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.

44146155_278266549694754_7049893752130764800_n

Stir through the rest of the dry ingredients

Mix together the wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

44091332_1047449625428157_7641225141501820928_n

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

44061649_2041810975839178_6120386988743852032_n

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.

44126887_252368018956975_5566122640311058432_n

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.

44023473_583812608701439_1462348678235684864_n

To make the icing:

Beat the butter until it is fluffy.

44112873_2024666260912260_376239397122605056_n

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.

44047518_476056549556657_1611098535455883264_n

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.

44178265_294175134739603_1154947384845795328_n

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.

43951423_1151051011718580_6611757403757084672_n

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.

44057036_2086716681360376_4469306254837153792_n

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.

44102150_500942763740523_645884616560869376_n

44243173_2051390331579966_3167407212498780160_n

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

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

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

Ombre Unicorn Cake

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

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

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

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

42439044_1796965407088179_7265043485919543296_n
Photo creds to A Whimsical Rose for whom this cake was made. You should definitely check out her blog as she makes some great content!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ombre Unicorn Cake

10 oz. unsalted butter

10 oz. sugar

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

5 eggs

60ml milk

1 tbsp vanilla extract

 

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

3 tbsp sugar

3 tbsp water

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

 

For the Icing:

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

600-650g sifted icing sugar

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Gel food colouring

 

Extras:

A small block of fondant icing

Black food dye

Paint brush

Gold lustre dust

A small amount of rosewater or vodka

One wooden dowel (for the centre of the horn)

Two cocktail sticks.

 

 

 

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

Add the vanilla extract and beat again.

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

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

Finally, add the milk and beat one last time.

42836423_936918149837662_1870114462455824384_n

 

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.

42937145_2114559182129759_7637012229556011008_n

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

42924773_985224445019500_4552183601638146048_n

 

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.

42889934_261400454717108_634265905391468544_n

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.

42991325_172136743671262_3727025010032771072_n
The levelled tops of each cake displaying the colour gradient inside

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

42827295_331154640970015_8562893546623860736_n
The crumb coat

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

42894627_295335501193171_4777685641129361408_n

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!

42885044_283705565579582_7398135825113808896_n

42933413_2386646794683960_200961519779840000_n

 

 

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

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

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

H

Shortbread

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

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

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

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

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

39519297_267343557214266_4292512679240663040_n.jpg

 

Shortbread

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Makes about 20 fingers

 

225g (8oz.) unsalted butter

112g (4oz.) caster sugar

225g (8oz.) plain flour

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

1 tsp vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

 

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

Cream the butter in a bowl.

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

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

39638341_527769174333359_374105034599694336_n.jpg
The mixture of flour and semolina gives a fantastic texture.

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

39515015_254327005212011_4031068613954764800_n

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

39851676_382374905631267_4206377986292711424_n

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.

39522033_681774765492563_94127704395218944_n
DO NOT SEPARATE THE SHORTBREAD LIKE I HAVE DONE HERE

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

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

39569852_218480479017871_7161204203338072064_n
This is why you do not separate the shortbread fingers – they will lose their shape in the oven!

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

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

39734933_449225038905012_6812069636150919168_n

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.

39526419_1123587307779874_6146100519858339840_n

 

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

 

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

H

Macarons

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

38521725_492610721144373_8094620099928915968_n
These orange macarons were some of the best I have made (although the feet are a little more frilly than I would normally want.)

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

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

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

38486600_1916755381963413_6880514647296835584_n
Salted caramel and dark chocolate macarons.

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

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

 

Macarons:

2 egg whites

140g icing sugar

65g ground almonds (or almond flour)

35g granulated or caster sugar

Pinch of salt

Gel food colouring

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

 

Ganache filling:

Dark chocolate:

150ml double cream

150g dark chocolate

1 tsp sugar

 

White chocolate:

100ml double cream

200g white chocolate

Flavourings

 

 

 

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

38722243_304286970145837_801017203204816896_n (1)

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.

38532427_404220803438121_6934283553328857088_n
The sieved ingredients should have no large lumps.
38600246_500224620424926_4783550887123484672_n
These large lumps will be ground down as you force them through the sieve. It just takes a little time and elbow grease to do so!

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

38490893_237274163581137_2145902309761089536_n

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.

38600613_272904210164574_6710908549146345472_n (1)
From the top left going clockwise, these shell are for: Plain vanilla, black sesame and white chocolate, orange and chocolate, chilli chocolate, rosemary and olive oil, salted caramel, rose and finally, green tea. The shells are mostly unflavoured.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

38518844_265744157541218_7651233519108096000_n
As you can see, the feet did not appear on either the rose, orange or salted caramel macarons. I am still working out why as I need to get used to my home oven again after university.

