Chicken Foot Baba Yaga Cake

This cake marks the sixth in my series of Proms cakes. These are cakes inspired by pieces of music which performed at the BBC Proms, which is the largest classical music festival in the world. A lot of composers take inspiration from nature, life, myth and paintings and these cakes are designed to embody some aspect of a piece that makes it stand out.

The chicken foot cake is based on a movement from Pictures at an Exhibition, by Mussorgsky – an orchestral suite inspired by a series of paintings; the cake is specifically inspired by a movement based on a painting of a character from Russian folklore: Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga was a witch who lived in a hut on chicken legs (paintings disagree whether the hut was on one or two legs but that is beside the point). I did think after making the cake that maybe I could’ve based this year’s Proms cake on the movement Bydło or Cattle which depicts cattle pulling a cart and feels like it is pushing through thick mud – I could’ve made a Mississippi Mud Pie or something – but maybe that could be a different blog post. Interestingly, one of the Baba Yaga stories includes a character which was the basis for my first ever Proms cake as well the inspiration for a ballet by Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird.

When it came to designing the cake, I knew that the foot would have to look a little cartoonish, after all if you have ever seen a chicken leg you would have noticed how thin it is. A cake with proper proportions would not only be unable to stand up but would probably serve only two people. I knew that the cake would have to be a bit chunkier than the foot it was modelled on but one thing I really wanted to keep was a nod to the angles which a hen’s leg stands at – that is to say, I did not want the leg to be perpendicular to the foot. To give the leg some angle, I built it up in layers – sliding each layer about half a centimetre further towards the back of the foot than the one it was lying on. Of course this technique only works to a certain point before everything topples over but if you are careful, you can get a good inch of lateral direction on the leg without any disasters occurring.

I would classify the Proms cakes as some of the more creative things that I bake. In the past they have included mirror glazes, biscuits, a 3D gingerbread piano which opened, a cake where each slice looked like a piano keyboard and a giant marshmallow square hammer. I really enjoy making themed cakes because they give me the opportunity to sit down and plan out what I want the cake to look like. Do they always work? Well not always in the way in which I originally intended but they are still good fun and they have never not worked – to an extent……

Let me know if you try making this as I would love to see your creation!

 

 

Chicken Foot Baba Yaga Cake

 

Ingredients:

For the cake:

6 eggs

250g sugar

240g flour

2 tbsp freeze-dried raspberries

2 tbsp warm water or raspberry juice

 

For the fillings and icing:

100g raspberries

400g chocolate ganache (200g dark chocolate and 200g double cream)

200g unsalted butter

300g icing sugar

Yellow food dye

Vanilla extract

 

Make the ganache by heating the cream with the chocolate over a double boiler, whist stirring continuously, until they come together to form a homogenous, glossy mixture.

Remove the ganache from the double boiler and set aside to cool completely and harden up.

 

To make the cake:

Preheat your oven to gas mark 6.

Line the bases of two swiss roll tins with baking parchment and lightly grease and flour the edges of the tins.

Use a stand mixer to whip the eggs and sugar until super light and fluffy – this will take a few minutes. The mixture should be thick and slowly fall off the whisk when you lift it out of the bowl. If in doubt, give it another 30 seconds.

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Sift the freeze dried raspberries into the flour and then sift the flour and raspberry powder into the eggs.

Fold this through until it is almost completely combined.

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Drizzle the water or raspberry juice (made by squeezing about 50g fresh raspberries through a sieve) around the edge of the cake mix and fold it in until everything is mixed evenly. Be careful not to overmix and deflate the batter.

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Split the batter between the two trays and bake for 10-12 minutes until the cakes are risen and golden on top. They should also have started to come away from the sides of the pan if it was greased.

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Sprinkle a little icing sugar on the top of the cakes and turn them out onto another sheet of baking parchment.

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Remove the parchment which was lining the tins from the cake (this should’ve come out with the cake and be stuck to its base).

Cover the cakes with a damp tea towel and leave to cool.

 

Tip the raspberries into a sieve and use a wooden spoon to push them through. This will squeeze as much liquid out of them as possible. You should be left with a dryish looking pulp which can be discarded.

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Mix a tablespoon of water into the raspberry juice.

 

To assemble the first part of the cake:

Once your ganache has hardened, use a stand mixer to whip it until it is soft. The colour will lighten considerably during this. You may have to gently warm it a bit to soften it up but be careful not to fully re-melt the ganache!

