummus is that it is packed full of protein. It is great for vegans or people who cannot digest meat properly. Not only that but the protein content of the chickpea cooking water is so high that you can actually whip it up like egg white and use it in meringues. Each medium egg white should be replaced with two tablespoons of aquafaba, as the liquid is called, when baking. Whilst you can extract aquafaba from all dried beans and legumes, chickpeas seem to produce the most effective one to use as an egg replacement.
The name ‘hummus’ means ‘chickpea’ in Arabic. The full name ‘ḥummuṣ bi ṭaḥīna’ means ‘chickpeas with tahini’. The tahini is a very important part of hummus. It is created from blended sesame seeds and the ultra high fat content enables the hummus to be deliciously smooth and creamy. A lot of supermarkets save on costs when producing hummus by using less, or lower quality, tahini and you can taste this in the final product. Ethiopian tahini is generally viewed as the best among hummus connoisseurs with people all around the Middle East using it to make their hummus. Of course, it is not the most readily available in shops but if you have time to order it online, and the patience to wait for it (or you just want to make the best hummus of your life) then I would definitely recommend ordering some and seeing what you think of the result.
Although it takes a little bit of planning, hummus is a super simple food to make. It also makes a great starter (either for one or at a diner party) as it is served cold so can be prepared in advance. I hope you like it.
Work time: 15 minutes
Waiting time: 12-36 hours
Cook time: 1.5 – 2 hours
250g dried chickpeas
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
200ml tahini (t’hina)
4 garlic cloves
Juice of 3 lemons
1/8 tsp dried cumin
2 tbsp olive oil
In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda with a little water to form a paste.
Add another litre of water whisking to ensure all the lumps are removed.
Place the chickpeas in this and add more water to cover if necessary.
Leave overnight (or up to 36 hours) for the chickpeas to rehydrate. They will increase in volume a lot.
Drain the chickpeas and rinse well to remove all the flour mix.
Place them into a pan with 1.6 litres of water.
Bring the water to a boil and then simmer for one and a half to two hours until the chickpeas are soft and can be gently squished between your thumb and index finger.
Leave the chickpeas to cool for an hour in this water.
Drain the chickpeas (reserving some of the liquid for later use in this recipe. The rest can be discarded or used as an egg replacement in meringues and mousses – this is aquafaba).
Mince the garlic and let it rest in two tablespoons of the lemon juice for a few minutes. This helps to remove the aggressive rawness of the garlic before it is eaten.
In the bowl of a blender, place the chickpeas, tahini, garlic and lemon juice mix, cumin and olive oil. Blend to a thick paste.
Taste the hummus and soften the consistency with the aquafaba. Season with salt and the reserved lemon juice.
Scrape the hummus into a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with ground paprika.
You do not have to keep the hummus in the fridge but make sure it is covered! Ideally you want to serve this within 36 hours of making it but it is still perfectly edible after this time.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are still in the Christmas spirit (we are still in the 12 days of Christmas after all) why not try making yourself a delicious Christmas cake or if you are more of a fan of savoury things, treat yourself to an amazing tricolour loaf of woven vegetable bread.
Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for the infamous puff pastry.
A few months ago, I did a post on making foolproof meringues. This comes as a sort of follow up because what is important about the three different types of meringue is that they are all good for specific, and different, things. I don’t tend to make meringue for any other reason than using up egg whites left over from other recipes – however I have been known to make the odd meringue cake or pavlova in the past.
Unlike French and Italian meringue, swiss meringue is heated before baking. The sugar is added at the start of the recipe and the additional weight literally weighs down the egg whites during the beating resulting in a strong but dense mixture. When making a classic (French) meringue, you can also add the sugar at the start but, because the eggs are not heated, this doesn’t have as much of an effect as it does when making the Swiss variety. One of the benefits of the thicker mixture achieved in a Swiss meringue is that you end up with a super marshmallowy centre without going through the stage that we all want to avoid where putting the meringue into your mouth is like eating a tube of superglue.
