Friday, 29 April 2011

Happy Wedding Day Wills n' Kate!

Happy Royal Wedding Day!

So, I think I may have finally come to terms with the fact I will not be marrying Prince William any time soon...

And once I put my personal jealousies aside I invited a bunch of good friends to celebrate the Royal Wedding in all its pomp and glory with cake and cocktails. I was oncall working during the day but this certainly did not stop me missing out on all the fun.

I'd tried to avoid television sets all day (it was tricky) so I spent the day wondering whether Victoria Beckham upstaged the bride! Whether Prince Harry ran off with the Bridesmaid[s]! Whether Kate did a runner!

There was bunting, a quite brilliant Kate n' Wills 'Dress-up Dolly Book', bubbly, games, more bunting, cocktails and of course cake! Including Prince William's favourite, a fridge cake recipe that was be eaten AT THE ACTUAL RECEPTION, I thank you Daily Mail. And did I mention the bunting?!

Amongst the (mainly) sweet stuff served, I baked these crown biscuits.

Royal Wedding Crown Biscuits
(recipe adapted from Olive Magazine, April 2005)

300g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp almond extract
100g unsalted butter, softened 
200g caster sugar 
1 large egg

Crown shaped cutter

Marzipan, silver balls and royal icing (made up packet instructions) to decorate

1. Sift the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt
2. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and light, then gradually beat in the beaten egg and almond extract
3. Add the dry ingredients and mix throughly
4. Bring together to make a dough, adding a tsp of water if needed
5. Form into a disc, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for 30-60 minutes
6. Heat the oven to 180 C/fan 160 C/Gas Mark 4 and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
7. Lightly flour a work surface and roll out the dough to the thickness of a one pound coin and stamp out your shapes using your chosen cutter
8. Place onto your baking sheets and bake for 15-20 minutes until pale gold in colour. 
9. Decorate half the biscuits with strips or small balls of marzipan and the other half with the royal icing and silver balls

Baker's notes...
  • I decorated some of mine with Buttercream Icing, others with marzipan and others I left plain and just scooped on some jam, almost like a jammy dodger style biscuit!
  • You could also decorate with royal icing: grab a 250g pack of Royal Icing and mix with a little water to achieve a spreadable consistency
  • These biscuits will keep for 4-5 days in an airtight container
  • The recipe above makes up to 40 (!) biscuits, depending of course of the size of your cutters!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Royal Wedding Cupcakes

So Royal Wedding fever is reaching fever pitch with only 24 hours to go now.

To put a bit of different spin on the guessing game that is 'What will Kate's dress actually be like?' (for my ha'penny's worth I reckon it will be a long-sleeved lacey affair) do join in with my game of 'What is the most tenuous Royal-Wedding food tie-in?'. You may have noticed that any foodie business or manufacturer with a half-decent Marketing Department has jumped on the Royal Wedding bandwagon faster than you can say: 'Limited edition Royal Wedding version? No one else will have thought of that!'

 My favourites so far?

The British Cheese Board's Royal Wedding cheeseboard- complete with Wensleydale and Cranberry, a fruity blended cheese from Yorkshire, apparently just like the Father of the Bride! Hmmm...I'm not clear if the British Cheese Board is insinuating that Mr Middleton is a fruity bit of cheese.

There's also the Patriotic Potato Selection, complete with red, white and blue (!) potatoes for the Royals to tuck into in the evening do.

However, one of absolute favourites so far is Yo Sushi's 'Royal Roll': smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber 'sushi sandwich', which comes with a limited edition Royal Wedding commemorative plate with Wills and Kate as 'loved-up lucky kittens'...

Yes, really.

Do you reckon when Wills proposed he said:
'Darling Kate, will you do me the greatest honour of spending the rest of your life with me...before you say yes, you may wish to know you may one day appear as a loved-up kitten on a commemorative dish from a well-known sushi restaurant chain?'

But on to the cake! This is after a cake blog right? Despite my above rather, ahem, slightly sarcastic dismissals of all the numerous food tie-ins, I do love a good celebration. And a good wedding. And together with a few mates we will be tucking into these little cupcakes as we join the nation in raising a glass to the happy couple and thanking them profusely for giving us a bank holiday...

Royal Wedding Vanilla Cupcakes
(recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
120ml whole milk
1 egg
¼tsp vanilla extract

250g icing sugar, sifted
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
25ml whole milk
a couple of drops of vanilla extract

1. Pop the oven on at 170C/150C fan/325 F/Gas Mark 3
2. Sift the flour, and together with the sugar, baking powder, salt and butter beat with an electric mixture
3. Pour in half the milk and continue to beat
4. Meanwhile, whisk the egg, vanilla extract and the rest of the milk in a separate bowl and then pour into the flour mixture and continue to beat until all nicely combined
5. Spoon into the cases (until appoximately two thirds full)
6. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden yellow in colour and the tops of the cakes spring back to touch
7. Allow the cupcakes to cool and then spoon the buttercream on top. To make the buttercream beat the butter and icing sugar together. Add the vanilla extract and milk and beat again until the buttercream is light and fluffy
8. Decorate with these little British flags available from Jane Asher's sugarcraft shop

Bottom's Up!