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Take one of the cake layers and cut one third of it off (widthwise). This will become the base of your cake.

For the following section, before adding any layer of cake, brush the base of the cake to be added with the raspberry juice and spread a layer of ganache over it.

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Cut the remaining section of cake into moderately thick strips and lay it over the other piece to build it up in the chicken foot shape below (shown in blue).

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Cut the bottom right and left sections of cake off the base and add them on top for more height.

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Trim the edges of the cake to round off the hard corners.

Find a circular cutter the same size or slightly smaller than the intersection at the centre of the foot (shown in red on the diagram). Cut circles from the remaining cake and layer them on top of the intersection remembering to brush with raspberry and spread chocolate ganache over the top.

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You should now have a roughly chicken foot shaped cake.

Spread the rest of the ganache over the outside of the cake to create a crumb coat. You can use this to cover rough edges and smooth sharp angles.

Leave the cake in the fridge for at least an hour to set.

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To make the buttercream, beat the butter in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment for about five minutes. The butter will be super light and fluffy and shiny now.

Sift in half of the icing sugar and beat for another two minutes on high. Make sure to start your mixer off slow to avoid covering your kitchen in icing sugar.

Add the rest of the sugar and beat again.

Take a couple of tablespoons of icing and set aside to make the claws with.

Add a teaspoon of vanilla extract and yellow food dye until your desired shade is reached.

 

For black claws, colour your reserved icing with black food dye. For white claws, leave it as it is.

To make the claws, spit the reserved icing into four and make a pyramid coming out of the end of each of the spurs on the chicken’s foot.

Load the yellow icing into a piping bag and pipe on scales around the claws to cover up the base. Pipe scales all over the chicken foot or alternatively, add scales to the ends and a light layer of icing over the rest.

Use the back of a knife to make horizontal lines across the toes (are they called that?) of the foot and up the front of the leg.

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Your chicken foot cake is now complete!

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. The cake in this can also be turned into a swiss roll if you don’t fancy the whole chicken foot thing – check out my instructions on how to make this into a slightly simpler dessert!

Have a good one and next week everything will be back to normal food with a delicious savoury, vegetarian dumpling dish.

H

 

Orange Swiss Roll

Now I know that I always say my recipes are delicious (it would be appalling self-advertising if I didn’t…) but this one is genuinely incredible. This super fluffy cake with a light orange flavouring rolled up around a creamy orange mascarpone filling and decorated with bright orange shapes turned out to be one of the most popular things that I have baked. It was originally a bit of an experiment when I was practising decorating swiss rolls as I had already made a tiramisu swiss roll with chocolate stripes and I wanted to do something that would display a beautiful swirling rainbow around the outside. Clearly a white background would be best for this to get a good contrast and so a plain swiss roll was the first choice. At the last minute, I chucked in some orange extract (zest is better but I wasn’t properly thinking as anything with whipped eggs is time dependent so long deliberations are not something you have time for) and then I baked the cake. I knew I was going to use a mascarpone filling and thought ‘why not make it super orangey?’. Luckily, the final flavour is easily identifiable but isn’t too much. It balances really well.

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The original orange swiss roll.

When you use citrus in baking, you traditionally only use the zest and the juice. The zest is the outer later of the skin which contains a lot of flavour and aroma carrying oils. You can see these spraying out when you zest the fruit so I would always do this directly into a bowl as then all the oils are collected and used in the final product. Directly beneath the zest is the pith. This is the thick, white layer before you get to the segments of the fruit. The pith does contain flavour however it is incredibly bitter and so you do not want to include this in your baking. When you make marmalade you use the entire orange, pith included. The fruits are juiced and the juice strained to catch all of the pips and fibres. A spoon is used to scrape out the remains of the pith (there will be some which comes out easily but there will also be a layer of white left behind – this is ok) which is combined with the pips and fibres from before. These contain a lot of the pectin which will be extracted during the cooking process. Don’t worry, these bits are normally wrapped up in a thin cloth or muslin (we use a J-cloth) so the pectin can be utilised but the unpleasant pithy flesh can be easily removed from the final product. Marmalade is different from jam as it usually contains chunks of peel. After juicing, the peel is sliced up thinly and boiled for a couple of hours before being added to the pot with the juice, pith and sugar before boiling commences.

