Monday, 3 September 2012

Olympic Rings Cupcakes
I really meant to post these a couple of weeks ago but the time just got away from me, however, the Paralympics are still in full flow so I may not have completely missed my chance.  This batch ended up with my son's kindergarten to celebrate their own Olympic extravaganza.  Judging by the number of times we've had to re-create an arena, watch races, hand out medals and sing the national anthem in the garden since then...I'd say it made a big impact on him!  Now, since each cupcake has just one ring on the top, it's much better if they're shared with friends so they can put the emblem together.  In any event, these are for my little medallist at "jumping in the sand pit" (I think that was the long jump) and elite athlete in training!
For the cupcakes:
  1. This uses a 2 egg mix from the cake mix matrix - which can be found here .
  2. This will make 12 full sized cupcakes or 25-30 minis.  Since you need multiples of 5 cakes to make the complete set (as in the picture) you could either: have 2 left over for yourself once the kids have gone to bed, use a 3 egg mix instead, or use smaller cupcake cases.  The choice is yours.  If you decide to make minis, they only need to bake for around 10-12 minutes.
For the icing:
50g / 2oz unsalted butter softened
100g / 4oz icing or confectioners sugar sifted
1 drop vanilla exract
  1. Beat all the ingredients together for about 3 minutes until pale and fluffy.  
  2. Spread a little icing on each cupcake with an offset spatula or palette knife.  You only need to use enough icing to provide a flat surface for the topper.
For the coloured ring toppers:
100g fondant icing
Food colouring pastes **
2 small round cookie cutters - the sizes will depend on the size of cupcake you made
A pair of disposable plastic or latex gloves is recommended but not compulsory!
  1. Divide the ball of fondant into 5 equal pieces.  Add one drop of colouring to the first ball and knead it thoroughly until the colour is evenly distributed.  If you find the fondant gets sticky, dust your hands with a little cornflour then continue kneading.  Cover this piece of fondant with cling wrap then continue with the remaining fondant balls until you have all 5 colours.
  2. ** I must make a confession here: I haven't coloured fondant red or black in years, it is almost impossible to get a good intensity of colour without making the fondant mushy and impossible to use.  I bought the red and black in the photo above pre-coloured from a local cake decorating shop.  Now, if you're not going to need black or red fondant for anything else, I recommend that you leave the rings white then paint them with Wilton No-Taste Red or Americolor Tulip Red...similarly with the black.  However, Christmas is only a few months away and you could wrap any extra red or black fondant tightly in cling wrap (at least 2 layers) and keep it for Santa cookies...just an idea!
  3. Now, dust the benchtop with a little cornflour and roll out each piece of fondant in turn.  Cut the require number of circles from each piece with the larger of your 2 cookie cutters.  Then cut out a disc from the centre of each circle with your smaller cookie now have rings! 
  4. Allow the rings to dry for 10-15 minutes before placing them on top of the cupcakes.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Maple and Baileys Cupcakes - Happy Birthday Anna!
Lately I've been developing recipes for cocktail cupcakes: some of them based on well known and loved mixes and some new ones. The first fabulous child of those endeavours is a cupcake that is highly addictive!  I made them for my sister in law as part of her birthday banquet...but she won't mind me sharing them here!  So, the cake itself has a resinous slightly smoked depth of flavour with the addition of some good quality maple syrup (please don't even think about substituting anything "maple flavoured"), while the icing is laced with Bourbon Vanilla and Irish Cream Liqueur.  Now, my preferred flavours are always on the bitter or sour side of the spectrum...and I love a good gin and tonic, but even I have fallen in love with these, I urge you to try them!

For the Cupcakes: 
150g / 6oz unsalted butter softened
150g / 6oz caster or superfine sugar
3 large eggs
195g / 8oz plain or all purpose flour sifted
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
60mls / 4 tblspns good quality (organic preferably) maple syrup
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C / 350 F and line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake cases. 
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together for about 3 minutes until very light and fluffy. If you're using a free standing mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat again briefly. 
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. If necessary scrape down the bowl and beat again. 
  4. Reduce the speed to low and add the sieved flour and baking powder. Once they are incorporated, increase the speed to medium and beat for a minute or two, the mixture will become slightly paler. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the maple syrup, beat only until it's thoroughly mixed. 
  5. Spoon the batter into the cupcake cases and level the surface with the back of a spoon. Bake for 12-15 minutes depending on your oven, the tops should feel slightly springy to the touch. Allow to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes then move them to a cooling rack to cool completely. 
For the Icing:
200g / 8oz unsalted butter softened
400g / 1 lb icing or confectioners sugar sifted
60mls / 4 tblspns Bailieys (or other) Irish Cream liqueur
1 tsp vanilla extract (Bourbon preferably)
  1. Cream together the butter and sieved icing sugar, pulse the mixture to begin with so you don't cover yourself in the sugar! Once the mixture is combined, increase the speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes until very light and fluffy. 
  2. Reduce the speed to slow and add both the liqueur and vanilla extract. Beat well to combine. 
  3. Spoon the icing into an icing bag fitted with a medium round tip. Either start at the centre and pipe outwards, or pipe from side to side...just ├žos it makes a change from a swirly frosting!  Garnish with a few chocolate sprinkles and a piece of drinking straw so that your guests know which of the cupcakes are child friendly and which are strictly adults only. I challenge you to have just one!
Now, you'll see from the photo that I also added hearts as decoration.  These were made from some scarlet fondant I had left over from another project.  I simply rolled it out to about 2 or 3mm thickness, cut out the shapes with a mini cookie cutter and left them to dry on kitchen paper for about a week.  They store quite happily in an airtight box.  For more ideas on combining types of icing please click here .

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Chocolate Ganache Slice - a huge bang for just a few bucks! 
Well it seems like a very long time since my last post, I've been making cakes for friends, catering for parties of different sorts, and then of course there's the normal mayhem of everyday life! Thankfully I've been taking photos of all the baked creations along the way so now I just need to write them all up. So here's a slice I made for the grown ups at my son's first birthday party: in its most basic and elegant guise it uses just 4 ingredients and the reaction it gets is massively disproportionate to the effort required to make it. I can't really call it "baked" as no oven is required...unless you want to make the chocolate cookies in the base yourself. As with many of my recipes, this can be made gluten free very easily, just switch the standard crumb base for a GF one. The other thing I should mention is that this can be tweaked in a number of ways depending on your preference: you could add a liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Baileys or Tia Maria; you could add ground nuts to the base; you could add the zest of an orange to the ganache; you could make a simple caramel to drizzle over the slice; or even (and this is what I'm going to try next time) make almond or hazelnut praline and sprinkle it over for a bit of extra crunch. Whichever option you choose, it'll be yummy in a really big way and people will ask you for the recipe! Now, I have a particular fondness for Willie Harcourt-Cooze (his website can be found here) and I recently found a source for his 100% cacao out here in Oz. Of course I just needed an excuse to use it, so in the recipe below you'll see that there's a total weight for the chocolate but within that weight you can mix and match as you please. I used about 100g / 4oz of the grated cacao mixed with 200g / 8oz Green & Blacks organic milk chocolate. Decadent? Possibly. To die for? Definitely!