The life and times of a Bake-o-holic: Battenberg Cake

Hello, my name is Kate and I'm a Bake-O-Holic.

There we go, I've said it.

I'm thinking, planning, dreaming and of course eating many a cake and bake at the moment. And as these celebratory days of Easter-to-the-Royal Wedding continue to roll on, this little blog of mine is on fire with new recipes. Literally smouldering in sweet stuff... A blooming great bonfire of baking... An inferno of icing sugar. These metaphors could go on and on as I'm sure you can imagine but I will save you from monotony-by-metaphor and put a stop to them right there.

And as a newbie to this blogging lark, rather than sensibly save up the recipes for those rainy days where  (whisper it) I may not feel like baking, I'm piling them all on the blog. Just like I used to pile on all those hundreds and thousands on fairy cakes when I was a kid.

So to the cake. Legend (well, Wikipedia) has it that Battenberg Cake was created for Queen Victoria's Granddaughter's wedding to Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. The four squares of the cake represent the four Battenberg princes: Louis, Alexander, Henry and Francis Joseph.

With its royal connections Battenberg Cake was a shoo-in for celebrating this week's Royal Wedding. The recipe is from Fiona Cairn's lovely, lovely book: 'Bake and Decorate'

Battenberg Cake


175g unsalted, softened butter
175g self-raising flour
half a teaspoon of baking powder
175g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp milk (may be required)
Pink or red food colouring
4 tbsp apricot jam, warmed in a small saucepan and sieved
Icing sugar to dust
250g yellow marzipan

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/fan 160C/Gas Mark 3 and a half
2. Lightly butter a 20cm square tin and line the base with baking parchment
3. Cut out a rectangle of baking parchment, as long and as deep as the tin to act as a divider lengthways between the two colours of sponge
4. Sift together the flour and baking powder
5. Add the butter, cut into small squares, and sugar, eggs and vanilla
6. Beat all the ingredients until smooth, adding a little of the milk if the mixture seems to be stiff
7. Weigh out half the batter into one side of the tin
8. Tint the other half of the mixture pink and stir until nicely blended. Add this to to other side of the tin

9. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the cake springs back to touch
10. Leave in the tin for a few moments before turning out to cool completely on a wired rack
11. When cooled, slice each colour lengthways into two equal blocks, then trim off the rough edges

12. Use the warmed and sieved jam to glue to strips of cake lengthways, allowing the yellow and pink strips to form opposite quarters. Brush the remaining jam all over the cake
13. Dust a work surface with icing sugar and roll out the marzipan into a rectangle the length of the cake and wide enough to wrap around all four sides.
14. Warp the marzipan around the cake
15. Seal the join by gently pressing it together
16. Trim the ends to neaten and score a criss-cross on the top surface
17. Dust with a light sprinkling of icing sugar

Baker's notes...

  • Next time I make it, I reckon it would be worth grabbing a ruler and measuring out the size of the cake before rolling out the marzipan. When I tried it without measuring it took a couple of re-rolls of the marzipan to get the correct size, which was a bit of a faff
  • I used approx ten drops of Dr Oetker food colouring, but its worth adding a drop of colouring one at a time and stirring each few drops in regularly to ensure you don't end up with too bright a pink colour
  • For variety on the pink theme, you could make a chocolate Battenburg, substituting the pink food colouring for a chocolate cake mix

Monday, 25 April 2011

Eggs-ellent Simnel Cake

I hope you've all had a lovely, sunny Easter.

What a happy few days. Amongst the glorious celebrations at our friend's wedding was an Easter Egg hunt. They hid all the eggs and shouted 'Go'. A says he's never seen me run so fast. What he doesn't know is that I've been in training for weeks now. Knowing full well the repercussions of me not returning, arms laden with chocolate eggs, A rose magnificently to the challenge and we formed ourselves a very productive partnership: A found them, I ate them.

For the final cake in the little mini-series of Easter bakes I've been blogging about comes the King of the Easter cakes: Simnel Cake.

Simnel Cake is a lighter, Spring-version of a fruit Christmas Cake. Less alcohol and more marzipan. Instead of penguins adorning the top, we have the Apostles. Except Judas of course, the persona non grata.