Different types of citrus are used for different things. Seville oranges are usually used for marmalade as the pectin content is higher than other varieties so the marmalade will set better. Other varieties have been selectively bred to have super thin skins, making them easier to peel. Oranges themselves are a hybrid plant between the pomelo and the mandarin – pomelos being large, thick-skinned and a little bit bland which helps cancel out the sweetness of the mandarin. Lemons are far more tart than most other citrus so work in both savoury and sweet foods whilst grapefruit – the most acidic of the citrus fruits – can go to hell and stay there. OK… maybe grapefruit isn’t quite that bad and actually, it too is a hybrid (this time of the sweet orange – which we just call oranges – and the pomelo – again). There are sweet varieties grapefruit but usually they are rather bitter. This has led to its use in salads and as an accompaniment to seafood, and bizarrely avocado as the sharpness of the fruit cuts through the richness of the avocado. Grapefruit is also known to interact with drugs because of the enzymes it contains so make sure to check any prescription medication you have before you eat one!

Now back to the orange. As it is a sweet fruit, orange is usually used in sweet dishes as I have done in this case. It is very easy to make the swiss roll and I’m sure you will enjoy this recipe just as much as I have.

 

Swiss Roll with Orange Mascarpone

Time: 1 hour – 1 hour 30 minutes depending on decorations

 

Ingredients:

3 eggs

125g caster sugar

120g flour

1 tbsp water

Zest of half an orange

 

Syrup:

30g sugar

30ml water

25ml triple sec (or other orange liqueur)

 

Filling:

250g mascarpone

100ml double cream

15g icing sugar

Zest of one and a half oranges

 

Optional: stripes

1 egg white

25g butter

25g icing sugar

30g flour

Orange food colouring

(technically you want to use equal weights of all of the ingredients so the best thing is to weigh your egg white and use that weight of the others)

 

 

Optional:

To make the stripes:

Cream the icing sugar and butter until light and fluffy.

Beat in the egg white.

Beat in the flour.

Add food colouring until the desired shade is reached.

If necessary, add a little more flour to bring the mix together if the liquid from the dye causes it to split a little.

Cut a sheet of baking parchment to the size of the base of your swiss roll tin.

Version 1:

Lay the parchment onto a flat worktop and criss-cross it with Sellotape – you can make whatever pattern your heart desires but remember, the final design will be where there is no Sellotape.

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Use an offset spatula to spread a thin layer of the orange cake mix onto the exposed areas of parchment.

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Remove the Sellotape to reveal your pattern.

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Version 2:

Pipe the orange mixture into whatever pattern you desire across the baking parchment. Remember that any pattern will be reversed on the final cake!

 

Place the sheet in the freezer for twenty minutes.

 

To make the cake:

If you are doing the orange stripes/pattern, start this about ten minutes after the decorative pattern goes into the freezer.

If you are not doing a decorative outside for the cake, cut a sheet of baking parchment the same size as your swiss roll tin and lay it in the base.

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

Tip the eggs and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer with the balloon whisk attachment.

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Beat until light and fluffy – it will get really, really light and fluffy and voluminous.

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Turn the mixer off and zest half an orange straight into the bowl. When you zest an orange, lots of oils are sprayed into the air and if you do this directly into the bowl, the oils and flavours aren’t lost.

Beat this for another 30 seconds to make sure the orange is distributed evenly. The mixture will probably gain an orange tint when you do this.

Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and sift the flour directly into the bowl.

Fold the flour through until it all combined.

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Add the water and fold this through too.

If you are using the frozen decorations, remove the baking parchment from the freezer and place it into the base of your swiss roll tin ensuring that it is flat.

Tip the batter into the lined swiss roll tin and spread it out with an offset spatula. Be gentle and bake sure not to scrape the bottom of the tin as this will disrupt any pattern you may have created there.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until the cake is lightly golden on top and slightly springy.

Remove the cake from the oven.

Loosen the edges from the side of the pan and sift a thin layer of icing sugar over the top of the cake.

Lay out a piece of parchment paper on a flat surface and flip the cake over onto it.

Remove the parchment from the base of the cake to reveal your pattern.

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Take a tea towel and soak it in cold water. Wring out as much as you can and then lay this over the cake to stop it drying out as it cools. This will take about half an hour. If the towel seems like it is drying out, you can remoisten it.

 

While the cake is cooling, make the syrup.

Place the sugar and water into a pan and heat whilst stirring until the sugar is all dissolved.

Leave to cool and just before using, add the triple sec.