For the base: 
150g / 6oz plain chocolate crunch biscuits or cookies
60g / 2 1/2 oz unsalted butter
  1. Blitz the biscuits or cookies in the food processor, or place them in a roomy zip lock bag and beat them with a rolling pin until you have a fine crumb. 
  2. Melt the butter then mix it with the crumbs until you have a damp sandy texture. Press the mixture into a loose bottomed slice tin: mine is 30x10cm (or 12x4 inches) but you could just as easily use a round one. Be sure to press the crumbs up the sides of the tin. To avoid big wads of crumb base at the edge, I use my 1 cup measure to press the crumbs down and against the sides at the same time, this seems to result in a good even thickness. 
  3. Place the tin in the fridge while you make the ganache. 
For the ganache: 
300g / 12oz chocolate (milk, dark or a mixture) chopped roughly
300ml / 1 1/4 cups double or heavy cream
  1. Gently heat the cream until bubble start to appear around the edge but do not allow it to boil. Remove it from the heat. 
  2. Add the chocolate rubble to the cream and allow it to stand for a couple of minutes. Stir the mixture until all the chocolate is combined with the cream and you have a smooth glossy mixture. 
  3. Remove the slice tin from the fridge, carefully pour in the ganache and return the whole lot to the fridge for at least 30 minutes. 
When you're ready to serve it, remove the tin: I stand mine on a couple of cans and gently ease the sides down but I have to confess that I don't attempt to remove the slice from the flat base. Now, this can be served straight from the fridge but I prefer to allow it to come back to room temperature. In any event, it's easier to slice if you use a hot sharp knife. I just dip mine in hot water, dry it and cut 2 or 3 pieces then go back to the hot water. You can serve 12 people quite easily with the above quantities, it's pretty rich so less is more! I served this with cream but that really is gilding the lily, it's perfect on its own.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Fabulous Cheesecake - Reduced Fat So You Can Eat More!!
Who doesn't love a good cheesecake?  With the crunchy base, silky smooth top, and a pleasing tang of lemon it's both elegant dessert and comfort food all at the same time.  Now I am not usually into the low fat version of anything baked - mostly because substituting some weird spread for butter just doesn't work...but your traditional cheesecake recipes are so loaded with cholesterol I find it hard to justify the enjoyment.  So, I've come up with the recipe below, probably based on Nigella's but I can't be sure: it's been through a few versions - some worked, some didn't!  I think I've managed to preserve all the yummy texture and flavour, but you make it and decide.  Also, this one was made for Mother's Day so it has a little dark chocolate swirled on the top, but you could just as easily use a raspberry coulis - or nothing at all!  Oh, and the heart shape was a bit of whimsy, if you don't have a tin like this just use a 20cm / 8" round one.  And this can easily be made gluten free: just use GF cookies for the base, the remainder of the recipe is the same.
For the Base:
175g / 7oz Hob Nobs or Anzac Biscuits (or some other crunchy cookie with oats in) 
75g / 3 oz unsalted butter melted
  1. Either place the cookies in a grip seal bag and beat them to a fine rubble with a rolling pin, or place them in a food processor and pulse them a few times until you have the same texture.
  2. Combine the melted butter with the cookie crumbs and press into the base of a 20cm or 8" springform tin.  I like to use the base of my 1 cup measure to press the crumbs down evenly.  You don't need to press them up the sides of the tin - just make sure you have a nice level platform.  Place the tin in the fridge while you make the next layer.
For the "Cheese" Layer:
500g / 1lb 2oz Light Philadelphia (or other) cream cheese, softened
150g / 6oz caster or superfine sugar
3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 tblspn vanilla extract, or the scraped seeds from 1 vanilla bean
Zest of 1 large lemon - use a microplane if you have one
2 tblspns lemon juice
  1. Preheat your oven to 170 C / 350 F, fill the kettle with water and put it on to boil.
  2. Now, you can do all of the mixing part by hand in a big bowl with a wooden spoon providing the cream cheese is at room temperature.  Just follow the instructions below to get the order of ingredients right.  If you have a free standing mixer: place the cream cheese in the bowl and using the paddle attachment beat for about 30 seconds just until it looks like thick whipped cream.  
  3. Add the sugar, eggs, egg yolks and vanilla.  Beat on medium for about a minute until everything is well combined.  Lastly, add the lemon zest and juice and beat briefly.
  4. The next step is REALLY important to get that soft silky texture: take your springform tin out of the fridge and place it on a double thickness of foil.  Bring the edges of the foil up as far as they will go - they need to be at least half way up the tin.  Stand the tin in a roasting pan and carefully pour the cheese mixture on to the crumb base.  I like to pour it over the back of a big spoon so that it doesn't disturb the crumb base...but I'm probably being over cautious!  
  5. To avoid the risk of scalding yourself by carrying a big pan of boiling water: place the roasting pan in the oven, then immediately pour boiling water into it (around the springform tin) until the water level is halfway up the cake tin.  Close the oven door and bake for about 45 minutes (depending on your oven) or until the middle of the cake feels lightly set.
For the Topping:
8 tblspns low fat or fat free sour cream
2 squares of plain or bittersweet chocolate melted
  1. If your sour cream is fairly firm, stir in a tablespoon or 2 of milk until it can be poured easily.  Take the cheesecake from the oven (still in its water bath) and pour over the sour cream.  Drop dots of melted chocolate from the end of a teaspoon around the edge of the cake.  Using a toothpick or fine skewer, swirl the dots of chocolate into the sour cream (see photo above).
  2. Cook for a further 8-10 minutes until the sour cream is just set.  Take the cake out of the oven and leave it to set in the tin for about 15 mins.  Then, I like to run a thin off-set spatula carefully around the inside of the tin just to make sure it doesn't stick.  Unclip the springform and remove it, but leave the cake on the metal base plate.  Allow to cool completely then place in the fridge for at least an hour or two, but as long as 3 days is fine if you want to make this ahead. 
    TOP TIP:  place loosely scrunched up balls of foil (that are taller than the cheescake) around the cake before you cover the plate with cling wrap.  This will hold the cling wrap clear of the top of the cake...if it touches the cake it will ruin the beautiful smooth surface of the sour cream layer!
  3. Remove from the fridge and allow the cake to come to room temperature before you serve it, the texture and flavour is much better than when it's fridge-cold.  Serve it just as it is, or with a few berries...scrumptious!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Margarita Cupcakes - Or Get Your Cinco De Mayo On!!
I do realise that the 5th of May is really a celebration for the good people of Mexico but it has spread into the mainstream of US culture so I thought it only right and proper to honour the occasion with some slightly tipsy cupcakes...obviously this is strictly for my US bloggy pals, the rest of us have absolutely no excuse whatsoever for tipping Tequila into a cake mix...or frosting...hic!  Now, a cupcake is a thing of beauty: a single serving (assuming you can restrict yourself to just one) of cake which can contain the complete spectrum of cakey delightfulness.  It could be elegantly simple - like a vanilla vanilla, or completely decadent and OTT like a triple choc fudge.  As a general principle I have a few standard combinations I return to over and over with just the icing and embellishment reflecting the particular occasion they are celebrating.  My standard flavours are: vanilla bean, citrus (orange, lemon, lime or a combination), and chocolate.  For the recipe below I've started with a citrus base and then added a couple of things to both cake and frosting.  Just so you know, each cuppy has approximately 5ml (1 tsp) of alcohol in the frosting - I have assumed that it cooks out of the cake part.  Oh, and the pink cupcakes below are the 'virgin' version for non-drinkers and kids.
For the Cakes:
100g / 4oz unsalted butter softened
100g / 4oz caster or superfine sugar
130g / 5oz plain or all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
2 large eggs
Zest of 1 or 2 limes depending on how big they are - use a microplane if you have one
Juice of the limes you just zested
2 tblspns Tequila
1 tblspn Triple Sec or Cointreau (if you don't have any just increase the Tequila)
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C / 325 F and line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake cases.
  2. If you have a freestanding mixer just put all the ingredients in the bowl, beat on slow for about 30 seconds until everything is combined, then on medium for 2 minutes until the batter is pale and fluffy.  
  3. If you don't have a freestanding mixer, you can just as easily use a bowl and a wooden spoon.  Cream together the softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs and 2 tblspns of the flour, beat again.  Add the alcohol and lime juice, beat well.  Then add the remainder of the flour, the baking powder and the lime zest - beat until the batter is pale and fluffy.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases, level the tops slightly, then bake for about 15 mins (depending on your oven) or until they pass the clean skewer test.
For the Frosting:**
200g / 2 sticks unsalted butter softened
500g / 1lb 2oz icing or confectioners sugar sifted
2 tblspns Tequila
2 tblspns Triple Sec or Cointreau (if you don't have any, increase the Tequila)
Zest and juice of a large lime (use a microplane if you have one)
Zest of another lime cut into fine shreds for decoration
12 bendy straws cut down a little for decoration
  1. Using a freestanding mixer, beat the butter and sugar together - start slowly so you don't disappear in a cloud of sugar!  Once they are combined increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes until very pale and fluffy.  Add the alcohol, the lime zest and juice and beat again for another minute.  Now, if the icing seems a little soft place the whole bowl in the fridge for 20-30 mins.  If it seems firm enough to pipe carry on with step 2.
  2. Pipe big swirls on the cupcakes using a medium open star tip then decorate with a few shreds of lime zest and a straw.
  3. Strike up the Mariachi Band and get dancing on your hat!
** In response to a viewer's question(!):  If you'd prefer to spread the frosting more thinly on the cuppies instead of piping it in a big swirl, you can either a)half the quantities and use an offset spatula to spread it...or...b)make the same quantity and freeze the bit you don't use.  If you put the left over frosting into a zip lock (or grip seal) bag, squeeze out the air, seal it, then wrap the whole thing in another bag or cling wrap, it'll last a good 3 months in the freezer.  Except it won''ll be making another batch of cakes way before then!!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Ricotta and Spinach Slice
I have probably made this slice for every gathering we've had in the last few years...except once...and then I was asked if it was still in the oven!  It seems to be universally popular, which is somewhat surprising given that most people wouldn't eat spinach on its own.  It is one of the most versatile dishes too: you can cut it into 25 dainty 'entertaining-the-mother-in-law' pieces, into 4 'hungry fella' slabs...or anything in between; serve it hot with vegetables for dinner, warm with a salad for lunch, or cold and on its own in a lunchbox.  And it's very forgiving: you really don't need to be exact with the measurements and you can substitute ingredients quite happily if you need to.  For example: you can take it in a Provence-ish direction by using silverbeet (chard) leaves and a sprinkling of thyme, you can take it to Greece with filo pastry and a smattering of fetta, you can even go all Espanol with manchego cheese and a few chopped olives.  And I've seen big burly blokes go for seconds and thirds when I've served it piled on platters as part of a buffet.  Not only do "real men eat quiche", they eat this too!