Beth, my guest-blogger-sister makes a very, very yummy Simnel Cake each year and the recipe is from Nigella Lawson's version in her book 'Feast: Food that Celebrates Life':

Beth's Simnel Cake


100g/4oz glace cherries, finely chopped
500g/1Ib 2oz mixed dried fruits
175g/6oz soft unsalted butter
175g/6oz caster sugar
zest 1 lemon
225g/8oz plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
half a teaspoon cinnamon
quarter teaspoon ground ginger
25g/1oz ground almonds
3 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp milk
1kg/2 Ib 4oz yellow marzipan
icing sugar for rolling
1 tbsp apricot jam, melted gently in small pan and sieved
1 egg white

1. Preheat the oven  to 170C/fan 150C/Gas Mark 3
2. Butter and line the bottom and sides of a 20cm springform cake tin with double layer of brown baking paper
3. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, and add the lemon zest
4. Stir the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and ground almonds into a separate bowl
5. Add one of the eggs and 2 tbsps of the flour-spice-almond mixture to the creamed butter and sugar mixture
6. Beat in the rest of the eggs in the same way. And beat in the remainder of the flour-spice-almond mixture
7. Add the milk and fold in the fruit
8. Dust a surface with a little icing sugar and roll out 400g of the marzipan. Cut it into a 20cm circle, which will be fitting nicely into the middle of the cake shortly
9. Spoon half of your mixture into the bottom of cake, levelling the top
10. Lay the marzipan circle on the mixture and then spread the remainder of the mixture on top of the marzipan, smoothing the top of the cake

11. Bake in the oven for half an hour at first. Then, reduce the temperature of the oven to 150C/fan 130C/Gas Mark 2 for another one and a half hours. Once completely cooled release the cake from the confines of the tin and spread the melted and sieved apricot jam over the top
12. Roll out a second circle of marzipan and place gently on top
13. Roll out eleven Apostle balls from the left-over marzipan, roughly 2.5cm in diameter
14. Beat the egg white just until it is loosened and resembling glue and stick the Apostles around the perimeter of your cake
15. Finally, paint the whole of the top of the cake, including the Apostles with the egg white and using either a blow-touch or a grill, burnish the top of the cake and the Apostles. If grilling keep a really, really close eye so the cake doesn't burn

Happy Easter Eating!!

This post has been entered in the 'A Slice of Cherry Pie' Easter Cake Bake

Easter Cake Bake

Thursday, 21 April 2011

(Very) Hot Cross Buns

I'm officially on holiday. Its a lovely feeling. I'm feeling festive and in the mood to celebrate the holiday weekend(s). The only down side to this by-in-large extremely happy state of affairs is that I seem to want to sing Cliff Richard songs all the time at the moment. 'Summer Holiday and 'Congratulations and Celebrations' are on a constant loop in my head. Its a sorrowful byproduct of the holiday joy.

But the long weekend(s) are simply made for baking, no? Not only is it Easter, with all the baking treats this first weekend brings, but also the Royal Wedding the following weekend. Personally I'll be celebrating Wills 'n Kate's forthcoming nuptials by eating a lot of cake. I'm sure, if they knew, they would appreciate my very generous gesture.

So first off, Hot Cross Buns.

By wonderful coincidence, saving me from researching the best buns to bake, Felicity Cloake in The Guardian dedicated a whole column to making the perfect hot cross bun today. However, I'd also read Nigel Slater's monthly column in Sainsbury's Magazine recently in which he described making hot cross buns as:

 'the kitchen will be filled with the smell of Easter-dried fruits, mixed spice and warm baking*. This is cooking for the sake of it, for the sheer pleasure of bringing a tin of glistening, sugar-coated baps from the oven and watching everyone tuck in'

So I decided to combine Felicity and Nigel's recipes. Which means these buns are the illegitimate children of Nige and Felicity

I've never tried making hot cross buns before and found them to really just be a fancy-pants dough mixture. Admittedly piping on the crosses were a bit of a faff, but then without the cross, well the buns wouldn't be cross, just hot.

Hot Cross Buns
(adapted from Nigel Slater and Felicity Cloake)

450g plain flour
7g dried yeast
50g soft brown sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
80g sultanas
45g currants
50g mixed peel
2 large eggs
225ml milk
50g butter