 

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

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

H

Peach Galette

Sometimes you don’t have a dish in which to cook a pie. In situations like this, the galette is a perfect solution. As a freeform pie, it isn’t cooked in a dish or a tart tin giving it a unique and rustic shape. There is no designated pastry for galette but the ones most often used are puff pastry or a pastry made with a mix of plain and whole wheat flour (as given below). Galette can also be used when referring to a large, savoury buckwheat pancake. These originated from the French region of Brittany where they became popular after the discovery that buckwheat would grow well in the poor soil conditions there. These are also known as Breton galette to distinguish them from their pastry counterpart.

One of the problems with an open galette is finding a filling which is sturdy enough to hold up under a long cooking time in a hot oven. This is more of an issue with sweet galettes than savoury. Most berries, as well as apples and other fruits, start to turn to mush when in the oven for too long but peaches are strong enough to hold their shape during the cooking. An open top allows liquids to evaporate but even then, a galette with too much filling can overflow in the oven and the juices can burn. Tomatoes are a popular filling for savoury galettes as they hold their shape during cooking and also come in several colours so you can give your pie a beautiful appearance.

When you come to make a galette, you are presented with two choices with regards to the edges. You can fold and crimp or you can pinch. I am a big fan of folding as I feel that it is less likely to open up in the oven and spill the filling everywhere. Folding requires you to go around the edge folding the excess pastry up towards the centre until the filling is pushing at the outer edges of the tart. You have to be careful not to make the pastry too tight as it can split and you must ensure that the folds overlap to create a barrier to hold in the juices during cooking. The pinching technique involves creating a vertical barrier around the outside of the tart. The pinching itself reduces the length of the pastry to that it is pulled upwards. The finished barrier is created by selecting an area of pastry around the edge and taking a section around two centimetres long and pinching it together. You then proceed to move around the outside of the galette pinching as you go until the barrier is formed.

The recipe below will give you a galette about a foot in diameter or if you would like to make a smaller one, just half the recipe and that will make a galette about eight inches across. This is a particularly good recipe if you like circular patterns – I find them very satisfying to create and I hope that, after this, you will too.

 

 

Peach and Blueberry galette

Prep time: 1 hour

Rest time: 1 hour

Cook time: 1 hour

 

 

185g plain flour

90g whole wheat flour

225g cold unsalted butter

2 tbsp sugar

¼ tsp salt

2 eggs for the pastry and 1 egg for an egg wash (optional)

1 tbsp milk

 

 

Filling:

8 peaches

40g plain flour

400g caster sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

150g blueberries

 

To make the pastry:

Cube the butter and add it to the flour.

Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture starts to resemble breadcrumbs and starts to stick together.

36690243_2032526000112428_5888257161879879680_n

Stir through the salt and the sugar.

In a jug, beat the eggs with the milk until the mix is homogeneous.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mix, pour in the eggs and stir with a blunt knife until combined. The knife will prevent you overworking the dough.

Once the dough starts to come together, pour it out onto a work surface and squeeze it together to form it into a ball. You want to avoid handling the dough more than necessary.

36720160_2032525790112449_1519605411244670976_n

Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least an hour.

 

ALTERNATIVE METHOD – FOOD PROCESSOR

Place the dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse to combine.

Cube the butter and add it in.

Pulse the mix until it resembles fine breadcrumbs

Add the milk and eggs and pulse again until everything starts to come together.

Pour out onto a work surface and quickly knead the mix together until it has combined. The moment it has come together fully, wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge.

 

To make the filling:

Quarter the peaches and remove the stones.

Cut each quarter into three wedges and place the cut peaches in a large bowl.

In another bowl, combine the flour, sugar and cinnamon.

Sprinkle half of this over the peaches and gently stir them around.

36683048_2032525910112437_5276627628218908672_n

Toss the peaches in the remaining flour and sugar mix until everything is coated evenly.

 

 

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

Take the pastry out of the fridge.

Roll it out to a 15 inch circle. I find that it is best to place the pastry onto the baking parchment it will be cooked on before rolling it out as that way you don’t have to try and move a very large, fragile dessert.

Starting an inch and a half from the edge, lay the slices of peach in a circle around the pie overlapping them very slightly.