2 sheets puff pastry thawed
400g Ricotta (smooth or lumpy, it makes no difference)
2 bunches of fresh spinach, or 1 package of frozen spinach thawed and well squeezed!
50g /2oz good hard cheese such as Cheddar or Jack, grated
25g / 1oz freshly grated Parmesan or Grana Padano or similar
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 nutmeg grated (or 1/4 tsp of ready ground nutmeg)
2 eggs
1/2 tblspn milk
1 tsp sesame seeds
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 C / 400 F.  Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper or baking parchment and place one sheet of pastry on it (remove the plastic backing of course!).
  2. If you're using fresh spinach, wash it well and cook it in a dry pan for a few seconds until it is JUST cooked, remove it to a chopping board and chop well with a mezzaluna or heavy bladed knife. 
  3. In a large bowl mix together the spinach, the cheeses, the pepper and nutmeg.
  4. Break the eggs into a cup and beat fairly well.  Pour most of the eggs into the spinach mixture - you need to reserve about 1/2 tblspn in the cup.  Mix everything together really well with a fork (it helps to break up any lumps on spinach).
  5. Pile the mixture onto the pastry sheet and spread to within 1cm / 1/2 inch of the edges.  You need to make it as even as possible and avoid a dome in the middle.
  6. Mix the milk with the reserved egg and use it to moisten the edges of the pastry.  Place the remaining pastry sheet on top and seal the edges by pressing down with a fork.  Brush the egg & milk mixture over the top of the slice to glaze it then sprinkle the sesame seeds over.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden and shiny.
  8. Allow to cool a little before serving, or completely before wrapping and storing.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Toffee Cinnamon Bites:
Here's a really quick recipe for a really quick snack.  The sweet version can happily join in with morning coffee, afternoon tea, or movie-time munchies.  The savoury version I've included at the end of the recipe is a great accompaniment for drinks whether it's civilised cocktails with the girls, or beers with the boys!  Excluding the time it takes to pre-heat the oven, I made both versions (which gave me 32 pieces) in 15 minutes.  If you're feeding a larger number of people just double or triple the quantities.
For Cinnamon Bites:
1 sheet frozen puff pastry - thawed
2 tblspns caster or superfine sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 C / 400 F.  Remove the plastic sheet from the back of the pastry, lay it on the bench and place the pastry back on top.
  2. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Sprinkle evenly over the surface of the pastry then press into the surface lightly.
  3. Roll each side of the pastry sheet in towards the middle, keeping the plastic backing on the bench.  When the two sides nearly meet, fold the along the central gap so that you have a long narrow log shape.  
  4. With a sharp knife cut off any ragged edges at the top and bottom of the log, then cut approximately 15 or 16 slices from the log.  Lay the slices on a lined baking sheet leaving space between for expansion.  Bake for 10 minutes or until puffed and golden.  When you bring them out of the oven immediately remove them from the baking tray with a spatula or palette knife and place on a cooling tray.  The reason for this is that the melted sugar will spot weld the bites to the baking tray if allowed to cool!
For Parmesan Bites:
1 sheet puff pastry - thawed
1/4 tsp chilli powder
2 tablspns freshly grated parmesan - or Grana Padano, whichever you prefer.
  1. The method is identical, just mix the cheese and spice together in step 2 then proceed with the rest of the steps.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Lemon Ombre Cake (or Happy Birthday to Me!)
There are a few flavours and flavour combinations which always make me happy: a good sharp hit of lemon would probably be in my top 3.  It was my birthday last week and, given that the long Easter weekend was coming right up, I deferred celebrations a little.  It's probably a bit odd to make your own birthday cake, but I consider it a present to myself!  I opted to max out the lemon: light as air lemon sponge layers, silky smooth but cheek-suckingly-sharp lemon curd filling, all swathed in tangy swirls of fluffy lemon frosting.  But the lemon isn't agressive at any point, it's all mellowed and balanced by the sugar you always get (and which can be cloying with other flavour combos) in both the cake and the frosting.  Oh, and all with the fashionable ombre effect (it's de rigeur daaahling!!).  There are a couple of things I would do differently next time I make this cake: firstly I would keep the cake refrigerated right up until serving just so that the cake crumb was firmer; and I would frost the cake on its serving plate rather than try to transfer it once completed...yikes!  If you have sandwich tins your life will be easier as you can bake 2 layers at a time; if you don't it's still not difficult, it just takes a bit longer to get the cake stage done.
For the Cake:
This is a 4 egg mix (from the cake mix matrix which can be found here.  PLUS:
8 drops of yellow food colouring gel (I used Americolor Egg Yellow), 
3 tblspns milk (making 7 tblspns or 105mls total)
Zest of a large lemon.
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C / 325F.  Weigh your mixing bowl and note down the number.  Line two 20cm / 8" sandwich tins, or a single cake tin if that's what you have to hand.  Make the cake batter as per the instructions in the matrix, adding the extra milk and lemon zest, then beat on high for 3 minutes until very pale, very light and very soft.
  2. Scrape off the beaters into the bowl and weigh it again, note down the number.  Now, subtract the weight of the mixing bowl and divide the answer by 5 - that's how much mixture is going into each layer of the cake (for me it was 175g / 6oz.  Place the cake tin on the scales, zero the scales, then pour in the required weight of cake batter.  Tilt the cake tin gently until the batter is evenly spread (if your mixture is a bit too firm to tilt into place just nudge it gently with a small spatula).  
  3. Add 2 drops of yellow gel to the remaining batter in the bowl and mix VERY well. Add 175g / 6oz of batter to the second tin, level the mixture.  Now bake both of these for approximately 9-10 minutes or until they feel springy to the touch.  If you're baking one layer at time make sure you bake it in the centre of the oven.  Meanwhile add a further 2 drops of food colouring gel to the batter in the bowl and beat well.
  4. When cooked, cool the cakes in the tin for about 5 mins then carefully de-tin onto a cooling rack.  Run some cold water into the tin (to cool it down), re-line and weigh in another 175g/6oz of batter.  Repeat the process until you have 5 cooked layers of sponge cake, adding 2 drops of colouring to the batter for each layer.  Make sure you remember the order in which you placed the cooked layers on the cooling that you stack them in the right order when you assemble the cake!
For the Lemon Curd / Lemon Butter Filling:
2 large or 3 medium lemons
150g / 6oz sugar
100g / 4oz unsalted butter cut up
4 large eggs (don't use very fresh eggs, the egg white is too thick)
  1. Place the zest and juice of the lemons in a heatproof bowl.  Add the sugar and the butter.  Break the eggs into jug or bowl, beat them well, then strain them through a sieve onto the other ingredients.  I know this sounds fussy, but you really don't want lumps of cooked egg white making your lemon curd grainy.
  2. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until everything is melted and/or dissolved - about 5 mins.  At this stage you'll probably wonder how such an unpromising mess will ever turn into something does.  Just leave the bowl over the simmering water, stir it every couple of minutes while you get on with something else, until you have a thick custard consistency.
  3. Remove the bowl from the heat, allow it to cool a little then cover completely with plastic wrap (it's best if the wrap touches the surface of the curd), and place in the fridge until you assemble the cake.
For the Frosting:
200g / 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
500g / 4 cups icing sugar, sieved
juice of 1 large lemon (the one you zested for the cake)
  1. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a free standing mixer and (using the paddle attachment) beat on slow until everything is combined.  Increase the speed to high and beat for 3-4 mins until very white, light and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides and beat for a further 30 seconds.
To Assemble the Masterpiece:
  1. If your cakes have fairly flat tops (which they should) you can go straight on to the layering.  If they have domed tops, carefully slice off the domed part so you have a flat surface.  Place the darkest yellow layer upside down on the serving plate.  Place about 2 tblspns of the lemon curd on top and spread almost to the edges.  If you need a little more lemon curd that's fine, you'll have plenty.
  2. Take your next darkest yellow layer and carefully place that on top.  Keep layering up the cakes with lemon curd in between until you have placed your final palest layer on top.  You can of course do this in reverse order so the lightest layer is at the bottom, it just seems a bit counter-intuitive!
  3. Now, take a bamboo skewer (or similar implement) and push it, from the top, right down through the entire cake stack.  This will give you some stability while you add the crumb coat of frosting.  Take a small amount of icing and spread it very thinly all over the top and sides of the cake.  Add more icing where you need to so that you have a completely smooth surface over the top and sides.  Remove the skewer and place the cake in the fridge for 20-30 mins.
  4. Now for the fun part!  I can't be precise here because so much depends on your icing style.  It really doesn't matter about precision though as you will have plenty of frosting of the right colour when you need it.  So, place a good couple of scoops of white icing in a disposable pastry/icing bag fitted with a coupler and small open star tip.  Starting at the top edge, pipe 6's or 9's (that's left or right spirals) around the side of the cake.  They should be large enough to cover about 1/4 the height of the cake.  Next, pipe the same spirals on top of the cake around the outside edge...see the photo above if my description is inept!  If you run out of frosting just scoop some more into your piping bag from the bowl.  Any frosting left in the bag can be squeezed back into the bowl.
  5. Add 1 drop of yellow food gel colouring to the frosting and beat well, it must be completely mixed in with no streaks.  Remove the coupler and tip from the previous icing/pastry bag and place in a new bag.  Scoop in some of the pale yellow frosting and pipe another layer of spirals around the side of the cake just below the white ones, repeat on the top of the cake.  Add another drop of food colouring to the frosting in the bowl, beat really well, then complete your third row...add a drop of colour, beat, complete the fourth and final row.
  6. Place the cake in the fridge for 30 mins or so, just to firm up the frosting.  And use a good sharp knife when you cut the cake...I didn't, and it fuzzied up the layers a little. 