For the crosses:
3 tbsps plain flour

For the glaze:
2 tbsp soft brown sugar

1. Sift the flour in a large bowl
2. Add the sugar, yeast, spice and half a teaspoon of salt
3. Stir in the dried fruit and peel
4. Beat 1 egg and pour into the flour
5. Warm the butter and milk (don't boil), and when warm add to the flour and initially bring together with a knife before using your hand to bring the dough together
6. Tip the dough onto a well-floured surface. It will be pretty sticky at this time.
7. Knead for 7-10 minutes until the dough feels all nice and soft and elastic
8. Pop in a clean bowl and cover with cling film or a tea towel
9. Allow to rise for approximately 1 hour or until doubled in size
10. Turn the dough back out onto a floured surface and divide into 12-16 pieces
11. Roll each piece into a ball and pop onto a nonstick baking sheet
12. Cover the buns with a tea-towel and allow to plump up for 30 minutes
13. Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas Mark 8. Cut a cross into the top of each bun
14. Beat the remaining egg and using as a wash to gently brush over the buns
15. Mix the flour with a small amount of water to make a paste and pipe onto the top of the buns in the shape of a cross. Pipe either using a piping bag or a plastic food bag with a small hole cut into the bottom
16. Place the buns in the oven for 18-20 minutes
17. Make the glaze by mixing the sugar with 4 tbsps of kettled boiled water. Brush gently on top of your buns as soon as they come out of the oven
18. Allow to cool slightly before slathering with butter and tucking in with gusto!

Happy Easter!

* It was bloomin warm- I'm making them on the hottest day of the year- a sweltering 26 C in London today

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The chicks that got chucked (Easter Garibaldi biscuits)

I got a bit over-excited in Divertimenti last weekend and spent a small fortune on a whole array of biscuit cutters. Including a flower petal and an appropriately-Easter-themed chick cutter.

Great, I thought, Easter biscuits: done.

The only problem was that, well, the chick biscuits turned out a bit rubbish. Tasty, but some chicks had no legs, others were missing their tail, others came out of the oven beak-less. Only one chick survived with all extremities intact, but even then, when I showed this one lone chick survivor to A the conversation went a little like this:

Me: [holding up chick biscuit] 'Oh. A. What do you think this is?'

A: [look of intense concentration] ' it a bear?'

Me: 'No, A. It is not. Guess again. And note time of year'

A: 'Is it some kind of bird?'

Me: [pointing wildly at the not-insignificant collection of empty Easter Egg boxes piled up awaiting recycling day]  'Again, time of year. Note it. And guess again'

A: '......I know! Its a chicken! A Chicken!'

Me: [eyebrows raised quizzically] 'An Easter chicken?'

A: 'Baby chicken?.... Chick!! Its a Chick!!'

Me: [nodding] 'That is correct'

A: ' .....Please may I eat it?'

So, after the first batch, the chicks got chucked and my bear/bird/chicken cutter was dumped unceremoniously in favour of the petal cutter, the results of which are in the picture above. For the only photo of the chick survivor, Chicky (an original name you'll find, that I put plenty of thought into choosing) see below.

Easter Garibaldi Biscuits
(adapted from James Martin, at the BBC)

110g/4oz caster sugar
110g/4ox softened butter
1 egg, seperated
225g/8oz plain flour
Half a teaspoon mixed spice
55g/2 oz currants
30g/1oz candied peel
2-3 tbsp milk

1. Line 1-2 baking trays with greaseproof paper and preheat the oven to 160C/235F/Gas MArk 3.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. This will take between 3-5 minutes
3. Beat in the egg yolk until well combined
4. Fold in your flour, stir in the mixed spice, currants and candied peel
5. Add the milk gradually until a stiff dough has been formed; you may not need all the milk
6. Roll out the dough onto a floured surface and using a cutter of your choice cut out your biscuits
7. Place on the baking sheet and intially bake the biscuits for ten minutes. Then whip your biscuits back out and brush with the egg white you've kept behind, sprinkle with a little sugar and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes longer until they are light golden-brown in colour
8. Cool on a wire rack. Although tasty eaten warm with a nice cup of tea, they will keep in an air-tight container for a few days

Chicky, the only intact Easter chick:

Bit rubbish, no??

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Baker's Crucible: Chocolate Chip Cookies

The New York Times has pronounced that 'like the omelette, which many believe to be the true test of a chef, the humble chocolate chip cookie is the baker’s crucible'

Liking nothing but a darn good baking challenge, I set out to meet my baking match.

[I feel at this stage we need cheering audiences, strobe lighting and an over-excitable man with a booming loudspeaker to announce me in my pinny in the red corner and the mighty chocolate chip cookie in the blue corner]

There are 2,180,000 recipes for chocolate chip cookies on google. Where to start?

Really a chocolate chip cookie recipe ought to come from an American baker. I mean, Americans grew up on the chocolate chip cookie. We Brits grew up on the hob nob. Its just not the same.

Martha Stewart, Dorie Greenspan et al all have their own versions, but many American baking blogs refer to Alton Brown as the King of the Cookie. No, I hadn't really heard of him either. A quick wikipedia later and I can reveal he is host of foodie shows such as Iron Chef America (cooking while weight lifting I'm thinking) and Feasting on Asphalt (apparently not a programme devising interesting ways of cooking with concrete, but a progamme exploring eating on the move). So now you know.