Where Swiss meringue really comes into its own is when you are making layered meringue cakes. As the mixture is denser, the final baked product is much less fragile and the rigidity of the meringue makes it a safe option for stacking without any of the edges snapping off. The stability of the uncooked meringue is also far superior to both French and Italian meringues. If left for too long, French meringue will deflate – this is irreparable; beating it again will not help – and, once made, you have a limited time (around 24 hours) with Italian meringue before the sugar starts to recrystallise leading to a gritty mouthfeel with is rather unpleasant.
Unlike both of these, Swiss meringue will stick around for a long time making it perfect for use in icing – most famously, the Swiss Meringue Buttercream. With a much higher butter:sugar ratio than traditional American buttercream, the icing is far less making it nicer for those of us without a sweet tooth. The high proportion of butter does unfortunately come with a cost. This can be a dangerous icing to use in summer as the butter can melt. The meringue does help prevent it getting too runny but there is only so much you can do to hold together a frosting that has become 50% liquid in the heat. Of course the very butter that can cause this catastrophe in the summer is also what allows the icing to set solid in the fridge making it a perfect base layer to have underneath fondant and ganache as you can scrape things off the cake without damaging any crumb coats that you may have already applied. I would definitely recommend using a Swiss meringue buttercream if baking for adults (assuming you have the time) as it has a far nicer flavour and texture that its American counterpart – just make sure that it is at room temperature before you serve it.
I hope you enjoy the recipe for the meringues and that the baking gods prevent any cracks from occurring.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 90 minutes
3 egg whites
6 oz. caster sugar
¼ tsp cream of tartar or ¼ tsp white vinegar or ¼ tsp lemon juice
Put the egg whites and sugar into a large mixing bowl.
Add about an inch of water to the bottom of a saucepan and stand the mixing bowl over the top – the bowl should not touch the water.
Bring the water to a gentle simmer whilst stirring the egg mixture.
Continue to beat the egg mix (by hand as you don’t want to whip the eggs yet, just dissolve the sugar) until all of the sugar has dissolved. The egg mix will feel slightly warm to the touch and a small amount rubbed between your fingers will feel smooth and not grainy. At this point, it will be glossy white and have the consistency of double cream.
Remove the egg and sugar from the heat.
Turn the oven to gas mark 1 (140°C) to preheat.
Add the cream of tartar/lemon juice/vinegar and whisk with electric beaters until the meringue has increased massively in volume and is thick and glossy. It should be able to mostly hold its shape when the beaters are removed. This will take about seven or eight minutes.
Pipe the meringue onto baking sheets – larger meringues will take longer to cook. For an added stripe of colour, take a small amount of gel food colouring and straw a strip down in the inside of your piping bag before filling it.
Place the meringues into the oven and prop the door slightly open with a wooden spoon (only about one or two centimetres).
Bake for 90 minutes or until one of the meringues comes off the tray without sticking.
Turn the oven off, remove the spoon from the door and let cool for at least an hour before removing the meringues from the oven. This will help prevent cracking and the formation of a cavity at the base of the meringue.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. These can be served with whipped cream and fruit for miniature pavlovas or Eton mess. You can also melt a little chocolate, dip the meringues into it and leave them to cool to get a lovely, chocolate layer around the base of the meringues. They also make great snacks when you just need a little bit of sugar.
Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious dinner.
This cake makes a perfect, child-friendly dessert for a Halloween party. It’s not too in your face with the spiders but there are enough of them to make the cake look a little bit creepy. The cobwebs are also super fun to create which is always a bonus when baking. Hidden away beneath the spiders is a rich devil’s food cake sandwiched together with whipped cream. The cream cuts through the richness of the cake, helping to balance the flavour, and acts as a strong glue to keep the cake in one piece.
Devil’s food cake has been around for just over one hundred years. It is a variation of the red velvet cake and is generally distinguished from a classic chocolate cake by the addition of water as the primary liquid. This increase in water (and decrease in egg content) results in a very dense, rich, moist cake which I far prefer to a classic chocolate sponge cake, which can get very dry. The other main difference between a devil’s food cake and a classic chocolate cake is the addition of not only baking powder but also bicarbonate of soda. The raising of the pH by the bicarbonate of soda causes the cocoa to turn a far darker shade of brown, leading to the almost black appearance of the cake.