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Icing Options
My last post was a recipe for orange nutmeg cookies (you can find it here) and I used some of the dough to make lambs and chicks for my little lamb and chick...and I promise this will be the last cutesy posting for a couple of months!  I also promised I'd post a recipe for royal icing which I have combined with ready to roll fondant on the lambs, and used 'neat' on the chicks.  It has taken me quite a while to settle on the recipe that works best for me and the local climate and I still need to adjust the amount of water if it's a particularly hot, dry, or stormy don't worry if you need to make small adjustments too.  Also, most recipes I have read talk about 'meringue powder' which I haven't been able to find locally.  But, I did find something called Pavlova Magic (well of course, it's practically the national dish!) which seems to work just fine.  Now, there are several videos on You Tube if you're new to piping, and this one is my favourite for basic technique.  Oh, and please don't think you have to do any of that origami business to make your own piping bags...get a pack of disposables from the supermarket or a cake decorating shop.  Lastly, please don't freak out that the lamb and the chick are the same size, this is not some scary steroid experiment...they're just cookies!!
Royal Icing: enough for at least 36 cookies
3 tblspns Pavlova Magic or meringue powder
500g / 1lb 2oz icing or confectioners sugar
5 tblspns water (which should be hand hot)
Upto 2 tsps of flavouring (vanilla or almond essence, lime juice etc)
  1. Place the Pavlova Magic or meringue powder in the bowl of a free standing mixer and add the hand hot water.  With the paddle attachment, beat on slow for about 30 seconds until it's dissolved then increase the speed to medium and beat for about a minute until the mixture is nice and frothy.
  2. Add the icing or confectioners sugar all in one go and beat on slow - to avoid getting covered in sugar - until everything is well mixed.  Increase the speed to medium and beat for about 6 or 7 minutes.  The mixture should be very white and very stiff.  If you remove the paddle attachment and run it through the icing, you should be able to turn the paddle upside down and the peak of icing will stand straight up.
  3. At this point, I usually divide the icing between a number of smaller plastic boxes or bowls, according to how many colours I need, cover each batch with a piece of cling wrap - and make sure the wrap is touching the entire surface of the icing to ensure that no air gets in - put the lids on, and stash the whole lot in the fridge until the next time I get an opportunity to potter in the kitchen! 
For the Lambs:
Pre-baked and cooled cookies
A small amount of light corn syrup (such as Karo) or runny honey 
White ready to roll fondant icing
White royal icing
Black sugar beads
Disposable piping bag fitted with a coupler and PME 1.5 piping tip
  1. Dust the kitchen bench with a little cornflour / corn starch.  Roll out the fondant to approximately 3mm or 1/4"  thickness.  Using the same lamb cutter you used for the cookies, cut out as many shapes as you need.  You can re-roll the scraps of fondant a couple of times, but after that there's usually too much cornflour incorporated and you need to use a new piece.
  2. Brush the surface of the cookies with a little corn syrup - don't go right to the edges of the cookie as they will have spread during baking and the fondant shape will be slightly smaller.
  3. Place a fondant cut out on top of each cookie and press lightly all over.  Push a black sugar bead into the fondant for the eye.
  4. Next, take a couple of tablespoons of white royal icing and place in a small bowl.  Add a teaspoon of water and beat really well with a spatula.  Pour the icing into the prepared piping bag.  Lift the bag and shake the icing down to the tip then twist the top part of the bag to make a seal.  (See the Sweetopia video link in the top paragraph for the visuals).  Now, pipe a line all round the body of the lamb and around the edge of the face.  Pipe some spirals and "C's" on the body - and there you have your woolly little lamb!
For the chicks:
Pre-baked and cooled cookies
Royal icing
Black sugar beads
1 disposable piping bag fitted with a coupler and a PME 1.5 tip (for the orange)
1 disposable piping bag fitted with a coupler and #2 plain tip (for the yellow)
  1. Colour a portion of the royal icing yellow - I used Americolor's Egg Yellow - and just add one drop at a time until you have a colour just a shade lighter than you would like.  Now, you want to create what I call 'all purpose' icing.  That means an icing you can use to outline AND flood a cookie at the same time.  So, when you draw a knife through the bowl of icing you want the gap to close and for there to be no trace of the knife mark in about 10 seconds.  So, add about a half teaspoon of water and mix well with a spatula.  Try the knife test.  If it takes 15 or 20 seconds for the mark to disappear, add another half teaspoon of water and beat again then re-test it.  Cover the icing and set it aside for about 30 mins, the colour will develop further.  Take a tiny amount of royal icing and colour it orange - I used Americolor's Electric Orange.  Just add a couple of drops of water off the end of your finger to thin this tiny amount.  Beat it well after the water is added.
  2. Pour each batch of icing into their respective piping bag, shake down and twist to seal.
  3. Take the yellow icing and pipe an outline around the body of the chick (not the beak).  Immediately flood the shape by piping inside the outline until the body and head areas are filled.  Gently shake the cookie left and right on the work surface to make sure the icing is even and levelled.  With a pair of tweezers, drop a black sugar bead into the wet icing as an eye.  Leave the icing to set for about 30 minutes.  Next, outline and flood a little wing shape on top of the piped body - it will look very dimensional!
  4. Finally, outline and fill the tiny beak and pipe on the legs and feet.  Leave the cookies to dry completely for 4-6 hours then place them in an airtight box and they will keep prefectly well for about a week.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Many years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I used to wear a perfume called Deci Dela.  And (call me an Ad Man's dream) I originally bought it because I LOVED the packaging, there's a link to it here so you can see - a hot pink matte glass bottle with gold embellishments.  And there was a hot orange matte bottle too...but I don't remember what the differences were between the two options.  Anyway, I have always carried the design around in the junk drawer that is my right brain.  Today, I opened the junk drawer...and some decorated cookies fell out!  Now, the cookies themselves are truly delicious, you could easily enjoy them without the decoration.  But I can't leave well alone and had to whip up a batch of royal icing.  I'm including the cookie recipe today and will endeavour to blog the royal icing bit tomorrow...or the next day.  Believe me, it's important to be precise with the icing part so I'd rather devote a whole post to it!  It's perfectly OK to allow these cookies to sit in a tin for a few days (or the freezer for a few months) before you decorate them, so there's no rush to complete them all in one go.  Oh, and the smell of these cooking is divine.  Divine I tell you.  Try it, and tell me I'm wrong!
Orange Nutmeg Cookies:
120g / 5oz unsalted butter, softened
100g / 4oz Trex or Cookeen or Shorteen or Crisco (butter flavour is the best option)**
250g / 10oz caster or superfine sugar
1 large egg
1 tblspn runny honey
Zest of 2 medium oranges (use a microplane, and only get the orange part)
1 nutmeg grated (or 1 tsp of ready ground)
3 cups plain or all purpose flour + 1 tsp baking powder
  1. Beat together the butter, shortening and sugar until it is very light and fluffy - about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the egg, honey, orange zest and grated nutmeg.  Beat again for about 1 minute until everything is very well combined.
  3. With the mixer on slow, gradually add the flour and baking powder.  Mix only until everything is combined and the dough starts to clump around the paddle.
  4. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, wrap each piece in cling wrap, squash down into a fat disc shape, then refrigerate for at least 30 mins.
  5. Preheat the oven to 170 C / 350 F.  Line at least 2 baking sheets, maybe 3 with baking paper or parchment.  Remove the dough from the fridge and its wrapping.  Scatter some plain or all purpose flour on the kitchen bench. Knead the dough lightly but firmly.  This will be tricky at first and the mixture may be quite crumbly.  Don't worry, keep going until everything comes together.  
  6. Roll the dough out until it is roughly half a centimetre / quarter of an inch thick.  Using your cutter of choice (mine are eggs because it's nearly Easter and that cutter was on the top of the pile!!) cut out as many shapes as you can from the first piece of dough.  Lift them onto the baking sheet with a bench scraper or palette knife.  
  7. Wrap the dough scraps in a piece of cling wrap and set aside.  Repeat steps 5 and 6 with the second piece of dough.  Now, combine both lots of dough scraps, lightly knead them together, re-roll and cut out as many shapes as you can.  Any scraps left over from this cutting should be binned, the dough will be too tough if you roll and cut it again.  Bake the trays of cookies for 10-15 minutes depending on your oven, the cookies should be just golden around the edges.
  8. Allow them to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.  They can be stored in an airtight tin for a week quite happily in their un-iced state, though if it's going to be longer than a week before you get to them I would recommend that you wrap them in cling wrap (in little piles of 5 or 6) and freeze them.
**  Since moving to Australia I haven't been able to find Trex, Cookeen, Shorteen or anything similar...until...I found Crisco in the USA Foods shop.  Can you hear angels singing??'s just me then.  Finally my cookies are light and crisp, just as they should be.  USA Foods offer a delivery service, and the website can be found here.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Festive Treats Part 3:  Ooey Gooey Chocolate Cupcakes!
Now I do realise that this time of year is mostly for children - and believe me, my kitchen is full of bunny ears, baskets and painted eggs - but there comes a point when you just have to wrestle some of the goodies back for yourself.  Most festivals are celebrated with either cake or chocolate, so I went all out with one of the chocolatey-est chocolate cakes I could put together.  And seeing as they're cupcakes, there's an in-built serving size (assuming you stop at one!) so my conscience is completely mostly nearly clear.  So, imagine a darkly dense chocolate cake, studded with choc chips, topped with smooth rich ganache, all topped off with a bit of seasonal whimsy made with whipped ganache.  I know they look like kiddy cakes...but you've heard of a wolf in sheep's clothing right?
For the Cupcakes:
  1. Line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake cases.
  2. This is a 2 egg mixture from the cake mix matrix which can be found here.  You need to make the chocolate version (swap 30g/1oz of dark cocoa for 30g/1oz flour), add 4 tblspns milk to the mixture, then stir in 50g/2oz dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases and bake at 160 C / 320 F for 15-20 minutes depending on your oven.  In any event, they should pass the clean skewer test.
  4. Allow to cool completely in the muffin tin.
For the Ganache:
250g / 10oz dark or semi-sweet chocolate.  You must use bar or slab chocolate not chips.
250ml / 1 cup double or heavy cream
25g / 1oz butter
1 tsp instant espresso powder (or 2 tsps instant regular coffee powder)
  1. Break the chocolate up into squares or medium sized chunks and set aside in a heat proof bowl.  Heat the cream and butter together until simmering, whisk in the instant coffee powder, then pour over the chocolate pieces.  Allow to stand for 5 minutes then stir with a spatula until the mixture is smooth and velvety.  Allow to cool for 15-20 mins so that it thickens slightly.
  2. Turn each cupcake upside down and dunk it in the ganache making sure the top of the cake is well coated.  Place (the right way up) on a cooling rack or serving plate.  Allow to set for about 30 mins.  Leave the rest of the ganache to cool while the cakes are setting.
  3. Now, if you use a free standing mixer transfer the ganache to the mixing bowl and (using the whisk attachment) whisk for a couple of minutes until the ganache is lighter in colour and fluffier in texture.  A hand held mixer will do equally well, just make sure you whisk all the ganache and scrape down the sides of the bowl intermittently.
  4. Place the whisked ganache in a piping bag and pipe a nest on the top of each cupcake.  I like to use a coupler and 2 different tips (a small open star and a plain one to create the twiggy effect) but a couple of swirls with an open star piping tip would do equally well.
  5. Finally, place a sugared almond chick in the middle of each nest, (there are details on making the chicks here).
  6. Wait until the kids are in bed.  Make a cup of tea.  Have a little piece of decadence all to yourself.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Festive Treats for Everyone - Part 2
I think I've probably been making Krispie Treats since I was about 6...and that's a lot of Treats!  Today's post is almost a replica of the Easter Nest I made all those years ago, the only difference being the chick inside the nest.  Back in the day it was always a sugar coated chocolate egg but I've found it quite difficult tracking those it's a sugared almond instead.  Now, the idea for the chick came from Sugarbelle's bluebirds which can be found here except that we don't get bluebirds like that in Australia, so I turned them into little yellow and white chicks. I iced the beaks on with some left over orange icing, but you could just as easily draw them on with food-safe markers.  Once again, these are great for the kids to make, little hands are particularly good at squishing the treats into the cupcake cases!
For the Nests:
25g / 1oz butter
2 tblspns golden syrup / dark corn syrup
100g / 4oz dark or semi sweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups Rice Krispies
12 sugared almonds (or something similar) with faces drawn or iced
  1. Line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake cases.
  2. Place all the ingredients in a microwave safe bowl and heat in 30 second bursts, stirring the mixture well each time, until everything is melted and well combined.
  3. If the mixture is hot, allow it to cool for about 10-15 minutes...but the chocolate will melt pretty quickly so it should really only be barely warm at this stage.
  4. Place about a tablespoon of the mixture in each cupcake case and press down and out to form a shallow cup or nest shape.
  5. Push a sugared almond gently into the centre of the nest and allow to set for about 30 minutes.
  6. That's it.  You're done.  How easy was that?!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Festive Treats for Everyone - Part 1
Now this is not strictly baking, it's child friendly no-bake baking.  And the good news is, these treats incorporate just about everyone: they're designed to celebrate Spring and Easter, but with a couple of small modifications they're also Passover friendly, dairy free, gluten free and nut free.  Not bad for kids' treats.  More good news: if you're looking to involve children in the process, the Krispie Treats are ideal:  everything happens in a big bowl with a big spoon, in a microwave, and with your hands.  Oh, and there's very little chance of sticky fingers being wiped on clothes or surfaces because they'll be thoroughly licked clean!!  I'll start with the easy ones first: the idea for the sheep was inspired by The Decorated Cookie's lambs made from cake, which can be found here.  But I wanted my 3 year old to be involved and rolling small amounts of sponge cake without squishing it into oblivion may be beyond I went for Krispie Treats instead.
For the sheep:
150g / 6 oz mini marshmallows
25g / 1 oz butter
1 1/2 cups Rice Krispies
12 pretzel sticks - swap for 24 matchsticks for the Passover/gluten friendly option.
6 sugared almonds - swap for full size marshmallows for the nut friendly option.
2 squares of white chocolate melted - swap for melted marshmallows for dairy free.
  1. Place the butter and marshmallows in a microwave friendly bowl and cook on high in 30 second bursts, stirring each time you check them, until you have a light liquid consistency.
  2. Add the Kripspies and stir thoroughly until they are all coated.  Make sure you use a BIG bowl otherwise the cereal will go everywhere.  Allow the mixture to cool for about 10 minutes.  If you're using pretzel sticks, cut each one in half so you have 24 pieces.
  3. Pour about a teaspoon of oil onto a paper towel and lightly rub it over the palms of your hands.  Then, take a couple of teaspoons of the mixture and roll it into an oval or egg shape, squeezing the mixture together as you do so.  Push 4 pieces of pretzel (or 4 matchsticks) into the krispy ball to act as legs.  Try your best to get them roughly even although sheep that look a bit tipsy are very cute!  Leave the shapes to dry on a lined baking sheet for about 30 minutes.
  4. Finally, dip a sugared almond - or full size marshmallow - in a little melted white chocolate and press on to the body.  You will need to prop up the sheep until the chocolate sets as the almond makes the front of the sheep heavy.  I propped mine up on a little stack of cupcake cases.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Simnel Cake: For My Mum With Love
You can take the girl out of England...but you can't take England out of the girl!!  A few days ago it was Mothering Sunday in the UK, which is different to Mother's Day everywhere else.  So I looked up the origins and...(now for a very quick bit of the liturgy):  Lent is the 40 day period immediately before Easter, and Mothering Sunday is the 4th Sunday in Lent.  In centuries past, children were often sent away into service.  The tradition was that you attended the parish church closest to where you lived (this would be the 'daughter' church) but once a year you returned to your home church - which would be the 'mother' church.  Children who had been sent away to work were granted the day off to return to visit their mothers and mother church, the two events collided and this once-a-year reunion became Mothering Sunday.  Happily, the traditional Lenten Fast was relaxed for the day so a celebration cake was definitely in order.  Now, with Mothering Sunday being so close to Easter, Simnel Cake has become traditional for either or both celebrations.  The only difference being the mode of decoration - crystallised flowers for Mothering Sunday and moulded marzipan for Easter.  And all of that brings me to today's recipe: this is the kind of cake my Grandma used to serve with a cloth on the table, a big pot of tea, and the best china.  I should point out that the marzipan in the photo below has NOT been toasted or burnished, so it looks a wee bit pasty.  Unfortunately I can't fit a cake under my grill and my kitchen blowtorch picked the least convenient moment run out of gas.  It still tastes gorgeous though...I've just finished a piece! 