Once the first circle is complete, continue to lay out more slices of peaches inside the first circle and repeat this until the galette is filled. If there is juice left at the bottom of the bowl, do not pour this over the tart as it can cause it to overflow.

36701847_2032526043445757_8516384917733507072_n

Fold up one edge of the pastry over the outside peaches.

Continue to fold up the outside pastry until all the edges are folded in and the galette is ready.

36713551_2032526423445719_237361749865529344_n

Sprinkle half of the blueberries over the top of the galette.

Slide the baking parchment from your work surface and onto a baking tray.

Brush the outer edges of the galette with the egg wash and sprinkle with a little granulated sugar.

Bake the galette for one hour turning halfway through.

While the galette is baking, make the blueberry coulis.

Place the remaining blueberries into a small pan with a tablespoon of water and cook with the lid on for 5 minutes.

Liquidise the blueberries and pass the resulting mix through a fine sieve to strain out the skins.

 

Allow the galette to cool for 10 minutes before sliding it onto the serving plate to cool completely.

36713716_2032537290111299_6165050027237441536_n

Serve with whipped cream and the blueberry coulis.

36701139_2032525816779113_4640496066343469056_n

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are looking for a more savoury pastry, check out how to make this hot water crust chicken pie or if you fancy something a little less fruity, why not treat yourself to some chequerboard biscuits.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious fish curry. It’s not too spicy but it’s absolutely packed with flavour.

H

Carrot Cake

Although carrot cake came to popularity in England during the second world war, its origins stretch back several hundred years to the carrot puddings eaten in the middle ages. Carrot cake is a bit of a marmite food with people either loving or hating it; I have never met anyone who was ambivalent about it.

The emergence of carrot cake in the second world war came about because of sugar rationing. This led to people looking for an easy alternative and carrots were perfect as people could grow them in their back gardens. Luckily, you can’t taste the carrot in carrot cake but it gives a lovely colour and along with the use of oil instead of butter, helps the cake remain moist for a long time. I actually made the mistake of leaving the cakes on top of an Aga for about two hours as I took them out of the oven in a hurry and when I got back the cakes had not dried out at all!

Of course, you can’t have carrot cake without cream cheese frosting. Here in England the only readily available cream cheese is the spreadable version in tubs not the block cream cheese that you really need to make a good frosting. Spreadable cream cheese has a far higher water content and this water can cause the icing to turn into a runny soup. The best way to avoid this is to use butter as a base for the icing. This gives a rich flavour and also causes the icing to firm up in the fridge leaving it nice and smooth. The frankly obscene amount of icing sugar also helps prevent the collapse of the frosting.

I hope you enjoy the recipe.

For the cake:

450ml vegetable oil

550g sugar

5 eggs

450g plain flour

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

3 tsp cinnamon

Pinch of salt

530g grated carrot

150g chopped walnuts

Cream Cheese Frosting:

150g unsalted butter

240g cream cheese

840g sifted icing sugar

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (1800C).

Oil and line four eight inch baking tins and place a circle of parchment on the base of each one.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil and sugar.

Add the eggs one at a time and whisk together after each addition.

Mix in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cinnamon in three batches.

Gently whisk in the carrot – you don’t want it to get shredded in the mixer so use the lowest speed setting.

Divide the cake mix between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

34962704_1994546363910392_2142731807852855296_n.jpg

Leave to cool for ten minutes and then remove the cakes from the tins and leave on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, beat the butter until it is light and fluffy.

Add the cream cheese and beat again.

Mix in the icing sugar in three batches and start your mixer on slow each time to avoid the icing sugar going everywhere!

The moment the icing has come together, stop mixing it.

Place the base of the cake onto a serving plate and spread a layer of cream cheese frosting over this.

Add another layer of cake and frosting and continue until all the layers have been used up.

Spread a thick layer of frosting on the top of the cake. You can decorate this with little sugar carrots (normally available in the supermarket baking aisle) or sprinkles. Just bear in mind that cream cheese frosting is very soft and won’t hold its shape well.

35076987_1994546327243729_417711137476313088_n

I hope you enjoyed the recipe and your cream cheese frosting doesn’t turn to liquid. If you fancy a Mexican treat, check out how to make some spicy Enchiladas or if you are looking a different dessert, why not treat yourself to the best apple crumble you will eat.

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

H

Lemon Drizzle Cake

When talking about classic cakes you must not forget to mention the lemon drizzle cake. Classy, sophisticated and packed full of tangy lemon flavour, this cake is sure to make frequent (although possibly short lived) appearances in your house. It freezes magnificently and can be defrosted whilst retaining all of its flavour.