The decoration on this cake looks really cool but I would check with the people you are making it for because, although they are not real, the spiders on top can really upset some people. Arachnophobia is an interesting condition because it would have helped our ancestors to avoid contact with spiders – they knew that spiders were dangerous but didn’t know which ones could kill. It is interesting that such a small creature can pack such a powerful punch and it makes sense that a healthy fear of them keeps you alive longer. The thing about arachnophobia is that the extremeness of the fear is not healthy. Like all phobias, arachnophobia isn’t just having an aversion to arachnids, it is an overwhelming sense of fear and panic which is completely disproportional to the danger being posed. For some people, the sight of webs or a picture of a spider can cause heart palpitations, panic attacks or even fainting.
Spiders permeate many different cultures. From Arachne in ancient Greek mythology, to Anansi in African folklore, to Aragog from the Harry Potter series, spiders have woven their way into stories for thousands of years. They are usually representative of some sort of trickster god or betrayal – whether this came before the fear of spiders or after is a cause for debate – and rarely have positive connotations. It is interesting that such a small animal can have such a big effect on ancient stories and even how we act today.
Living in a country where you can almost guarantee that any spider you see will not be dangerous, I find it fascinating how strong a reaction some people can have to them. Even for people without a genuine phobia, the unease felt around spiders is what gives this cake its creepiness and what makes it perfect to serve up around Halloween.
Chocolate Spider Cake
150g brown sugar
1 ½ cups (375ml) boiling water
180g unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
340g plain flour
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¾ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp vanilla extract
For the filling and icing:
200g soft butter
300g sifted icing sugar
50g sifted cocoa
1 tbsp milk
300ml double cream
2 tsp vanilla
Small round chocolates (Halloween themed spheres and maltesers both work)
50g milk chocolate
Preheat the oven to gas mark 4.
Grease and line three eight-inch tins with butter, cocoa and baking parchment.
Place the brown sugar and cocoa into a bowl together and pour over the hot water. Stir until combined.
Cream the butter and caster sugar together in a bowl.
Add one egg and a spoon of flour and beat to combine.
Repeat with other eggs to mix them in.
Add the bicarbonate of soda and baking powder along with half of the remaining flour.
Turn the mixer onto slow to avoid covering the kitchen in a cloud of flour.
Once the flour has mostly mixed in, add the rest and beat again to combine.
Finally, pour in the liquid chocolate from earlier and slowly mix together until you have a smooth, glossy, chocolaty batter.
Divide this batter between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until the cakes have risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of each cake comes out clean.
Turn the cakes out onto a wire cooling rack and leave until they are cold.
To make the icing, beat the butter with the whisk attachment on a stand mixer until it is soft and fluffy. Using a stand mixer is far easier than a hand held one but if you don’t have one, any electric set of beaters will do!
Add half of the icing sugar and beat slowly until the sugar has been mixed in. Then increase the speed of the mixer and beat the icing for another minute.
Repeat the above step with the cocoa and then with the remaining icing sugar.
Tip in the milk and beat the icing for another five minutes to make it ultra fluffy.
Once the icing is done, add the vanilla to the cream and beat until the cream just reaches hard peaks. Make sure not to overwhip it or you will end up with butter!
To assemble the cake:
Level each layer of cake – it doesn’t have to be perfect as you can bulk out small dips with extra cream and icing (no one will mind).
Place the bottom layer on a cake board and pipe a circle of icing around the edge. Fill the centre with the cream.
Add the next layer and pipe more icing onto it before filling the centre with cream.
Finally, place the top layer onto the cake and cover the cake with the remaining icing. There should be enough to give a thin layer of icing on the top and the sides of the cake – you will still be able to see the cake layers through the side of the icing. If you want a completely opaque layer around the outside, multiply the icing recipe by 1.5 and make the layer around the cake much thicker.
Place the cake into a fridge for at least half an hour to set the icing.
To decorate the cake:
Melt the chocolate.