Chocolate Chip Cookie


227g butter
304g bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
32g caster sugar
160g light muscovado sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp milk
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
250g dark chocolate chips

(the above are the UK conversions from the American 'cups' measurements, the original of which can be found on The Food Network. Conversions courtesy of All Recipes)

1. Heat oven to 375 F, 190 C, Gas Mark 5
2. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom medium saucepan over low heat
3. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside
4. Pour the melted butter into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugars. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed.
5. Add the egg, yolk, milk and vanilla extract and mix until well combined
6. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined.
7. Stir in the chocolate chips.
8. Chill the dough
9. Scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 6 cookies per sheet
10. Bake for 10-14 minutes or until golden brown, checking the cookies after 5 minutes, and keeping a close eye on them until they are done.

Some tips...
  • This recipe makes a couple of dozen cookies. They tasted great.
  • In terms of chilling, some of the New York bakeries chill their doughs for 36 hours. I chilled mine overnight (about 24 hours in total). According to The New York Times the original creator of the chocolate chip cookie would let her dough rest overnight, and this results in a 'richer, with more bass notes of caramel and hints of toffee'. Many chocolate chip recipes I've been reading state three hours of chilling will suffice
  • You may wish to rotate the baking sheet for even browning half way through baking
  • The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days, although I think they are at their best warm, fresh out of the oven with a glass of milk. Just like in the U S of A.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Good Luck Granola

When I think of a marathon I develop cold sweats and horrific flashbacks of my 14 year old self running cross county in the horizontal, sleeting rain, though boggy, muddy fields in our weekly physical torture sessions (also known as PE lessons). By 'running' I really mean thinking up inventive excuses for missing next week's sessions ['honestly, miss, the dragon just came down and ate my trainers! Staight off my feet! I know, you couldn't make it up!'*]. I have to lie down in a cool, dark room until I recover from such flashbacks.

I am seeking professional help for this.

However, 37000 people are taking part in this year's London Marathon this Sunday, including friends of mine. And to show my support I've made for them these Good Luck Granola Bars. Because they are sort-of-healthy sweet things.

They are also well tasty and excellent for those of us who will be watching the Marathon from the safety and security of the sofa.

Good Luck Granola bars
(adapted from Good Food Magazine, August 2008)


200g porridge oats
100g butter
100g pumpkin seeds
50g sesame seeds
50g chopped pecans
75g cranberries
25g dried apricots
3 tbsp honey
100g light muscovado sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

1. Heat the oven to 160 C/fan 140 C/Gas Mark 3.
2. Butter and line the base of an 18 x 25cm tin
3. Mix up your oats, seeds and nuts, pop them onto a roasting tin and pop in the oven for about 5-10 minutes to toast
4. Meanwhile, melt the honey, sugar and butter in a pan over a low heat, stirring throughout
5. Add the oaty mix, the dried fruit and cinnamon into the pan and mix together until all oaty mixture is well coated
6. Tip into the tin, flatten lightly and bake for 30 minutes
7. Cool and then cut into approximately 12 bars

Some tips...

  • If you can, try and buy the best quality oats you can find. It does make a difference
  • Leave the bars to cool completely in the tin before trying to cut otherwise they are a bit of nightmare to cut into nice pieces
  • You can use a whole range of dried fruits (cherries perhaps, or blueberrys), nuts (walnuts maybe) and seeds (try sunflower to mix it up a bit) as long as your have the same quantities as the recipe specifies
  • Try crumbling the granola on top of yogurt for a tasty breakfast

* There is a dragon on the Welsh flag. Its the national animal if you like. So it could happen.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Ohh la la! Le Chocolate Macaroon!

A and I went to Paris last August.

We got a 'little' (ahem) tipsy on lovely French vino and went up the Eiffel Tower at midnight. My word, it seemed to sway an awful lot.

We sat at pavement cafes watching the oh-so-chic Parisian world go by.

We walked the Champs Elysee while I sang, extemely out of tune, 'Aux Champs Elysees'. Over and over again. And I really only know that one line from the song so it was quite painful for A. The Champs Elysee he found to be quite long.

And we ate a heck of a lot of macaroons. Well, when I say 'we', I mainly mean me. I think I may have had the odd baguette to spice things up a bit, but really it was all about the macaroons. Each paterrserie we passed I'd insist upon a detour and greedily lap up the brightly coloured displays of macaroons.

So its quite amazing that its taken me this long to get round to actually making them.

For my first attempt, I choose this recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's weekly column in The Guardian. And while I reckon beginner's luck played a huge part, they were really pretty good, a crisp shell on the outside, while all gooey and rich on the inside. And they are easier than you think they may be. Honest.