For the cake:
150g / 6oz unsalted butter, softened
150g / 6oz soft light brown sugar
3 large eggs
zest of 1 lemon
2 tblspns milk
200g / 8oz plain or all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsps cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp powdered ginger
400g / 14oz mixed dried vine fruit (any combination of currants, sultanas, raisins)
100g / 4oz craisins...this is not traditional but it makes the cake so yummy!
400g / 1 lb marzipan or almond paste**
Small amount of cornflour/constarch for dusting the kitchen bench
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C / 320 F.  Grease and line an 18cm or 7 in round cake tin.  I prefer a spring clip tin but please use whatever style of tin you're happiest with.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together, they don't need to be light and fluffy but they do need to be well blended.
  3. Add the eggs to the mixture, one at a time, and beat well between each addition.  When they're all combined add the lemon zest and the milk, beat well.
  4. Next add the flour, the spices, and the baking powder.  Mix thoroughly but don't overwork the mixture or it will become tough.  Finally, add the dried fruit and mix again.
  5. Now, place roughly half of the mixture in the prepared cake tin and smooth the surface.  Dust the kitchen bench (or a rolling mat) with a small amount of cornflour.  Roll out the marzipan/almond paste until you have a circle which is about the same diameter as the cake tin, then place it on top of the cake mixture in the tin.  Spoon the remaining cake mixture into the tin, level the surface then make a slight dent in the centre, you want the cooked cake to be as level as possible.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 140 C / 280 F and bake for a further 70 minutes.  The timings will depend on your oven - in any event the cake should pass the clean skewer test.  Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin, then remove it and place it on a serving plate.
For the decoration:
400g / 1 lb marzipan or almond paste
Small amount of cornflour for dusting the kitchen bench
1 tsp jam or jelly - anything without seeds will do
Small fresh flowers (optional)
Piece of wide ribbon (optional)
  1. First, cut about 100g / 4oz of the marzipan from the block and reserve it.  
  2. Gently warm the jam or jelly by placing on a saucer and microwaving for about 10 seconds.  Brush it all over the surface of the cake.
  3. Dust the kitchen bench or a rolling mat with a small amount of cornflour.  Roll out the larger piece of marzipan until it is the same diameter as the cake - if you used a spring clip tin, you can use the loose bottom plate as a template.  Place the disc of paste on top of the cake and gently press down to ensure that it sticks to the surface.
  4. Next, either pinch off 11 equal sized pieces of marzipan from the remaining piece - or - roll the smaller piece of marzipan out flat on the kitchen bench then take a small cookie cutter and cut 11 identical shapes, discarding (or eating!!) any trimmings once this step is complete.  Roll the 11 pieces into balls and arrange them evenly around the edge of the cake.  Once you are happy that they are all evenly spaced, dab the underside of each ball with a little of the jam/jelly and press lightly onto the surface of the cake.
  5. At this point you have a choice: you can either place your cake under the grill / broiler for a couple of minutes to toast the surface of the marzipan; or you can gently burnish the entire surface with a kitchen blowtorch.  I prefer the blowtorch option - I find the heat is much more easily controlled.
  6. Finally, If you are using fresh flowers (please make sure they're edible ones!), arrange them in the centre of the cake and tie a wide ribbon around the edge, finishing with a generous bow at the front. 