 

To make the filling, beat the zest from one and a half oranges into the mascarpone for at least thirty seconds – I do this with an electric hand whisk.

Beat in the sugar.

Pour in the cream and slowly mix together. At first this will slacken the mixture but as you beat it, the cream will begin to whip up and thicken again.

Stop when you have a filling that is spreadable but will hold its shape.

 

To assemble:

Flip the cake onto another piece of parchment so the pattern is on the base. Make sure that the nice end of the patter is away from you as the edge furthest away will become the outside.

Spread the top of the cake with the orange syrup mixture.

Spread the filling over the top of the cake in an even layer making sure to get all the way to the edges.

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Using the parchment paper, roll up the swiss roll from one of the short sides. You may have to get your hands in there at the start but once it starts to roll, the paper will do the rest of the work.

Tightly wrap the roll up (I use the parchment I rolled it with) and leave it in the fridge, seam side down, for fifteen minutes to set it fully in position.

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Remove the cake from the fridge, trim the ends and serve!

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This cake works wonderfully as a dessert but a slice of it is also always welcome with a cup of tea as a snack. If you fancy trying the tiramisu swiss roll I mentioned earlier, I have a great recipe for one or if you aren’t a coffee fan, why not have a go at the chocolate swiss roll wrapped in ganache to make a yule log?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a great pulsey dish.

H

Croissants

Croissants tend to be quite hit and miss when you buy them. In most cases, they are never as good as you remember – too dry, not flaky enough, lacking in ‘yum’ etc. The best way to avoid disappointment is to make them yourself… and it isn’t even that difficult! The main ingredient in making croissants (or any kind of viennoiserie for that matter) is time. The time spent physically making the dough is only about an hour and the rest is just waiting around letting the yeast and the fridge do their thing.

Viennoiserie could be described as the love child of puff pastry, bread and cake. A combination of everything good about baking, it’s a yeasted dough enriched with sugar, fat and egg and is often laminated. Because of this, you end up with the flavour from the yeast, fats and sugar; the flake of a laminated pastry; a rise from the yeast and the laminations in the dough; and a certain softness from the fats and egg which is not present in puff pastry. All in all, fresh viennoiserie is incredible.

The croissant is believed by many to have started life not in France, but in Austria (Vienna to be specific…). Although there is no hard evidence to confirm this, all circumstantial evidence points to the kipferl being the ancestor from which the croissant evolved. These were crescent shaped confections (kipferl meaning “crescent”, hmmmm I wonder what croissant translates as…) which were eaten around Europe. Kipferl are a yeast leavened crescent shaped roll eaten in Austria (there are many varieties around Europe and the Middle East including kifli, kifla, giffel, rogal and rugelach). There are, however, another origin stories for the croissant. One of the more interesting ones is the evolution from the Egyptian dish feteer meshaltet, a layered pastry consisting of thin layers of dough separated by ghee. Specifically, feteer halali was a similarly layered, flaky pastry but was in the shape of a crescent and was around well before the croissant.

However it was originally produced, fresh croissants are a thing of beauty and are very much worth the effort it takes to make them. With a bit of planning, they won’t even be that disruptive to bake. Fillings can be included but I feel that it is worth trying the plain ones before getting clever as if things go wrong, it is always helpful to know which step the problems occurred in. I hope you discover how easy and delicious these can be for yourself – and it doesn’t hurt that they will make your house smell wonderful.

 

Croissants

Work time: 60-90 minutes

Rest time: 15-20 hours

 

For the Viennoiserie dough:

500g plain flour

75g sugar

1 ½ tsp salt

100g cold butter

10g instant yeast

1 large egg (about 60ml)

2 tbsp milk

140 ml water

Optional: food colouring

Optional: 1 egg for egg wash

 

For the butter block: 250g butter

 

 

Cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

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Make a well in the centre of the flour and butter mix.

Around the edge of the well, tip the salt, sugar and yeast – try to avoid the yeast and salt touching.

Pour the water, milk and egg into the centre of the well.

Mix with a spoon until the dough starts to come together and then knead for about ten minutes until a smooth, shiny dough is formed – it will not be as smooth as bread dough as there is less gluten but it should still be homogenous and slightly bouncy.

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Place the dough back into its bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight (at least twelve – eighteen hours).

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To make the butter block:

Take a piece of greaseproof paper and fold over the edges so a 6”x6” (15cmx15cm) square is formed. DO NOT CUT THE PAPER.