Chocolate Macaroons


125g icing sugar
3 tbsp cocoa
165g ground almonds
3 egg whites
55g caster sugar
¼ tsp vanilla extract

For the ganache

100g plain chocolate, chopped into small pieces
100ml double cream

1. Heat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2.
2. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
3. Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl, and whisk in the almonds.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy, then gradually whisk in the sugar until the mixture is stiff and glossy.
5. Stir half the almond mixture into the egg whites, then add the rest, along with the vanilla, and fold until just combined.
6. Transfer the mixture to a plastic bag and cut a one cm hole in the bottom. Or you can use a piping bag with a one cm nozzle.
7. Pipe on to the baking sheets. Tap the sheets hard on a worktop to eliminate air bubbles.
8. Bake until the macaroons feel slightly firm, about 18 minutes. Remove, allow to cool slightly, then transfer on the parchment to a wire rack to cool completely.
9. To make the ganache, put the chocolate in a bowl.
10. Warm the cream in a small saucepan until barely simmering, pour this over the chocolate, leave to stand for two minutes, then stir until the mix is smooth and cool.
11. Spread some ganache on to half the macaroons and sandwich together with the remaining ones.
12. Refrigerate, covered, until you're ready to serve.

When exploring the many different recipes available I also read these tips:

  • Hugh reckons they're better made with egg whites separated, covered and left in a cool place overnight.
  • Once you've piped the mixture onto the baking sheet, leave for 15 minutes before placing in the oven as this helps form the hard shell
  • Keep a really close eye on the macaroons when in the oven- initally they'll rise, then watch them carefully to judge when they are firm enough. In some ovens this may take 14-15 minutes, rather than the 18 minutes in the above recipe
  • Some recipes suggest the macaroons taste better the day after you've baked them- and this was certainly the case with these ones. Keep them in the fridge overnight.
  • And if you are out and about in London and have a craving for macaroons may I recommend Laduree in Harrods or Pierre Herme at Selfridges or Lanka near Chalk Farm for unusual, Japanese influenced macaroons

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Orange and caramel custard pie

The sunny weather has continued all weekend here in London-town.

(I promise this blog isn't really about the weather, even though, on the last count, my notes on the day's weather have featured in no less than one in four of my posts. Its being British you see. We're obsessed with the seasons).

I wanted pudding tonight to reflect the hot, sunny temperatures (there I go again) and our local Italian deli was advertising a fresh delivery of Sicilian oranges.

I remembered back to a recipe in an old edition of Good Food magazine and following much digging and much muttering 'it must be here somewhere' I finally found it: orange and caramel custard pie.


3 egg yolks
85g caster sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
1 heaped tbsp cornflour
250ml skimmed milk
zest 1 orange

For the topping and base:
1 egg white
3 large sheets filo pastry, halved
3 oranges, skin and pith removed, sliced into rounds
50g caster sugar

For the custard:
1. Beat the egg yolks and sugar for a few minutes until pale and slightly thickened, then whisk in the flours
2. Heat the milk and orange zest in a saucepan
3. Once it's starting to boil around the edges, whisk into the egg mix
4. Put the whole lot back into the pan, stirring all the time until thick and boiling
5. Leave to cool completely. This lovely custard can be made up to 2 days in advance and refridgerated

For the pastry base:
1. Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6
2. Brush the filo sheets one by one with egg white and use to line a 23cm loose-bottom flan tin, overlapping the pieces as you go. Resist letting the pastry overhang as you'll never get it out of the tin; instead, fold the pastry over itself at the edges
3. Bake blind for 10 minutes, then give it another 5 minutes until dark golden and crisp
4. Leave to cool. This stage can be made up to 1 day ahead

To assemble:
1. The cream filling will be set by now, so beat again with electric beaters until smooth
2. Spoon into the case, then chill for at least 30 minutes
3. To serve, put the sugar into a non-stick frying pan and leave over a gentle heat to melt and then caramelise, swirling the pan only a few times
4. Spread the sliced oranges over the custard
5. When the caramel is dark golden, drizzle it over the oranges, let it set for a few minutes, then serve immediately

My only tiny criticism of the recipe was that the pastry was only ok. I might make it with shortcrust pastry next time. However, the zesty, creamy custard and fresh orange slices were deee-lish, and to be honest, popped into a little ramekin, with a sprig of mint on top, would make a mighty fine dessert in their own right.

Brighton Rocks

(or the tale of how we ate our way around Brighton)

London has been basking in glorious sunshine all week. Coats have been regulated to the back of the wardrobe, last year's sunglasses dusted off and the long, dark days of winter finally seem to be but a distant memory.

So there was only one thing for it: a trip to the seaside. And along with the entire rest of the population of the South East of England we day-tripped it to Brighton.

I properly love the seaside. It makes me grin from ear to ear. I love it  as much as I love chocolate (see previous post...).