On a sheet of baking parchment, pipe lots of little chevrons about 1cm tall and 1.5-2cm wide. These will become the legs of the spiders so make sure to pipe at least 9 per spider so you have a spare for when one of them inevitably snaps. Put these in the fridge to set.
Cut the base off each chocolate sphere (about ¼ of the way up the sphere)
Once the cake has been sufficiently chilled, you can make the webs.
Pour the marshmallows into a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.
Stir them and microwave again until all of the marshmallows have melted. You may want to stop heating when there are a few lumps left as these will melt if you stir the mixture.
Continue to stir the marshmallow for three or four minutes until it becomes super stringy.
Pick up a blob and use all of your fingers (wash your hands first!) to stretch it out into a white sheet or a large number of strings. Wrap this around the cake and continue to wrap the strings or marshmallow around the outside until they snap.
Continue to add layers of cobwebs to your cake until you are happy with the appearance. You want to still see the icing underneath as it gives a good contrast. (Wash your hands again to remove residual stickiness!)
Use the stickiness of the marshmallow to stick the balls of chocolate all over the cake and add eight legs to each of them. Pipe a small head at one end of each spider.
For added colour, brush a tiny amount of lustre dust over the back of each spider.
This cake looks really cool and is perfect to serve up on Halloween for a party or just to an arachnologist at any point of the year. It can look super creepy and with multiple layers of cobweb, the 3D effect stops the cake looking too flat and boring.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are looking for another Halloween recipe, check out my amazing brain cake – it’s super gory but looks really cool! Of course, if you want something a little bit more tame, why not treat yourself to a wonderful coffee and walnut cake – or even a lemon drizzle cake!
Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious lunch which is as good cold as it is hot.
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
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
300ml vegetable oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tsp white vinegar
200ml plain yoghurt
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:
180g (one tub) soft cream cheese
400g sifted icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
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.
Stir through the rest of the dry ingredients
Mix together the wet ingredients in a separate bowl.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and beat the cake mix until it is smooth.
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.
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.
To make the icing:
Beat the butter until it is fluffy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
A small block of fondant icing
Black food dye
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.
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.
Butter and line as many 6 inch baking tins as you have and bake for 18-20 minutes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
January is an odd month. Many people spend it trying to be extra healthy after the indulgence of Christmas and New Year. Dry January and Veganuary are becoming increasingly popular as people try to cut back on unhealthy foods so it is a little sad that the National Shortbread Day is on the 6th of January when lots of people won’t appreciate it.
The first recipes for shortbread date from the 12th century; however the version which we eat today was actually invented in the 16th century and is accredited to Mary Queen of Scots Before her, shortbread was real bread which was covered in spices and sugar before being twice baked – Queen Mary replaced the yeast with butter which stopped the bread from leavening and turned it into a biscuit. The original flavouring in shortbread was caraway seeds – I am incredibly thankful that this is no longer the case – however now you can find vanilla, chocolate, orange and ginger shortbreads amongst many others.
One of the most distinctive things about shortbread is its texture. It is super crumbly as a result of minimal kneading. As the dough isn’t worked very much, gluten can’t build up so the shortbread stays very fragile. The addition of semolina or rice flour helps increase the crumbliness whereas cornstarch makes the biscuits denser and therefore harder. Adding semolina also a good way to prevent yourself from picking at the uncooked dough as it gives it a gritty texture which disappears during cooking but, whilst raw, is really quite unpleasant.
There are several classic shapes of shortbread: the classic shortbread finger (as given below), individual round biscuits (these are rolled to about half an inch thick and then cut) and the classic wedge. These are the easiest to make without any sort of tin as it involves pressing the shortbread into a large circle, baking it and then cutting the biscuits when they are removed from the oven but are still soft. The recipe below gives enough dough to make two large circles eight inches in diameter. The high butter content causes shortbread to spread in the oven which is fine if you are making circular biscuits – just make sure you leave enough room between them – but if you are making fingers, this can be very detrimental to the shape. The best way to get perfect shortbread fingers is to cut the dough but leave it as a block, do not separate the pieces. This prevents them spreading and when you remove the shortbread from the oven, you can just recut along the lines left over and neaten out the edges.