** I choose to use the natural colour marzipan, i.e. there are no colours added.  However, the marzipan of my childhood was a somewhat violent yellow colour and there are times when I get all nostalgic for it.  So, if you prefer the yellow variety please go right ahead and use it...I would if I could get it!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Easter Cupcakes
So Easter in Australia is a funny thing - a bit like Christmas here is a funny thing too.  While the rest of the world is revelling in the fact that Spring is either sprung or about to, we're moving into Autumn.  Somehow the chicks, rabbits, and blossomy type flowers look a bit odd when the leaves are turning brown and falling off the trees!  But, there are some conventions I'm happy to continue...however odd they look.  I'm planning to post a few Easter recipes over the next week or so and here is the first - a cupcake, to ease myself in gently. 
I think I can safely say that these meet all of my criteria for an appropriate seasonal offering: there's chocolate in a couple of forms, there are the obligatory spring flowers, and that grass is the required luminous green!  I chose to pipe the grass with a simple buttercream frosting - because I'm a cake-geek and I have a grass piping tip - but you could just as easily colour a bit of shredded coconut green and get the same effect.  There are instructions for colouring coconut in the Sesame Street cupcake recipe which can be found here.

And so to the recipe:  it uses a 2 egg mix (from the cake mix matrix which can be found here) but I've made the chocolate version, so swap 30g /1oz of cocoa for the same amount of flour.  Bake the cupcakes at 170 C / 350 F  for about 15-20 minutes depending on your oven.  Allow them to cool for 5 minutes in their tins, then cool completely on a rack.

