Monday, 30 May 2011

My first ever attempt at icing a cake

Tomorrow is my boss's birthday. She's a cake decorator by trade, and I thought maybe she'd like someone to make her a cake for a change. However I had never iced a cake before in my life and really had no idea how. I tell you what - it's not as easy as it looks. The first layer of sugarpaste (fondant) went totally wrong and I tore huge holes in it trying to get it onto the cake. I covered it up with a second layer which is full of cracks and creases but at least it covers the whole thing... and at least it's not right at the front! Also the letters were very hard to cut out and use without pulling them out of shape or putting dents in them, so if anyone has any tips please let me know.

Anyway here's the cake, my first attempt. I'm pleased with it and disappointed with it at the same time, but hopefully my boss will appreciate the thought!

I made all the little white flowers with a plunger cutter, and rolled the yellow middles by hand. The icing is just white ready made sugarpaste from Sainsburys which I dyed myself with gel food colouring. The grass is made from buttercream and piped with my Wilton grass/hair tube.

What do you think? I need someone else to have a birthday soon so I have an excuse to have another go!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Forever Nigella - Lentil & Wanut Salad

This month's Forever Nigella is being hosted by Dom at Belleau Kitchen (I don't know how he finds the time to host two blog events in the same month!) and the theme is Salad Days. Now I'm not normally one to follow a recipe when making a salad, but I thought just for a change I'd post something vaguely healthy on this blog! As I love pulses of any kind, I chose to make the lentil and walnut salad from Nigella Express.

Unfortunately, I snapped a couple of quick photos with my iPhone, ate the salad (I was starving) and only then looked at the photos, which turned out to be absolutely terrible, really dark, and by then it was too late to take proper photos because there was nothing left to photograph. It could be anything at all in the bowl, so you'll just have to take my word for it that it was a lentil and walnut salad with added cubes of feta (which I thought worked really well with the salad). A few changes I made, apart from adding the feta: I used lentilles vertes instead of puy lentils, because that's what was in my cupboard, and I cooked them in the pressure cooker because that takes ten minutes instead of half an hour.
£2.50 charity shop bargain!

Also I used parsley instead of chives because I prefer it and because I think it goes better with feta (and also because my chive plant has shrivelled up and turned brown and doesn't look that appetising).

Once again I can only apologise for these terrible photos and promise to do better next month!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

What I made in cake decorating class

I started a cake decorating class four weeks ago, and so far it's been great fun. So far we've learned to make roses, freesias, leaves and how to tape it all together. Last night I managed to put together my first spray of roses, and I'm so proud of it that I can't resist showing it off! I'm sure to someone who knows anything about cake decorating it would look very amateurish and a bit messy but I really don't care, it's my first attempt and I love it.

One of the petals shattered when I was a bit careless with it, but I don't think you can notice it.

Now all I need is a lot more practice and an excuse to make a flower-covered cake!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

We Should Cocoa - chocolate swiss roll

For this month's We Should Cocoa, hosted by Chele at the Chocolate Teapot, the theme was a chocolate roulade/swiss roll. I knew immediately what I wanted to do, and headed straight for Peyton & Byrne British Baking. I adore this book, I know I've said it before, but it's just so pretty and pastel and... well, English, and the photography is lovely and the recipes are lovely and it's all just lovely. Go and buy it, I'm not giving you the recipe for this chocolate swiss roll, you'll just have to buy the book if you want it.

Anyway I've made a chocolate swiss roll and filled it with vanilla buttercream and raspberry jam (seedless/bitless so my husband, who is afraid of fruit, will actually eat it).

It cracked a bit on rolling but that was my own fault for letting it cool a bit too much before rolling it. It's a really nice, very simple recipe though, and very quick to make.

I've already seen a few other entries for this month's We Should Cocoa and most of them are a lot more elaborate and impressive than mine, but I do love an old fashioned swiss roll so I'm really quite happy with how this one turned out :)

Good news! My poor dead Macbook (RIP) has been replaced by the insurance company. I now have a shiny new one that's absolutely lovely and I've managed to install Photoshop after much faffing about, so hopefully my posts will be a bit more prolific from now on.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Millionaire's shortbread. Better than birthday cake.

Yesterday was our friend Mike's 40th birthday, and his missus organised a surprise party for him at our local pub, complete with live band, helium balloons and a barbecue with the best fried onions EVER. I knew she'd ordered him a birthday cake, but I couldn't let a 40th birthday go by without offering the birthday boy some sort of baked product. Obviously. So knowing that Mike is a fan of millionaire's shortbread, I brought home a huge baking tin from work and made him a massive batch of it, all for himself :)

The recipe I use for this yummy treat comes from the Hairy Bikers Mums Know Best cookbook (the first one), which my lovely husband managed to get Dave and Si to sign for me when they visited his office. It's a great book, full of the sort of food your mum/granny used to make, real good family grub. It's worth buying just for this recipe and one for spaghetti carbonara, but really every recipe in it is a winner.

I doubled the quantities and filled my massive tin, but normally I make it in a Lakeland brownie pan which measures 34x20cm and it's just about perfect. I use different methods to make the shortbread base and caramel topping than the recipe states - my way is quicker and easier!