Although it started in Scotland, shortbread has spread around the world and for good reason – it is delicious! I hope you enjoy making it as much as I did and that it becomes favourite for you to bake and eat.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Makes about 20 fingers
225g (8oz.) unsalted butter
112g (4oz.) caster sugar
225g (8oz.) plain flour
112g (4oz.) semolina (or fine rice flour)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180°C (gas mark 4).
Cream the butter in a bowl.
Add the sugar and the vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.
Pour in half of the flour and half of the semolina and mix on low until they start to combine.
Add the rest of the flour and semolina and slowly beat until all of the ingredients are just combined. You do not want to overwork the shortbread.
Pour the dough onto a sheet of baking parchment and press out with your hands into a rectangle measuring 11”x6” (25x 15 cm).
Cut the shortbread into 1”x3” (2.5×4.5 cm) rectangles. The easiest way to do this is one long cut lengthwise down the middle and then measure out one inch blocks along the edge of the dough before cutting. DO NOT SEPARATE THE SHORTBREAD!
Take a fork or a skewer and prick the dough all the way to the base with a pattern of your choosing.
Slide the baking paper onto an oven tray and place in the oven and bake for around 20-25 minutes until the shortbread turns a pale golden colour. Do not let it brown any more than this.
Take the shortbread out of the oven and slide the baking paper off the tray onto a cutting board.
Cut along the lines of the biscuits as they will have sealed up during baking. By cutting the biscuits before you bake them, you will leave a mark in the final product which can then be recut to ensure straight edges and perfect shortbread.
Separate the biscuits and move them onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
These are delicious by themselves but are a real treat when dunked into a cup of tea. You could also jazz these up by dipping the ends into melted chocolate to make the biscuits really special. They make an excellent gift too. Just take a large sheet of clear plastic and place the biscuits in the middle. Gather up the ends and tie them off with a ribbon to make a beautiful present at Christmas.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you liked this, you should check out how to make macarons. They are a little more technically challenging but if you can master them, there is nothing you can’t do in the kitchen. If you are looking for something a little bit more savoury, why not treat yourself to some delicious onion soup? It’s easy to make and is packed full of flavour.
Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a fab on the go lunch
Macarons can be the stuff of nightmares. A single streak of unmixed meringue in the batter can cause the entire batch to crack, unsieved ingredients can make the macarons go lumpy and bad luck can ruin an entire tray for even the most competent baker. That being said, if you can master the art of making macarons, you can succeed at almost anything in the kitchen.
One of the most distinctive elements of a macaron is its foot. Observing the foot of a macaron can give you a good indication of how it was made. Both oven temperature and mixing techniques affect its formation. The foot should be even all the way around, either completely vertical or with a light outwards bulge, and have lots of small pockets of similar sizes. If the foot goes over the top of the shell (giving a cracked appearance), your batter is not mixed evenly; if the feet bulge massively outwards and appear as more of a skirt, you have over mixed your batter. If your macarons are consistently not developing feet, allow them to dry longer before baking as the formation of a skin over the top of the shells will encourage rising from the base of the macaron, helping with the formation of the feet. The lack of feet can also indicate that your oven temperature is too low and a skirt can indicate the temperature is too high so I would encourage investing in an oven thermometer if you wish to make macarons semi-regularly.
Everyone’s oven is different and macarons are a very good way to discover where the hot spots in yours are. If a single batch of macarons has very different results across the tray, this indicates that there isn’t great circulation in your oven. If you don’t have a fan oven, there isn’t much you can do about this but you can adapt in the future by removing macarons in hotspots early and then baking the rest for another few minutes.
The classic image of a macaron is a brightly coloured shell with a smooth filling. The colour of the shells is often indicative of the flavour. When it comes to choosing flavours, the list of things you can choose is almost limitless. I have eaten savoury macarons, I have eaten sweet macarons and there are a particularly interesting set of flavours in the middle where the macarons are sweet but use traditionally savoury flavourings. One that I tried whilst baking for this post was a rosemary and olive oil flavoured macaron and it was delicious!