Icing - this is enough to ice the cakes as in the photo, you will only need about a third of this amount if you plan to use coloured coconut.
100g / 4oz unsalted butter softened
250g / 2 cups icing or confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Green colouring (I prefer to use the concentrated gels so that the icing doesn't become too soft)
  1. With the mixer on slow, beat the butter and sugar together until they are well combined.  Then increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes until the mixture is pale and fluffy.  
  2. Now, start adding the colouring a drop at a time and allow the mixer to thoroughly combine it before you add more.  When you have a shade of grassy green that pleases you, add the vanilla and beat briefly.
  3. Spread a small amount - about a teaspoonful - over the top of each cupcake and smooth it with a palette knife, this will provide something for either the piping or the coconut to stick to.
  4. If you're piping the grass, place the rest of the icing in a bag fitted with suitable tip (I'm afraid I can't remember the number of it) and start in the middle and work outwards in circles.  This way you won't crowd yourself and bend your beautiful blades of grass over!
Royal icing or fondant flowers
12 Sugar coated chocolate mini eggs
  1. Luckily, I had a million little spring flowers already made from scraps of fondant I used a few weeks ago so I used those but you could just as easily use pre-made royal icing flowers that are available from every supermarket (or cake decorating shop).
  2. Finally, take a mini egg and push it gently but proudly into the centre of each cupcake...and congratulate yourself on producing a masterpiece!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Easy Cheesy Pepper Loaf - Or a Taste of Ireland
We're coming up to St. Patrick's Day which has reminded me of a driving holiday I took with a couple of friends a few years ago around Ireland.  Being tourists we (of course) did the Ring of Kerry, Moll's Gap and made an attempt at Blarney Castle - but it was absolutely rammed with other tourists, so we took in the beautiful grounds and gardens before heading off again! Then on down the west coast to Bantry, Kinsale and Cork - although I may have that in the wrong order.  We stayed in small hotels, pubs and guest houses along the way, it was completely brilliant.  Now, Irish hospitality is the stuff of legend, so I expected us to be well fed and cared for...what I didn't expect was the amazing array of breads, cakes and scones that seemed to appear out of thin air as soon as we arrived anywhere.  Mostly, they seemed to be based on a Soda Bread style of loaf but with a million variations! So, in honour of St Patrick's Day I offer my best attempt at copying one of those quick breads.  The easy cheesy part is entirely authentic though I must confess the addition of roasted peppers is my could add some chopped chilli or jalapeno too for a bit of bite.  See what I mean?  A million variations present themselves from a basic recipe!
400g / 3 cups plain or all purpose flour
1 tsp bicarb / baking soda
2 tsps cream of tartar
1 tsp fine or table salt
2 large roasted red peppers (from a jar in brine not vinegar, or home roasted fresh ones)
150g / 6oz good strong cheddar style cheese, grated
25g / 1oz of the same cheese, grated, for sprinkling on the top
75g / 3oz unsalted butter, melted
265ml or 1 cup + 1 tblsp milk at room temperature
  1. Preheat the oven to 190 C / 375 F and line a large loaf tin.
  2. Chop the roasted peppers, then thoroughly mix them with the flour, bicarb, cream of tartar, salt and 150g of cheese.
  3. In a separate bowl mix the melted butter and milk, then pour them onto the dry ingredients.  Mix thoroughly but don't over-mix them as this will make the loaf tough.  The mixture will be fairly sticky.
  4. Turn into the prepared tin, level the surface, then sprinkly over the remaining 25g of grated cheese.  Bake for 30-35 mins depending on your oven, or until it passes the clean skewer test.
  5. Cool the loaf a little (say for 15-20 mins) before slicing thickly and serving on its own, as part of afternoon tea, or with soup.  

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Can you tell me how to get...
I have seen these character cupcakes all over the internet for a while and thought they were fabulous so of course I had to make them - it's a structured activity for junior and lots of fun for me (yeah, 'cos I really need an excuse to make cupcakes!!).
I used a 2 egg mix (from the Cake Mix Matrix) which you can find here and just added a couple of things:
For The Cakes:  
  1. Once the cake batter is made add 2 drops of Americolor Electric Pink colouring gel and mix well. 
  2. Divide the mixture between 12 cupcake cases and bake at 170 C / 250 F for about 15 minutes depending on your oven.
For The Icing:
50g / 1/2 stick unsalted butter softened
120g / 1 cup icing or confectioners sugar
2 tsps milk
Red, blue, and yellow liquid food colourings.
  1. Beat the butter and sugar together (using the paddle attachment) until it is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add the milk and beat for a further 30 seconds.
  2. Divide the icing into 3 bowls.  To the first 2 bowls add a little blue or red colouring and beat well until you achieve your preferred colour.  To the 3rd bowl add several drops of yellow colouring, beat well then add a single drop of blue and beat again.  Keep adding colourings in this ratio (say 3 yellow to 1 blue) until you get a happy olive green colour.
  3. Spread each colour icing fairly thinly over 4 cupcakes.  You may well have icing left over, it keeps happily in zip lock bags in the fridge for a week or so - certainly long enough to make another batch of cupcakes!
For The Toppings:
100g / 4oz shredded coconut
Red, blue, yellow liquid food colourings
4 orange peanut M&Ms (for Elmo's nose)
2 Oreos carefully cut in half (for Cookie Monster)
5cm / 2" piece of liquorice strap cut in 4 (for Oscar's eyebrows)
24 white chocolate buttons or candy melts for the eyes
Black writing icing (in a tube, from the supermarket) or small pieces of black fondant
  1. Divide the coconut between 3 small zip lock bags.  To each bag add a squirt of food colouring, seal the bag and massage the coconut well so that it takes up the colouring evenly.  Remember that the green needs to be more yellow than blue so add the 2 colourings in the same proportions as for the icing.  Now, tip the coloured coconut onto 3 separate small plates or saucers.  Pick up a cupcake, turn it upside down and roll the iced top of it in the relevant coloured coconut (so, red for Elmo, green for Oscar).
  2. Next, take a small sharp knife and cut mouth shapes for Cookie Monster.  I find it easiest to put the knife into the cake vertically and cut rather than sawing across the top of the cake.
  3. Dab a small amount of icing onto the back of the chocolate buttons or candy melts, position them on the cakes for eyes.  Push a peanut M&M into each Elmo cake for his nose.  Take a half piece of Oreo, smear a little icing along the cut edge and press it into the mouth shape you cut for Cookie Monster.  Bend the thin strips of liquorice strap so that they curve slightly and push them into the icing for Oscar's eyebrows.
  4. Finally, take the black writing icing and pipe the pupils onto the chocolate buttons.  Elmo tends to look straight ahead, Oscar tends to look down, and Cookie Monster's eyes are all over the place!  At the same time you can pipe a smile on the Elmo cakes, and a straight or slightly curved downwards mouth on the Oscar Cakes.
And there you are - your kids (or grandkids) will be impressed, and so will you!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Red Velvet Mini Cupcakes

I thought I might have to encourage, bribe and generally cajole my kids into learning to cook.  I needn't have worried - my 3 year old clearly sees baking as some kind of magical alchemy or advanced chemistry where you get to eat the results of your experiments...which can't be bad!  Of course he finds food colourings endlessly fascinating and asks for rainbow cake on a weekly basis, I'll include a recipe for that soon.  Meanwhile, he helped me develop my own version of Red Velvet Cake - which is light and fluffy while still maintaining that deeply seductive crimson crumb.  Since he would much rather have several teeny tiny cupcakes than one standard sized one, I made them in the smallest cupcake liners I could find: they are about 3cm or 1 inch in diameter...perfect for little hands and mouths, but please feel free to make them in a more grown up size!  When it comes to the food colouring I find that red (in general) has a bitter after-taste.  So, I would recommend that you use either Wilton No-Taste Red or Americolor Tulip Red, neither of which have any after-taste at all.