Our Brighton foodie odyssey began at The Gingerman restaurant, where we tucked into their delicious lunch time special of salmon fishcakes to start followed by steak and kidney pudding. And I became one of those people who photograph their food in restaurants before eating it:

Feeling too full for pudding (an inconceivable medical condition I am very, very rarely afflicted with), we walked off our lunch along the bustling seafront. And saw Chris Eubank. It's true.

It wasn't long before my sweet tooth piped up with 'what do you mean you missed pudding?', and we found ourselves outside the Angel Food Bakery (which I definitely hadn't researched extensively and in depth the night before and certainly hadn't sniffed out as soon as we landed in Brighton). We tucked in to a selection of their gorgeous cupcakes:

(hand modelling by A, who via my not-inconsiderable handlers fees will consider all hand modelling offers)

Our stroll through the lanes continued with a rejuvenating coffee at Taylor St Coffee. Much needed by this time as a combination of good food and sunshine had resulted in much doziness.

Coffee hit received, we explored the quite, quite wonderful Bill's Produce Store...

...buying these little treats...

...and 'ohhed' and 'ahhed' infront of the quite-brilliantly named Choccywoccydoodah...

..wondering how long it would take for me to eat the chocolate house in the window (ten seconds flat. At most):

...before relaxing back on the beach with a glass of vino as we watched the sun set....

...and finally a glass of English sparking wine at Plateau:

Sadly, and possible very un-surprisingly, we were too full by nightfall to finish with the traditional fish and chips on the Pier, which will just have to wait for the next sunny day.

Brighton rocks.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Rubik's Cube, Pac-Man, Dynesty and coffee and walnut cupcakes- did the 1980's ever go out of fashion?

When I was a little 'un, I ate only ham and cheese for the first three years of my life. True story. I was a right fussy one. Ask my long-suffering parents.

One thing I've only (embarrassingly) developed a taste for recently is coffee. Still fussy about that mind. Monmouth Coffee is where its at. But this dislike of coffee for the first 25 years of my life meant I missed out on Mum's Coffee and Walnut Cake, even though in theory, being a sweet item, I should have been all over it, so to speak. I've since discovered the joys of this truely '80s, retro cake. Immediately, upon thinking of coffee cake, with that dash of instant coffee to flavour, Rubik's Cube, Duran Duran, the perm, shoulder pads, Dynasty, Pac-Man and leg warmers instantly spring to mind.

This recipe has been adapted from Delia's Complete Cookery Course (published 1982) and Nigel Slater's Coffee and Walnut Cake. I've made them into little cupcakes.

Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes


110g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
110g butter at room temperature
110g caster sugar
2 large eggs
50g finely chopped walnuts
1tbsp instant coffee powder mixed with 1 dessertspoon of hot water

And for the frosting...
100g butter, at room temperature
200g icing sugar
2 tsps of instant coffee, dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water
walnut halves to decorate


Set the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas mark 4
Line a 12  hole muffin tin with muffin cases

1. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl
2. Add the eggs, caster sugar and butter and whisk with an electric hand whisk, until you have a smooth mixture and all the ingredients are nicely combines
3. Add the walnuts and coffee mixture and whisk again
4. Divide the mixture into each case- roughly a heaped teaspoon and a half into each case
5. At this stage, you could run a teaspoon under a hot tap, shake off the excess water and using the back of the spoon, smooth out the mixture in each cupcake to ensure more even rising in the oven
6. Pop in the oven for 18-20 minutes
7. They'll be ready when they are golden brown in colour and springy to touch
8. Allow the cakes to cool and meanwhile, for the buttercream frosting, pop the butter in a large bowl and using the electric whisk gradually add the icing sugar until the buttercream is all smooth looking
9. Add the coffee mixture and whisk once again
10. Using roughly one heaped teaspoon of frosting, smooth onto each cupcake
11. Add a walnut half, or quarter to each cupcake to decorate

One other idea to decorate would be to use those little Coffee Chocolate Beans you can get in the supermarket.

Pie (because a turkey ain't just for Christmas)

I cycle to work a few times a week. While I do realise cycling in London is a bloomin' risky business, I calculate that each cycle = one cake. Yes, I fully appreciate my dietary plan isn't going to give the executives at Weight Watchers sleepless nights. But it works for me.

Now, while I'm no meteorologist, I do have A-Level Geography (but that was mainly two years covering Brazil. In much depth. I'm no idea why either. I still don't know where Staffordshire is, but I can tell you the population of Brazil's third city*). And, to me, London suffered from some major hurricanes/tornadoes (whichever is worse) and torrential rain during my cycle this morning. I arrived in work blown to pieces and soaked through. Drowned rats would have taken pity on me and offered me shelter.

So to distract my increasingly grumpy thoughts as I battled with gale force winds (I might be slightly prone to exaggeration if you haven't yet noticed) I planned tea. Something comforting. Warming. Tasty.