Once you have mastered the basic macaron, you can begin to experiment with different fillings and flavours. Why not use them as decoration on cakes or a dessert? They don’t just have to be a delicacy on their own.
I hope you enjoy baking them and that your macarons come our perfectly every time.
2 egg whites
140g icing sugar
65g ground almonds (or almond flour)
35g granulated or caster sugar
Pinch of salt
Gel food colouring
Flavourings (these could be extracts like vanilla or orange, rose water, cocoa, green tea etc.)
150ml double cream
150g dark chocolate
1 tsp sugar
100ml double cream
200g white chocolate
Place the icing sugar and almonds into the bowl of a food processor and blend for a minute.
Push the mixture through a fine mesh sieve – this step takes time but is important if you want your macarons to have a smooth, glossy top. Once there is only a tablespoon of bigger chunks of almonds left in the sieve, you can discard these and stop. If you would like to make chocolate shells, replace one tablespoon of the mixture with one tablespoon of sifted cocoa. Use the same technique for green tea shells but with two teaspoons of matcha green tea powder instead.
Add the egg whites to the granulated sugar and salt in a separate bowl and whisk with an electric hand beater until a stiff meringue is formed. You should not feel any grains of sugar if you rub a little between your fingers and you should be able to turn the bowl upside down without anything falling out.
If you wish to colour and flavour your macarons, use the tip of a knife to add a small amount of gel colour to the meringue. Do not use liquid food dye as it will make your meringues collapse and will also fade in the oven. If you are using a flavoured extract, add a quarter of a teaspoon to the egg whites and beat it in.
Add half the dry ingredients and fold them in.
Once the first batch of dry ingredients starts to mix in, add the rest and continue to fold. Ensure that you use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl as any unmixed in bits of meringue will cause the macarons to crack.
Macarons are surprising forgiving at this stage. You want to keep as much air in during the folding as you have to knock it out again later to get the mix to the correct consistency and this is easier when you have a lighter mix to start with – it will make sure you don’t over mix the batter.
Once the almonds and icing sugar have been incorporated into the meringue, continue to mix until you reach the right consistency. This is when you can lift some batter on your spoon and as you drop it back into the bowl, you can draw a figure of eight with it without the stream of batter breaking. The batter should be thick but still flow a little, any blobs you make on the surface should slowly ink in over about twenty seconds.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
Pour the batter into a piping bag and pipe circles of batter about an inch and a half (about 4cm) wide leaving at least an inch (2.5) between them.
Lift up the baking tray and bang the base of it onto the surface ten times. Rotate the tray round so the other side can be banged too and repeat the ten bangs. This will remove air bubbles from the macarons which you will see popping on the surface. You can sprinkle the centre of your macaron shells with sprinkles or something related to the flavour to give a more exciting finish.
Place the macarons in a warmish dry place for half an hour to an hour until a skin has formed over the top of them (you can touch the surface of them without it sticking to you). Some people say this step is optional and I have made macarons before without letting them dry and they did work but the best way to work out if it works for you is practice. Make a couple of batches, leave some to dry and place other straight into the oven and see how they come out!
Preheat the oven to 150°C (gas mark 2).
Place the macarons one tray at a time on the top shelf of your oven for twenty minutes or until you can lift one off the tray without it sticking. If they stick a little, just give them another two minutes and try again.
Once the shells are cooked, let them cool on the tray until you can touch them without burning yourself. Peel them off the baking sheet and place the shells onto a wire rack to cool.
To make a ganache filling, heat the cream until almost boiling and pour it over finely chopped chocolate.
Leave for two minutes for the heat of the cream to melt the chocolate and then stir the two together. You can add flavourings of your choice or sugar to the ganache at this point.
Let the ganache cool until it has thickened up to a thick piping consistency and is no longer warm to the touch.
Match up macaron shells of similar sizes in pairs. On one of each pair, pipe a small dollop of ganache and sandwich the two shells together.
Leave the macarons overnight in the fridge so the ganache can set fully and the flavours can meld between the filling and the shells.