Now, I started with Nigella Lawson's recipe which can be found here and I tinkered with it a bit (of course!) and my version of it is below:
For the cake:
50g / 2oz unsalted butter, softened
100g / 4oz caster or superfine sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
60 mls / 4 tblspns natural yogurt
30 mls / 2 tbspns milk
125g / 5oz plain or all purpose flour
25g / 1oz dark cocoa (dutch process is good here)
2 tsps concentrated red colouring gel (such as Wilton or Americolor)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp white balsamic vinegar (or dark balsmic if you can't get the white one)

  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C / 320 F and line at least 24 mini muffin cups with cup cake cases.
  2. Beat together the butter and sugar until they are pale and fluffy - about 2 minutes.  Add the egg and vanilla, beat again until well combined. 
  3. In a small bowl or cup mix the yogurt, red colouring and milk together well until they are smooth, then add to the batter and mix thoroughly.  At this point I recommend you take the bowl off the mixer and continue by hand as you really don't want to overmix the batter.
  4. Add the flour and cocoa and stir thoroughly until they are incorporated, be particularly careful to scrape the bottom of the mixing bowl as you stir, to ensure that there are no scraps of white batter left down there.
  5. In a small bowl or cup mix the baking powder and balsamic vinegar - while it is still foaming mix it into the cake batter working quickly.
  6. Now, tip teaspoons of the mixture into the prepared muffin tins and cook for approximately 10-12 mins depending on your oven.  The tops of the cakes should be springy when you press them lightly.
For the icing:
250g / 2 cups icing sugar or confectioners sugar
75g / 3oz Philadelphia (or other) cream cheese - this MUST be soft
50g / 2oz unsalted butter softened
A variety of sprinkles, dragees, or pre-made icing sugar shapes** to decorate

  1. Place the sugar, cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a mixer and (using the paddle attachment) beat together on slow for about 30 seconds until everything is well combined.
  2. Increase the speed to medium and beat for a further 2 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy.  
  3. The plain white icing looks great on these cakes but if you would prefer a bit of contrast, take a couple of tablespoons of the icing and add a drop of pink food colouring.

To decorate:
I prefer a softer look for these cakes, so I just take a teaspoon of icing and swirl it on top of each cupcake.  However, if you would like a more defined/piped effect, I would recommend that you refrigerate the icing for at least 1 hour before proceeding.  Finally, sprinkle over your adornment of choice.  **Every so often I like to make decorated sugar cookies, and I always have royal icing left over.  I pipe this onto pieces of waxed parchment paper and leave them to dry for future use as cupcake toppers etc.  In the photo above, you'll see that I also sprinkled edible glitter on the wet royal icing...sometimes more really is more!!!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Coffee Cupcakes - Literally!

So you know how an idea pops into your head, and then you can't think of anything else until you've done it...or at least tried it?  I was in a cafe a couple of weeks ago and thought how fabulous it would be if you served coffee cakes in a coffee cup - either a demi tasse or one of those take-out espresso cups.  So, I asked the cafe they would consider donating a couple of cups to the cause (that was a big fat "No") then ended up buying 6 of them....obsession is a terrible thing!  Of course I had to have a go at replicating some of the more recognisable coffee combinations and these two were the most successful:

 Classic Capuccino on the left and Very Vanilla Chiller on the right.

This is a 2 egg mixture (see the Cake Mix Matrix) which will happily make 6 quite large cupcakes in these cups plus some extra standard or minis.  I also substituted the milk from the base recipe for dissolved coffee so that the consistency wasn't too soft.
For the base cake:
2 eggs
50g / 2oz unsalted butter - softened
50g / 2oz caster or superfine sugar
130g / 5oz plain or all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tblspn instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tblspn hot water then allowed to cool
  1. Preheat the oven to 170 C / 350 F.  Either place your free-standing espresso cups on a baking sheet, or line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until very pale and fluffy, then beat in the eggs in 2 batches) until they are incorporated.
  3. Seive together the flour, baking powder and salt then add to the butter/sugar mixture all in one batch.  Beat only until all the ingredients are combined.  Add the cooled coffee and stir briefly but thoroughly with a spatula ensuring that there is no unmixed batter left at the bottom of the bowl.  
  4. Fill the espresso cups about half full or cupcake cases 1/2 - 2/3 full.  Bake for approximately 20 mins or until they pass the clean toothpick test (depending on your oven).
  5. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

150g / 6 oz unsalted butter - softened
450g / 1lb icing or confectioners sugar sieved
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or 2 tsp vanilla extract
Milk (to achieve a piping or spreading consistency, between 1 tsp and 1 tblspn)
Drinking Chocolate powder - for sprinkling on the Capuccino cakes.
  1. Beat together the butter and icing sugar on slow.  If you're using a free standing mixer you may want to drape a clean hand towel (or something similar) over the mixer until the sugar has stopped rising in clouds!  Increase the speed to medium and continue beating for 2 minutes until the mixture is very pale and fluffy.  
  2. Reduce the speed to slow and add the vanilla plus a tiny amount of milk until the consistency is that of spreadable cream cheese.  
  3. For the Capuccino cakes, spread the icing over the cupcake and sprinkle with drinking chocolate powder.  
  4. For the Vanilla Chiller cakes, pipe a swirl of icing (I used a medium open star tip) onto the cupcake and garnish with a piece of drinking straw!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Cake Mix Matrix

Life is simpler when you have a template! I have a formula for making cupcakes (and layer cakes) which I always use whether I am working on a new recipe – or returning to an old favourite. Depending on what I'm making, I refer to it as a 2 egg mix, or a 4 egg mix etc. Now, the metric to imperial weight conversions below are not completely correct but they are close enough, I've tested them and they work!  My three "go to" flavours for cupcakes are vanilla, citrus (either orange or lemon) and chocolate.  In the matrix below I've given the quantities of flavouring ingredients you need to add or substitute (in the case of cocoa) for each of those flavours.

Caster or Superfine Sugar
Unsalted Butter
Plain or All Purpose Flour
Add Citrus Zest
Swap Flour for Cocoa
Yields How Many Cupcakes
50g /
50g /
65g / 2.5oz
15g / ½oz
100g / 4oz
100g / 4oz
130g / 5oz
30g / 1oz
150g / 6oz
150g / 6oz
195g / 7oz
1 ½
1 ½
45g / 1½oz
200g / 8oz
200g / 8oz
260g / 10oz
60g / 2oz
250g / 10oz
250g / 10oz
325g / 12oz
2 ½
1 ¼
2 ½
75g / 2½oz

  1. Cream butter and sugar together (using the paddle attachment) until the mixture is light, fluffy and almost white.
  2. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well in between each addition.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together (with a balloon whisk) the flour, salt, baking soda and cocoa if you're using it.
  4. With the mixer set to low speed, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until it is all incorporated.
Now – we need to talk about flavourings and milk: since you can add practically any flavouring to a cupcake it's hard to be prescriptive about the quantities – you need to use your judgement. However, some flavourings (like cocoa) will require you to adjust the volume of milk you add to the batter. Another consideration is the humidity on any given day. I live in a (mostly) very dry climate so I generally need to add a little more milk. In any event, start with the quantities above and make adjustments if you need to.  Please note that if you are adding chopped fresh fruit (such as apples or plums) to the cake batter, do not add any milk at all - you need a slightly firmer mix so that the fruit doesn't all sink to the bottom!

General rules:
  • Bake cupcakes at 160 C / 350 F for about 20 minutes or a loaf cake for about 45 minutes at the same temperature. For sandwich tins it very much depends on the size of them and how full they are.
  • A 2 egg mixture will make one loaf cake
  • If you prefer your cupcakes flat (rather than domed) bake them at a lower temperature for slightly longer. If you prefer them to be really domed or peaked (to make butterfly cakes for example) bake them at a higher temperature for less time.
  • Cakes made to this template keep well for about 4-5 days if wrapped and/or stored in an air tight container.