The recipe I present below is far more like a Madeira cake than a Victoria sponge; it has the classic crack along the top and a denser texture which I have found holds up better under the deluge of syrup poured on top. Whilst you want the cake moist, you do not want it soggy and although you could use a standard Victoria sponge recipe for the cake mix (check out how to do that here, just replace the vanilla with some lemon zest), the cake can get a little mushy if there isn’t enough of it to evenly soak up the drizzle. An added benefit of the syrup is that if the edges of the cake dry out a little in the oven, they will absorb more liquid and end up just as soft as the rest of it.

Drizzle cakes are quite “in” at the moment. An appearance on the Great British Bake Off in the signature challenge a several years ago created a significant spike in their popularity as it showed that many variations are possible. I have seen bright purple blueberry drizzle cakes, vivid pink raspberry drizzles and even made a gin and tonic flavoured one. Citrus fruits are the safest way to go as the sharpness of the juice contrasts with the sweetness of the syrup giving a balanced flavour but as long as you make sure your drizzle is suitably tart, you should be fine.

Everyone says that their recipe is the best; theirs gives the most interesting and moistest results however yet again, the recipe I use is very similar to the one my mum uses when she bakes lemon drizzle cake and I have never found one that can compare. There is no sugar crust on the top and the syrup gets all the way through the entire cake thanks to the holes poked in before the drizzling commences – which must be done while the cake is hot! This results in a very even spread of syrup with a little more around the edges (but who is going to complain about cake with extra flavour?) Although they are traditionally baked in loaf tins, I like to make mine in a Bundt tin as it gives a beautiful shape to the cake and makes it particularly easy to portion out. It also allows me to turn the cake out onto a plate and give it a thick lemon glaze which does not sink in and gives the cake an appealing finish.

I like to eat my cake with a nice cup of tea during a work break or after a good meal. Let me know when you like to eat your cake be that as a treat or just whenever you possibly can – which is totally understandable and relatable.

Enjoy the recipe.

 

Lemon Drizzle Cake

Prep time:  20 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

 

Ingredients:

8 oz. (225g) butter

8 oz. (225g) sugar

12 oz. (337g) self-raising flour (or plain flour with 3 tsp baking powder)

4 eggs

60 ml milk

Zest of 3 lemons

 

For the drizzle:

Juice of 3 lemons

4 oz. (112g) icing sugar

2 tbsp. Water

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4.

Grease the Bundt tin and line with flour – or use two loaf tins.

32530690_1963988116966217_8521557943848534016_n

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Add the lemon zest and beat again to incorporate.

32416476_1963987913632904_214451088638607360_n

Add the eggs one at a time with a tablespoon of flour after each to prevent the mix from curdling.

Add the rest of flour and beat until combined.

32478927_1963988163632879_6055887613728915456_n

Pour the mix into the tin(s) and spread out to an even layer. Give the tin a few bashes on the base by lightly dropping it onto a countertop to remove any air bubbles.

32533135_1963988073632888_5350762607743598592_n.jpg

32387312_1963988076966221_1832932389408473088_n

Bake for 45 minutes. If the top starts to brown too much, cover it with foil to prevent it from burning.

 

Remove the cake(s) from the oven and leave in the tins to start to cool.

32327062_1963987996966229_6199142803323224064_n

Once the cakes have been removed from the oven, heat the drizzle ingredients until a clear liquid is formed.

Use a skewer to make lots of small holes all over the cake(s) ensuring that the holes go all the way to the base.

Slowly spoon the hot syrup over the top of the cake and let it be absorbed. If you are using a silicone mould, you can pull it away from the edges of the cake to let the syrup get all the way to the base.

32440575_1963988126966216_3927710453609791488_n

 

Leave the cake(s) in the tins to cool.

Remove the cake(s) from the tin(s) and serve.

32469092_1963988053632890_3944148427322949632_n

If you fancy, you can always garnish the cake with candied peel or a thick lemon glace icing (made from sifted icing sugar and a small amount of lemon juice).

32661357_1963987960299566_4970259025355603968_n

 

This cake goes amazingly well with all sorts of tea and is super moreish. The moist crumb is quite dense but doesn’t go soggy resulting a cake that is both flavourful and a wonderful texture.

For another treat that goes fantastically well with a cup of tea, check out how to make my fluffy buttermilk scones or if you are looking for something a little more savoury, why not make yourself a hearty chicken pie?

 

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with another recipe for a delicious soup – though this one is a little bit more summery!

H