And I remembered a back issue of Good Food Magazine (January 2011) featured an easy chicken pie.

So, adapting the recipe somewhat, this is what we had for tea tonight:

Turkey Pie


450ml chicken stock
100ml white wine (or make up with extra stock)
2 chopped garlic cloves
a good couple of pinches of thyme (or 3 fresh sprigs)
225g carrot batons
4 skinless turkey (or chicken) breasts
225g leeks
4 mushrooms, chopped
2 tbsp cornflour, mixed with 2 tbsp water
3 tbsp creme fraiche
1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
1 heaped tbsp flat leaf parsley
70g filo pastry
1 tbsp rapeseed oil


1. Pour the stock (and wine if using) into a large, wide frying pan.
2. Add the garlic, thyme, tarragon sprig and carrots, bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 3 mins.
3. Lay the turkey in the stock, season, cover and simmer for 5 mins.
4. Scatter the leek slices and mushrooms over the turkey, cover again then gently simmer for 10 more mins (you've got your vegetables steaming while the turkey cooks. Very clever. )
5. Remove from the heat and let the turkey sit in the stock for about 15 mins, so it keeps moist while cooling slightly.
6. Strain the stock into a jug - you should have 500ml (if not, make up with water).
7. Tip the turkey and veg into a 1.5 litre pie dish and discard the herb sprigs.
8. Pour the stock back into the sauté pan, then slowly pour in the cornflour mix.
9. Return the pan to the heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly, until thickened.
10. Remove from the heat and stir in the crème fraîche, mustard, chopped tarragon and parsley. Season with pepper.
Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
11. Cut the turkey into shreds, pour the sauce over the turkey and veg and stir all together
12. Cut each filo sheet (I used 3-4 sheets) into squares or rectangles, depending on the shape of your pie dish. Layer them, one at a time on the top of the pie, brushing each sheet very lightly with the oil as you go and tucking the sheets into the sides of the dish
13. Grind over a little pepper and pop in the oven for 20-25 min. I found, in our fan assisted oven it took about 18 minutes. You are looking for the pastry to be all golden and crispy, the sauce bubbling at the sides.

Lovely. And also rather healthy too, according to the nutritious information provided in the recipe.

*Salvador. Population = 2676606.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Rhubarb, Orange and Almond Cake

I have a bit of a confession. I'm not a huge fan of rhubarb. Bit too tart for my liking. I find myself liberally pouring an entire bag of sugar over the stuff to make it edible for my super-sweet tooth. I love a crumble- apple, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, you name it*- but rhubarb crumble? Not such a fan truth be told. 

However, with rhubarb being in season, and inspired by my sister who has spent the last few weeks inventing new ways with rhubarb from the seemingly never ending supply from my parent's garden, I decided a rhubarb cake was crying out to be made.

Scouring the books and internet for a recipe, I came across this one from Waitrose. A rhubarb, orange and almond cake. For me, it was one of those recipes that sound so delicious that by the third instruction you can practically already taste the cake in your salivating mouth. 


400g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 2cm pieces
200g golden caster sugar
2 medium eggs
150g softened butter
75g self-raising flour
0.5 tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds
Grated zest of 1 small orange
2 tbsp orange juice
25g flaked almonds to decorate

Preheat the oven to 190C, gas mark 5. Grease a round 23cm springform cake tin and line its base with baking parchment.


1. Place the rhubarb in a bowl, cover with 50g of the sugar and leave for 30min, giving you time to prepare the rest of the cake
2. Using an electric whisk, beat the rest of the sugar and butter, and whisk in the eggs
3. Using a metal spoon, gently fold in the flour, baking powder and ground almonds
4. Stir in the orange zest and juice
5. Stir in the rhubarb and sugary juice into the cake mixture and spoon into the tin
6. Place on a baking tray, sprinkle over the flaked almonds and bake for 25 minutes
7. Reduce the oven temperature to 180 C, gas mark 4 and cook for a further 20-25 minutes or until firm. Allow to cool in the tin.

The middle of the cake may initially upon taking the cake out of the oven be a little soggy, but rest assures it still tastes beautiful. 

As you can see from the picture, I did burn the top. This was because I had the oven temperature about 20 degrees too high in the first instance. Schoolboy error. A liberal sprinkling of icing sugar later and hopefully the damage wasn't too obvious. 

It was moist, flavoursome and not too 'rhubarby'. The cake can be kept for up to 3 days in an airtight container. It tastes great warm or cold, perhaps with a little custard or cream

Waitrose also have a recipe for Rhubarb Upside Down Cake, a seasonal take on pineapple upside down cake.

* Well, with the exception of gooseberry, but thats a whole other blog post. Please return at an unspecified future date for the scintillating post: 'Gooseberrys: 5 Reasons Why I Don't Like Them'.