Shortbread base:

125g butter

50g caster sugar

175g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C. Line your tin with baking parchment.
Put all the ingredients for the base into a food processor and turn it on until you get a sandy mixture. Pour this into the tin and press it down really well, making sure you get into the corners. (If you have no food processor, you can make sure your butter is softened and just mix it all together by hand). Bake for 20 minutes. It shouldn't really take on much colour, and should still be quite soft on top (it will harden as it cools). Leave to cool completely.

Caramel topping:

397g condensed milk

50g butter, cut into small pieces
50g soft brown sugar

Put all the ingredients into a large microwaveable bowl, and microwave on full power for around 7 or 8 minutes. Take it out every couple of minutes and give it a whisk. It will boil quite furiously and will rise up in the bowl (this is why you want a big bowl - but it's perfectly normal). When the caramel is ready, it will be thickened and fudgy-looking. DO NOT be tempted to dip a finger in to taste it, you will get a nasty burn! Pour this over the shortbread base, and let it set in the fridge.

When it's set firmly, melt 150g dark chocolate and pour all over the top. Leave to set again before cutting into squares. I like to melt a little white chocolate, drizzle it in lines
over the dark chocolate and pull a skewer through it to make a feathery pattern.

Sorry for the lack of better photos, I had to snap these very quickly as I was already late for the party! I can tell you that the recipient was very happy to receive a huge tin full of this stuff :)

Monday, 16 May 2011

Random Recipes - Just Desserts

The lack of posts lately is due to the sad, untimely death of my laptop. RIP Macbook, you will be missed. Hopefully it will be replaced under our contents insurance, but in the meantime I'm posting from a tiny netbook with a tiny keyboard so I can barely see the letters on the screen and there's bound to be lots of typos.

I do, however, have a new toy to play with: an iPhone! I know I'm very late to the party but I got there eventually (even if mine is only a 3GS, last-gen technology doesn't bother me). To celebrate, I've been snapping photos using Instagram, so you'll have to excuse the 70s style photos because the novelty hasn't worn off yet.

This months' Random Recipe challenge was to bake something lovely from a desserts/baking-related cookbook. Just for a change, I thought I'd pile up my current stash of library books (all sixteen of them, and all food-related!) and pick one at random. As luck would have it, I got Phil Vickery's Puddings, which is obviously very appropriate for this challenge :)

Every page had something I wanted to make, but I thought I'd keep it simple and make one of my husband's favourites: creme brulée. Yummy! Phil's recipe is simplicity itself, but is definitely one of the better recipes I've tried and it turned out perfect.


6 egg yolks
600 ml double cream
55g caster sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 vanilla pod
zest of 1 lemon, removed with a peeler (I left this out)

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C.

Place the cream in a saucepan with the vanilla pod and lemon zest and bring to the boil.

Meanwhile whisk the eggs and sugar till well combined. When the cream boils, strain it through a fine sieve onto the egg & sugar mixture and whisk it all together.

Divide between four ramekins and place these in a deep roasting tin. Pour boiling water into the tin so it comes halfway up the ramekins (this is called a bain marie, by the way). Bake for around 30 minutes, or until set but still a bit wobbly. Leave to cool and chill for a few hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, sprinkle a teaspoon of caster sugar onto each dessert and use a blowtorch or a very hot grill to melt and caramelise the sugar.

The best bit of eating a creme brulée is shoving your spoon through the caramelised top and hearing the lovely satisfying CRACK!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Random Recipes - My First Cookbook

Dom's brief for this month's Random Recipes challenge was really quite an interesting one - you had to cook from your very first cookbook!

I thought my first cookbook was a copy of Practical Cookery, the cookery textbook from my first stint at catering college when I was about 18 and which was lost in one of my many house moves, but I had a dig through my bookshelves and found something that was a bit older: The Complete Creative Cook, by Frances Cleary. This was definitely my first cookbook, it was published in 1997 when I would have been 17 and I remember that even then I found it pretty uninspiring, so I wasn't totally thrilled that I had to cook from it now.

Still though I had a flick through it till I found something I liked the look of, and something called "chocolate and coconut slices" vaguely appealed, even though they didn't look hugely appetising in the photo.

They don't look that tasty, do they? WRONG!

Sometimes, dear readers, appearances can be deceiving. These are FANTASTIC. I'm glad I found them, because they're quick, easy and incredibly delicious, but part of me also wishes I hadn't discovered them, because I'll probably want to make and eat them all the time and end up the size of a house.

Here's the recipe, and I really do urge you to give it a try.


175g digestive biscuits, crushed
55g caster sugar
pinch salt
115g butter or margarine, melted
85g dessicated coconut
260g plain chocolate chips (just use a big bar of chocolate or two, chopped up)
250ml sweetened condensed milk (it tends to come in 397g tins - just use all of it)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Line a baking dish or tin about 33x23cm with parchment, but don't grease it. Let the parchment hang over the edges - this will help you lift it out later.

Combine the digestive crumbs, sugar, salt and melted butter. Press the mixture evenly into the lined baking dish.

Sprinkle the coconut over the biscuit base, then scatter over the chocolate chips. Pour the condensed milk evenly over the chocolate and sprinkle the walnuts on top.

Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool and lift out using the overhanging parchment. Cut into squares.

I made this a few days ago but it's only now I've had time to post it. In the meantime, my inlaws, who are staying with us at the moment, have devoured it. Like vultures. And mum in law wants the recipe so they can continue devouring it when they get home. A high recommendation indeed.
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