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Unfold the paper, place the butter inside the square and refold the paper around it.

Use a rolling pin to pound out the butter until you get an even layer. By folding the paper, you ensure that the butter will end up in the shape you want it to as it will not spread past the folds!

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Place the butter back into the fridge for half an hour.

 

Optional:

Take 100g of the dough and add a few drops of concentrated food dye. Knead this in, rewrap the coloured dough and place it back into the fridge for later.

 

Roll out the (remaining, uncoloured) dough until it is a little wider than the butter block and just over twice as long.

Remove the butter from the fridge and lay it at one end of the dough.

Fold the dough over the butter and seal it around the edges to create a package. If you have lots of overhand of dough, feel free to trim it but remember to leave the butter parcel sealed.

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Roll out the dough until it is about 6/7mm thick (about ¼ inch).

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Fold the ends to the centre and then fold down the central line to create four layers. This is a book fold.

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Wrap the dough and let rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out lengthwise until it is the same thickness as before.

This time fold the top third of the dough down and the bottom third up. This is a letter fold.

Refrigerate for another hour.

 

If you are using the coloured dough:

Roll out the coloured dough until it is the same size as the laminated dough.

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Brush any excess flour off it and gently moisten the dough with a little water.

Lay the laminated pastry on top and lightly press down to seal.

Flip the pastry so the colour is on top and ensure there are no air bubbles.

 

Roll the pastry until it about just over 5mm thick. You want a long oblong of dough with a short side of about 30cm (one foot).

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Trim about a cm off the edges to reveal the coloured pastry on top of the laminated dough.

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Cut width wise across the pastry to get 6 smaller rectangles.

Cut each of these down the diagonal.

 

Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.

Take a triangle of dough and lay it coloured side down on the work surface.

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Gently stretch it so it is more of an isosceles triangle shape.

Make a 1cm slit in the short side.

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Gently tug the edges apart and begin to roll up the dough from the short side to the long.

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When it is fully rolled, lay the croissant on the baking sheet with the tip of the original triangle underneath the croissant to make sure that it doesn’t unroll.

Repeat with the rest of the pastry laying no more than 6 croissants on each sheet. Allow them to space to rise!

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Optional: Egg wash the croissants now.

 

Place the sheets into a draft free zone and let rise for two to three hours. I like to use a turned off oven to leave them in because it prevents the croissants drying out. Make sure to remove them from the oven before the next step!

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Look how beautiful the laminations in this croissant are!

 

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

Optional: Egg wash the croissants again. This will make them super shiny.

Bake the croissants for 6 minutes.

Reduce the heat to gas mark 4 (180°C) and bake for another 6 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

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These are best served still warm from the oven but can be kept in an airtight container for up to two days before they start to go bad. I would recommend reheating them either in the microwave or for five to ten minutes on your oven’s warm setting if the croissants are any older than that.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of laminated pasty, you should check out my recipe for puff pastry and all of the amazing things you can do with it from Beef Wellington to Pastéis de Natas

Have a good one. I will be back next week with a recipe for a slightly faster recipe you can make for a delicious dinner.

H

Hummus

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.

 

 

Hummus

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

Water

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.

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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).

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Leave the skins on. They will blend well so there is no point in going through the hassle of removing them.

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.

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Taste the hummus and soften the consistency with the aquafaba. Season with salt and the reserved lemon juice.

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You can also add fresh herbs to the hummus for extra flavour. Here I have added coriander but parsley, chives and tarragon also work well.

Scrape the hummus into a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with ground paprika.

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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.

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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.

H

Swiss Meringue

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.

 

 

Swiss Meringue

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.

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You can see the grains of sugar around the outside of the bowl.

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.

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The mixture is far smoother after gentle heating.

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.

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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.

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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.

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

H

 

 

Chocolate Spider Cake

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

75g cocoa

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

3 eggs

 

For the filling and icing:

200g soft butter

300g sifted icing sugar

50g sifted cocoa

1 tbsp milk

300ml double cream

2 tsp vanilla

 

To decorate:

200g marshmallow

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.

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Place the brown sugar and cocoa into a bowl together and pour over the hot water. Stir until combined.

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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.

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Finally, pour in the liquid chocolate from earlier and slowly mix together until you have a smooth, glossy, chocolaty batter.

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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.

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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.

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Add the next layer and pipe more icing onto it before filling the centre with cream.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.